Is Asia Aging Prematurely?

This is from the FT:

China’s working-age population peaked in 2011 but its per capita income was just 20.7 per cent of the US level. Thailand was a little wealthier, at 28.9 per cent, when its working-age share peaked in 2013, but Vietnam was far poorer still, at 10.4 per cent of the US level, when it reached the same point a year later. Malaysia, Indonesia, India and the Philippines are projected to be somewhat better off when they reach peak working-age share, probably between 2020 and 2056, but still some way below the income levels reached in the west, as the third chart shows.

In February of this year, projections by Standard Chartered suggested that, by 2050, the likes of South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and China would have a higher share of pensioners in their population than most developed countries, depicted in the second chart [see below].

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These are pretty sobering figures. Basically (East) Asia’s dependency ratios will quickly begin to look a lot more like what obtains in low-income as opposed to high and upper middle income states. And that means a stagnation or even decline in per capita income.

It will be interesting to see how these countries — most of which have historically been averse to immigration — will deal with this demographic challenge.

In addition to the obvious economic challenges, Asian countries will also have to figure out how to take care of the medical needs of an aging population that will likely be living longer.

More on this here.

Is China ready for state-building duties?

This is from the Journal, reporting on the recent deaths of Chinese peacekeepers in South Sudan:

Inside China’s government, differences have emerged about how to use the military overseas, said people familiar with the discussions. The prevailing view in the foreign ministry, they said, is that China should rapidly expand peacekeeping activities to show global leadership, as Mr. Xi demands.

Many military commanders, they said, by contrast want to move more slowly, conscious of their troops’ lack of experience and sensitive to domestic and international criticism.

China’s foreign ministry declined to comment. A senior defense official denied there were differences within the government.

The tragedy speaks to a pillar of Mr. Xi’s political agenda. Last year, he pledged to build an 8,000-strong standby peacekeeping force, adding to 2,600 Chinese deployed today. China is the second-biggest funder of U.N. peacekeeping after the U.S. and the biggest troop provider of the five permanent Security Council members. U.N. insiders said China is lobbying for one of its officials to head the U.N. peacekeeping office next year.

This is the all-important paragraph:

One of Mr. Xi’s goals is to protect the nation’s expanding global interests and citizens abroad. China’s leaders were “stunned” by the deaths in Juba, said one senior Western diplomat involved in discussions with China on South Sudan. “They’re fast realizing you cannot be a commercial giant without being an imperial power in some way.”

If China follows through on Xi’s dreams, will Chinese interventions and state-building efforts be any different than what the EU and the US are already doing? Does China really believe that an 8,000 strong standby force will be enough (even just for South Sudan)?

Also, this anecdote suggests that China will need to build a robust pension system before it can deploy large numbers of troops in dangerous hotspots abroad:

The cohort comprises mostly children raised under China’s one-child policy, so fatalities are likely to leave parents with no one to support them in old age.

Quick Thoughts on President Donald J. Trump and U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa

The Republican Party will, for the first time since 2006, control all branches of government. That means that the only institutional speed bump faced by Republican policymaking will be parliamentary rules in the Senate. But even then there is nothing to stop Republicans from going nuclear and rewriting the rules with a view of limiting the Democratic Senators’ capacity to stall the legislative process. If we’ve learned anything from the last eight years is that the more unconventional and anti-institutionalist wing of the Republican party has a lot of power.

Which means that the institutional expression of American politics over (at least) the next two years will depend A LOT on moderate institutionalists within the Republican Party.

So what does this mean for U.S. foreign policy in Africa?

