The White Nile in South Sudan. Photo by Steve Utterwulghe.
As I was landing in Juba, the bustling capital of South Sudan, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my days working in Khartoum for the UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General. The war between the North and the South, of what was then, in 2004, still the Sudan, was raging as the peace negotiations were taking place in a plush resort on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya. I was mainly focusing on guaranteeing access to the people of the Nuba Mountains, one of the three fiercely contested areas between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA). I was doing my fair share of shuttle diplomacy, going back and forth between the SPLM/SPLA leadership based in Nairobi and the Government of Sudan in Khartoum. At that time, hopes were high that one would soon see the end of decades of a bloody war in Africa’s largest country. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was finally signed in 2005. In 2011, South Sudanese participated in a referendum and 99 percent voted for independence. South Sudan became the newest country in the world.
But what should have been a new era of peace and prosperity quickly turned into a feeling of dejà vu. Dreams were shattered as a new internal violent conflict broke out in December 2013, putting the progress achieved at significant risk and disrupting economic activities and livelihoods.
The country is very rich in natural resources, including oil, minerals and fertile arable land. However, with 90 percent of its population earning less than US$1 per day, South Sudan is ranked as one of the poorest countries on the planet. South Sudan remains an undeveloped economy facing important challenges, including high unemployment, weak institutions, illiteracy and political instability. The economic overview of the country by the World Bank suggests that “South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world, with oil accounting for almost the totality of exports, and around 60 percent of its gross domestic product.” The conflict has dramatically affected the production of oil, which has fallen by about 20 percent and is now at about 165,000 barrels per day. This, combined with the sharp global drop in oil prices, has greatly affected the fiscal position of the government.
In such an environment, private sector development is a must, since it has the potential to create market-led jobs and growth. However, private sector growth requires a conducive investment climate and an enabling business environment.
South Sudan has made progress in this area, thanks in part to support from the international community, including the World Bank Group. Yet more needs to be done. South Sudan ranks 187th out of the 189 economies in the Doing Business ranking, just ahead of Libya and Eritrea. In addition, among the top constraints reported by firms in the World Bank Group's Enterprise Survey, 68 percent mention political instability and 58 percent cite access to electricity, followed closely by access to land and finance.
Jump-starting job growth is difficult enough when a country’s investment climate is supportive, when its government has clear goals and competent capabilities, and when its business leaders can make far-sighted plans. When an economy is riven by the chaos of war, or when it is newly emerging from a severe social trauma, channeling capital toward private-sector job creation is even harder.
Amid this year’s FCV Forum at the World Bank Group – focusing on economies gripped by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) – a seminar combining Financial Sector and Private Sector priorities heard a sobering picture from expert practitioners who have been on the front lines of promoting job growth in economies that are in turmoil. Moderated by John Speakman, the Lead PSD Specialist in the Bank Group’s practice on Trade and Competitiveness – who is the author of a new book on small-scale entrepreneurs in FCV situations – a panel explored the daunting challenges of promoting private-sector growth when countries are in turmoil.
Would-be job creators confront an enormously complex task in FCV situations. Yet the panelists agreed that there is reason for hope – even in the most tumultuous FCV conditions – if financing can be targeted toward promising startup companies, and especially toward potential “gazelle” firms that can energize new sectors of the economy.
“Ultimately, it’s all about money: Poor people are poor because they don’t have money,” said Hugh Scott of KPMG, whothe Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF). “It’s the delivery channel – the financing mechanism – that’s making the difference” in the 23 African countries where the ACF has offered grants and interest-free loans to about 800 private-sector firms, producing a net development impact of about $66 billion.
The difficult business environment and increased risk profile in FCV countries means that traditional lenders (primarily banks) are all the more hesitant to lend, said Scott – making such vehicles as “challenge funds,” which focus on promising small and startup firms, even more important. As co-founder of invest2innovate (and current World Bank Group consultant) Sadaf Lakhani noted, the “ecosystem problem” for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and startups is all the more complex when countries face “a political economy of war.” As she had observed during her work with invest2innovate -- a nonprofit angel investing and accelerator organization -- such frequent FCV afflictions as corruption, patronage, fragmented markets and capital flight make it even more difficult for managers and lenders to identify, evaluate and accelerate startups.
Bank financing, in fact, is not always a ready source of funds for startup ventures, as noted by Simon Bell, the Global Lead on SME Finance at the Bank Group. Banks weigh the historical profit-and-loss performance of would-be borrowers – yet the entrepreneurs who are behind the “small sub-set of firms,” like the so-called “gazelles,” that are destined to create jobs quickly have little or no financial track record. Startups are thus often viewed warily by risk-averse bankers. Drawing on his long experience in the MENA region, Bell underscored that a priority in FCV states is ensuring that there is “a continuum of financial institutions and services” – like early-stage financing, private equity, venture capital and angel financing – that can provide critically important financing at various stages of a dynamic company’s growth.
