Nigeria’s Africa Internet Group posts the Continent’s first “unicorn” startup

This is from the FT:

Africa Internet Group is set to become the continent’s first “unicorn” after securing an investment valuing the ecommerce group at more than $1bn.

… African Internet Group’s valuation could be matched by Interswitch, the Nigerian fintech group that processes payments for banks, if the company decides to float later this year.

Over the next couple of decades the mobile and tech market in Africa will only grow bigger — watch out for Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire ….. and Ethiopia when they finally liberalize (which I hope will happen sooner rather than later). According to the same FT piece:

Smartphones have begun to transform the way Africans live and work. The continent is projected to have 360m smartphones by 2025, when internet penetration on the continent will hit 50 per cent, according to McKinsey Consultants.

H/T Tyler Cowen.

Africa’s Demographic Destiny

Notice that these are estimates. The Journal reports:

The biggest human increase in modern history is under way in Africa. On every other continent, growth rates are slowing toward a standstill for the first time in centuries, and the day is in sight when the world’s human population levels out.

But not here — not yet.

Some 2.5 billion people will be African by 2050, the U.N. projects. That would be double the current number and 25% of the world’s total. There will be 399 million Nigerians then, more than Americans. When the century closes, if projections hold, four out of 10 people will be African.

Billions of them will be living in cities that are today small towns. The land of open spaces that was Africa will have blended into one big megalopolitan web.

More on this here.

Brazil is officially the 2nd biggest black country, after Nigeria

The Guardian reports:

For the first time since records began black and mixed race people form the majority of Brazil’s population, the country’s latest census has confirmed.

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Distribution of Mixed-Race Brazilians

Preliminary results from the 2010 census, released on Wednesday, show that 97 million Brazilians, or 50.7% of the population, now define themselves as black or mixed race, compared with 91 million or 47.7% who label themselves white.

The proportion of Brazilians declaring themselves white was down from 53.7% in 2000, when Brazil’s last census was held.

But the proportion of people declaring themselves black or mixed race has risen from 44.7% to 50.7%, making African-Brazilians the official majority for the first time.

“Among the hypotheses to explain this trend, one could highlight the valorisation of identity among Afro-descendants,” Brazil’s census board, the IBGE, said in its report.

According to the census, 7.6% of Brazilians said they were black, compared with 6.2% in 2000, and 43.1% said they were mixed race, up from 38.5%.

Ethiopia is the third biggest. With about 94 million people.

Fighting Corruption in Nigeria (Your Uncle is a Crook!)


This approach to fighting corruption goes against the lessons in Peter Ekeh’s delineation between “primordial” and “civic” publics in Nigeria. According to Ekeh one’s uncle may be corrupt in the civic public, but as long as he provides benefits and adequately “shares” in the primordial public he can remain in good standing within his community.

That said, the strategy might work if every Nigerian credibly promises to expose their uncle who’s corrupt but pretends to be an international businessman. The Nigerian government could nudge Nigerians in the right direction by actually prosecuting and jailing the country’s corrupt uncles and aunts.

Africa’s looming debt crises

The 1980s are calling. According to Bloomberg:

Zambia’s kwacha fell the most on record after Moody’s Investors Service cut the credit rating of Africa’s second-biggest copper producer, a move the government rejected and told investors to ignore…..

Zambia’s economy faces “a perfect storm” of plunging prices for the copper it relies on for 70 percent of export earnings at the same time as its worst power shortage, Ronak Gopaldas, a credit risk analyst at Rand Merchant Bank in Johannesburg, said by phone. Growth will slow to 3.4 percent in 2015, missing the government’s revised target of 5 percent, Barclays Plc said in a note last week. That would be the most sluggish pace since 2001.

The looming debt crisis will hit Zambia and other commodity exporters hard. As I noted two years ago, the vast majority of the African countries that have floated dollar-denominated bonds are heavily dependent on commodity exports. Many of them are already experiencing fiscal blues on account of the global commodity slump (see for example Angola, Zambia and Ghana). This will probably get worse. And the double whammy of plummeting currencies and reduced commodity exports will increase the real cost of external debt (on top of fueling domestic inflation). I do not envy African central bankers.

Making sure that the looming debt crises do not result in a disastrous retrenchment of the state in Africa, like happened in the 1980s and 1990s, is perhaps the biggest development challenge of our time. Too bad all the attention within the development community is focused elsewhere.

What roughly $470m of borrowed money gets you in Nigeria vs Ethiopia

Ethiopia and Nigeria both borrowed roughly the same amounts of money from China’s EXIM Bank for massive infrastructure investments. The former sought to transform its capital’s transit system with a light rail ($475m); the latter tried to boost security in its capital by installing security (CCTV) cameras ($470m).

The outcomes of the two projects are an indication of what will be the impact of China’s ongoing infrastructure projects in much of SSA. Some countries because of the specificities in their domestic political economy are using borrowed money to deliver on actual tangibles — dams, power lines, stadia, housing projects, railway lines, roads, et cetera (corruption plays a role, but projects get completed). Yet others are accruing loans (albeit on concessionary terms) simply to treat the cash injections in the same manner that political elites have treated windfalls from mineral resources in decades past.