  1. Power Africa, PEPFAR, AGOA, MCA, and other aid initiatives are likely going to be on the chopping block. There will likely be a lot of money for security, but those will largely be channeled through AFRICOM and may not be so great at achieving the same outcomes as the normatively preferable non-security development assistance.
  2. U.S. Exports to Africa may also see a decline. The Republicans do not like the EXIM Bank. The EXIM Bank helps finance U.S. exports to Africa. In theory President Trump might see the EXIM Bank as good for U.S. companies like Boeing. But this will only make sense if Boeing is still able to compete with Airbus after “it brings the jobs back home” (quick aside, Airbus is in Europe, where the French and the Germans will vote soon, so there is that….)
  3. Democracy promotion will see a rollback. President Trump is likely to go back to the old-fashioned purely interest-based engagement with foreign governments. This will be a sucker punch against democracy activists everywhere. Expect more term limit violations. The so-called democratic recession may finally arrive.
  4. A few gold producing countries — Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and others — will benefit from the rush to gold occasioned by (hopefully) short-term economic uncertainty. Other commodity producers will be hit hard by global economic uncertainty. I would really hate to be the Finance Minister of Nigeria, Zambia, or Angola right now.
  5. Lastly, U.S. foreign policymaking through the IMF, the World Bank and the UN will be less stable. All the potential picks to head the State Department are on record as being not too enthusiastic about these multilateral institutions.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.

On balance, Republican foreign policymakers may actually achieve better outcomes than Democrats in Africa (as I think is the case over the last two decades). Less moralizing, they may focus on hard-nosed self-interested engagements — via trade for example — that are, on balance, good for Africans. Less handholding may even force African governments to realize that they are on their own, especially as Europe recedes inward as well. It may also force reformist pockets on the Continent to focus on feasible solutions to general problems of political and economic underdevelopment that are consistent with their domestic political economies; rather than constantly chasing aid dollars and euros. Such developments would actually enhance political development in such African states.

Even the potential escalation in the global rivalry between US and China (and possibly Russia) might be good for Africa. Everyone is gonna need allies in their corner for fights at the UN (of course conditional on African policymakers being strategic, rather than acting as mere water carriers for global powers).

Of course the wildcard in all of this is whether the right people will step up to the plate and agree to serve in a Trump administration.

Here at the Africanist Perspective the official line is that if asked to serve, and if you have the knowledge and expertise, please go ahead and join the administration. President Donald Trump’s Secretary of State and head of USAID will need you.

U.S. allies around the world need you.

Is Africa Rising or Reeling?

This is from Amadou Sy, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings.

Whether described as “Hopeless,” “Rising,” or “Reeling,” no one can deny that African countries have made substantial gains.  In a recent piece, I argue that “missed in the binary of a hopeless versus a rosy narrative are large disparities among countries in terms of political and economic governance.” So many countries are quickly rising to the top. Countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia (in spite of the regrettable recent internal violence), Kenya (it is ironic that his article is a “Memo from Nairobi”), and Senegal are expected to grow at more than 5 percent this year (IMF, 2016). Yes, not surprisingly, oil exporters will continue to suffer from the lack of diversification of their sources of revenues, and South Africa—a middle-income country—is struggling from self-inflicted wounds.  But even within these countries, some regions and sectors will fare better than others.

Africans are past the debate of whether their countries are hopeless, rising, or reeling. What they want to see is resilient, sustainable, and inclusive growth, and the debate they are interested in is about the actual policies that will generate such outcomes. That is why young Burkinabe, following the example of youth in Senegal, took to the street in Ouagadougou two years ago to stop and reverse attacks against democracy. That is what many Congolese in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are fighting for right now.

Change is inherently destabilizing. So it is kind of amazing that in light of recent hiccups in political and economic development across Africa most analysts have opted to completely ignore the gains that African states have made over the last 25 years. Instead, many have run back to the old tried and tested narrative of a reeling continent plagued by political instability and economic catastrophes.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-50-20-amTake the example of Ethiopia. You essentially have a country that for a couple of decades has tried a formula of faux ethnic federalism under the domination of the TPLF, the formateur of the EPRDF constellation (see works by my colleague Lahra Smith here and here). For a long time this institutional innovation allowed for a reasonable amount of political stability (remember that Ethiopia was an empire of different peoples for centuries); on the back of which the country has registered pretty impressive economic gains (see here for another perspective). But now those gains have made the initial institutional innovation untenable. Ethiopians are demanding for greater voice for non-TPLF factions. Remember that the key trigger of the recent Oromo Protests was the encroachment on Oromo lands by a rapidly expanding Addis Ababa. Economic development (and the inequalities it has produced) is partially responsible for lowering the perceived costs of political organization in an attempt to revise the rules governing the initial post-Derg political settlement.

