Well, public debt in African states is much higher if you take into account their revenue mobilization capacities. The bigger the informal sector, the lower the debt/revenues ratio.
Consider the case of Nigeria (from the FT):
Nigeria’s accumulated government debt is just 18.6 per cent of its annual economic output, one of the lowest levels in the world, implying that its debt burden is more than manageable. But is this a fair reflection of reality?
Using a different metric, the Nigerian government’s gross debt is 320 per cent of its annual revenues, according to figures from Fitch Ratings, one of the highest figures in the world and comfortably above the median of 196 per cent for countries in Africa and the Middle East that are rated by Fitch.
Paul Staniland raises important questions in his review of Philip Roessler’s latest book (highly recommended):
I just finished reading Philip Roessler’s excellent book for my graduate Civil War seminar. Already a fan of his 2005 piece on electoral violence, I learned a lot from the new book and highly recommend it. But, just as when reading major work by Will Reno, Reno and Chris Day, Jeremy Weinstein, Paul Collier, Jeffrey Herbst, and others, I had the reaction that “This looks nothing like the places I study.” At least in the stylized world of African politics presented in these projects (I have no idea if this is accurate), Hobbesian insecurity preys on all in the absence of any real institutions, ethnic balancing and calculation dominates any other form of politics, and regimes are held in place by fluid, shifting alignments with “Big Men” rooted in local power bases.
As a result, we get shambolic and weak central regimes prone to either coups or revolts, and rebels easily bought off by patronage or co-optation. Weinstein highlights the inability of ideological rebels to overcome waves of material resources that eliminate discipline or politics, Roessler’s regimes are simply what Skocpol calls an “arena” for political competition between social actors rather than possessing any institutions or interests autonomous from social forces, and Reno’s civil wars (with the exception of “reform rebels”) are simply a grim game of bargaining over patronage between states and insurgents that are more similar than different.
Is Africa that different?
Roessler, indeed, argues that Africa has a “unique institutional structure” in which external conflicts are rare and internal disorder common. If Africa is indeed unique, it is hard to know how arguments rooted in the African context can travel beyond Africa.
I would argue that there is not a uniquely African civil war story. Weak states everywhere, including in Africa, are gonna weak state.
A more useful analytical delineation is what Staniland suggests:
At minimum, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that research on civil war needs to become at least partially bifurcated into work on its dynamics in very weak states (the representation of African conflicts dominant in the literature, plus Afghanistan and a few others) versus those in medium-capacity states (India, Colombia, Indonesia, Russia, etc) that possess large, centrally controlled conventional an
Think of the Nigerian Civil War between 1967-1970. The Biafra War involved a relatively strong state facing a relatively well-organized and disciplined secessionist army — much in the mold of middle income conflicts. In the same vein, countries like Kenya and Ethiopia have managed to quell rebellions in Mt. Elgon & the south coast, and in the Ogaden, respectively, in ways that would look very familiar to Staniland.
Completely anarchic conflicts involving collapsing states and incoherent hyper-localized rebellions — your stereotypical African conflict, if you will — are a unique historical experience rooted in the states that did really fall apart in the late 1980s to early 1990s (pretty much in the midst of Africa’s continental economic nadir). It is instructive that these states were concentrated in the Mano River region and Central Africa, some of the regions worst affected by the socio-political challenges of Africa’s lost long decade (1980-1995).
And given recent economic trends in Africa (see image), it is not surprising that conflicts are becoming rarer in Africa (much in line with Fearon and Laitin). I would also expect markedly different kinds of conflicts should they emerge. There is a reason Boko Haram has never posed an existential threat to the Nigerian state, very much in the same way that India’s Maoist rebels are a peripheral matter.
I always remind my students that the Africa they know is more often than not the Africa that existed between 1980 and 1995. We all need to update.
MR’s Tyler Cowen (also Professor of Economics at George Mason) recently spent six days in Lagos. Here is what he has to say about Africa’s biggest and most economically dynamic city:
A trip is often defined by its surprises, so here are my biggest revelations from six days in Lagos, Nigeria.
Most of all, I found Lagos to be much safer than advertised. It is frequently described as one of the most dangerous cities on earth. Many people told me I was crazy to go there, and some Nigerian expats warned me I might not get out of the airport alive.
The reality is that I walked around freely and in many parts of town. I didn’t try to go everywhere or at all hours, and I may have been lucky. Yet not once did I feel threatened, and I strongly suspect that a trip to Lagos is safer than a trip to Rio de Janeiro, a major tourist destination. (In my first trip to Rio I was attacked by children with pointed sticks. In my second I found myself caught in a gunfight between drug lords). Many Lagos residents credit the advent of closed-circuit television cameras for their safety improvements.
So if you’re an experienced traveler, and tempted to visit Africa’s largest and arguably most dynamic city, don’t let safety concerns be a deal killer.
I have never been to Lagos, and look forward to fixing this in 2017. So far my experience of West African (commercial) capitals is limited to Dakar, Accra, Lome, Conakry, Nouakchott and Monrovia (I like them in that order). Dakar edges Accra only by a whisker, mostly on account of the seascape. I have spent way more time in Accra, and therefore my ranking might also be a function of my knowledge of Accra a little too well.
