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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

Africa’s Oil Shock

This is an opinion piece I recently wrote for Aljazeera English, analysing how African countries are responding to falling global crude oil prices. I reproduce it below:

The plummeting of global crude prices is generating ripple effects worldwide. While oil exporters are reeling from plunging revenues, oil importers are bracing for cheaper oil, and the potential economic stimulus. Global economic relations may also witness profound shifts as the United States overtakes Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.Read More »

Obama’s Africa Summit: Too Little, Too Late?

This is an op-ed I wrote for Aljazeera English, on the recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

Photo credit: White House photo gallery

In 2013, I was in the audience at the Oxford Union for a taping of Al Jazeera’s Head to Head featuring Thomas Friedman and his thoughts on US Foreign Policy. The show’s focus was entirely focused on the Middle East, and the United States’ strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. During the Q&A session, I sought to highlight that Africa was not mentioned once over the course of the show. The fact that Africa was left out of the discussion is a clear illustration of the US’ tepid strategy towards the continent in recent times.Read More »

Boko Haram and the Competing Narratives

This is an article I recently wrote for the Opinion section of AlJazeera English. It was originally published on the AJE website.

Nigeria has recently been brought to global media attention both as the largest economy in Africa and as the home country of the Boko Haram insurgency. The growing security threat has been accompanied by a failure to develop a comprehensive narrative about Boko Haram’s origins, its motivations and its implications for the country’s future. The absence of such a cohesive narrative by the Nigerian government, its citizens and the communities affected is indicative of the need for a domestic solution to tackle this security challenge.Read More »

Nigeria’s Economic Transition Reveals Deep Structural Distortions

This is an article I recently wrote for African Arguments on Nigeria’s recently revised GDP series.

According to recently reviewed GDP figures, Nigeria is now Africa’s biggest economy. It was about time a more accurate measure of economic output, which captures Nigerians’ entrepreneurial zeal, was adopted. The headline-capturing highlights of the new series reveal the scale of the economy, and greater economic diversification with the rapid growth of non-oil sectors. Significantly, the figures indicate how this growth accounts for the “jobless” economic expansion, the slow pace of industrial development and the regional dimensions of the economic boom.

According to the rebased figures, six sectors now account for 70% of nominal GDP rather than three in the old series. The service sector grew fastest, by 240%, and is progressively constituting a larger portion of the GDP. Conversely, the share of the two hitherto giants – agriculture and oil has fallen to 21% and 14.4% respectively. Nigeria is transiting to a services-driven economy due to the rapid growth of information and communications technology (ICT), banking, trade and the informal economy.Read More »

Does Nigeria Really Need a ‘Sovereign National Conference’?

This is a piece I wrote for the Royal African Society’s African Arguments blog.

In a few weeks, Nigerians across ethnic and regional divides will be gathering at a roundtable to discuss critical national issues. The imperative for this National Conference as a necessary discussion over Nigeria’s future was underscored by the President, Goodluck Jonathan, in his Independence Day commemoration address in October 2013. No doubt, there is need for consensus among the country’s distinct ethnic and religious groups on critical governance issues such as the structure of government, federalism, revenue distribution, political representation and power sharing. Whether the National Conference taking place this year is capable of addressing Nigeria’s perennial existential problems is another question.Read More »