New Industrial Policy in Africa: Overcoming the Extractives Trap

Moderating the event’s first panel. Photo credit: FES Madagascar

Happy New Year!

On 3-4 November 2015, I was at a conference organised by the Friederich Ebert Stiftung (FES) foundation on ‘New Industrial Policy in Africa: Overcoming the Extractives Trap’ in Atananarivo, Madagascar .

The conference was organised to discuss attempts by African countries, especially resource producers and exporters to cope with the ongoing collapse in global commodity prices. This is within the global context of a renewed interest in industrialisation with the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (see my post on it here), the role of governments in enabling private sector activity and in directing public investments towards stimulating industry. The conference was a contribution to ongoing debates on what effective industrial policies could look like, whether African countries should focus on their comparative or competitive advantage, how to learn from previous failures on the mis-allocation of resources, country experiences of Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Namibia and Nigeria etc.

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Nigeria’s Newly Appointed Officials Signal Shift in Economic Policy

Credit: Olisa TV

This is a piece I recently wrote for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog on how Nigeria’s new government maybe shifting towards the mineral sector, and how this could address regional disparities in growth.

Although he was elected in March of this year, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari did not name his Cabinet ministers until 5 p.m. on Sept. 30 — the day of his self-imposed deadline. The most striking thing about Buhari’s Cabinet appointments is that they demonstrate a shift toward economic diversification away from oil. This has major implications for how neglected sectors like mining may be given a boost, but also how Africa’s largest economy will be run over the next few years.Read More »

The Under-Belly of Africa’s Booming Business Environment

Africa’s mobile phone revolution is one of the main drivers of the bullish ‘Africa Rising’ narrative. Underpinning this optimism in Nigeria, is the liberalisation of the country’s telecommunications sector, regarded as one of the success stories of economic reform. With over 148 million connected mobile lines, and 92 million internet subscribers, it is not hard to see why.

Amidst the praises for this emergent sector, precious little is known about the actual (and messy) back story behind the telecoms liberalisation in the early 2000s.

For that reason, British-Zimbabwean telecoms tycoon, Strive Masiyiwa’s recent account of his experience during these early days of reform provides a rare glimpse into the challenges and opportunities of operating in a place like Nigeria. The narrative posted on his blog and Facebook page, went viral several weeks ago.Read More »

Piketty’s Lecture on Inequality in South Africa

Thomas Piketty, the “rock star economist”, was in Soweto, South Africa recently to deliver the 13th annual Nelson Mandela lecture. He spoke about inequality, drawing on his recent best-selling book, Capital in the Twenty First Century but also from his country, France’s experiences in inclusion and welfare reforms since the French Revolution in the 18th century.

It is a very interesting submission, for many reasons. I particularly liked his historical and comparative approach, and his caution in making reference to often-unreliable data on tax returns, wealth and of course inequality.

The talk is topical, and couldn’t have been delivered at a more appropriate time. South Africa, which has the most developed, diversified economy in Africa, is currently the world’s most unequal country in income distribution according to the World Bank’s Gini Index. Read More »

Three Reasons Why We Should Be Optimistic About the SDGs

The unveiling of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was the highlight of the week-long United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The SDGs is the successor framework to the MDGs, with an overarching objective of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. Its 17 goals, 169 indicators and a global rather than developing-world focus make it more expansive in scope than the MDGs.

Expectedly, a gathering of this scale unveiling such a grand global agenda drew a lot of flak. From accusations of being too ambitious and concerns about how to finance the SDGs, to contradictory accusations of both an excessive and insufficient emphasis on aid financing and the absence of reliable data to measure progress across ‘vague’ indicators, there are many holes to pick. Despite some of these valid criticisms, there are three main reasons why we should be optimistic about the SDGs.Read More »

Is the Idea of ‘African Solutions’ too limiting in a Globalised Economy?

Note: I paraphrased the title of this blog post from this tweet by Professor Calestous Juma. 

The question was prompted by a recent statement by Bob Collymore, the CEO of Safaricom, one of Africa’s pioneering mobile money platforms. Collymore suggests that the idea of ‘African Solutions’ (to African Problems) may be hindering the ability of African firms to have global impact.

