Tag Archives: economic development

A closer look at the idea of “Africa Rising” and the new African middle class

African middle class
Philippe Sibelly, http://www.sibellimages.eu/projects.htm

For those of you who are interested in the notion of “Africa Rising” and the common claim that the continent’s overall rate of economic growth is creating a new African middle class, this article is for you. Written by Jacques Enaudeau at the excellent blog Africa is a Country, it’s entitled In Search of the African Middle Class.

As we’ve noted many times here on Humanosphere, the whole idea of Africa rising up out of poverty is a popular one. Here’s the other Humanoid Tom’s recent look at The Economist’s recent enthusiasm for the idea. Foreign Policy magazine also dug into this a while ago – and decided Nobody Knows if Africa is rising or not.

Enaudeau’s piece goes into much greater depth and agrees that many things are indeed improving in Africa. But he also notes that there is a tendency for many to overstate, over-enthuse, on all this because of the belief that sending out positive messages will help make it so (sort of like telling people that the stock market is doing well in order to keep the stock marker doing well….).

The problem, Enaudeau writes, is that this narrative of the rising African middle class is based on a fairly generous definition and neglects what he would call “the floating class.”

The AFBD defines “middle class” as those spending between $2 and $20 per day. By its own admission though, about 60% of those only spend between $2 and $4 per day and remain in what the bank calls a “floating class,” a vulnerable position “barely out of the poor category” with “the constant possibility of dropping back in the event of any exogenous shocks”.


Planet Population

Post Mortem: Grist’s angry-humor review of the Rio+20 Earth Summit

It was billed as one of the world’s most important — and biggest– meetings, the UN Earth Summit aka Rio+20.

There was plenty of international media attention leading up to and during this three-day meeting of some 45,000 people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The confab was devoted to finding consensus solutions to problems like climate change, increasing population pressure on natural resources, economic inequity and other issues subsumed under the kitchen-sink categorization of ‘sustainable development.

As you may have heard, which NPR and others reported last week, the meeting was pretty much a dud.

In short, Rio+20 adhered to a new axiom I believe I have invented (and so trademark) which I dub the Law of Confabs: A meeting’s chance of accomplishing anything is inversely proportional to its importance. 

Arguably, the point of Rio+20 was to deal with the biggest threats we face on the planet. You’ve probably either read all about Rio or successfully ignored it (with help from the lackluster coverage by most American media). But if you remain interested, I think this story today from the Grist provides the best and most hilarious overview. Author Greg Hanscom asks Did Rio do any good?

The Earth Summit is mercifully over, leaving us all to wonder: What the hell happened last week? Did the end result justify the 3,600 tons of CO2 generated by the UN delegation alone? And has anyone seen my pants?

For a rosier view of the meeting, read The Guardian’s John Vidal’s post Reasons to be Cheerful.

Guhonda, the dominant silverback of the Sabyinyo group

Mountain gorillas with journalists in the midst

No visit to Rwanda is complete without seeing the mountain gorillas. Here’s one who came to have a closer look at us.

After a whirlwind week of meeting with Rwandan officials, business leaders, local journalists, activists and others in the capital city of Kigali, we took off for a few days to journey high up into the Birunga mountain range to the northern town of Kinigi, near the Congo and Uganda borders.

I’m traveling with a group of American journalists sponsored by the International Reporting Project. Our aim is to gain perspective on this country so many associate only with its genocidal past – but which many others today dub an “African success story.”

Rwanda is a stunningly beautiful country. There are many signs of economic progress, but it is still plagued by widespread poverty. Gorilla trekking is expensive and brings in a lot of tourism money. But how much of that is making its way to improving the lives of the average Rwandan?

After driving for hours from Kigali on some pretty rough roads (and some really good ones), we finally arrived at the Gorilla Mountain View Lodge. We all felt like we had reached a remote part of Africa.

Bill and Melinda Gates slept here, says Ishimwe Alex of Gorilla Mountain View Lodge

Then I saw the photo above the reception desk of Bill and Melinda Gates posing with the lodge owners. Sheesh. I can’t seem to get away from those two Seattle folks. They’re everywhere.

The lodge has no web access and heats its rooms by a somewhat anemic and soggy wood fire. This is equatorial Africa, but at high elevations (7,000 feet or so) it can still get pretty cold at night. All around the tourist enclaves up here are farming communities, with wandering goats and cattle. Some still live by poaching in the national park, which poses a threat to Rwanda’s number one tourist attraction.

Tourism today represents a significant part of Rwanda’s economy and the mountain gorillas, made most famous by the late Dian “Gorillas in the Mist” Fossey, are the iconic centers of this universe.

More than 600,000 tourists visited last year, an official with the Rwanda Development Board told us, as compared to maybe 6,000 in 1995, the year after the genocide.

“Tourism has contributed to this community significantly,” said Prosper Uwingeli, chief warden of Volcanoes National Park. Uwingeli met with us in Kinigi along with staff at the Karisoke Research Center (the conservation organization started here by Fossey).

Rwanda’s tourism boom is one of its success stories, but the gorilla trekking business alone may be too fragile and limited to make a huge dent in reducing poverty throughout all the communities living around the national park. It has made a dent in Kinigi, where a dozen new hotels have sprung up in the last decade. But how many of these tourism dollars flow down to the poorest of the poor? Continue reading

The global state of Washington state

It’s natural to become a bit self-centered when times are tough and uncertain.

