The Politics of the CFA Franc Zone

This is from the Economist:

Where some see an anchor, others see a millstone. To maintain the euro peg, notes Ndongo Samba Sylla, a Senegalese economist, these very poor countries must track the hawkish monetary policy of the European Central Bank. Since the introduction of the euro, income per person in the franc zone has grown at 1.4% a year, compared with 2.5% in all of sub-Saharan Africa.

More on this here.

People like Cameroonian president Paul Biya love the CFA. With good reason.

Yet elites do rather well out of the system, which makes it easier to send wealth abroad. And a weaker currency would increase the cost of imported goods. The only devaluation, in 1994, sparked riots.

Tyler Cowen Goes to Lagos

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.

Read the whole thing here.

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.

Several African public figures (and associates) mentioned in the Panama Papers

The Guardian has an excellent summary of what you need to know about the Panama Papers, the data leak of the century from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.The firms specializes, among other things, in incorporating companies in offshore jurisdictions that guarantee secrecy of ownership.

Here is a map of the companies and clients mentioned in the leaked documents (source). Apparently, the entire haul (2.6 terabytes of data) has information on 214,000 shell companies spanning the period between 1970 to 2016.

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The leaked documents show links to 72 current or former heads of state and government. So far the highest-ranking public official most likely to resign as a result  of the leak is the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson (see story here and here)

For a list of African public officials mentioned in the leaked documents see here. And I am sure we are going to hear a lot about all these rich people in developing countries.Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 9.18.42 PM

Closer to home, the Daily Nation reports that Kenya’s Deputy Chief Justice, Kalpana Rawal, “has been linked to a string of shell companies registered in a notorious Caribbean tax haven popular with tax dodgers, dictators and drug dealers.” Justice Rawal has been dodging retirement for a while. May be after the latest revelations might find a reason to call it quits.

The ICIJ website has neat figures summarizing some of the findings from the massive data haul. Also, here is a Bloomberg story on the tax haven that is the United States. 

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.

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.

Senegal’s Democracy Still Shaky

Macky Sall’s party, the Benno Bokk Yakaar (United in Hope) coalition won 119 of the 150 seats (79.3%) in the just-concluded legislative elections in Senegal. President Sall assumed office this year after defeating former President Abdoulaye Wade who had been in power for over 12 years. Mr. Wade’s party got a total of 12 seats (8%). In the last legislative elections (2007) Mr. Wade’s coalition won 87.3% of the seats. Turnout in Sunday’s poll was a paltry 37% – a 3 percentage point improvement from 2007 (According to the African Elections database).

President Sall’s big legislative win is a bad omen for democratic consolidation in Senegal – and a sign of a shaky party structure characterized by unstable cycling super-majorities (see here). One would have hoped for a more competitive showing by former President Wade’s PDS in order to provide a formidable check on the president. With these results Sall might also fall into the temptation of trying to legislate his opponents out of political contention just like Wade did, and succeeded for a while.

More on this here.

Quick hits

On Somalia’s (non) recovery.

For his troubles with the Wade government Youssou Ndour gets appointed to the new Cabinet of President Sall.

The unintended consequences of the Malian coup continue to mushroom. AQIM seems to be taking advantage of the power vacuum left in the north of the country. Lots of people scared out of their wits over the latest developments.

Scientists in Kenya are working on a male contraception pill. May be this time the product will be good enough to overcome cultural barriers and the gender politics of contraception?

Wade of Senegal insists on third term

UPDATE: The BBC reports that riots erupted in Dakar after a court in Senegal declared President Wade eligible to run in next month’s general election. President Wade will be seeking a third term in office.

More on this hear.

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It looks like Senegalese may be forced to live with their country’s model of soft authoritarianism with reasonable levels of political competition for a few more years….

FT reports:

He may be at least 86 years old with 11 years as president behind him, but Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s president, says “he does not feel his age”, and is determined to serve another term and preside over a “generational transition” before retiring.

“In Africa we do not reason in terms of age. You find village chiefs who are 100 years old. So long as you have your wits about you, in African tradition age has advantages: wisdom (for example).” After seeing off rival veterans in polls scheduled for February 26 he would be the “last barracuda among the little fish”, he predicted in an interview in Dakar.

Senegal’s constitutional court will decide on Friday if the President can indeed run for a third term. Mr. Wade pins his hopes on legal gymnastics, insisting that the constitutional term limits enacted during his first term in office only went into force at the beginning of his second term.

