Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

The time for making poverty history is now

12 May, 2010

In rich countries a handful of dollars does not go very far, indeed most people in the UK wouldn’t think twice about spending this on a cup of coffee.  But one in five people in the world today has no choice but to survive on less than US$2 a day, and 1.5 billion people struggle to live on less than US$1. The vast majority of those affected are children, each an individual story of unfulfilled hope and potential.

Few would dispute that ‘a world free from poverty’ is the overwhelming challenge of the 21st century. The crucial issue is how to achieve this. In Just Give Money to the Poor:  The Development Revolution from the Global South (Kumarian Press, 2010), Hanlon, Barrientos and Hulme discuss a wave of new thinking on development that is sweeping across the South. Instead of relying on a large and expensive aid industry to find ways to ‘help the poor’, it is better to transfer money and resources directly to the households in poverty so that they are able to find effective the most effective ways to escape from poverty.

This is the premise behind social transfer programmes such as Mexico’s Oportunidades, Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, South Africa’s Child Support Grant, and India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. They all provide regular transfers of money to households in poverty with the aim of improving their nutrition, making sure children go to school, and ensuring that expectant mothers have regular check-ups.

This does not rule out the need for investment in economic growth and basic services. Small transfers to very poor households help provide access to new economic opportunities and vital health and education services. Without such transfers, the costs of transport, school uniforms, medicines, and job search could well be prohibitive.

Social transfer programmes do not throw money from helicopters. They carefully select and monitor recipients, ensure they are well informed about objectives, and track outcomes. In Latin America, transfers are paid directly to mothers thus strengthening their voice within the household. The responsibilities of the government and the households are carefully discussed at registration.

Despite attempts by the aid industry to take credit for these initiatives, social transfer programmes are most often national responses to local problems. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia began as a municipal programme in Campinas in 1994/5 and is built on domestic learning and experience of what works to reduce poverty. India’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme, which guarantees one hundred days labour on demand to unemployed rural heads of household, also builds on a careful assessment of similar programmes in Maharashtra and elsewhere.  . Social transfer programmes have high set up costs and for this reason international assistance is important in low income countries. Nonetheless, sustainability and legitimacy requires domestic political support and finance in the medium term. Giving money to households in poverty is a ‘Southern project’, as the considerable diversity of programmes around the developing world demonstrates.

Important challenges remain, especially in low income countries lacking the capacity to design, deliver, and finance social transfer programmes. In many countries their institutionalisation is precarious. The existing social transfer programmes need to be seen as a first stage in the development of  strong and stable institutions,  able to protect poor and vulnerable populations in the South from the volatility and crisis of the global economy on. Acknowledging these challenges, the book makes the important point that knowledge on how to eradicate poverty is already freely available if only we care to learn from the South.

Armando Barrientos – Professor and Research Director, Brooks World Poverty Institute

The Monfort Plan

28 October, 2009

The Monfort Plan is a modest proposal that describes the new architecture of capitalism. Jonathan Swift wrote his Modest Proposal in 1729, in which he identified three classes of readers: the superficial, the ignorant and the learned. According to Swift “the superficial reader will be strangely provoked to laughter”, whereas “the ignorant reader will find himself disposed to stare”. For years the diagnose of extreme poverty targeted Swift’s truly learned readers and forgot the superficial and the ignorant.

In a recent article on This is Africa, Columbia Professor Jeffrey Sachs wondered if the world leaders would be “brave enough to invent new programmes and institutions that have the legitimacy and commitment to pull the world through this crisis to a fairer and more sustainable future”. A new architecture is the only path to the world of 2050, a world of cornucopia (food abundance) and eutopia (universal welfare). A new architecture is the only approach to building up new programs and institutions that have Sachs’ legitimacy.

Extreme poverty continues to perpetuate because we have failed to eliminate its causes. Extreme poverty is originated and perpetuated because developed countries have failed to reform in six areas that represent the Axis of Feeble, an Axis that has to be defeated in an intellectual war with Weapons of Mass Persuasion. The six components of the Axis of Feeble are agriculture, trade and labor rights, small arms trade, extractive industries, financial architecture and brain drain.

Past wars defeated the Axis Powers and current wars aim at defeating the Axis of Evil. Past and current wars had to identify and defy the enemy and the opposition forces to be defeated. The Axis of Feeble is maintained and perpetuated by the Pirates of Heartless Capitalism and the Bretton Woods Elites, who will use their propaganda tools to oppose a paradigm shift.

In the first part of his autobiography, the American diplomat George F. Kennan pointed out that “We of this generation did not create the civilization of which we are part and, only too obviously, it is not we who are destined to complete it. We are not the owners of the planet we inhabit; we are only its custodians”. The Axis of Feeble will not be defeated unless all custodians become passengers of a Journey of no return, and not simple spectators.