Accra beats all other cities on food. It has the most variety, and nearly all of the offerings beat the bland stuff that we East Africans consume. The grilled tilapia and banku is unbeatable.
Oh, and I must admit that I have a slight preference for Senegalese jollof. My wife insists that Ghanaian jollof is the best jollof (ahead of both the Nigerian and Senegalese variations). I look forward to sampling Naija jollof so we can finally settle this disagreement.
These are figures from an IMF Article IV country report in April of this year:
The one thing that jumped at me from this table was how little(as a share of total national output) the Nigerian public sector spends. The government barely takes in 10% of GDP in revenues; and spends between 11-12%. Also, for a country at its level of development (and with an economy of its size), Nigeria is weirdly debt free (relatively speaking).
You may be thinking that these figures must exclude state government expenditures — and you are wrong. The 11-12% figure is inclusive of state government expenditures.
In my view, this is a PFM smoking gun on the distortionary effects of oil dependence. Nigerian policymakers appear to be sated with the little revenue they are consuming (as a share of GDP) from the oil sector.
For a comparative perspective, take a look at Kenya’s numbers:
The Kenyan government gobbles up about a fifth of GDP in revenues, and spends about a quarter. The Nigerian government only takes in a tenth of GPD and spends just a little over a tenth. In addition, the Kenyan government’s debt/GDP ratio is twice Nigeria’s.
General government spending as a share of GDP within the OECD ranges from 33.7% in Switzerland to 58.1 in Finland. The OCED debt/GDP ratio average is 90%.
Back in grad school I took Avner Greif’s economic history class in which he emphasized the importance of organizations for economic development. Societies, big and small, organize out of poverty — by building and maintaining socially-attuned institutions that lower transaction costs. The scope and intensity of organizational capacity therefore matters for economic development (For more see here). It takes a well ordered state.
And from these two tables, it is fair to say that the Nigerian state is underperforming relative to its organizational potential. Perhaps it’s time more people in Abuja started reading Alexander Gerschenkron (however dated this might be).
Writing in Foreign Policy, Alex de Waal is certain that Brexit is terrible for African countries, and that “[e]verything from the economy to peacekeeping missions will suffer.”
The damage to British interests is significant, but the losses for [African countries] could be greater still. In campaigning to leave the European Union, Minister for Africa James Duddridge argued that Britain would be able to forge stronger ties with the continent if it were unencumbered by EU inefficiencies in aid and trade. Perhaps if Duddridge had a blank slate on which to construct a new Africa policy, he could do better than Britain’s existing one, which is part bilateral and part multilateral through the EU. But no policy is ever built on a blank slate, and surveying the post-Brexit political wreckage, he is now faced with a salvage job that will involve decoupling Britain from numerous EU-led peace and development initiatives and renegotiating dozens of trade deals. Even deftly managed by Duddridge or his successor, the Brexit will leave Britain with a fraction of the influence it currently wields in Africa.
And over at Africa is a Country Grive Chelwa notes that:
The one obvious channel through which Brexit could affect economies in Africa is if it triggers a recession in the UK. A recession might affect trade and investment between the two regions. The Bank of England thinks a recession might very well be on the cards. A study reviewing all studies that have estimated the likely economic impact of Brexit found: “GDP losses for the UK in the range of 10% or more [could not] be ruled out in the long run.”
How much trade takes place between the UK and Africa? Not much, it turns out. Combining data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for 2014, the latest year for which we have comparable data, we calculated that exports from Africa to the UK represent about 5% of Africa’s total exports. Africa is more worried about a slowdown in China, its biggest trading partner by far.
…. The UK doesn’t have the same influence on the continent that it did decades ago. And Brexit will be further proof of that. If the UK sneezes Africa will … well Africa will say “bless you” and move on.
On balance, I agree with Chelwa. It appears that with regard to the UK-Africa relationship, the Brits stand to lose more than Africa as a unit following Brexit. This is for the following reasons:
This is not to say that Africa’s economies will be able to weather Brexit without any non-trivial hiccups. South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are probably the most exposed (in that order). Other African economies will be exposed to the extent that economic troubles in the UK lead to a global recession (the gold exporters might even benefit…)
And Western security policies and support for missions in Somalia and across the Sahel may face short-term uncertainties. But these experiences will not necessarily be catastrophic (on the security front, America will most likely steady the ship).
In fact, I tend to think that the long-run impact of these experiences will be positive. English speaking African economies will have incentives to diversify their export destinations away from the UK. African countries will have more leverage vis-a-vis the UK and (a fractured) Europe (and the US). And the lessons from the political upheavals in the West will serve to liberate Global South elites to mold their own societies in their own image and in a manner that respects sociopolitical realities in their specific contexts.
This is from The Economist:
In Abuja, the capital, there are at least four small communities of Igbo-speakers that have opened synagogues. (Jews joke that every town needs at least two so that members can hold a grudge, and refuse to attend one of them.) In one, on the outskirts of the city, there is a gospel lilt to the songs: members taught themselves to read Hebrew and then had to make up the tunes, says one…..