Ethiopia just opened its new light rail system in Addis. Nigeria’s CCTV project was a major flop. Of course this fact was not lost on a section of Nigerians on twitter:

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How to increase mass employment in Nigeria (and other developing countries)

David Mckenzie of the Bank writes:

The modal firm size in most developing countries is one worker, consisting of only the owner of the firm. Amongst the firms that do hire additional workers, most hire fewer than ten. In Nigeria survey data indicate that 99.6 percent of firms have fewer than 10 workers. This is in sharp contrast to the United States, where the modal manufacturing firm has 45 workers. Are there constrained entrepreneurs in developing countries with the ability to grow a firm beyond this ten worker threshold? If so, this raises the questions of whether such individuals can be identified in advance, and of whether public policy can help them overcome these constraints to firm growth.

In an attempt to figure out if policy can help grow firms in developing countries, Mackenzie evaluated a program in Nigeria that awarded 1,200 winners about $50,000 each (out of an initial application pool of 24,000; the top 6000 applicants were in the study). See a summary here. And the paper is available here.

………. winning this competition has large positive impacts on both applicants looking to start new firms as well as those aiming to expand existing firms. Three years after applying, new firm applicant winners were 37 percentage points more likely than the control group to be operating a business and 23 percentage points more likely to have a firm with 10 or more workers, while existing firm winners were 20 percentage points more likely to have survived, and 21 percentage points more likely to have a firm with 10 or more workers. Together the 1,200 winners are estimated to have generated 7,000 more jobs than the control group, are innovating more, and are earning higher sales and profits.

Two quick thoughts. First, this is a really cool finding that should get African central bankers excited about how the financial sector can be put to use in boosting mass employment. Second, it is a caution against the odd idea prevalent in development programs of trying to turn poor people into entrepreneurs (see below). The best solution to poverty is jobs. Entrepreneurship is a risk that shouldn’t be imposed on people with already super slim margins of error in terms of income security. As Mckenzie rightly observes:

The results of this evaluation show that a business plan competition can be successful in identifying entrepreneurs with the potential to use the large amounts of capital offered as prizes, and that these individuals appear to be otherwise constrained from realizing this potential. The prize money generates employment and firm growth that would not have otherwise happened. However, the results also highlight the difficulties of picking winners. Conditional on reaching the semi-finalist stage, neither the scores for the business plans, nor individual and business characteristics have much predictive power for predicting which firms will grow faster or benefit most from the program. This remains an area for active research, but also highlights the inherent riskiness of entrepreneurial activity.

How much does it cost to construct an MDG borehole in Abuja?

The Premium Times of Nigeria reports:

Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) office spent N154.2 million to construct a single borehole in Abuja, in a shocking example of contract inflation that has helped undermine the country’s ability to achieve its MDG goals.

Drilling a single borehole drilling in Abuja averages N1.5 million. A hydrology firm told PREMIUM TIMES that the amount should cover drilling and casing, installation of a solar-powered submersible pump, steel tower for the tanks, tanks, pipes, joints & suckers, installation and labour.

The firm allowed an expanded estimate of N10 million if a water treatment facility is included alongside other optional accessories.

The Abuja borehole, constructed at Gwarinpa, an expansive estate in the federal capital, had no such fittings. Indeed, the borehole had long become dysfunctional and was no longer dispensing water to the residents when PREMIUM TIMES visited in June 2015.

Still, the Abuja MDG office told this newspaper it was more concerned with service delivery to the people, than the amount it takes to do so (emphasis added).

A slightly different story on administrative unit proliferation

The emerging stylized story about administrative unit proliferation in the developing world is that it is often a result of political machinations by national and local elites intent on creating new units for marginalized groups and for the ruler to buy votes; and that such proliferation only serves to re-centralize actual power — see for example these really cool papers by Grossman and Lewis (on the specific case of Uganda), Mai Hasssan (on the use of new districts to buy votes in Kenya) and Kimuli Kasara (also on how heightened electoral competition after 1992 accelerated the process of administrative unit proliferation in Kenya).

But there is also a slightly different, and in some ways complementary, story.

Regarding the creation of new provinces in Vietnam, Edmund Malesky notes:Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 12.30.20 PM

The timing of provincial separations after Party Congresses, the dominance of Non-state Provinces despite little change in national output, and the decisive political outcome of this dominance at the 2001 Party Congress bolster the argument that reformers had an explicit electoral strategy in calling for the splitting of provinces in 1996. By creating new Non-state Provinces, modernizers believed they could influence the outcomes of future CCOM debates about
grand strategies and smaller NA debates about implementation of these new policies. While rhetorically it was easier to argue for new provinces based on efficiency, it would seem they were studying maps of
district economic composition and creating new reform-oriented
provinces out of SOE-dominated areas.

The key difference between administrative unit proliferation in Vietnam and Uganda (and Kenya before 2010) is the electoral connection (an aspect that, in my view, is missing in the current literature). Because the provinces had votes (in party congresses and plenums), the creation of new Vietnamese provinces had significant implications for the de facto distribution of power in both Hanoi and the periphery (and in Malesky’s story, made reforms possible). Provincial splits in Vietman were therefore not just about patronage and marginalized groups, but also about securing a win for the reformist bloc at the centre.

This might not be the case in countries where new units can be created without altering the balance of power in the party congress or parliament — either because such action does not create new electoral districts; or the president gets to nominate or can credibly influence the election of the representatives of the new districts. For this reason, I would predict that Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa (whose subnational units are electorally significant and have a fair amount of fiscal autonomy) are unlikely to create new primary subnational units willy-nilly.