The top 20 best countries to invest your money in Africa

This is according to the latest Ernst & Young’s Africa Attractiveness Report (2016). Kenya is ranked 4th. Ahead of Tunisia, Mauritius, and Botswana. You just need to spend a few hours in Nairobi, or the other 46 county headquarters, to understand why. While economic inequality remains to be a huge (political) challenge, it’s hard to argue against the structural transformations underway in the Kenyan economy.

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More on this year.

Mozambique may have squandered up to $2b of borrowed money

Public Finance is emerging to be one of the biggest development challenges of our age. Here’s Africa Confidential on Mozambique’s hidden loans, which may amount to more than $2b.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 1.38.32 PMSources close to Rosário Fernandes, ex-head of the revenue authority, the Autoridade Tributária de Moçambique, have told us of systematic diversions of taxes straight into the pockets of the Frelimo elite, especially in the later years of President Guebuza’s term of office, when he exercised enormous patronage. Massively inflated contracts were commonplace. The latest to emerge is the extravagant, nearly complete, Bank of Mozambique building in Maputo, which boasts a helicopter landing pad on the roof. Originally estimated to cost $90 mn., the final cost is reckoned at at least $300 mn., with kickbacks and ‘commissions’ accounting for the cost inflation, say Frelimo sources.

Guebuza engaged in an ultimately doomed attempt to extend his term of office, which ended in October 2014, and this partly explains the extraordinary scale of his liberality towards loyalists, sources formerly close to him told us (AC Vol 53 No 18, The Putin option). The schemes became increasingly brazen, and the creation in 2013 and 2014 of three companies – Empresa Moçambicana de Atum (Ematum), Proindicus and Mozambique Asset Management (MAM) – was the culmination of this programme. The companies, which received the totality of the $2 bn. now owed by the state, were mainly in the field of maritime security, even though it was the intelligence and security services that provided the management. They bypassed parliament, illegally, and defence procurement, effectively privatising, as one commentator put it, national security while lining the pockets of the elite into the bargain. Yet the ill-equipped companies could not cope and quickly collapsed. Ematum, which originally claimed to be focused on tuna fishing, is no longer operating its few licensed vessels because it cannot pay salaries (AC Vol 56 No 24, Nyusi’s nightmare).

Kenya, Zambia, among others, have also borrowed enormous amounts of money that have not been properly accounted for. Several of these countries have recently gotten cover from the IMF that all is well. But the IMF has strong incentives to save face and maintain confidence that it does its job.

If Mozambique could do it, what stops more sophisticated treasuries elsewhere on the Continent?

I am increasingly convinced that Africa’s newfound love with international creditors is a bond bubble waiting to happen. The 1980s and early 1990s sucked. And we might be headed for a repeat if the African states floating eurobonds continue on the same path.

Interesting Fact of the Month

On life expectancy on the Continent:

Malawi has led the way, with life expectancy at birth rising 42 per cent from 44.1 years in 2000 to 62.7 in 2014, according to data from the World Bank.

Zambia and Zimbabwe have both seen rises of 38 per cent over the same period, with longevity in Rwanda, Botswana and Sierra Leone up more than 30 per cent.

Uganda, Ethiopia, the Republic of Congo, Niger and Kenya have all witnessed rises of more than 20 per cent. Overall, of the 37 countries to have seen life expectancy rise by more than 10 per cent since 2000, 30 are in sub-Saharan Africa, including the 15 with the biggest gains, as the table below shows.

Not one sub-Saharan country saw life expectancy fall between 2000 and 2014.

Public health for the win.

The full FT piece is here.

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. 

Powering Africa Into the Next Decade

The African Development Bank has made power generation its top priority (see list of power projects here). The US-led initiative, Power Africa, is focusing capital on some very big and interesting projects. I’m not sure if the AfDB was the instigator of the new trend (even before President Adesina), but several serious African governments have recently prioritized power generation (looking at you, Pretoria). Here’s a sample:

A 450MW gas-fired power plant near Nigeria’s Benin City. In 2014 Nigeria flared more than 290b standard cubic feet of gas.

Twenty international banks and equity funders have committed $900m to the Azura-Edo Independent Power Project, a 450MW gas-fired open-cycle power plant to be built in the country’s Edo State.

A joint venture of Siemens and Julius Berger Nigeria will start building the plant, which is expected to start generating in 2018.

Considered a model for future plants in terms of its private financing, the plant will also burn Nigeria’s natural gas, of which many billions of cubic feet are now routinely flared off as waste.

Zambia and Zimbabwe are in an advanced stage of making the 2400MW Batoka Gorge dam and power station a reality.

Construction of the Batoka Gorge hydroelectric power station to be located on the Zambezi River approximately 54km downstream of Victoria Falls is projected to commence early next year.

….That is why I am saying that we are closer to the fulfillment of the dream for the construction of the dam. Once construction starts it will take five years and we expect it to be completed by 2023.

Nambia set to build its biggest gas-fired power plant since independence.

The $450m plant to be located in Walvis Bay, is set to generate about 250 megawatts, 50 per cent of what the country currently generates internally (500 megawatts)

And lastly, Ethiopia’s mega dam and power plant will generate about 6,000MW:

When Ethiopia completes construction of the [Grand Renaissance] dam in 2017, it will stand 170 metres tall (550 feet) and 1.8km (1.1 miles) wide. Its reservoir will be able to hold more than the volume of the entire Blue Nile, the tributary on which it sits (see map). And it will produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity, more than double Ethiopia’s current measly output, which leaves three out of four people in the dark.

 

Some Africanist inside baseball

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Former HIPC countries are back in the red

The Journal reports:

Mozambique was one of the biggest benefactors of debt forgiveness, with its debt slashed from 86% of gross domestic product in 2005 to 9% the next year. The country has built it back up since then to 61% of GDP.

