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Views from the Center

CGD experts offer ideas and analysis to improve international development policy. Also check out our Global Health blog and US Development Policy blog.

 

The Informal Sector: What Do We Know So Far?

The informal sector is a major source of economic activity and job opportunities in poor countries as well as emerging economies. In sub-Saharan Africa, the size of the informal sector is estimated to employ over 70 percent of the population. Why do businesses remain informal? What gains in productivity or profitability do they forego by as a result of that choice?

Why Don't African Firms Create More Jobs?

Many countries in Africa suffer high rates of under-employment or low rates of productive employment; many also anticipate large numbers of people entering the workforce in the near future. It is estimated that the working age population will rise to almost 800 million in 2030, up from the current number of 466 million.  In our new paper , we ask the question— are African firms employing fewer people than firms located in other parts of the world? And if so, why? 

Viewing Africa from Beijing

This past week, a group of researchers and policymakers from Africa, China, Europe and North America gathered at the National School of Development, Peking University to discuss economic development in Africa.  The event was the authors’ workshop for the first edition Oxford Handbook of Africa and Economics. Over 40 papers were presented in parallel sessions on topics ranging from Africa’s underground economy to the economics of malaria and China's investments in Africa.

Is Agribusiness the Key to Africa’s Growth?

Today, the World Bank launched a new report, "Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness." The report argues that agriculture and agribusiness should be at the top of the development and business agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Bank is right to emphasize this issue--of the $25 billion of food that African countries import annually, only $1 billion comes from other African countries. The report offers a clear and well-researched exposition of the state and prospects of African agribusiness. It is broad in scope, encompassing agricultural production and upstream input markets as well as supply chains and agro-processing.

Counting Haiti’s Private Sector

This is a joint post with Vijaya Ramachandran.

The first-ever National Business Census began in Haiti this month. A census of formal and informal businesses has never been conducted and there is no comprehensive business database. Although a daunting task, the census will likely help to strengthen small and medium enterprises and increase local procurement.

The survey began September 3rd and will be conducted by 500 interviewers recruited by 42 supervisors from across the country – at a cost of 26 million gourdes (around $600,000). Wilson Laleau, the Minister of Trade and Industry, explained that this survey will enable the government to assist entrepreneurs with access to credit, help meeting standards, and entering new markets. Maintaining crops, inventories, and production is notoriously difficult with disasters such as Hurricane Isaac. A comprehensive census could improve access to credit and insurance coverage for natural disasters. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said: “Everyone recognizes the importance of such an activity… [a census is a] prerequisite to any policy to support the development of entrepreneurship in Haiti.”

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?

Local Procurement Is Key to Rebuilding the Private Sector in Haiti

This is a joint post with Julie Walz.

In a recent blog post, we discussed the phenomenon of Haiti as a “Republic of NGOs” where the government and the private sector were crowded out by large international organizations that provided most services. Just as international donors have sidestepped the Haitian government, reconstruction contracts have also bypassed Haitian firms in favor of Beltway contractors. The Center for Economic and Policy Research analyzed the 1,490 contracts (worth $194.5 million) awarded between January 2010 and April 2011. Only 23 contracts--for a total of $4.8 million or 2.5 percent of the total—were awarded to Haitian companies. In comparison, contractors based in the Washington DC area received $76 million – almost 40 percent of the total.

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