My forthcoming book may be appealing to the truly learned readers. We must all become passengers of the Journey of our lifetime. The Monfort Plan is designed having in mind every audience. It proposes new content with the ability to entertain every audience. It is through entertainment that the average citizen in Europe and North America can be educated in issues that are vital for the future of our planet and the humankind. It is through education that the average citizen can raise his or her level of awareness. Only if we, as a society, raise our level of awareness, will we welcome reform in the six components of the Axis of Feeble.

For decades we lived with an architecture that played its role, an architecture that has become a caricature of what it once was, a vintage architecture not designed for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

We live the best world we have ever inhabited. We are approaching our tipping point as a global society. We must become men and women of stature. I identified the One Hundred Expert Dreamers that will become the best team of experts that has ever been put together to serve the global public interest. With their combined wisdom and intellectual strength the Expert Dreamers will defeat the Axis of Feeble and the Pirates of Heartless Capitalism.

We are not the dwellers of the blue planet, only its custodians. We must recuperate the courage of the visionaries of the 1940s and 1950s who created an architecture that changed the world for good. The Expert Dreamers are the disciples of Marshall and Truman, of Clayton and Kennan, of Monnet and Schuman. The orthodox thinkers and the current political leaders condemned the imagination and creativity in the policy-making process to perpetuate in the cage of the orthodox. We must start living a life in full color. We must again love and dream. The Sleeping Beauty must wake up and embrace the forgotten continent. The American friends will fall in love, one more time, with the Sleeping Beauty.

It is time. It is our time. Let’s move ahead.

Jaime Pozuelo-Monfort is Author of The Monfort Plan (Wiley Finance, April 2010). More information can be found at

The “Dutch Disease” Effects of Aid in Uganda

1 December, 2008

In my recent post on Sorious Samura’s programme for Panorama on BBC One – an expose of aid to Africa, in particular to Sierra Leone and Uganda – I said we would come back on whether Uganda is experiencing a negative impact from the aid flows.

Remember the issue is whether foreign aid to Uganda is deterring export production via a “Dutch Disease” effect. If so, then aid is having perverse effects, hindering rather than helping economic growth.

How does this work?

Short explanation: A capital inflow like foreign aid raises domestic demand. This pushes up domestic prices and, if the exchange rate is not fixed by the government, the currency tends to appreciate as well (a shilling buys more dollars). Hence: exporting is less profitable and imports are cheaper (putting pressure on domestic producers of import-substitutes – for example domestic food crops suffer competition from cheaper food imports). Result: economic growth falls.

(Long explanation: The money is spent on two types of goods and services. First, non-tradables, that is items whose prices are mainly determined by domestic supply and demand. The price of a haircut in Kampala for example. Haircuts aren’t internationally traded. Second, tradables. These are goods and services whose prices are driven by international markets. The price of Uganda’s coffee, for example (Uganda is a ‘price-taker’ in commodity markets: some countries are big enough exporters to affect world prices – Saudi Arabia and oil, for example). A demand expansion caused by a capital inflow tends to push up the prices of non-tradables more than tradables, because the former are less-responsive (more inelastic, as economists say) in supply. The ratio of non-tradable prices relative to tradables prices rises, making it more profitable to produce the former. If the exchange rate is flexible – i.e. the central bank doesn’t fix it as a matter of policy – then it tends to appreciate as well. This adds to the appreciation of the real exchange rate that is caused by the rise in domestic prices as non-tradables prices outpace tradables prices. Result: people give up producing tradables such as coffee and move into the non-tradables sector, and growth falls).

Aid is not the only capital inflow that might cause this. The term Dutch Disease was first coined (and is most often used) to describe the impact of a natural resource windfall (natural gas in the case of 1970s Netherlands). Nigeria and other oil exporters suffered catastrophically from Dutch Disease in the 1970s when oil prices boomed (resulting in a severe contraction in Nigeria’s agriculture, a highly tradable sector).

However, much depends on what aid (or oil revenue) is used for. If it finances infrastructure construction, and if this is the right kind of infrastructure, then aid will have a supply-expanding effect. This could be of sufficient scale to offset any Dutch Disease effect (or the latter might be evident for a while until the infrastructure is built and then productivity effect kicks in: see Chris Adam and David Bevan).

So much for the theory. What about Uganda? The country has certainly had a large injection of aid, which has a big budgetary impact (see Martin Brownbridge and Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile). An IMF study, by Mwanza Nkusu argues that Dutch Disease does not necessarily occur – especially when the economy has unused capacity (which is typical of countries like Uganda recovering from civil war). So the academic jury is still out.

