Power Africa has the potential to be transformative for millions of poor people and be the single biggest legacy in Africa for President Barack Obama. Observers now have roughly three years to reflect on the initiative: on what’s progressing well, what’s not, and where future risks may lie. While it is still too early to provide a complete analysis of outcomes, this report card provides a timely assessment at the close of this administration and an input to the next one. While the judgments of Power Africa are largely positive, the coming months will be crucial to keeping the effort on a positive trajectory.
Attention presidential transition teams: the Rethinking US Development Policy team at the Center for Global Development strongly urges you to include these three big ideas in your first year budget submission to Congress and pursue these three smart reforms during your first year.
The future of development policy is in development finance. Developing countries need aid less and less as their incomes rise and economies grow. What they need now is private investment and finance. US development policy, however, has failed to bring its development finance tools in line with this reality. Related US efforts have not been deployed in an efficient or strategic manner because authorities are outdated, staff resources are insufficient, and tools are dispersed across multiple agencies.
Other players are doing more. Well-established European development finance institutions (DFIs) are providing integrated services for businesses, and these services cover debt and equity financing, risk mitigation, and technical assistance. Moreover, emerging-market actors — including China, India, Brazil, and Malaysia — have dramatically increased financing activities in developing regions such as Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Although nearly all poor countries are classified by the World Bank as IDA-only, Nigeria stands out as a notable exception. Indeed, Africa’s most populous country is the poorest country in the world that is not classified as IDA-only. Under the World Bank’s own criteria, however, Nigeria has a strong case for reclassification. IDA-only status would have two potential benefits for Nigeria. First, it would expand Nigeria’s access to IDA resources and make the country eligible for grants. Second, it would strengthen Nigeria’s case for debt reduction. With a renewed economic reform effort getting under way and the emerging use of debt reduction as a tool for assisting economic and political transitions, the UK, the US, and other official creditors should support such a move as part of a broader strategy for encouraging progress in one of Africa’s most important countries.