The disappearing Lake Chad, 1963-2001

 

I have been looking at the African Development Bank’s long term strategy (available here) and one of the figures that caught my eye was the extent to which Lake Chad has shrunk over the last 50 years. Wow.

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Africa’s newfound love with creditors: Bond bubble in the making?

I know it is increasingly becoming not kosher to put a damper on the Africa Rising narrative (these guys missed the memo, H/T Vanessa) but here is a much needed caution from Joe Stiglitz and Hamid Rashid, over at Project Syndicate, on SSA’s emerging appetite for private market debt (Africa needs US $90b for infrastructure; it can only raise $60 through taxes, FDI and concessional loans):

To the extent that this new lending is based on Africa’s strengthening economic fundamentals, the recent spate of sovereign-bond issues is a welcome sign. But here, as elsewhere, the record of private-sector credit assessments should leave one wary. So, are shortsighted financial markets, working with shortsighted governments, laying the groundwork for the world’s next debt crisis?

…….Evidence of either irrational exuberance or market expectations of a bailout is already mounting. How else can one explain Zambia’s ability to lock in a rate that was lower than the yield on a Spanish bond issue, even though Spain’s [which is not Uganda…] credit rating is four grades higher? Indeed, except for Namibia, all of these Sub-Saharan sovereign-bond issuers have “speculative” credit ratings, putting their issues in the “junk bond” category and signaling significant default risk.

The risks are real, especially when you consider the exposure to global commodity prices among the ten African countries that have floated bonds so far – Ghana, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Angola, Nigeria, Namibia, Zambia, and Tanzania.

In order to justify the exposure to the relatively higher risk and lending rates on the bond market (average debt period 11.2 years at 6.2% compared to 28.7 years at 1.6% for concessional loans) African governments must ensure prudent investment in sectors that will yield the biggest bang for the buck. And that also means having elaborate plans for specific projects with adequate consideration of the risks involved.

Here in Zambia (which is heavily dependent on Copper prices), the Finance Minister recently had to come out to defend how the country is using the $750 million it raised last year on the bond market (2013-14 budget here). Apparently there was no comprehensive plan for the cash so some of the money is still in the bank awaiting allocation to projects (It better be earning net positive real interest).

“They are fighting each other. By the time they have projects to finance, they will have earned quite a lot of interest from the Eurobond money they deposited. So, all the money is being used properly,” he [Finance Minister] said.

Following the initial success the country’s public sector plans to absorb another $4.5b in debt that will raise debt/GDP ratio from current ~25% to 30%. One hopes that there will be better (prior) planning this time round.

Indeed, last month FT had a story on growing fears over an Emerging (and Frontier) Markets bond bubble which had the following opening paragraph:

As far as financial follies go, tulip mania takes some beating. But future economic historians may look back at the time when investors financed a convention centre in Rwanda as the moment that the rush into emerging market bonds became frothy.

The piece also highlights the fact that the new rush to lend to African governments is not entirely driven by fundamentals – It is also a result of excess liquidity occasioned by ongoing quantitative easing in the wake of the Great Recession.

I remain optimistic about the incentive system that private borrowing will create for African governments (profit motive of creditors demands for sound macro management) and the potential for this to result in a nice virtuous cycle (if there is one thing I learned in Prof. Shiller’s class, it is the power of positive feedback in the markets).

But I also hope that when the big three “global” central banks start mopping up the cash they have been throwing around we won’t have a repeat of the 1980s, or worse, a cross between the 1980s (largely sovereign defaults) and the 1990s (largely private sector defaults) if the African private sector manages to get in on the action.

African governments, please proceed with caution.

The politics of reforming Nigeria’s oil sector

Nigerian legislators are attempting the impossible – to reform the management of their nation’s biggest cash cow – and failing. Decades of mismanagement and grand corruption have left Nigeria’s oil sector with entrenched and convoluted interests that are almost impossible to untangle and dislodge.

Africa Confidential reports:

Efforts towards comprehensive reform of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry are in tatters some five years after the first version of the Petroleum Industry Bill was presented to Parliament. After several redrafts, the PIB is still on the floor of the National Assembly and at the centre of partisan disputes, as parliamentarians pick over clauses which they claim favour one region of the country over another.Meanwhile, well connected companies and officials continue to benefit from an opaque system of management and operation that has allowed as much as US$100 billion to be siphoned off from state oil and gas revenue over the past decade, according to a report drawn up by the former anti-corruption czar, Nuhu Ribadu (AC Vol 53 No 9).

The failure to pass the reforms mooted in the PIB, which was intended to boost accountability and state revenue from exports, has developmental as well as financial costs. Nigeria has been unable to conduct a licensing round to award new blocks since 2007 because of uncertainties about new regulations and fiscal terms. This has limited new investment, raising the possibility that production capacity, which has been fixed at around 2.5 million barrels per day for a decade, could start to fall in the next few years.

More on this here.

Georgetown MSFS Launches New Africa Scholarship

The application deadline is January 15, 2014. Spread the word.

Starting in fall 2014, the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) at Georgetown University is offering a full- tuition scholarship for a talented graduate student from sub-Saharan Africa.