It might seem odd that people would sign up to join a small faith whose members have suffered centuries of oppression. Yet Uri Palti, Israel’s ambassador to Nigeria, reckons there are more than 40 such communities across the country. Daniel Lis, an academic, thinks there may be thousands of Nigerians who practise Judaism. Millions more of the Igbo tribe (sic) believe that they are descended from biblical Israelites. Across Africa as a whole there may be thousands more self-declared Jews. One community in eastern Uganda, the Abayudaya, adopted the faith almost a century ago. Its rabbi was recently elected the country’s first Jewish member of parliament.
And this is from the New Yorker:
About an hour’s drive north of Seoul, in the Gwangju Mountains, nearly fifty South Korean children pore over a book. The text is an unlikely choice: the Talmud, the fifteen-hundred-year-old book of Jewish laws. The students are not Jewish, nor are their teachers, and they have no interest in converting. Most have never met a Jew before. But, according to the founder of their school, the students enrolled with the goal of receiving a “Jewish education” in addition to a Korean one.
When I toured the boarding school last year, the students, who ranged in age from four to nineteen, were seated cross-legged on the floor of a small tentlike auditorium. Standing in front of a whiteboard, their teacher, Park Hyunjun, was explaining that Jews pray wearing two small black boxes, known as tefillin, to help them remember God’s word. He used the Hebrew words shel rosh (“on the head”) and shel yad (“on the arm”) to describe where the boxes are worn. Inside these boxes, he said, was parchment that contained verses from one of the holiest Jewish prayers, the Shema, which Jews recite daily. As the room filled with murmurings of the Shema in Korean, the dean of the school leaned over to me and said that the students recited the prayer daily, too, “with the goal of memorizing it.”
Both are pretty interesting reads. Definitely worth your time.
This is from the March Africa Research Institute (ARI) report on the state of sub-national government in Nigeria:
A federal structure, whose prime objective was to maintain security by curbing regional and ethnic influence, does not foster development. Despite receiving about half the national revenue – a sum of N2.7 trillion in 2014 (US$13.5 billion at current official exchange rate) – state governments fail to provide the services that could materially improve the lives of tens of millions of Nigerians. The 2015 United Nations Human Development Index ranked Nigeria 152nd out of 187 countries. State authorities are not accountable to citizens, state institutions are weak and corruption is endemic. The 774 LGAs – the most proximate form of government for most Nigerians – have all but ceased to function. Furthermore, groups armed by or linked to state governors have been responsible for the most deadly outbreaks of violence of the past decade: ethnic clashes in Plateau state, conflict in the Niger Delta and the Boko Haram insurgency.
… If oil were at US$20 a barrel, at 2014 budget levels only three states would be able to cover their recurrent costs with recurrent revenues: Lagos, because it generates substantial revenues internally and depends less on federal transfers; Kano, because of the amount the state receives in federal transfers due to the large number of local government areas; and Katsina, because the overhead and personnel costs are very low compared to other states.
And on Lagosian exceptionalism:
…. to raise tax revenues from various sources, including property, required a promise of benefits; and to make it sustainable those benefits had to be delivered to taxpayers. Federal funding resumed in 2007, but taxes still produce 60% of Lagos’s revenue. Its IGR, about N300 billion (US$1.5 billion) in 2014, is equivalent to the combined IGR of 32 of Nigeria’s 35 other states.4
Reliance on IGR made the Lagos state government more accountable to its electorate, who in turn became more aware of their right to judge its performance. Under Tinubu’s protégé and successor, Babatunde Fashola, crime was reduced, the environment improved, roads were built and the transport system expanded. Prompt action to contain a possible outbreak of Ebola in 2014 demonstrated governmental competence. Now that Fashola is a federal minister, many expect Nasir el-Rufai in Kaduna state, in the north-west, to earn the reputation as Nigeria’s most praiseworthy state governor. Elected in 2015, el-Rufai moved quickly to close the state’s commercial bank accounts; eliminate “ghost workers” from the payroll by introducing digital ID for the civil service; concentrate resources on infrastructure, transport and public services; and ensure that LGAs receive their correct share of funding.
The report is definitely worth a look. You can find it here.
According to figures released by the ministry, travel was the single biggest government line item from 2012 to 2014, at N248bn ($1.25bn) for the three years combined (the ministry did not provide annual figures). This is equivalent to an extraordinary 18 per cent of total government spending [Emphasis added].
……. A 2012 investigation by Nigerian newspaper Punch found that wealthy Nigerians spent $6.5bn on private planes between 2007 and 2012, making the country the biggest market for them in Africa.
Not all of them were bought with private funds. Under former president Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) acquired several new private jets, bringing its total to 11.
And you know a non-trivial proportion of these “study tours,” conferences, and meetings were either expensive shopping trips on the government’s tab or ploys to earn inflated per diems.
This is an instance where I’d endorse a move to “leapfrog” meetings, workshops, and conferences.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.