Tag Archives: Obama

Rising Inequality – Impact on Africa?

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

“Average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened; upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.” – Obama’s State of the Union address on January 28th, 2014.

A lot of the gains of the global economic recovery that we’ve seen have gone to the people at the very top, particularly the top 1 %. – The Economist, one day later.

In the past week, economic inequality has been all over the news. As always, I read everything with interest whilst wearing my Africa hat.

Economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa remains strong with almost a third of countries in the region growing at more than 6% according to the World Bank’s new Africa’s Pulse, a twice-yearly analysis of the issues shaping Africa’s economic prospects. However, as Africa’s growth rates continue to surge, Africa’s Pulse notes that poverty and inequality remain “unacceptably high and the pace of reduction unacceptably slow.”

So, what is being done?

Africa’s pulse states that following the global financial crisis, “a growing number of African countries are setting up social safety nets to protect the health and livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people during periods of adversity”. In addition, “the steady growth of the Middle class is also translating growth into much less inequality”.

However, most of what I’ve read in the mainstream papers on the subject is very pessimistic indeed, and often refer to the United Nation’s Human Development Report of 1999:

“Poverty is everywhere. Gaps between the poorest and the richest people and countries have continued to widen. In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% . In 1977, 74 times as much. What will it be in 50 years’ time?”

I think that the whole world, in particular Africa, is therefore watching the US quite closely to see what answers they come up with. 

 

Mandela – Hero of Africa’s booming economy

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

At Nelson Mandela’s memorial yesterday, President Obama hailed the former South African President as “the last great liberator of the 20th century”.

He is also being remembered for the formidable role he played in building up Africa’s largest economy. Mandela famously believed in the link between economic and political progress, and as a result, South Africa’s gross domestic product grew from less than 1.5 % from 1980 to 1994 to almost 3 % from 1995 to 2003. South Africa is now proudly the “S” in BRICS, and its economy is still going strong 20 years after Mandela first came to power.

Aside from all this, Mandela ensured that South Africa became an important source of economic opportunity for its neighbouring countries too. It can be argued that their successes, in turn, influenced the rest of the continent. Mandela was certainly therefore the great liberator of Africa. According to the latest statistics by the IMF, the continent’s economy is projected to have grown by 4.8% in 2013 and accelerate further to 5.3% in 2014.  He didn’t merely bring South Africa into the global economy, but was key in making sure the rest of Africa would also thrive one day.

Last but certainly not least, it is important to note the effect that Mandela had on successive generations of investors, who  in order to support him in his struggle against apartheid, came to recognize the power of investment to change things for the better, as well as the impact sustainable and responsible investments could have on anything from fighting injustice to empowering women and combating climate change.

Nelson Mandela has therefore left us with resounding legacies and the world is undoubtedly a much better place thanks to him.

An important Power Switch

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Africa’s wind and solar power potential have been much in the news since President Obama’s “Power Africa” speech on June 29th in Cape Town. Investment into renewable energies has always been rather limited on the continent, but this is now changing rapidly. One example is the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) recent approval of a €115m loan to help fund the construction of the 300 MW Lake Turkana Wind Power Project in Kenya. The project is being developed by a conglomerate of investors, while the government of Spain has agreed to lend Kenya $178m in order to fund the construction of a transmission line which will connect the project to the country’s national grid. All electricity will be sold to the Kenya Power and Lighting Company under a 20-year power-purchase agreement.

Strong economies are highly dependent on good energy supplies and in order to achieve global competitiveness, Africa’s economic activity (and thus electricity use) must increase exponentially. It is no surprise therefore that in recent years the continent has seen an increasing number of young entrepreneurs keen to try out their much needed innovation. Many of these concentrate heavily on Solar Energy since Photovoltaic (PV) production costs have fallen dramatically worldwide. According to the U.N., the African renewable energy sector was valued at $750 million in 2004. By the time Obama was making his speech, it had reached more than $5 billion. The latest projection is that by 2020 the value of the African renewable energy sector will reach more than $55 billion (U.N.). While Africa’s wind resources are concentrated in just a few areas, the continent’s solar resources are spread across all of the continent and, for obvious reasons, rank among the world’s most successful.

There are of course many other forms of energy that could contribute in filling Africa’s massive power gap.

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Reinforcing North-South Trade

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

At a time when South-South trade is becoming a force to be reckoned with, the North is jumping into action. Is it too late? In this global and growing world, there might just be room for everyone, and I expect that both the US and the EU will regain some footing in Africa in the years to come.

Power Africa, President Obama’s initiative to increase access to low cost energy, and Trade Africa, the initiative to boost trade with and within Africa, have both been written about extensively since Obama’s visit to the continent recently.