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MSFS is a two-year, full-time graduate degree program in international affairs. Students will take courses in international relations, international trade, international finance, statistics and analytical tools and history. In addition, students choose an area of concentration such as International Relations and Security, International Development or International Business.

Reason for African Petro-Rulers to be Worried

Africa’s petrorulers (heads of state of Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Sudan) may be headed for tough times later this year. According to a piece by (Steve Levine) over at FP, Saudi Arabia – the world’s leading oil producer – is considering flooding the global oil markets with the aim of sticking it to the Russians and Iranians. Saudi action of this nature could lower prices to as low as US $40 a barrel from the current $83.27.

With the exception of Ghana and Cameroon, such a drop in oil prices would almost certainly lead to political unrest in the rest of Africa’s oil producers. Sudan and South Sudan are already facing huge revenue shortfalls due to a dispute over the sharing of oil revenue.

More on “The Coming Oil Crash” here.

Links I liked

I just discovered Chri’s Blog on Madagascar and other Africa-related issues.

For those with a flavor of finance and capital markets and the political economy of development be sure to read Frontier Markets.

Germany is on the hunt for the UN security council seat in Africa.

And lastly, Justice – Uganda style:

Vice president upsets the president during tenure, president fires vice after election. Former vice gets accused of corruption. President declares former vice innocent, but leaves the matter up to the “independent” Inspectorate of Government. Here’s a quote from the president:

“What I know is that there was a power struggle between Bukenya and some businessmen but I found no merit in the case. But since the Inspectorate of Government is an independent body, let them investigate thoroughly.”

Yeah right.

Rants and Raves / Thoughts on the African Union

The African Union (AU) has had a rough few months. The diplomatic failures in Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, and Madagascar exposed the organization’s incompetence. The misguided anti-ICC crusade continues to cement the image of the organization as nothing more than a club of out-of-date and tone deaf autocrats. To many observers, calls for “African  Solutions to African Problems” amid all this failure has been seen as a cover of impunity and mediocre leadership on the African continent.

It says a lot that the current chairman of AU is President Theodore Obiang’ of Equatorial Guinea; a man who leads an oil-rich country of under 0.7 million people, with a per capita income of more than 30,000; but with more than 70% of its population living on less than $2 a day.

The epitome of the organization’s woes was the total snub it got from NATO before the military campaign against Libya’s Gaddafi, one of the AU’s main patrons. The AU was created by the Sirte Declaration, in Libya. Mr. Gaddafi’s influence ranged from his “African Kings” caucus (in which he was the King of Kings) to investments from Libya’s Sovereign wealth fund. I bet Gaddafi had a hand in the organization’s green flag.

So what ails the African Union?

The AU’s problems are legion. In my view, the following are some of the key ones.

  1. Lack of a regional hegemon(s): The AU faces massive collective action problems. With no regional hegemon(s) to act as the rudder of the organization, most of the organization’s resolutions are not worth the paper they get written on. The rotating chairmanship is a distraction from the real leadership needed in the organization. For instance, I had to google it to find out who’s currently in charge of the presidency of the EU (Poland). Everybody knows that France and Germany run the EU. Their word has gravitas in the Union. In the AU on the other hand, there is no leader. Could it be Navel-gaving South Africa or serially under-performing Nigeria?
  2. Too much political control: Most successful international organizations, despite having political principals, tend to have technical agents that are to some extent shielded from the principals. The AU is political through and through. The key decision-making body is the assembly of heads of state. The council of ministers does nothing. And the commission is all bark and no bite. Cronies of dictators staff most of the key positions in the organization.
  3. Disconnect from the masses: Most Africans have no idea what exactly the AU does. What is the point of the organization? Is it to preserve Africa’s borders? Is it to defend the likes of Gaddafi when the ICC’s Mr. Ocampo comes calling? Giving the people a voice in the Union might force the organization to do the people’s bidding, instead of being a protector of impunity in the name of African sovereignty.

What would reforming the AU entail?

  1. Radical restructuring: Like all inter-state organizations, the AU’s leadership should reflect regional power differences. The current assembly – in which Chad has the same power as Nigeria – makes no sense. There should be a smaller assembly of sub-regional representatives (West – Nigeria; East-Ethiopia; North – Egypt; and South-South Africa) with veto power and the mandate to implement the organization’s resolutions.
  2. Competent staffing: The practice of presidents appointing their sisters-in-law as AU representatives should go. An injection of competent expertise into the organization would go a long way in making it appear to be a more politically independent, competent and respectable organization.
  3. Direct elections to the AU parliament or no parliament at all: Instead of having the members’ parliaments elect representatives to the AU parliament, there should be direct elections. If that cannot happen then the parliament should be scrapped all together. A toothless and unrepresentative parliament is a waste of resources.
  4. Constructive and focused engagement with the rest of the world: Who is the AU chief foreign policy person? Are there permanent representatives in Beijing, Brussels, Brasilia, New Delhi and Washington? Why aren’t they trying to initiate a collective bargaining approach when dealing with these global powers (even if it is at the sub-regional level)? And what with the siege mentality? Not every condemnation of African leaders’ incompetence and mediocrity is a neo-colonial conspiracy, you know. For instance, instead of whining against the ICC’s Africa bias, the AU should clean up its own house. It doesn’t matter that George Bush is not being tried for crimes against Iraqis. The last time I checked none of the leaders of Switzerland was being tried for crimes committed in the German cantons.
  5. A more consistent commitment to progressive ideals: The AU is the only organization in the world that includes in its charter the provision to intervene in its member countries under the principle of responsibility to protect. If the AU were slightly more serious, the disasters in Zimbabwe, Cote Ivoire and Madagascar could have been nipped in the bud. As things stand it is only tiny Botswana that keeps shouting about the organization’s commitment to proper governance and responsibility to protect.