To help give a boost to startups and young firms, the International Finance Corporation has created several financing mechanisms that are having a positive impact on job growth. The SME Ventures Program, created in 2008 with a $100 million allocation from IFC, has aimed to reach businesses in the poorest of the poor countries, often in FCV situations, said its Program Manager, Tracy Washington. Having financed about 60 SMEs, and having already supported the creation of about 1,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs, the SME Ventures Program has had a positive “demonstration effect,” inspiring new entrants to serve the marketplace once they have witnessed IFC’s strong performance. In addition, IFC's Global SME Finance Facility, described by Senior Investment Officer Florence Boupda, has provided investment capital and advisory services to 27 financial institutions in 18 countries since 2007 – including 17 projects in seven FCV countries.
The challenge for the future, agreed Boupda and Washington, will be to find additional ways to combine Bank Group interventions in ways that continue to choose companies with the greatest potential and that maximize the impact of Bank Group support. Their insights were underscored by Bell, who emphasized that “globally, employment is our issue” – and who asserted that “there are points of light all around” in this “very exciting” area, as various arms of the Bank Group focus on “the employment imperative.”
Finding ways “to apply the most innovative solutions to the most challenging situations,” especially in FCV and other traumatized countries, remains the grand challenge for international financial institutions, concluded Michael Botzung, IFC’s manager for fragile and conflict-affected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet the determination of the energetic practitioners on the SME financing panel reminded the FCV Forum audience why there is cause for hope – and why, in Speakman’s words, the intensive WBG-wide efforts to promote job creation in the toughest FCV situations is “one of the things that makes us proud to be with the World Bank Group.”
Somalia has the reputation of being a mysterious and conflict-ridden land. Who hasn’t heard of the infamous “Black Hawk down” episode, the militant group al-Shabaab or the pirates off the Somali coast?
But in the northwest corridor of war-ravaged Somalia lies Somaliland, a self-declared independent state that claims to be open for business. Really?
It’s easy to dismiss the “open for business” claim by Somaliland’s Ministry of Planning as mere fantasy or wishful thinking. Flying from Nairobi on a painfully slow UN-chartered plane, being greeted at the hotel by Kalashnikov-armed guards, or traveling to your meeting in an armored car is enough to discourage even the most adventurous entrepreneur.
At first sight, Somaliland has all the characteristics of a fragile and conflict-affected situation (FCS). However, you never want to judge a book by its cover. In Somaliland, I’d argue that the conventional narrative of fragility needs to be revisited.
The private sector has demonstrated its resilience in the face of conflict and fragility, operating at the informal level and delivering services that are traditionally the mandate of public institutions. However, in post-conflict situations, PSD can have predatory aspects, thriving on the institutional and regulatory vacuum that prevails. The private sector will need to create 90 percent of jobs worldwide to meet the international community’s antipoverty goals, so pro-poor and pro-growth strategies need to focus on strengthening the positive aspects of PSD, even while tackling its negative aspects.
- stakeholder engagement
- foreign direct investment
- investment climate
- Private Sector Development
- public private dialogue
- Conflict and Fragility
- fragile states
- fragile and conflict affected states
- business environment
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- The World Region
- South Asia
- doing business
Sri Lanka conjures up different images in the minds of different people: lush green tropical canopies, steaming cups of aromatic tea, and hardworking fishermen in their dinghy boats.
For me, the country also packs enormous promise for growth and development. There is not the slightest doubt that Sri Lanka will have to come clean and deal with the aftermath of its prolonged civil war. However, at a fundamental level, there is a sense of hunger in its people to rebuild their lives and their country. The new-found peace that engulfs the population is cherished by most, and is part of dinner conversations especially with foreigners like me.
Sri Lanka already holds a strong position in certain agricultural and industrial exports, like tea or uncut diamonds. Combine this with its strategic location – situated at the crossroads of major shipping routes connecting South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East – and you have a potent combination, a promise waiting to be fulfilled.
I recently spoke at an event organized by the country’s top business newspaper, the Daily Financial Times, in partnership with the well-regarded Colombo University MBA Alumni Association. The focus of the forum was the country’s emerging six-hub strategy – Maritime, Commercial, Knowledge, Aviation, Energy and Tourism: the cornerstone of its further economic development.
The euphoria leading up to the event was palpable. The ceremonial drums and lighting of the auspicious lamp to evoke good omen created the perfect ambience. I was nervous, not because of stage fright, but because I was about to present a contrarian viewpoint to private-sector and public-sector experts, while sharing the stage with the Minister of Economic Development and the Governor of the Sri Lanka’s Central Bank. Even though my arguments were well-thought-through and fact-based, it was going to be a delicate dance, as I was about to communicate some tough arguments against the implementation of the full-blown six-hub strategy.
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.