Perhaps anticipating the outcome of the court ruling, the government has instituted a five-day ban on public protests beginning tomorrow (Thursday 26/1/2012). The opposition has vowed to carry on with protests should the five-judge panel of the constitutional court approve of Wade’s candidacy.

Many suspect that Wade’s insistence on running for reelection this year is part of an elaborate plan to have his unpopular son, Karim, succeed him. Karim unsuccessful tried to become Mayor of Dakar, the capital, in 2009. He is presently a “super minister” in his father’s government, overseeing dockets as diverse as energy and power, international cooperation, regional development, aviation and infrastructure.

The truth be told, the fact that Wade could even contemplate a third term is an indictment of the Senegalese opposition. They have consistently failed at uniting against Wade and have been more than willing to be bought off. Mr. Wade is well aware of this and did pass a law which permits the President of Senegal to be elected with only 25% of the vote.

It is still possible that the unpopular Mr. Wade may lose even if he gets his way in the courts.

More on the FT report here.

Projects Without Development

Guest Post by Erin Pettigrew (PhD Candidate, Stanford University)

       Naked Palm Trees and Other Failed Development Projects in Senegal

La Pointe des Almadies is Dakar’s wealthiest neighborhood and it teems with expat NGO workers and the palaces of government officials. Recently, the construction of an immense statue, “The African Renaissance Monument”, a 27 million dollar project commissioned by Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, has transformed the neighborhood’s landscape. The imposing bronze figure of a muscled man, one arm protectively wrapped around a woman, the other triumphantly holding up his infant child, sits atop a hill overlooking the city.

Source: Wikipedia

The statue and Wade’s current projects for the construction of the “Seven Wonders of Dakar” (a section of the capital which will include a  new National Theater, Museum of Black Civilization, National Library; the School of Fine Arts and the School of Architecture and Music Palace) are seen as wastes of government money spent to satiate the President’s desire for a legacy rivaling Senghor or even the grand public projects of France under past presidents Chirac and Mitterand.  Growing discontent with Wade’s attempts to stay in power past the current two-term limit and with what is perceived to be his inability to ensure reliable infrastructure to his country’s population has culminated at times with criticism of “The African Renaissance Monument”.

Most of Dakar’s neighborhoods experience daily power outages and terrible traffic due to poorly maintained and inadequate roads. However, Wade has somehow scraped together enough money to build bronze statues and to build a second national theater to replace the centrally-located and historical Théâtre Daniel Sorano in downtown Dakar.

I am not an expert in development. I am a historian whose interest in West Africa began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in neighboring Mauritania but I have found myself progressively less optimistic about prospects for change in the daily lives of most West Africans I know. On a recent research trip to the northern Senegalese city of Saint-Louis, I was struck with how much more run-down the city seemed to me than it had my first time there in 2003. While Saint-Louis can be picturesque from afar, with its 350 year-old colonial facades built on its central island, the reality is that its infrastructure is disintegrating.

A government building in Saint-Louis (picture by Erin)

Despite the presence of NGOs (visible by the many white SUVs and walled compounds marked by their painted slogans of “Espoir” and “Aide”), it’s hard to see signs of successful projects.  As I walked through the city, I couldn’t help but notice numerous failed plans. I passed dead trees protected by reed fencing where someone had thought plantings along the streets of a popular neighborhood would be a good idea. Talibés (students, or little boys sent out to beg for money and food by some unscrupulous marabouts) are an ever-present part of Saint-Louis streets despite heavy investment by NGOs to provide the boys with reliable food and housing. The shores of the city are lined with old tires, plastic bags, and fish remains.

As I looked in at a dark closet where thousands of colonial documents sit waiting to be organized and made accessible to the public, the regional archivist also told me that plans to build a much needed space to securely house the country’s archives had been shelved years ago in favor of the construction of the Piscine Olympique, Dakar’s largest swimming pool.

Riding in a crowded bush taxi and hitting the crawl of traffic on the way back to Dakar, I couldn’t help but wonder what prevents these initial investments in tree plantings, child welfare protection and road construction from being maintained. From this perspective, much of the failure of such development projects seems to be explained by a lack of investment in the maintenance of current projects.  Perhaps this can be explained by the framework of funding and the reluctance on the part of donors to provide for anything other than new projects. (After all, it’s much more exciting to say that Dakar will benefit from a new, state-of-the-art performance space than the rehabilitation of its old theater space.) Or maybe funding agencies and donors find it difficult to collaborate on projects such that one agency might undertake an initial trash clean-up while another would ensure that a second clean-up is planned a month later.