Yet times are tough all over (for most, the 99 percent?, of us anyway) — and a lot tougher and uncertain for those living in the poorer parts of the world.

Today is the kick-off of an event by Global Washington aimed at counteracting our natural tendency toward self-absorption (and even good old American isolationism) — by celebrating, and fostering, the growth of Washington state’s global development community.

The global state of mind in Washington state, says Global Washington executive director Bookda Gheisar, is needed now more than ever.

“I think most people understand generally that a healthy global economy is good for all of us,” said Gheisar. “But many people think we spend something like 20 to 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid and development when it is really less than one percent.”

The Seattle area has a long history in international commerce, involving items such as airplanes, timber, coffee or software. Because of that, people here may understand better that assisting the poor overseas benefits us, she said. Continue reading

Africa rising and the selfish reason to keep doing foreign aid & development

Business leaders at Rwanda's new stock exchange

I’m not sure why the foreign aid and development case is so hard to make to the American people, but perhaps we need to start looking at it as an economic investment opportunity rather than as a humanitarian imperative.

That seems to be how China sees it. China, which arguably is not known for its leadership in humanitarian endeavors, is doing tons of foreign aid and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Why?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, unlike much of the rich world the last few years, many African nations have continued to experience significant economic growth and look likely to continue that growth. Continue reading

Economies: The worst 10 and 27 most overheated

Forbes and The Economist both felt compelled recently to evaluate the economies of the world, but according to two different measures.

Forbes has listed the 10 worst economies of the world, with Madagascar ranked as having the worst economy according to the magazine’s somewhat arbitrary criteria (which includes, for example, measures of political corruption that somehow condemns Nicaragua but celebrates Zimbabwe?). An excerpt explaining why it’s picking on Madagascar:

It’s manmade problems like this that landed Madagascar on the top of the Forbes list of the World’s Worst Economies in 2011. There are worse basket cases (see: Somalia).  But among the countries with relatively complete data tracked by the International Monetary Fund, Madagascar, sometimes called the “Eighth Continent” because of its natural diversity, stands out for political mismanagement, corruption, poverty and lack of growth.

The Forbes top 10 worst economies:

  1. Madagascar
  2. Armenia
  3. Guinea
  4. Ukraine
  5. Jamaica
  6. Venezuela
  7. Kyrgystan
  8. Swaziland
  9. Nicaragua
  10. Iran

The Economist has taken a different tack to ranking economies of the world. The British magazine has identified the 27 most overheated emerging economies of the world. I’m not really sure what “overheated” means or why they identified 27 nations as opposed to 25 or 30 nations. But here’s their chart:

The article in The Economist tries to explain what it means by overheating:

There are seven hot spots where a majority of the indicators are flashing red: Argentina, Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Vietnam. In particular, the growth in credit is sizzling in all seven. Argentina is the only economy where all six indicators are on red, but Brazil and India are not far behind. China, often the focus of overheating concerns, is well down the rankings in the middle of the amber zone, partly thanks to more aggressive monetary tightening. Russia, Mexico and South Africa are in the green zone, suggesting little risk of overheating.

The only country to make both lists is Venezuela. I wonder how it can be both overheating, according to the Economist, and also in the tank, according to Forbes.

Also, I thought Brazil’s economy was supposed to be doing pretty good, compared to many other counties. Is the Economists’ metrics emphasizing growth in credit really the most critical measure here? Why no discussion of debt? And isn’t heating better than cooling?

I like lists and charts. The web (and so the media) loves lists and charts

I’m just not sure if these lists and charts actually tell me anything I can take to the bank.

Re-thinking foreign aid, growth and development

Yeah, I know that headline sounds a little boring and wonky. Re-thinking. Growth. Aid. Development.

That’s because using words like equality, wealth distribution and the like tends to scare people. Makes you sound like a socialist or something worse — like the original (and perhaps still persistent, despite all the evidence to the contrary) image of what some thought President Barack Obama had in mind for the nation.

But “re-thinking growth and development” does seem like the best way to sum up these three recent articles from The Guardian. I am highlighting them because I thought they were especially thought-provoking.

The basic working assumption here is that the gap between the rich and poor is increasing, both here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world. Global inequity causes global instability and, arguably, at a certain point this gap becomes morally difficult to justify.

With that working assumption in mind, I link to these three articles:

Jonathan Glennie — Want less, use less, share more

In the 20th century, increased production was a fairly successful response to absolute poverty, which had been the lot of most of the human race for most of history. But in the 21st century, that path has come to a dead end, as the planet reaches its resource limits. A more equal distribution of wealth needs to return to the centre of development theory.

Priti Patnaik — Is India showing the failure of a focus on growth, on trickle-down economics?

The cheerleaders for growth are, as is to be expected, the government, big business and the burgeoning middle class. Facing them are those on the wrong side of the lop-sided growth story, environmentalists and academics.

Madeleine Bunting — Will aid go on forever?

Does aid go on forever? Does global inequality carry on deepening? … Will the web and the growth of China, Brazil and India change aid forever? Or will climate change, conflict and corruption bring development fatigue and more celebrity campaigners?