What does recent data tell us? Economic growth was just under 10 per cent over 2007-08 according to a recent IMF staff mission to Uganda. Exports grew by 50 per cent over the same period. The Fund expects both to fall – the result of the global financial crisis that is weakening commodity prices (go here). Uganda is dealing with high inflation (core inflation is 14.5 per cent) – but this is more the result of the run-up (until recently) in global energy and food prices. The shilling has depreciated, not appreciated, recently. So, no indication of aid having Dutch Disease effects: the shilling is down, not up, and exports are up, not down.

But certainly the economy faces a tricky adjustment as it responds to the global economic shock of the last 6 months (true of all low-income, primary-commodity dependent, economies).

Whatever the other effects of aid on Uganda (whether it is being well spent, whether it targets the poor effectively etc.) there does not seem to be a Dutch Disease effect – at least recently. Perhaps more worrying is the potential Dutch Disease effect of the oil revenues that come on stream next year. If Uganda can manage oil well then it will be the first country in Africa to do so. Now that would be an achievement.

Tony Addison is Executive Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.

Addicted to Aid?

19 November, 2008

Next week’s Panorama on BBC One is running a programme on aid to two countries for which Britain is one of the biggest donors. To judge from the blurb, it’s going to be very critical:

“Reporter Sorious Samura visits Uganda and his home country of Sierra Leone to reveal how aid money is lost, stolen and frittered away. He stops at a showpiece hospital, run by a well-funded health department, that looks like a warzone – yet its carpark is home to dozens of new 4x4s for ministry staff. He questions a former minister accused of stealing funds and offers his vision of how Africans can take control of their own destiny”.

Sorious Samuara has done some brilliant films exposing Africa’s “big men” and their corrupt ways, the other side of the coin to the region’s hunger and poverty (go here). But I do hope that he offers more than the usual critique of aid in the Panorama programme.

Yes, corruption is rife in Sierra Leone (it was a big issue in the last elections, with a clean-up promised: see this BBC report). And on a recent visit to Uganda I saw that the local media is full of stories of corruption (the benefits of a free press in Africa! See The New Vision). DFID is presently “ghost-busting” in Uganda (go here).

But I very much doubt that either Sierra Leone, Uganda (or Mozambique – another post-conflict country) would be where they are today without the aid they received to help reconstruction.

This is not in any way to argue that graft or misuse of aid money should be tolerated. But I get tired of the one-sided criticisms of aid that are trotted out repeatedly. For some background reading before the programme check out: the Chronic Poverty Report for Uganda, Joe Hanlon on corruption in Sierra Leone, a special issue of the Swedish Economic Policy Review on aid, and Roger Riddell Does Foreign Aid Really Work? – the best account by far of what aid can, and cannot, do.

So we shall see what Panorama concludes – especially, as Sorious Samura asks: how can Africans take control of their own destiny and graduate the continent away from aid dependence? Let us know what you think of the programme – and the big issues that it tackles.

A Fun Way to Harness the Energy of Children to Deliver Clean Water

12 November, 2008

In the discussion of my recent post about bottled water I mentioned that sales of bottled water at Manchester University support water pumps in Africa. Specifically, Playpump, a wonderful invention from South Africa.

As children spin on a roundabout, clean water is pumped from underground into storage tanks. The pumps cost about US$9,500 to install. They are much faster and pump at a more reliable rate than hand-driven pumps, and can supply up to 1,400 litres of water an hour.

Better water infrastructure in Africa not only reduces the incidence of the main water-borne illnesses, but also reduces the amount of time that communities spend collecting water from (often dirty) ponds and rivers. Since water collection is often an activity for girls, requiring them to walk many hours when water is inaccessible, it provides more time for them – including more time in school. More information on Playpump can be found here.

Coping with Global Inflation

29 September, 2008

Our readers don’t need reminding that Inflation has been on the rise globally (although the present financial crisis could knock that on the head). The poor are being hit hard by rising food prices – the price of rice in Asia has doubled, causing real distress in countries without effective social protection. Africa is scrambling to respond.

Macro-economists in central banks and finance ministries are worried people. Today looks alarmingly like 1979-81: inflation pushed up by the second oil price spike and recession looming. That combination of inflation and recession – stagflation – is the worst scenario for policymakers. Inflation requires demand restraint, recession requires demand expansion – and policy-makers have a difficult time in choosing which direction to go down. The early 1980s are a warning of what can happen. Real interest rates (the interest rate minus the inflation rate) turned from negative to positive – pushing up the real cost of borrowing for firms already hit by weakening sales. Eventually the oil price collapsed, bringing inflation down with it, but also distress for over-borrowed oil producers such as Mexico and Nigeria. That then set the stage for the debt crisis that took a full decade to work itself out, with massive social fall out, and poverty spiking higher (the 1980s were Latin America’s “lost development decade”).

