Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

CGD in the News

August 4, 2015

A Global Prosperity Platform For The 2016 Election (The Hill)

From op-ed

The next U.S. president will not be elected because of foreign policy.  And she or he certainly will not get to the White House on the strength of election promises about global development.  For some candidates, the less time talking about poor people overseas the better – and even better if the U.S. government spends less money on them.

Yet, candidates who take this view miss two important truths.  First, development is not just about foreign aid – which makes up a tiny and decreasing fraction of how the world pays for development.  Second, if we help countries build strong and inclusive economies, then we are also helping to build prosperous, democratic, and stable societies.  That’s the whole point of foreign policy.  And that’s why global development matters for the 2016 election cycle.

Read full op-ed here.

March 11, 2015

Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap in Africa (Financial Times)

Financial Times guest writers Aubrey Hruby and Dawda Jawara III cite the work of Vijaya Ramachandran and Ben Leo on the demand for infrastructure investment in Africa. 

From the article:

Poor and insufficient infrastructure remains one of Africa’s starkest development challenges. Despite the continent’s sustained growth and rapid urbanisation rates, its infrastructure investment deficit remains staggeringly high: $50bn annually, according to the African Development Bank. The gap applies mainly to energy, transport, water and sanitation, but the region is also struggling to construct enough education, culture, tourism and healthcare infrastructure for burgeoning populations. This gap impacts Africa’s businesses, entrepreneurs, and young people. A new report from the Center for Global Development reveals the high importance placed on infrastructure by Africans across the continent relative to jobs and income related issues. In order to increase the pace of critical infrastructure investment, innovative financing mechanisms must be studied and scaled up.

Read the article here.

February 18, 2015

From Haiti's Earthquake to Ebola, He Had Five Busy Years at USAID (NPR)

From the article:

An earthquake rocked Haiti just five days after physician Rajiv Shah took over as head of the main U.S. agency for overseas disaster relief. The death toll was about 200,000. The U.S. was scrambling to mobilize a response. And President Obama decided Shah should be the one to lead it. [...] Within weeks, thanks to U.S dollars and help, millions of people who might otherwise have gone hungry were fed. Eventually hundreds of thousands were sheltered.

But there are critics of the U.S. response. Several years later, a lot of the new housing and other promised aid hadn't materialized. Ben Leo, an analyst with the Center for Global Development — it's a non-partisan thinktank — says to this day: "We still have absolutely no idea where all the money went.... And we still have no systemic reporting on what the hundreds of projects achieved."

Read the article here

October 31, 2014

Politics Dim Obama’s Africa Power Plan as Lights Go Out (Bloomberg)

From the article

“If Power Africa works, then it would deliver a huge boost for African countries,” Ben Leo, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington and a former White House director of Africa affairs, said in an e-mail. “Addressing the energy poverty challenge will take years, and Obama only has two left.”


Disease is a barrier in Liberia, another of the six focus nations and an epicenter of the Ebola outbreak.

“The health crisis is obviously a short-term deterrent for investors,” Todd Moss, a former deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s bureau of African affairs, wrote in an e-mail. He pointed out that the country has no large-scale power plants. “Part of the recovery will be building an electricity sector.”

Read the article here

September 2, 2014

Let There Be Light (Foreign Affairs)

From the article:

In the first week of August, official delegations from 50 African countries came to Washington to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The meeting was typical in its extraordinary pageantry, overzealous security, and relative lack of tangible accomplishments. [...]

Yet there was one outcome with the potential to become much more. U.S. President Barack Obama announced an ambitious expansion of the Power Africa initiative that he first launched during a trip to Tanzania last summer. The program aims to help close the massive gaps in electricity generation and access in six African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. The original goal of the program was to produce 10,000 megawatts of electricity-generating capacity. During the summit, those targets were tripled to 30,000 megawatts. Through this, Power Africa aims to create new power connections for at least 60 million households and businesses. These new goals could mean that up to 300 million people will acquire access to reliable and affordable electricity (assuming a reasonable average household size of five people) for the first time. Put differently, Obama has just committed publicly to help provide power for fully half of those Africans who currently lack it and put Power Africa at the very center of Washington's diplomacy efforts in Africa. That is a good thing. It is also likely to be the Obama administration’s last chance to salvage his legacy in Africa.

