Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
A few days back, I had the pleasure to moderate a lively debate on investment prospects in Africa involving private sector panellists and representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The tone was upbeat, but discussion turned heated when it came to debt restructuring in Ivory Coast.
While it might sound obscure (and I won’t go into all the details) it raised broader questions about the role of the international financial institutions in Africa and how that may be reinforced by the global financial crisis.
The concern of some in the private sector was that foreign investors with exposure to local debt in Ivory Coast looked set to suffer the same restructuring terms that holders of foreign debt would have to bear – with the approval of the IMF. Their argument was that this would discourage foreign investors from buying local bonds in Africa.
The IMF came back robustly, saying it was only playing by the rules in Ivory Coast and suggesting that investors make closer checks before putting in their money.
But private sector participants were unclear where this might leave them in future, particularly at a time many African states are eyeing bond markets again.
Some voiced broader concern over how the international financial institutions see the private sector’s role.
Before the credit crisis, a number of African countries had begun turning to international capital markets. But Eurobond plans were put on hold when global markets seized up and the institutions stepped back in to provide emergency help to hard-hit countries. Amounts have been substantial even compared to the $10 billion in concessional financing promised by China over three years. The IMF board approved a $1.4 billion standby loan arrangement for Angola this week.
The question now is how this may change the longer term balance in sources of finance for African states.
Is the private sector overly wary of institutions that are simply doing their best to give emergency help now and fend off future debt crises? Or are those institutions muscling back in to impose their dominance in telling African states how they should go about managing their debts and getting the finance they need? How will Chinese money affect the balance?
Pictures: A money dealer counts the Nigerian naira on a machine in his office in the commercial capital of Lagos, January 13, 2009. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye; Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director, International Monetary Fund (IMF), is introduced at the International Economic Forum of the Americas conference in Montreal, June 8, 2009. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
African countries once again bring up the rear in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index , a closely watched benchmark of how well – or badly – countries are tackling graft.
Of the 47 countries reviewed in the region, corruption was perceived by executives to be “rampant” in 31, and a “serious challenge” in 13. Only three countries – Botswana, Mauritius and Cape Verde – got anything like a clean bill of health.
At a meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh this month, China promised to double the aid it gives to Africa and even forgive the debt of some of the continent’s poorest countries.
We’ve known for some time that Chinese are migrating to Africa to exploit business opportunities. But it’s perhaps less known that growing numbers of Africans are also moving to China to live and work.
from Commodity Corner:
More than a billion people go hungry each day -- about the same number as did in the late 1950s. That's both a "tragedy on a grand scale" and an "astounding success," according to a new report called "Millions Fed," produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
While the absolute number of hungry people is the same as it was 40 years ago, the proportion is dramatically smaller -- one in six today, compared to one in three then, the report said. It illustrates 20 successful case studies where progress has been made in the fight against hunger.
Some solutions come from science: new varieties of wheat, rice, beans, maize, cassava, millet and sorghum. Others deal with markets, government policies, or the environment.
Two farmers from the Sahel region of Africa, oft plagued by drought and famine, visited Washington last month to talk about solutions they found close to home -- one of the success stories trumpeted in "Millions Fed."
Almost 30 years ago, farmers in Burkina Faso experimented with a traditional technique called "zai," digging pits in their plots and adding manure to improve soils before the rainy season, resulting in dramatically better yields.
"There was a long period of drought in my village," Yacouba Sawadogo told reporters. "Many people left because their life was very, very difficult. But I decided to stay," he said, explaining how he taught others the technique.
In Niger, farmers manage trees on their land to prevent erosion, improve yields, and provide livestock fodder. Before, women had to walk 6 miles to get firewood, but now they have enough for themselves and to sell to others, said Sakina Mati, who coordinates tree projects in six villages.
The projects have improved 13 million acres of farmland and fed 3 million people, said Oxfam America, a development group that works with the farmers.
It's food for thought as rich nations ramp up efforts to help small farmers grow more food in poor countries. "In our approach toward solutions and programs, we really need to listen as well as talk," said Gawain Kripke of Oxfam.
