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First Edition of the Oxford Companion to the Economics of Africa Features Essays by CGD Staff and Board

This is a joint post with Julie Walz

Since the mid-nineties, many African nations have ushered in dramatic economic and political changes. But growth in other countries is stalled due conflict, repressive regimes, and lack of infrastructure. A new publication captures the diversity across Africa, using an economic lens to evaluate the key issues affecting Africa’s ability to grow and develop. The Oxford Companion to the Economics of Africa is a compilation of 100 essays on key issues and topics across the continent. It includes contributions from young African researchers, longtime researchers on Africa and four Nobel Laureates. Authors were given the freedom to write their own perspectives, thus the result is not a literature review but an engaging snapshot of concerns and possibilities across the continent. With 48 country perspectives (from Algeria to Zimbabwe) and 53 thematic essays, the book rejects a one-size-fits-all approach yet recognizes that there are continent-wide opportunities and challenges. As the first work of its kind, it is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the field, from graduate students to policymakers.

A Diamond in the Rough? Africa’s Newest Central Bank Opens in an Unexpected Location

This is a joint post with Ross Thuotte.

Last week, lawmakers in Somaliland (Somalia's northern, semi-autonomous region) reportedly established Somaliland’s first central bank. The measure will pave the way for foreign commercial banks to start operating in Somaliland by 2013, providing much-needed financing support for Somaliland’s private sector businesses. Simultaneously, the donor community (represented by multilateral institutions and both Danish and US aid agencies) has expressed a strong interest in Somaliland. Two questions arise: How can international donors further support Somaliland’s businesses and what can they learn from the parliament’s new central bank?

Africa on K Street: Lobbying Is Not Restricted to the Developed World

This is a joint post with Julie Walz.

The aid community is well-accustomed to pushing for transparency in foreign aid transactions. But are we missing another key flow of money?

A recent article by Geoffrey York, African bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, described a contract signed a few years ago by the Government of Rwanda with Racepoint Group, which was tasked with doing an image make-over for the Rwandan government for a monthly fee of over $50,000. The rationale was that public perceptions of Rwanda were dominated by the horrific genocide that occured in the 1990s, along with accounts of human rights abuses and media censorship. The contract with Racepoint reportedly aimed to increase the number of stories of Rwanda’s successes and block criticism of the government and its alleged human rights abuses. The effort landed more than 100 positive articles per month in newspapers from the New York Times to BBC, increased discussions of travel to Rwanda by 183%, and decreased discussion of the genocide by 11%, according to Racepoint.

A Bold New Idea for Infrastructure in Africa

This is a joint post with Julie Walz.

It is no secret that Africa faces an infrastructure crisis. The low-income economies of the region have fewer miles of paved roads and fewer modern freight and passenger-transport systems than any other region in the world. Electricity is also highly unreliable; businesses in many African countries suffer from power outages on more than half of the days they work per year. Inadequate infrastructure is cited by most African firms as the single biggest obstacle to doing business.

Equatorial Guinea Dictator to Lead the African Union

Yesterday, the African Union chose Equatorial Guinea’s dictator of 31 years, President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, to serve as their chairman; a move that will undoubtedly undermine the AU’s attempt to bring stability to the African continent and to confront leaders who cling to power./

Obiang has been criticized for violating the basic human rights that the AU swears to uphold and is consideredone of the world’s worst dictators. Having ruled the country since 1979, Obiang claims to have won 97 percent of the vote in 2002 and 95 percent in 2009. And despite their oil wealth, the people of Equatorial Guinea have seen little benefit. Life expectancy is a mere 50 years, half of the children who live in that country do not complete primary school, and about 15 percent die before age of 5. The country ranks 118 out of 182 in the UNDP Human Development Index.

South Africa to Launch Development Aid Agency

This is a joint post with Julie Walz.

South Africa announced last week that it will launch its own development aid agency in 2011 - the South African Development Partnership Agency. This move places South Africa ahead of other emerging donors such as India and China , who have yet to create separate agencies to dispense aid.

No longer just a recipient of aid, South Africa has quietly ramped up its role as a leader on the African continent, largely via peacekeeping, post-conflict reconstruction, and even analytical work.

Kofi Annan's Unusual Approach to the Crisis in Zimbabwe

In today's Financial Times, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan makes a strong case for collective action on the situation in Zimbabwe. Mr Annan argues that "if the government, which many claim to be the author of violence, cannot ensure a fair vote, Africa must hold it accountable. The victor of an unfair vote must be under no illusions: he will neither have the legitimacy to govern, nor receive the support of the international community."

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