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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.

Tough Love: Bill Gates Calls on the Donor Community to Do Better on Food Security

This is a joint post with Peter Timmer and Julie Walz.

“If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture,” declared Bill Gates in a high-profile speech in Rome yesterday, at a meeting of the Global Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. IFAD is one of the three Rome-based UN food agencies; the other two are FAO, and WFP. The speech came after the announcement of an expanded partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and IFAD, which will focus on improving food security and rural livelihoods in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Do We Still Need Development Goals?

As we look ahead to 2015 and the potential for a new round of MDGs, there’s a growing chorus of people arguing that, given how much the world has changed since 2000, the new set should look completely different from the last lot.  The 2000 vintage was about rich and poor countries, focused on where donors would help recipients, based on the DAC Development Targets (which drew in turn from a range of UN Conferences).   In a world with large emerging donor-recipients like China and India, where poverty levels are declining and

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.

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.

Dubai, Magnet for Foreign Workers, Could Do Better by Easing Labor Mobility Restrictions

The story of Dubai is remarkable. In six decades it has grown from a small fishing village to a gleaming metropolis with a per capita GDP comparable to that of the United States. In many ways, Dubai must be seen to be believed. Even its skyline is unreal–rising straight out of the desert and dominated by the tallest building in the world—the 2625 ft., 160-story, silver-and-glass Burj Khalifa.

Is Haiti Doomed to be the Republic of NGOs?

This is a joint post with Julie Walz.

Two years ago, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, plunging an already poor and unstable country into complete and utter chaos. In the days and weeks that followed, international responses and donations were overwhelming. Yet almost all of the assistance provided to Haiti has bypassed its government, leaving it even less capable than before. Humanitarian agencies, NGOs, private contractors, and other non-state service providers have received 99 percent of relief aid—less than 1 percent of aid in the immediate aftermath of the quake went to public institutions or to the government. And only 23 percent of the longer-term recovery funding was channeled through the Haitian government. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of relief aid from all donors to Haiti, by recipient.

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.

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