The state has pushed back violently against these revisionist political movements, particularly in the Oromo region (see image). A recent state of emergency takes away any pretense of proportionality, meaning Ethiopia is headed for greater shrinkage of political space.

Writing in 2003 Alem Habtu presciently observed that:

Ethnic federalism institutionalized ethnic groups as fundamental constituents of the state. It established them as social categories sharply distinct from the overarching category of citizenship. Many citizens are worried that it might lead to the demise of the state altogether. Thus far, there is no evidence that new ethnic nationalisms have emerged in Ethiopia as a consequence of ethnic federalism, as they did in the former USSR. But it is too early to entirely dismiss their emergence.

…… EPRDF has been undergoing an organizational-cum-ideological crisis since 2001. In a series of party meetings in June 2001, OPDO and SEDPF as well as the five allied regional parties, complained publicly of TPLF/EPRDF “tutelage.” Its crisis was manifested in its employment of Leninist organizational practices while adopting pluralist principles. It may face a great challenge in sustaining the ethnic federal project unless it undergoes ideological and organizational changes. Only time will tell whether it can do so without severely undermining the integrity and political management of the federal structure. If the federal state were to be in grave danger or collapse, the military may once again seize power. But if the latter fractures along ethnic lines, we could witness a Yugoslavia-like scenario. Inasmuch as EPRDF is a coalition, it is different from the Communist party of the USSR or Yugoslavia. The viability and stability of the infant political system is dependent on its flexibility and adaptability [emphasis mine]. Contingent events will shape the outcome of the ethnic federal experiment. In any case, the experiment is politically fragile.

On balance, it would be inaccurate to claim that Ethiopia is in decline. There are countless stories documenting very concrete gains in the country over the last two decades. Several state-owned enterprises are getting things done, with some — like Ethiopian Airlines — outcompeting their private competitors in the region. The narrative of general decline therefore betrays a singular misconception of how political development works. Did anyone really expect the process of reckoning with the failures of the institutions of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia to be smooth?

Serious students of Ethiopia (and of political development in general) certainly did not.

My own assessment is that this episode will be more of a Tiananmen Square moment for the Ethiopian state, as opposed to what happened in the USSR or Yugoslavia. I hope I am not wrong.


Ethiopian rules Africa’s skies

What can the international community do? Well, now is the time to make it clear to the Ethiopian government that basic respect for human rights will not always be sacrificed on the altar of economic growth. The TPLF leadership must be made to understand that for stability to obtain they must allow for some dispersal of power. They must be reminded of the fact that China’s rise was actually accompanied by significant openings on both the political and economic fronts. Nobody wants to go back to the suffocating and rudderless tin top dictatorship of the Derg.

I’ve always considered binary analyses of a continent of 55 countries as evidence of intellectual laziness. These analyses are nothing but a repackaging of 18th century views of the Continent as a place full of simple peoples, who live simple lives, that can be packaged into simple narratives. As I have tried to show with the Ethiopian case, what is happening in the country is complicated. And it is silly to try and project this onto the rest of the Continent.

All this to say that I agree with Sy. Read the whole thing here.

The Secret to Autocratic Success (The Example of China)

This is from The Economist:

Even so, Mr Xi’s authority remains hemmed in. True, his position at the highest level looks secure. But among the next layer of the elite, he has surprisingly few backers. Victor Shih of the University of California, San Diego, has tracked the various job-related and personal connections between the 205 full members of the party’s Central Committee, which embodies the broader elite. The body rubber-stamps Mr Xi’s decisions (there have been no recent rumours of open dissent within it). But the president needs enthusiastic support, as well as just a show of hands, to get his policies—such as badly needed economic reforms—implemented. According to Mr Shih, the president’s faction accounts for just 6% of the group. That does not help.

Admittedly, this number should not be taken too literally: it is difficult to assign affiliations to many of the committee’s members. Doubtless, too, many members who are not in Mr Xi’s network support the president out of ambition or fear. Still, Mr Xi can rely on remarkably few loyal supporters in the Central Committee because he did not choose its members. They were selected at the same time he was chosen as party leader in 2012, a process overseen by the dominant figures of that period, Mr Hu and the long-retired Mr Jiang.

