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Africa economic outlook

Who benefits from fuel price subsidies?

Punam Chuhan-Pole's picture

Over half the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa subsidize fuel to protect consumers from high and volatile prices. But fuel subsidies are neither cheap nor likely to be sustainable (see the full analysis in the new Africa's Pulse). 

Data for 2010-11 show that fuel price subsidies consumed, on average, 1.4 percent of GDP in public resources: The fiscal cost in oil exporters was almost two-and-a-half times that in oil importers. In the face of high (and rising) world fuel prices, a number of countries have raised domestic prices to stem fiscal costs.  

For example, Ghana raised fuel prices by about 30 percent in January 2011. The Nigerian government removed the subsidy on gasoline this January, although a portion of the subsidy was subsequently reinstated.  With oil prices likely to remain elevated, fuel subsidies will continue to weigh on government budgets in Africa.

But who benefits from fuel price subsidies?  

Expenditure data for seven African countries show that the distribution of these subsidies is disproportionately concentrated in the hands of the rich.  Richer households spend a larger amount on fuel products, and, consequently, benefit more than poorer households from any universal subsidy on these products. On average the richest 20% receive over six times more in subsidy benefits than the poorest 20%. 

Africa’s 2012 growth prospects appear bright, but downside risks could dampen momentum

Punam Chuhan-Pole's picture

Sub-Saharan African countries bucked the slowdown in the global economy and grew at a robust pace in 2011 (see Africia's Pulse, February 2012 Update).  

The region’s output expanded by an estimated 4.9 percent, faster than in 2010 and just shy of the pre-crisis (average of 2003-08) level of 5 percent.  Excluding South Africa, the regional growth rate was 5.9 percent.  Particularly notable is the fact that this growth was widespread:  over a third of countries posted 6 percent or higher growth; another 40 percent grew at between 4-6 percent.  Equally important is the fact that several countries saw sustained growth rates of over 6 percent a year in both 2010 and 2011.

So what can Sub-Saharan Africa expect in 2012?  Barring a serious deterioration in the global economy, the outlook for the region seems bright, with a pickup in GDP growth to 5.3 percent in 2012 and 5.6 percent in 2013.  High commodity prices and strong domestic demand, especially buoyant private consumption, are expected to sustain the expansion.

But these factors also point to Africa’s vulnerability. 

African countries are among the fastest growing economies in the world

Punam Chuhan-Pole's picture

Despite a slowdown in the global economic recovery and an increasingly difficult global environment, Sub-Saharan African countries are continuing to post solid growth

Following a 4.6 percent expansion in 2010, the region’s output is expected to grow by 4.8 percent this year (5.8 percent excluding South Africa) and by more than 5 percent in 2012 and 2013. 

Indeed, African countries are amongst the fastest growing countries in the world: Ghana is projected to grow by well over 10 percent this year; and nearly 40 percent of the countries in the region are likely to see 6 percent or higher growth rates.  Growth in Africa remains closely linked to the evolution of international commodity prices—oil, metals, and non-food agricultural commodities—which have remained generally buoyant. 

Not surprisingly, a sharp deterioration in global conditions would weigh down on the region's prospects.  Moreover, this time around African countries will be more constrained in their policy options: because they have less fiscal space than they had in the wake of the 2008 global financial and economic crisis. Read the full analysis on Africa's Pulse.