Here is an excerpt from the Mail and Guardian:Read More »

Buhari’s First 100 Days: Does Nigerian President Mean Business?

In this piece for CNN, I assess the performance of Nigeria’s president in his first 100 days in office. Here’s an excerpt:

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At Muhammadu Buhari’s official inauguration, Eagle Square Abuja, 29 May 2015. Photo credit: personal collection

As I stood on a queue at the immigration desk at the arrivals section of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Nigeria’s capital city Abuja in May 2015, a well-dressed couple who had just arrived skipped the queue and headed straight to the desk. People murmured in exasperation and a woman right in front of me said with indignation: “It’s OK, now that Buhari is president, all these things will stop.”

Her statement reflected the general mood of optimism I witnessed around the country — on the streets and days later, at the Eagle Square, where Muhammadu Buhari took the oath of office — that Nigeria’s new president would solve the country’s numerous problems.

High expectations on Buhari’s leadership credentials swept him to victory with almost 54% of the vote in ahistoric defeat of an incumbent president in Nigerian elections. Buhari’s ascetic demeanour, quite atypical of the venality often associated with Nigeria’s political elite…Read More »

My Summer Reading is Heavily Skewed Towards East Asia and Stephen King

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Like many people, I’ve been trying to catch up on some recreational reading before the summer ends.

I’ve been reading a lot on East Asia, especially China recently. I’m almost done with Deborah Brautigam’s (2009) “The Dragon’s Gift: the Real Story of China in Africa”, which I skimmed through in 2011 for school essays. Brautigam’s main thesis is that China’s engagement with Africa, aimed at mutually beneficial partnerships, is inspired by its experience with Western and Japanese donors during its process of development. I recently started Martin Jacques’ (2009) “When China Rules the World: the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order”, I picked the book after…Read More »

Scholarships and Development Opportunities No. 14

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INTERNSHIP: SOCIAL POLICY FOR INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT AT THE UN INSTITUTE FOR RESEARCH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

Deadline: 19 July 2015

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) is an autonomous research institute within the UN system that undertakes multidisciplinary research and policy analysis on the social dimensions of contemporary development issues. Through our work, we aim to ensure that social equity, inclusion and justice are central to development thinking, policy and practice.

UNRISD is now accepting applications for a three-month internship position, starting in August 2015, to assist with the projects “Towards Universal Social Security in Emerging Economies”, “New Directions in Social Policy: Alternatives from and for the Global South”, and Read More »

Buhari should Phase-Out, Not Remove Petroleum Subsidy

Democratic governments are likely to face two interrelated problems in implementing difficult economic reforms. First, is the unpopularity of these measures among citizens who are likely to shoulder the most burden. Second, is the difficulty in employing a practical approach to implementation. Reforming Nigeria’s money-guzzling fuel subsidy regime, now an urgent matter in the context of dwindling government revenues since 2014, is both unpopular and the practicalities of its reformation are yet to be fleshed out.

Fuel subsidies are considered inefficient in standard economistic thinking, as a…Read More »

“EITI was the Wrong Focus” and other Highlights of the Natural Resource Governance Conference

Last week, I was at a conference organised by the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), formerly Revenue Watch Institute, on the challenges and opportunities presented by falling commodity prices. It was attended by the best in the academia, in policy and in civil society in the field.

A breakdown of the panels and speakers is available on the NRGI website.

There were a couple of things which stood out that are worth highlighting and documenting.

First, at the opening plenary, was…Read More »

Publication: ‘Why Goodluck Jonathan Lost the Nigerian Presidential Election of 2015’

Our publication (with colleague Dr Olly Owen) in the July edition of the journal, African Affairs is out. We wrote a brief on the Nigerian presidential election in March 2015, assessing why the election was exceptional in many respects, why many previous predictions including ours of a runoff or an outright Jonathan/PDP victory did not come to pass, and why and how Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) lost the elections.

An e-version is available on the African Affairs website here:

‘Why Goodluck Jonathan Lost the Nigerian Presidential Election of 2015’Read More »