On February 27, a high-level regional workshop kicked off in Lomé, Togo, with the participation of Ministers of gender affairs and officials from 11 economies from West and Central Africa focusing on the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2014: Removing Restrictions to Enhance Gender Equality report. A welcome dinner prior to the official opening of the event revealed the dynamic nature of gender affairs Ministers – all women – and the common realities and issues facing their nations. Most were meeting for the first time in a unique experience that enabled sharing stories and views about laws, cultural norms and traditional roles within the family in prelude to the official discussions.
The opening remarks at the workshop reflected well the importance of gender equality for the region. In welcoming the event, Mr. Hervé Assah, the World Bank's Country Manager for Togo, noted that “underinvesting in the human capital of women is a real obstacle to reducing poverty and considerably limits the prospects for economic and social development.” Those concerns were echoed by the Minister of Social Action and Women and Literacy Promotion in Togo, Mrs. Dédé Ahoéfa Ekoué, who highlighted the importance of women’s participation in society and the economy, both in Togo and worldwide. The tone was thus set for this two-day event, which aimed at both highlighting recent reforms enacted by countries in the region and promoting the sharing of experiences, challenges and good practices among the participants in promoting women’s economic inclusion.
There is certainly much to highlight and share over these two days and beyond. Over the past two years, several Sub-Saharan African economies passed reforms promoting gender parity and encouraging women’s economic participation. For example, Togo reformed its Family Code in 2012, now allowing both spouses to choose the family domicile and object to each other’s careers if deemed not to be the family’s interests. Côte d’Ivoire equalized the same rights for women and men, and also eliminated provisions granting tax benefits only to men for being the head of household. Furthermore, Mali enacted a law allowing both spouses to pursue their business and professional activities and a succession law equalizing inheritance between husbands and wives. While the pace of reform has been accelerating in the region, it is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is the region that has reformed the most over the past 50 years: Restrictions on women’s property rights and their ability to make legal decisions were reduced by more than half from 1960 to 2010.
Settlements in cases of foreign bribery cases are big news and growing. More and more countries are allowing these procedures, and their law enforcement agencies are using them forcefully in their efforts to combat foreign bribery. The FCPA, which came into law in the US over thirty five years ago, has paved the way for many other countries to adopt similar legislations, in line with far reaching international agreements such as the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. These are very welcome developments, which should continue unabated.
The 2003 UN Convention Against Corruption – to which almost 170 countries have become party to - has created an environment for a radical and universal change in the international landscape of anti-bribery legislation. Actual enforcement is making a difference, as illustrated by the rapid growth in settlements by companies and individuals who have contravened the law and have to face the consequences - without going to a full trial. The figures are telling: over the past decade a total of US$ 6.9 billion has been imposed in monetary sanctions through settlements - which is clearly good news in the fight against corruption.
But in the midst of this positive development, there are a number of troubling concerns (from the perspective of the countries affected by corruption). Research by the UNODC/World Bank Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative in our new report ‘Left Out of the Bargain’ has revealed that those countries whose officials have been bribed are most often unaware of the settlements, and receive very little of the moneys involved. Of the US$ 6.9 billion, nearly US$ 5.8 billion came about when the countries where the settlement took place – mostly major financial centers - were different from those of the allegedly bribed foreign public official.
StAR’s analysis of 395 cases reveals that only about US$197 million, or 3%, was returned to the countries whose officials allegedly received bribes.
Sitting in a safe house, an ocean away, three former pirates reflect on their past lives as ”footsoldiers” aboard skiffs preparing to attack unsuspecting cargo vessels off the Horn of Africa. Our research team is transfixed by their stories.
We listen as they describe to us how they got involved in the piracy business, how much they earned, how they spent their money and, perhaps most interesting, what they know about their ”masters” – the pirate financiers, investors and negotiators.
These footsoldiers were merely small fish in a big sea. They would be sent out to hijack shipping vessels, which would only be returned to the ships’ owners for a hefty ransom.
Following research for our report “Pirate Trails,” studying acts of piracy off the Horn of Africa, we estimate that between US$339 million and US$413 million was handed over in ransom payments between April 2005 and December 2012. The exact amount is very hard to pin down, given the reluctance of the shipping companies and pirates to reveal the cost and rewards of piracy.