Read the article here

July 28, 2014

Energize Africa (Voice of America)

From the segment:

Leo: "Power by all accounts is one of the most binding constraints for growth and economic opps in Sub Saharan Africa. You look at all the different statistics, the figures, the surveys, and it's at the very top of the list." [0:55]


Leo: "By taking this approach [of expanding Power Africa], you can address an African concern, promote U.S. business and African business and do all of this at no cost to taxpayers. I think that's one of the major reasons that we're seeing bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for this legislation. Obama's initiative is focused on six countries, which is a great start. The Energize Africa bill really focuses in on this issue to make sure that whatever the executive branch is doing, they factor this in in a major way, so I think that's a big contribution. So it's a good start, and we'll have to keep a close eye on it to see where ultimately things go out." [2:41]

Watch the segment here

July 22, 2014

U.S. Debating “Historic” Support for Off-Grid Electricity in Africa (Inter Press Service)

From the article:

“The overwhelming majority of the African leaders are going to be coming to Washington [for the U.S.-Africa Summit] emphasising trade and investment, and in that context this issue is very central to their many constituencies – touching on economic, political and social issues,” Ben Leo, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Coming forward with something concrete that will lead to additional capital, tools or engagement will be noticed and welcomed. But lack thereof would also have a message for African leaders and others travelling to Washington.”

Read the article here

July 18, 2014

Congress May Decide the Fate of the Historic US-Africa Summit (Roll Call)

From the article:

In less than a month, Washington will play host to roughly 50 African heads of state, hundreds of cabinet-level ministers, and over a thousand American and African business leaders and investors. It will be a truly historic moment. More importantly, it will be an unparalleled opportunity to advance U.S. strategic interests on the African continent — spanning from Cairo to Cape Town. While President Barack Obama will be hosting this summit, in some ways, Congress will decide whether it will be a success.

African delegations are expected to deliver a unified message to U.S. policymakers — they want to attract more U.S. investment into their economies. This reflects a strong recognition that U.S. investment, technology, and innovation can help to spur greater growth and prosperity in African economies. It can also help to close a massive infrastructure gap — ranging from unreliable power to insufficient transport networks — as well as address increasing demands for gainful employment.

African leaders have a political imperative to rapidly expand access to economic opportunities. Every year, up to 15 million youth enter the job market. Over two-thirds of recently surveyed Africans cite jobs and economic prospects as their most pressing concerns. Those figures exceed 75 percent in places like Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, and Tunisia. Leaders intimately know that the dawning demographic bulge, coupled with growing public expectations, can either become a blessing or an explosive recipe for instability. The Arab Spring, or even the vicious Boko Haram movement in northern Nigeria, are powerful reminders of this dynamic.

Read the article here

February 10, 2014

Lomborg: Obama Energy Policy Hurts African Poor (USA TODAY)

From the Article:

The Obama administration even acknowledged that without a coal power plant South Africa's "economic recovery will suffer, adversely impacting electrification, job creation, and social indicators." Yet, now we tell the world's poor, that they shouldn't get cheap energy.

Nowhere is the dilemma more acute than in Obama's laudable Power Africa initiative, which aims to increase electricity generation and access to modern energy services in six poor, African countries.

Read it here

February 5, 2014

It's Time to Listen to What Africans and Latin Americans Really Want | Commentary (Roll Call)

From the article

Some might argue against listening to what citizens in poorer countries cite as their priorities. Isn’t that what the buildings full of Washington-based development experts are supposed to figure out? Others say that isn’t even the point of U.S. foreign assistance: It’s our money, so we’ll spend it how we want.

But it’s difficult to argue with what people in Africa and Latin America and elsewhere want. They’re clamoring for access to economic opportunity. And with that comes the ability to meet other daily demands, such as paying for health clinic visits or school books. Access to opportunity allows a definitive exit from dependency and a path toward prosperity. Prosperity in developing countries also means greater opportunities for U.S. businesses.

This is not to dismiss efforts in health or education or disaster relief by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Instead, it means the U.S. must bolster its efforts to promote growth, trade and investment in developing countries. In Africa, this means helping to ensure that the 14 million youth entering the job market every year have a path to a brighter future. In Latin America, this means helping people escape from ever-escalating violence, fueled by a lack of good jobs and growing inequality. The Arab Spring is a stark reminder of what happens when large segments of society are shut out of the economy and a representative voice in government. The risks posed to U.S. national security and our commercial priorities will only grow over time.

Congress should consider three low-cost fixes to push us toward a more effective development policy: an approach that responds to what people in developing countries want.

Read full article.