"Solutions don't always come from us."
Africans living in the United States are twice as likely to graduate from college as the average American.These African students often come from families who value education as a way to get on in life and place a high value on working and studying hard.Sara Tsegaye, a straight-A student at UCLA, is one example of that success. Her parents fled Ethiopia in the late 1980s, first to Sudan and then, when Sara was one year old, they moved to San Jose, California.Sara’s father works on a mobile ice cream truck in San Jose and her mother used to be a factory worker before she got laid off.”We manage to pay for school because I’ve been working since I was 11,” Sara told Reuters Africa Journal. “I’ve been working with my dad on his ice cream truck, he’s been paying me and I’ve been saving the money. Also I had two jobs in high school and I saved up a lot of money. I understand the value of money.”Sara wants to work with an NGO or a non-profit organisation after she graduates. She wants to travel and she wants to make a difference in the world. Other African students say they want to go home once they get a bit of experience in their careers.But Africa is suffering from a massive brain drain just now and it’s questionable whether enough of those highly motivated students from America will return home in large enough numbers to really make a difference.
Roman Catholic bishops called on corrupt Catholic leaders in Africa on Friday to repent or resign for giving the continent and the Church a bad name. Around 200 African bishops, along with dozens of other bishops and Africa experts, also accused multinational companies in Africa of "crimes against humanity" and urged Africans to beware of "surreptitious" attempts by international organizations to destroy traditional African values.
Their three-week synod, which ends formally on Sunday with a Mass by Pope Benedict, covered a range of Africa's problems, such as AIDS, corruption, poverty, development aspirations and crime. But it had a very direct message for corrupt African leaders who were raised Catholics.
One day this year, in all probability, the “billionth African” will have been born, a milestone that will only benefit the poorest continent if it can get its act together and unify its piecemeal markets.
Nobody knows, of course, when or where in its 53 countries the child arrived to push Africa’s population into ten figures.
The U.N. merely estimates that in mid-2008 there were 987 million people, and in mid-2009, 1,010 million.
Given the difficulties of obtaining accurate data from the likes of Nigeria, where provincial population figures are often hostage to the ambitions of local politicians, or any data at all from the likes of Somalia, experts are reluctant to hazard any greater degree of accuracy.
There is less doubt, however, about the underlying trend — that Africa’s population is set to grow faster than in any other part of the world in the coming decades, and to double by 2050.
To some, the statistics from the U.N.’s population division will invite comparisons to the Asian giants, and inspire hopes of a flood of investment from Africans and outsiders to meet the needs of a continent likely to be home to one in five people by the middle of this century.
By contrast, China’s projected population of 1.4 billion in 40 years will be shrinking, while India will only be adding an annual 3 million to its 1.6 billion people.
To others, the numbers are stark reminders of the mammoth task Africa’s leaders face in providing the food, jobs, schools, housing and healthcare that are still so sorely lacking.
UNFPA, the U.N.’s population arm, summarises by saying that sub-Saharan Africa faces “serious political, economic and social challenges” and points to the last two decades as evidence that more people does not mean more wealth.
“Twenty years of almost three percent annual population growth has outpaced economic gains, leaving Africans, on average, 22 percent poorer than they were in the mid-1970s,” it says.
Are Africa’s leaders ready and willing to create the truly unified common market needed to boost investment, trade and economic growth, or are short-term national interests likely to prevail, consigning Africa to a century of overpopulated poverty?
When Hillary Clinton visited the Democratic Republic of Congo in August, she spoke out against rape and said women should not be used as “weapons of war”.
The Secretary of State wanted Congo’s government to do more to stop sexual violence and prosecute offenders in an area where armed groups still use rape to terrorise local people seven years after the war was meant to have ended.
Successive failed rain seasons in Kenya have led to a drought that experts say is the worst in the country since 1996.
And it is not just a problem for Kenya. Aid agencies estimate more than 23 million people will need food aid in the Horn of Africa region.