Ghana’s debt was 82% of GDP in 2005 just before the international community forgave about half of it. It’s now up to 73% of GDP and growing, according to the IMF.

The burgeoning debt burdens are putting more pressure on African budgets. The cost of servicing Ghana’s debt will consume nearly 40% of government revenue this year, according to an analysis by Fitch Ratings — twice what is considered sustainable under the rule of thumb used by the IMF and many analysts.

More on this here and here and here.

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.

A Commentary on Research Priorities in Development Economics

Over at the Bank’s Future Development blog, Princeton Economist Jeffrey Hammer writes:

The Chief Minister posed serious questions that have traditionally been the bread and butter of the economics profession. Unfortunately, we are not even trying to answer them any more. The specific question was “Should I put more money into transport? Infrastructure (power, roads, water)? Law and order? Social services? Or what? And where am I going to get the money?” What questions could be more solidly part of the core of economics than these? Unfortunately none of these were even remotely the focus of the “evidence-based” policy making discussed.

Almost all of the cases analyzed were  single, simple policy “tweaks” that were, first of all, isolated from the broader market context in which they occurred and, second, had no conception of opportunity cost – what we would have to give up to pursue these things? We had an answer to “how to improve a public food distribution system” but even with a precise answer (to whether a tweak would work) we had no idea whether the substantial amount of money funding such a system is a good idea. Maybe the Chief Minister would be better off improving education or road networks or police or rural electricity. Some of these alternative policies could have more impact on food consumption than food distribution if we thought about how the world worked. Getting food to market securely (roads, better cold storage, trustworthy police and safe roads – this is Pakistan, which no one seemed to notice) may increase food availability much more than any tunnel-visioned food program Or not – maybe the food distribution system is better. We just don’t know. And none of us “experts” are trying to find out.

When someone says “we should have more “X” because we have evidence that it works”, the response should be “compared to what?” What should we cut in order to promote your particular interest? My hobby horse these days is more sanitation in South Asia. I should have to defend it against (at least) a few alternatives.

What’s your justification for your latest hobby horse?

My take on the gap highlighted by Hammer is that what is good for reviewers is seldom useful to policymakers. The incentive for academics is to publish. And this will always be reflected in the design and implementation of interventions headed by academics. This is not necessarily a bad thing [For obvious reasons we should firewall academic research from the actual process of policymaking. The latter should be the political process that it is, albeit informed by the former]. I think the widespread acceptance of rigorous evidence-based policymaking has been a net benefit for the developing world. What it means though, is that the “public sector” development research community — i.e. the IMF, the World Bank, & host country research institutes — should do more to ensure that funding for hyper-targeted interventions do not detract from broader macro research (like, when and why did the rain start beating Ghana?)

However, in the long run, developing countries will be better served by having more and more of their own/country-based politically relevant macroeconomists.

This is because answering the types of questions posed by Hammer requires one to also take a political stand (on account of a lack of consensus among economists). Economists who can’t do this will invariably resort to “technical” solutions that can be perceived as “apolitical” by both host governments and the sponsoring foreign development agencies. Again not necessarily a bad thing, just a reflection of the politics of knowledge production.

H/T William Easterly.

The potential impact of a Chinese slowdown on Africa’s economies

The FT reports:

For Africa’s non-oil exporters, the collapse in crude prices has provided a cushion. But, with many African countries import-dependent, the depreciation of currencies affects inflation and the cost of imports. It will also put a strain on those nations that have taken advantage of investors’ search for yields to tap into international capital markets.

The likes of Zambia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, and Ivory Coast have all issued foreign currency dominated sovereign bonds in recent years. “In the past, foreign exchange weakness in Africa was largely shrugged off. Economies adapted and found a way to cope with it, but the recent surge in eurobond issuance has been a game-changer,” says Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa at Standard Chartered.

“Now, when currencies depreciate, external risks are magnified, public debt ratios rise, and perceptions of sovereign creditworthiness alter quite dramatically.”

Prof. Deborah Brautigam of SAIS sees the following happening:

  • Prices for African commodities will worsen, then improve. In recent years, China’s slower growth has pushed down prices for gold, crude oil, copper, platinum and iron ore. South Africa’s mining sector was expected to lose over 10,000 jobs due to lower demand
  • Africa will import even more from China. Cheaper Chinese exports will please African consumers while putting Africa’s manufacturers at a further disadvantage. There will be more pressure for tariff protections
  • [L]ow wages in Ethiopia and elsewhere had been attracting significant factory investment from China. With costs now relatively lower in China, the push to relocate factories overseas will slow. This will save Chinese jobs, but postpones Africa’s own structural transformation.

And concludes that:

In the short term it is hard to see how this devaluation can help Africa, notably its productive and export sectors.

The thing to note is that different African countries have different kinds of exposure to China. The commodity exporters (both petroleum and metals) will be hit hard. The effects will be somewhat attenuated in countries exposed primarily through Chinese FDI and infrastructure loans. Domestic fiscal reorganization and resources from the AfDB and other partners should plug a fair bit of the hole left by declining Chinese investments (although certainly nowhere near all of it). And with regard to sovereign debt, a Chinese downturn might persuade the US Central Bank to delay its planned rate hike — which would be good for African currencies and keep the cost of borrowing low.

Lastly, for geopolitical reasons I don’t see China rapidly reducing its footprint on the Continent. In any case, as Howard French makes clear in his latest book, there is a fair bit of (unofficial) private Chinese investment in Africa. Turmoil back home may incentivize these entrepreneurs to plant even deeper roots in Africa and expatriate less of their profits. The net result will be slower growth in Africa. And like in China, slower growth will challenge prevailing political bargains in democracies and autocracies alike.