Natural resources management, particularly in the extractives industry, can make a meaningful contribution to a country’s economic growth when it leads to linkages to the broader economy. To maximize the economic benefits of extractives, the sector needs to broaden its use of non-mining goods and services and policymakers need to ensure that the sectors infrastructure needs are closely aligned with those of the country’s development plans.
In Africa, especially, mining and other companies that handle natural resources traditionally provide their own power, railways, roads, and services to run their operations. This “enclave” approach to infrastructure development is not always aligned with national infrastructure development plans.
This blog is part of an ongoing conversation on diversification
Countries with good institutions make good use of natural resource wealth, while the obverse is equally true.
However, our take diverges a little from the conventional wisdom: while it is certainly true that Norway was a strong parliamentary democracy when oil was discovered, did not have the legal and regulatory institutions to manage the oil boom. It developed them over time, as needs arose and circumstances changed.
Two decades ago, when I was working on utility sector reform we knew the answer. Here (using the example of electricity) is what it was: unbundle generation, transmission and distribution; introduce an independent regulator; rebalance prices; privatize. Two decades later, we have learned the stark limits of orchestrating reforms on the basis of ‘best practice’ blueprints such as these.
What would a more ‘with the grain’ approach to electricity sector reform look like? To explore this, I asked my Johns Hopkins SAIS and University of Cape Town students to review how a variety of country efforts unfolded in practice – focusing specifically on efforts to introduce private sector participation into electricity generation. Some striking patterns emerged. Here I contrast South Africa’s experience with those of Kenya, Peru and Lebanon. The former illustrates powerfully the hazards of ‘best practice’ reforms; the latter point to the promise of more incremental, cumulative, with the grain approaches.
In 1997, an official South African report signaled that in 2008 the lights would go out if there was no new investment in electricity generation; the report proposed that the country embark on a far-reaching effort to implement the ‘best practices’ template for electricity sector reform, constraining the dominant parastatal, ESKOM, and turning to the private sector for new investment in electricity generation. In 1998, the government adopted the report’s recommendations. In her richly-researched Masters dissertation (available on the link that follows), Nchimunya Hamukoma detailed what happened next.
Contestation over the agenda among competing factions within the ruling African National Congress and its allies interacted with a hugely-ambitious reform design — one for which almost none of the requisite political, institutional, economic and organizational capabilities were in place. The result was that after six futile years of trying, the effort at restructuring and private participation was abandoned, and ESKOM was given a green light to invest in new capacity. But the six lost years – the result of futilely pursuing an unachievable ‘best practice’ chimera – had an inevitable consequence. In 2008, as predicted, the lights went out.
One of the most important findings noted at the Africa launch of the World Bank's Progress Toward Sustainable Energy: Global Tracking Framework 2015 (GTF) report for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, is that despite recent trends to increase investment in the energy sector, we still need to double the number of new connections to modern energy services per year to reach universal access to energy by 2030.
Universalizing access to clean, modern energy services is at the heart of our ability to deliver on the new globally agreed sustainable development goals and climate agreements. Knowing this, the panel of experts discussing the findings of the report at the Africa Energy Indaba was asked a key question by Anita Marangoly George, Senior Director of the Bank's Energy and Extractives Global Practice - did we think achieving the universal access goal was possible in just a decade and a half?
Although there exists plenty of analysis of the Dutch disease, the resource curse, and Hotelling’s rule to fill several large libraries, there is nonetheless still ample room for debate about optimal policies in resource-rich countries. What is the optimal pace of extraction? Should they diversify? If so, how should they diversify and when should they diversify? What role should sovereign wealth funds play? Can the destabilizing adjustment process in the wake of an oil price collapse be avoided?
In a recent blog, Ulrich Bartsch and Donato De Rosa revisit the issue of resource revenue management. There are many good elements in this analysis, but there is one big problem: The same rigor that is used to analyze the goods markets is not used to analyze the accumulation of assets. While market forces are declared essential in the goods markets, little is said about the role of market forces in the accumulation of assets.
Let’s explore a bit more the relation between market forces, asset accumulation, and comparative advantages.
The recent collapse in oil prices is a good time to revisit the issues of resource revenue management. A good crisis should not go to waste, and it is in times like these that policy makers clearly realize their failures in the past and bemoan the lack of economic diversification away from oil.
The collapse of oil prices to levels unseen since the early 2000s has shaken markets and confidence in the health of major economies. Expert opinions about the factors driving the steep descent in oil prices include the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran. Yet, there is no consensus on the extent to which Iran’s return to markets has affected oil prices or the welfare of affected parties.
In 2016, the world faces uncertainty and volatility – as well as huge opportunities for significant progress. Africa stands not just to gain from these major shifts, but also to lead some of them.
The global landscape is certainly challenging, with the political and economic news dominated by slowing growth, rocky stock markets, falling commodity prices, risks in emerging markets (especially China), increasing numbers of refugees, geopolitical tensions and the threat of violent extremism.