Possibly there is also a lack of coordination between funding agencies and local governments who, once the preliminary heavy investment has been made by development agencies, could then continue the programs with less funding but with longer term results. Projects initiated by African governments also need to consist of more than an initial flood of money but should also include funding to be set aside for the continued and regular maintenance of such projects so that they remain relevant and useful.

Dakar (picture by Erin)

To emphasize this point and to return to my original starting point of La Pointe des Almadies, one only need to look at the pathetically barren palm tree trunks lining Dakar’s prettiest drive from downtown to the “Renaissance” statue that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.  Abdoulaye Wade requested the planting of hundreds of palm trees along this drive to welcome delegates of the Organization of the Islamic Conference who met in Dakar in 2008. Now, three years later, the majority of these tress are simply reminders of another failed project. Inadequately or never maintained, the trunks stick out of the ground, their tops bare and exposed, they stand isolated and quivering no longer serving a purpose.

I’m sure they looked beautiful in the first weeks they were planted but have become symbols of the emptiness of similar endeavors. I know that there are successfully sustained projects out there but it’s difficult not to feel disheartened by the many visibly failing projects aimed to satisfy a short-term goal or donor stipulations rather than the actual needs of a struggling population.

Erin Pettigrew is currently conducting dissertation research in Senegal and Mauritania.

Accountable leadership 1 Abdoulaye Wade 0

Abdoulaye Wade is a study in delegative democracy gone crazy (In the words of Paul Collier, democrazy). Delegative democracy  is the phenomenon of elected leaders going rogue and essentially performing auto-coups (mostly through constitutional gymnastics) in order to entrench themselves in power (see O’Donnell). Leading lights in this regard include Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the late Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand.

Mr. Wade’s latest assault on Senegalese democracy has been his attempts to lower the threshold for the election of a president to a mere 25% down from 50%. He’d much rather win cheap against a fractured opposition in the first round than risk a runoff against a single opposition candidate. After 11 years in power without much to sing about the risk is just too high for the Wade regime. President Wade also wanted to create the position of an elected vice president before the 2012 elections. Many believe that Wade had his son Karim in mind for this new post.

In the end determined opposition protest outside the Senegalese parliament forced the president to withdraw the draft legislation.

If the opposition unites [and that is a big IF], they could beat Mr. Wade in 2012. Frequent power cuts, a flagging economy, rampant inflation and Wade’s brand of crass and tone deaf nepotism (he wants to be succeeded by his own son despite the revolutions the Islamic near-abroad) have served to alienate the aging leader from many voters, particularly in urban areas.

Mr. Wade is expected to run for a third 7-year presidential term next year. He is 85.

frustrations of the african intellectual

William Easterly on Aid Watch captures the frustrations of African intellectuals and their continued neglect by both the aid industry and their home governments.

African intellectuals continue to be on the periphery of the discourse on African socio-economic development. The independence leaders jailed, killed or exiled many of them, leading to fifty years of disastrous misrule and general mediocrity from Dakar to Mogadishu, Khartoum to Jo’burg. The current crop of autocrats and pretend-democrats did not learn a thing from the last half-century and continue to opt for career poverty-voyeurs development experts from donor countries instead of their own people who may have greater incentives to see their homeland match the achievements of the newly emerging states of Brazil, India and China.

the wade dynasty gains steam

Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal has signalled his intentions of making his son a political force in the country by appointing him minister of energy. Wade, 85, is due for reelection in 2012 and has indicated that he will run for a third term. In 2008 the Senegalese assembly voted to extend presidential term limits from 5 to 7 years. It must be nice to be 85 and still have such a promising future ahead of you.

 

senegalese court bans using children to beg

The Times reports that a court in Senegal has declared a long held practice by Marabouts of using children to beg  illegal.

“The bowls are sometimes no more than old tin tomato cans; the children, some as young as 4, are often barefoot, and they spend perilous hours on the streets and sidewalks, weaving in and out of traffic in their torn, filthy T-shirts. When they return to their rudimentary living quarters in the evening, they must turn their coins over to the marabouts, or face severe punishment. Not infrequently, newspaper headlines on a back page announce the crushing of a little talibé in traffic”

Using children to beg is a habit that is widespread on the Continent. In many towns and cities you will find children – some as young as  a few months old – next to a bowl with a cardboard writing stating one problem or another.

Of course merely banning the act like the Senegalese court has will not solve the problem, a better social safety net for mothers will, but it is a step in the right direction.