President Clinton’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) however seems to have been ignored somewhat. And yet, the 2012 Presidential Directive on Sub Saharan Africa, talks about a new and enhanced AGOA, with the potential of making the U.S./Africa trade relationship as significant as the one between the U.S. and the European Union. (The Africa-EU Partnership has also announced that they are entering into “a new phase” with an increase in Trade agreements).

Next month, Washington D.C. will host the 2013 U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum in Addis Ababa.  Trade and investment-related issues are top of the agenda and it is expected that the “new and improved” AGOA will finally be revealed in all its glory.

I guess we should therefore expect extensive (although belated) coverage soon.

Power for Africa

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Until recently, Africa had a small, very wealthy top, a broad base of poverty, and no middle market to speak of. Today the continent is developing into one of the largest mass markets in the world.

However, many Africans are still trailing behind. The new $7 billion “Power Africa” initiative, that President Barack Obama announced on June 30th, could contribute significantly to push the lower class towards the middle. Increasing electricity production and distribution throughout sub-Saharan Africa is undoubtedly crucial to the entire continent’s success. The fact that Obama put emphasis on “Green Energy” (Solar, Hydrogen and Wind in particular) was very much in line with the rest of his statements that day, which brimmed with clear insight into Africa’s lingering issues.

I have transcribed my three favourite parts of his (now famous) speech and would like to share them with anyone who might have missed this.

“I am proud to announce Power Africa – a new initiative that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa… And in partnership with African nations, we’re going to develop new sources of energy. We’ll reach more households not just in cities, but in villages and on farms. We’ll expand access for those who live currently off the power grid. And we’ll support clean energy to protect our planet and combat climate change”.

“Look at Zimbabwe, where the promise of liberation gave way to the corruption of power and then the collapse of the economy. Now, after the leaders of this region brokered an end to what has been a long-running crisis, Zimbabweans have a new constitution, the economy is beginning to recover. So there is an opportunity to move forward — but only if there is an election that is free, and fair, and peaceful, so that Zimbabweans can determine their future without fear of intimidation and retribution. And after elections, there must be respect for the universal rights upon which democracy depends.”

“In much of Africa you see women doing work and not getting respect. I tell you, you can measure how well a country does by how it treats its women.” President Obama also emphasized that Mandela’s values are Africa’s future and that African youth had to seize a “moment of great promise”. Only the current Zimbabwean government  lashed out at Obama following the Cape Town address.  I guess that in itself is quite meaningful.

 

Obama’s African visit

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

President Obama’s long-awaited trip to Africa is coming to an end, and he didn’t manage to hide the real reason he was there.

Many Presidents are visiting the continent these days, but the fact that Obama is half white American and half black African means that, in Africa itself, his visit has generated a lot more interest than when (for instance) China’s new president embarked on a trip less than two weeks after taking office earlier this year. What also differentiates Obama from the others is that he makes great speeches, and I especially liked his ideas for a “Power Africa” initiative and “sustainable” African energy strategy.

All through his trip, the President has looked happy, relaxed, and “at home”, despite all the security that he has surrounded himself and his family with. What seems to have been most significant to those he went to visit is that, in all three countries (Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa), Obama emphasised that he welcomes world economies turning their sights to Africa. However, as his trip matures, his real views are increasingly being felt.

African leaders should “pick their international partners carefully”, and “push back against countries that bring in their own workers”, a clear criticism of China. Another clear criticism of China was Obama’s “wildlife and importance of tourism speech”, condemning illegal trafficking. The White House has already issued a statement this morning regarding the launch of a new anti-poaching initiative in Tanzania as of next month.

From the cheers heard yesterday in Dar es Salaam however, it is clear that the word “partnership” is the magic word in Africa these days. When Obama said the West’s goal is to “partner” with Africa, the crowds went wild.

It is important to note that both the USA and Europe are home to large communities with strong African heritages and that Africa and America/Europe often share a common language, making training and technology transfer much more straightforward. Africans know this, and they clearly want it. We also have a common history, for better or for worse. It is Europe’s common history (mostly violent) that unites them now within a European Union that, even though it is still in its infancy, seems to be doing alright despite some teething problems.

The younger generation in Africa, Europe and America have a lot in common through a shared history, that we are coming out of together, and the significance of this cannot be trivialised. This does not mean that partnerships with China are a bad idea.  In fact, Africa has already partnered successfully with many countries in Asia, forming the bulk of the South-South trade. Obama’s words should however be a warning to China, one that I’m sure they’ll heed given the investments they’ve made on the continent in the last decade.

The bottom line is that the whole African continent is full of promise. I would therefore like to reiterate what I wrote in my previous blog: A united Africa will be stronger, but I agree that it must choose its partners well. Yesterday afternoon, Obama revealed a venture, dubbed ‘‘Trade Africa,’’ that aims to increase the flow of goods between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. The initial phase will focus on East Africa — Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania — and in a couple of years, the phase will be extended to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Let’s hope that this will be a partnership made in heaven, and just one of many.