Most people who laud China’s autocratic success conveniently choose to ignore two important facts:

  1. That China’s rulers, at least since the late 1970s, have not been totally unaccountable. The country is a dictatorship by committee. And a large committee at that. It is not a personalist one man show.
  2. The the Chinese party-state works tirelessly to reduce the cost of compliance among its citizens — through conscious state building, coercion, and public services.

What this means is that in order to replicate China’s autocratic success, would be little Chinas must invest in both state capacity and intra-elite accountability (perhaps by building strong, institutionalized parties).

Absent this, what you are likely to get are mediocre petty tyrants running disorganized non-states with infant mortality rates straight out of the 16th century.

Chinese demography fact of the week

Howard French has a fantastic piece on Chinese demographic trends over at the Atlantic. Consider this:

China today boasts roughly five workers for every retiree. By 2040, this highly desirable ratio will have collapsed to about 1.6 to 1. From the start of this century to its midway point, the median age in China will go from under 30 to about 46, making China one of the older societies in the world. At the same time, the number of Chinese older than 65 is expected to rise from roughly 100 million in 2005 to more than 329 million in 2050—more than the combined populations of Germany, Japan, France, and Britain.

And here is a summary of global population projections for perspective:

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Some key facts about Chinese lending to African states (new dataset)

Deborah Brautigam and collaborators are about to release a much-anticipated dataset on Chinese loans to African states. Details on the launch event at SAIS here.

And here are some key facts:

  • Who gets the Lion’s share of the Dragon’s loans?  Angola received 25% of all Chinese loans to Africa between 2000 and 2015, almost all of them backed by Angolan oil.
  • Bloomberg and Fitch, take note: Did China Eximbank really lend more than the World Bank in Africa? SAIS-CARI data shows cumulative 2001 to 2010 China Eximbank loan to Africa amount to only US$27.2 billion, not your figure of US$67.2 billion. The World Bank is still a larger lender than China Eximbank.
  • What do Chinese loans pay for in Africa? Transportation. Between 2000 and 2014, transportation received the largest share: US$23.6 billion worth.
  • What are the biggest Chinese loan-financed infrastructure projects in Africa? No. 1: Kenya’s Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway Phase I, funded by US$3.6 billion worth of Chinese loans; No.2: Ethiopia’s Addis-Djibouti Railway, funded at US$2.5 billion. Both were signed in 2013.

Fact of the Week: 30% of Shanghai residents are over 60

….. Shanghai has a particular problem: last year, says China Daily, it became the first city in China to pass the crippling 30 per cent mark for population aged over 60. That’s nearly twice the 15.5 per cent for over 60 population nationally in 2014, the last year for which national figures are available.

That is a lot of senior citizens. For more see this FT piece on how the state in China is trying to force children to take care of their aging parents — including using threats to deny them library access, credit, and bank accounts.

HT Howard French

Data Problems Everywhere

This is from the Economist:

GOVERNMENT statisticians shun the limelight, which only ever finds them when things go awry. So it is with India’s national bean counters, who are struggling to convince the world that an economy with idle factories, sagging exports and ailing banks grew by 7.5% in 2015, as their models purport to show. Ever since a new methodology for calculating GDP was adopted last year, India has appeared to be the world’s fastest-growing big economy, outpacing China. But scepticism about the data is growing even faster.

… Investors, at any rate, roundly disbelieve India’s growth figures. Nevsky Capital, a hedge fund, cited dodgy data from India, among other places, as a reason to shut up shop at the start of the year. Even the government’s own chief economic adviser has admitted he is sometimes flummoxed by the data. A cottage industry has sprung up to cater to the sceptics, blending various indicators of economic activity to produce new gauges of growth.

Such home-brewed statistics have been common in China for some time: Li Keqiang, now the country’s premier, admitted as a provincial governor that he all but ignored “man-made” economic statistics in favour of hard-to-fiddle data such as railway-cargo volumes, electricity consumption and loans made by banks. The Economist began publishing a “Keqiang Index” when his habits became known in 2010.

Ambit Capital, a broker based in Mumbai, now computes its own “Keqiang Index” for India, which implies a real growth rate of 5.4%. Economists at HSBC, a bank, think 5.9-6% is closer to the truth.

More on this here.