One of the winning 'startup' teams at Pivot East2013 (Credit: PivotEast)
Innovation competitions of all sorts have become prevalent throughout Africa, from hackathons to ideation challenges, demo days, code jams, bootcamps, roadshows, and pitch fests, the list is endless. This development is almost parallel to the rise of tech hubs (BongoHive counts about 100 African hubs) that have sprung up from Dakar to Dar Es Salaam.
While it’s evident that events and competitions are valuable opportunities—especially for young innovators looking to leave their mark—more advanced ecosystems, like Nairobi’s, have already begun to show signs of competition fatigue and competition hopping.
Wanted: Mobile apps for African agriculture (Credit: infoDev)
Today, there are close to 900 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa. Sixty-five percent of the continent’s labor force works in agriculture or related sectors and it accounts for 32% of the gross domestic product. Mobile innovations are already improving efficiencies in the agricultural value chain; research shows that grain traders with mobile application usage experienced income growth of 29% and banana farmers in Uganda saw their revenues go up with 36%.
The mAgri Challenge, a business competition, has been designed to identify and support entrepreneurs developing mobile apps for agriculture in Africa. If you have worked with mobile tech entrepreneurs in Africa over the last few years, you might be thinking: “Not another mobile apps challenge!” This ‘competition fatigue’ is not completely unwarranted. Too many quick competitions for mobile apps, which at first seemed cool and generated lots of attention, have left in their wake a pool of mobile entrepreneurs confused about the next steps they can take to grow their business.
Does Rwanda's impressive growth tell the whole story? (Credit: CIAT, Flickr Creative Commons)
Over the last few years, a lot of optimism has been built around Rwanda being the next big thing in Africa. I guess one reason for this optimism is Rwanda’s impressive list of business friendly reforms and its equally impressive growth performance. Between 2006 and 2011, per capita income in Rwanda grew at an average rate of 5.1 percent per annum, fifth highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region and much better than the regional average rate of 2.4 percent. Moreover, Rwanda currently ranks third in the region in the quality of the business environment as measured by the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business index. So, is Rwanda really the next big thing in Africa?
“You have a good social project, but it is not an investable company”, I heard fellow judge and technology activist Mariéme Jamme say to a South African entrepreneur who had just given his best business pitch. He was taking part in the Dragons’ Den at the 5th Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, a fantastic 3-day learning and networking event organized by the World Bank’s infoDev and the South African Department of Science and Technology. You could see the entrepreneur (let’s call him ‘B.’) gasping for air, and one could hear a pin drop in the completely filled auditorium of the Global Forum. Over 800 people, mostly entrepreneurs, financiers, policy makers and technology ‘evangelists’ from all over the world had gathered here.
Business reforms can spur economic dynamism in the East African Community
East Africa is famous for its breathtaking landscapes and its unique concentration of wild animals. Could it also become as famous for its dynamic economic development?
In 2009 I came to Tanzania to work on tax harmonization in the East African Community (EAC). The Common Market Protocol was about to be signed and one of the biggest goals was to tap into the economic potential of the region by facilitating (cross-border) trade and improving the business climate. A year later, the five Partner States of the East African Community ratified the Common Market Protocol in order to realize “accelerated economic growth and development through the attainment of the free movement of goods, persons, labor, the rights of establishment and residence and the free movement of services and capital”. The overarching goal of the East African Community is to achieve sustainable economic growth in order to increase employment and reduce poverty.
How are emerging market entrepreneurs leveraging technology and changing development paradigms? Why are the rewards of funding innovative new ventures in emerging economies worth the risks, and what makes these investments succeed? How can investors, policy makers, and the private sector in general help find and groom transformative high-growth enterprises?
Liberia's new AML/CFT law is a step towards good governance in a country looking to the future (Credit: Kenneth Harper, Flickr Creative Commons)
On May 2nd, the President of Liberia signed into law a long anticipated bill to counter money laundering and terrorism financing (AML/CFT). The new Act, which included amendments to various other laws, will provide more effective legislative tools with which to fight corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes. The new Act will provide the legal basis to establish a Financial Intelligence Unit as the central coordinating agency in these efforts, provide better tools for authorities to seize and freeze the proceeds of crime, and improve cooperation in information- sharing and investigations. It will also require financial institutions and other entities often used to launder proceeds of crime, to identify and report suspicious transactions to authorities.