I recently returned from a trip to West Africa during which I crossed the Benin-Nigeria border by car at the Seme border post. While waiting for our passports to go through lengthy controls and stamping, I observed the intense activity of the numerous cars, motorbikes and pedestrians passing through.
Sure enough, most of the women were on foot, and they were the ones who were submitted to the most intense scrutiny. While the men on motorbikes were able to ram their way through by refusing to slow down, the women all had to go through a narrow passage where they were subject to questioning and document requirements. It was quite apparent that women were being asked for bribes that men were able to waive by driving right though! I had been reading about how women are subject to more intense harassment at border crossings – this experience brought this to life very vividly.
It made me thankful for all the work we at the World Bank Group are doing to help women traders on the African continent.
The recent acceleration in growth rates across much of sub-Saharan Africa may not be purely commodity-driven, but for many of the region’s economies macro-economic stability is still dependent on prudent management of natural resources. For this reason, a strategic shift is required to shield African economies from commodity boom-burst cycles.
For much of the last half century, the dominant political economy model of natural resource management in Africa was this: states received royalties from mostly private mining companies and then were supposed to invest in public goods such as roads, hospitals, and schools. Private mining companies, for their part, would pick up the slack whenever states failed. Most of the time this happened through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, as a way of buying the social license needed to operate in specific communities.
This model has proven to be a complete failure in nearly all resource-rich African states, for a number of reasons.
The Nigerien city of Gaya is booming. Sitting on the banks of the Niger River not far from the borders of Benin and Nigeria, Gaya has grown from a quiet village to a hopping new hub. Its population is five times what it was just a few decades ago. So what has Gaya on the go?
To some extent, it's a trade story. Price differences across its nearby borders, helped by a ban on imports of second-hand clothes in Nigeria, and an avoidance of tax collection by customs officials have all been important factors in explaining the boom of trade in the region. Yet, combining these with an analysis of the development of transnational networks gives a more complete picture.
This is where Social Network Analysis sheds new light on the story of Gaya, by looking at these interactions to help improve our understanding of the dynamics involved.
Many countries use trade policy to protect their own consumers from spikes in international food prices. It turns out that this well-intentioned practice can actually do more harm than good. During food price spikes -- such as those in mid-2008, early 2011 and mid-2012 – governments restricted the export of food staples or lowered barriers to importing them. They hoped to keep their domestic prices of rice, wheat, maize, and oilseed low, reasoning that this would help their poor and stop people from falling into poverty. But there is new evidence that, while the practice kept each country’s domestic prices down relative to the world prices at the time, it contributed to the higher international prices that were the source of concern. In a World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, “Food Price Spikes, Price Insulation, and Poverty,” we explore this phenomenon and find that it did not reduce global poverty in 2008. On the contrary, we estimate it may have increased poverty slightly (by 8 million people).