To transform Africa’s economies, African companies matter too

I recently wrote this piece for The Conversation.

A consistent feature of global analyses of Africa’s economic prospects is their fickleness. In the years since the global financial crisis in 2008, forecasts about Africa have swerved from deep pessimism to heady optimism, and back to a bearish outlook of slow growth and fragility.

The vacillation in perceptions of African economies closely mirrors both the boom and bust cycle of global commodity prices, and the sentiments of Western and Chinese investors. But as global attention shifts yet again to the urgency of diversifying Africa’s economies from unprocessed commodities, the role of the domestic African private sector remains poorly understood by outsiders, especially academics.

The media has fared slightly better in spotlighting the exploits of tycoons such as Sudanese telecoms giant Mo Ibrahim, Nigerian cement magnate Aliko Dangote, Zimbabwean telecoms entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa and others. But although African business owners have been powerful forces in African economies since the colonial period, they are often ignored in research and analysis….Read More »

China and Global Development: Different Perspectives on Africa

On 29 February 2016, I participated in a panel discussion on the above subject, ‘China and Global Development: Different Perspectives on Africa’. This was at the School of Public Policy, Central European University, Budapest, alongside, Professor George Wu (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Professor Chris Alden (London School of Economics and Political Science). The discussion was convened and moderated by Dr Daniel Large, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and MPA Director.

You can watch the full video available below:

The SPP-CEU website has a summary of some highlights of the discussion, available HERE, which I am also reproducing below.

Read More »

‘Muslims Must be at the Forefront of this Fight’ Against Terrorism

Last week, terrorist attacks targeted Ankara in Turkey, and Grand Bassam resort in Ivory Coast. This morning, it hit Brussels claiming over 30 innocent lives and counting. There are countless attacks in North-East Nigeria often targeting people who are already poor at the very bottom of the income ladder, in Mali, increasingly Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, etc., and many Western capitals. In response to the recent incident in Brussels, Ahmed Sadiq posted this salient note on Facebook in condemnation of violent extremism: Read More »

Academic Paper: The Successes and Failures of Economic Reform in Nigeria’s Post-Military Political Settlement

Photo credit: personal collection

There are two stark images of Africa today. One of an ‘Africa rising’, surfing the wave of a digital revolution to drive a middle class consumption of innovative mobile technology and digital financial services. The other, of a more familiar Africa, whose oil and mineral resource economies remain highly vulnerable to the volatile swings of global commodity prices. The two Africas may seem like worlds apart but they are actually two sides of an ongoing economic transition on the continent, and are outcomes of the same political processes, as I argue in a new paper from my doctoral research.Read More »

Aliko Dangote to Discuss ‘Doing Business in Africa’ in Oxford

Dangote in Oxford_incl link_vf

The University of Oxford is hosting Aliko Dangote, the world’s richest black man and Africa’s most well-known industrialist tomorrow, 16 February 2016.

In particular, the Oxford University Africa Society and the Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN) are hosting him in a conversation entitled “The Truth about Doing Business in Africa” at 1.20pm. My colleague Yasmin Kumi, President of the Africa Society and myself, as co-convenor of the China-Africa Network will discuss with him his experiences of doing business in Africa

Although the event is restricted to students, researchers and academics in the university, who pre-registered, you can engage in the conversation with the hashtag #DangoteInOxford. A video will also be made publicly available online subsequently.

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 »

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:

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 »

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 »

Understanding Nigeria’s Historic Elections and Why They’re So Contentious

Photo credit: Washington Post

It is common to hear policy makers, development experts and pundits talk about the need to “build strong institutions” in Africa as the solution to governance challenges without quite understanding what processes building or modifying these “institutions” entail. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their 2012 tour de force, Why Nations Fail, provide a compelling explanation of how extractive or inclusive institutions emerge and determine societies’ political stability and economic prosperity. Their retrospective analysis shows how we are often unaware of this institutional change as it occurs. In Nigeria, the cloud of uncertainty around its forthcoming elections on 28 March is indicative of a process whose outcome will fundamentally alter its political system with implications for the rest of the African continent.Read More »