Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
Forget the days when the image of Africa in the developed world was one of rolling vistas of unspoilt safari parks, natural disasters and war.
In the last 10 years, western firms and investors have been showing much greater interest, ploughing increasing investment flows into the continent of 1 billion people.
In its World Economic Outlook, the IMF predicts sub-Saharan Africa will grow by an average of 4.7 percent this year, a rate that is second only to Asia.
Africa offers a higher rate of return on investment than any other region in the world, Razia Khan, regional head of research for Africa at Standard Chartered Bank in London, told a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event this week.
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
Before the G20 meeting, there was a lot of talk inside and outside Africa about making sure the continent did not get left out while the world’s richest and most powerful set out plans to save their own economies.******So how did Africa fare?******On the face of things, perhaps not too badly.******“Our global plan for recovery must have at its heart the needs and jobs of hard-working families, not just in developed countries but in emerging markets and the poorest countries of the world too,” the communique says in paragraph 3.******In concrete terms:******• Resources available to the IMF will be trebled to $750 billion.***• There will be support for a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights of $250 billion – something that could help poor countries***• There will be support for $100 billion more lending by Multilateral Development Banks (those include the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank)***• There will be $250 billion support for trade finance.***• Use will be made of resources from IMF gold sales “for concessional finance for the poorest countries”.***• Global financial institutions will be strengthened and reformed, ensuring that emerging and developing economies, including the poorest, must have greater voice and representation.”******The point on the gold sales was something for which Africa, represented at the summit by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, had made a particular push.******But not all appeared so impressed. In East Africa based Business Daily, Allan Odhiambo’s piece was headlined “Africa thrown to back burner at G20 meeting.”******According to Nigeria’s ThisDay newspaper, President Umaru Yar’Adua’s main lament was the fact that Africa’s most populous country was not there (South Africa, with the continent’s biggest economy, was represented).******South Africa’s President Kgalema Motlanthe was quoted as saying he was “quite pleased” with the results of the summit.******How well do you think the G20 did for Africa? Will Africa really have a bigger say over the global financial system in future? Will that help?
For those looking to invest in Africa, the best prospects are in Nigeria and Ethiopia according to a new index of potential investment destinations published this week.
But should anybody want to put money into Africa at a time the global financial crisis and falling prices for export commodities, on which the continent is so reliant, have discouraged investors who had begun to see some African countries as promising frontier markets?
If you lived on an archipelago that defined paradise with palm-fringed white sand beaches and emerald green waters, you would expect a relaxed, lazy pace of life.
Lazy would be a generous description of the Seychellois soldier’s wave at the entrance to State House as I arrived with my local colleague George Thande – who is admittedly a regular visitor here.
For Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people, the true meaning of the signing of a power-sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC would be how quickly it leads to an improvement in their daily lives. An economic crisis that began in 1998 has turned the once prosperous Southern African country into a basket case economy with the world’s highest inflation at over 11 million percent. Millions of Zimbabwean’s who have fled across the borders to escape unemployment and severe shortages are waiting to see if the political deal will result in economic rebound paving the way for their return.
The agreement negotiated by South African President Thabo Mbeki provides for the sharing of power between veteran President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Tsvangirai takes on the new role of Prime Minister with extensive powers, with Mugabe’s 28-year hold on power significantly eroded.
All economies, no matter how decrepit, can be revived through good institutions and economic freedom. That said, it is impossible to predict how quickly the people of Zimbabwe will be able to enjoy a notable improvement in their standard of living.
Zimbabwe today is one of the least politically and economically free countries in the world. The speed of Zimbabwe’s social and economic recovery will depend on the speed and extent of reforms.
Covering Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni for four years as the Reuters correspondent in Kampala was seldom dull.
When he was in a good mood, the former rebel would banter with journalists long after his aides wanted him to leave. In a bad mood, he would scowl and growl back answers in return.
Rich countries look set to fall roughly $40 billion short of the amount they had pledged to give to Africa by 2010. So says a report released on Monday by the panel set up to monitor commitments made amid much fanfare at the Group of Eight summit in 2005.
The panel said G8 countries were not keeping their promises at the very moment rising food prices threaten to increase hunger and child mortality. The report also calls for a rethink of trade policies to help African countries and urges rich nations to spend more on renewable energy sources there.