I am not a fan of the idea of the United States of Africa. That said, I believe that a regional organization like the AU can be a force for good. But in order for it to fulfill its purpose, it has to change. The change must reflect the regional power balance; it must increase the competence quotient in the AU and it must increase the voice of the average African within the organization.

Inequality, Terrorism and Governance in Nigeria

On June 17th Nigeria experienced its first ever suicide bomb attack. Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group that seeks the imposition of Sharia Law in all of northern Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Although the group’s principal aim – at least according to its press releases – is the imposition of Sharia Law, its motivating factors include economic, social and governance issues that the Nigeria’s infamously kleptocratic elite have so far chosen to ignore. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

The “nationalization” of the Boko Haram problem will intensify pressure on elected leaders and security forces to deal decisively with the group and prevent further attacks. Nigerian officials have proposed solutions ranging from crackdowns to outreach programs to amnesty offers. The government has to some extent pursued all of these options. Yesterday former Kano State GovernorIbrahim Shekarauproposed a hybrid approach of sorts, which would rely on intelligence gathering to defeat the group while advancing employment programs to deal with social and political grievances in Northern society.

Whatever course the government pursues, the Boko Haram problem has already led several Northern leaders, including the newly elected Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, to speak quite bluntly about the North’s serious problems of economic stagnation and political isolation. Northerners have been voicing such concerns for some time, but perhaps now these concerns will reach a broader audience and stimulate a debate that goes beyond just the issue of Boko Haram.

Since the unification of Nigeria in 1914, the north has continued to lag the south in a number of socio-economic indicators. Years of military rule by northern generals did not make things any better. Most of the country’s oil revenue wound up in Swiss bank accounts and as investments in properties in European cities – even as regular folk in Kano, Katsina and Maiduguri, and in the wider northern region, continued to wallow in poverty.

In a sense Boko Haram and its ghastly attacks on civilians and government installations is as much a rejection of Western/Christian education (its name loosely translates to non-Islamic education is a sin) as it is an indictment of northern Nigeria’s leadership. Even by Nigerian standards, the north is doing very badly.

Recently, the governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, chastised the northern elite by noting that the “high and persisting level of poverty in the country is a northern phenomenon.” Nearly all northern states in Nigeria have poverty rates higher than 60%, with some at 90%. Prof. Soludo further added that “if you look at all the indications of development, what constitutes today the North seems to be lagging far behind that the gaps seem to have even widened.

It is hard to ignore the fact that regular southerners are inching ahead of their northern counterparts despite the generous revenue sharing arrangements among Nigeria’s 36 states.

What does this mean for national politics and governance in Nigeria?

Well, for one we know that the apparent north-south political divide in the last election was merely an artifact of presidential politics. Gubernatorial elections revealed that northern elites are also aboard Goodluck Jonathan’s gravy train.

Northern Nigerian elites are as much a problem in the north’s underdevelopment as the historical north-south divide.

In light of this, groups like Boko Haram show that the northern elite in Nigeria can no longer play the north-south card while keeping all the money from the national treasury to themselves. The men and women on the streets and in northern rural areas also want their cut.

I hope Abuja will not bury its head in the sand and pretend that Boko Haram is purely a security problem.

Kenya tried doing the same with the Mungiki group (with extra-judicial executions and all) without much success.

To Abuja I say: you must try to solve the problem you have, not the one you wish you had.

Graphical Illustration of China’s global reach

NPR has this cool graphic on China’s global investments [click on image to enlarge].

Notice that Nigeria is among the top destinations of Chinese investments.

In my alternate universe Abuja (the undisputed regional hegemon) is stable and uses this, and the fact that it is also among the most important sources of US-bound crude oil, as leverage to nudge the two biggest global powers in the direction of a more stable and coherent Africa policy.

More on this here.

Failed states index out, the usual suspects top the list

FP has the annual list of failed states. The Continent has a heavy presence on the list, with the usual suspects like Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Central African Republic, among the top failures. Also on the list are otherwise stable places like Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, among others.

The list is, in some sense, a reminder that several states out there are in dire straits. Insecurity and poverty continue to be a daily experience of far too many people. But it also raises methodological questions regarding the rankings. Some of the rankings certainly do not make any substantive sense and merely feed into alarmist stereotypes we already have of certain countries or regions of the world.

Methodological issues aside, the list is yet another reminder that despite the recent surge in Afro-optimism, a lot still needs to be done in order to improve the human condition in Africa, among other regions of the world.