So what should today’s policy-makers do? The Centre for Development Policy and Research at SOAS has a new Development Viewpoint out on global inflation. The author, Terry McKinley, argues that they must be clear on the causes, otherwise the response could make the situation worse. Since the sources of recent oil and food inflation are ‘globalised’, developing countries cannot hope to maintain low domestic inflation by the standard practice of raising domestic interest rates, argues Terry. Such a misguided “monetarist response” would only heighten the risks of recession, he concludes. Go here for the paper, a timely contribution to the present debate — and a warning from the past.

It’s Called the Girl Effect

18 September, 2008

CARE has a neat video on the huge impact of educating girls: “It’s called the girl effect”. Indeed it could be an investment with one of the largest returns — for both the individual and their society.

Larry Summers found that  on average wages increase by more than 10% to 20% for each additional year of schooling (with the returns being especially high in Africa and South Asia, where literacy is lower: go here). He calculated that there was a much higher return to society from investing in the human capital of girls than in such ‘hard’ infrastructure as electric power plants. And then there are the positive effects on infant mortality, maternal mortality, and the position of women in their societies. Summers did his calculations back in the early 1990s, and subsequent research has continued to confirm the substantial benefits of girls’ education.

For further work in this area go to the BWPI working paper series. Farhad Hossain and Tonya Knight discuss the use of micro-credit for education in Bangladesh in ‘Financing the Poor: Can microcredit make a difference?’. The Grameen bank provides education loans (as well as scholarships for its clients). Increased female education has contributed to improving their social status over the last three decades: this is evident in the number of women who now have jobs in banking and other service sectors in Bangladesh.

Also check out the work of Ruth Levine and Nancy Birdsall at CGD. A good site for advocacy and research, especially on what the IMF and World Bank are up to, is Gender Action.

Add another 400 Million People to the Global Poverty Numbers

29 August, 2008

The World Bank has just upped its estimate for global poverty (go here). The Bank now estimates that 1.4 billion people in developing countries — one in four of the developing world’s population — were living on less than US$1.25 a day in 2005. The previous estimate was 985 million — the “bottom billion” (this was based on an international poverty line of $1 a day). The full paper by Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion is here.

What all this means is that poverty has been higher from 1981 to 2005 (the period covered by the Bank’s research). Poverty in 1981 is now estimated to have been 1.9 billion people (one in two of the developing world’s population at the time).

So why has the Bank changed its numbers? Mainly because the cost-of-living in the developing world is higher than previously estimated. The International Comparison Project (ICP) has been collecting price data for years, and has released new estimates. This led the Bank to recalculate its poverty numbers. Previously 1993 cost-of-living data was the latest available and was used to generate the 985 million number.

Comparing the prices of goods and services across countries is tricky. Using current exchange rates is unsatisfactory — because currencies move relative to each other for all kinds of reasons. Hence the ICP calculates ‘purchasing power parities’ (PPPs). So the release of new PPPs led to the revised poverty estimates. However, Sanjay Reddy reckons the Bank’s poverty estimates are still too low (go here for his critique). As Duncan Green says: “Pity the Poor Number Crunchers”.

All this is before the recent run-up in food prices which is driving many into chronic poverty. The Bank is taking urgent action in Bangladesh. But expect many more people to join the world’s poor by the end of the year.

What next for George Bush? De-worming, that’s the future!

29 August, 2008

George Bush is no doubt contemplating what to do in his well-deserved retirement. He might clear some more brush on his family ranch in Texas — an occupation which he is fanatical about apparently (at least according to Laura Bush and Jay Leno). And no doubt the presidential memoirs will need some hard work.

But he might want to take a leaf out of Jimmy Carter’s book, and get to grips with the Guinea worm, a nasty piece of nature’s work (pictures here). The thin white parasitic worm bores holes through you, before emerging — very painfully — to go on to infect others.  It is a major blight on the lives of poor people in West Africa. The disability caused by the disease is seasonal, often returning around harvest time, making it the “the disease of the empty granary.” Ex-President Carter, now in his 84th year, has been working to eradicate the Guinea worm for over two decades (see FT story).

Reducing the impact of the Guinea worm is one of development’s success stories (George: read this, it’s quite short). There were 50 million cases in the 1950s according to WHO. In 1986 some 3.5 million in 20 countries were still infected. That’s down to fewer than 13,000 today in the remaining five countries where the disease is still prevalent: Sudan (where Carter convinced belligerents to agree to a six-month “Guinea worm ceasefire” in 1995 to get eradication started) as well as Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Niger.

So, George, it could be so much more interesting than clearing brush wood. Or editing those memoirs.

The WTO’s war on the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries: Part 2

3 June, 2008

In a previous post I examined the recent ruling from the WTO Dispute Settlement Body over the EC’s banana quotas for ACP countries. This was simply the latest in a number of issues that have been damaging to the interests of ACP countries. Another concerns the dispute between Brazil, Australia and Thailand on one side and the EC on the other over sugar. This had the positive effect of reducing the EC’s colossal sugar subsidies. In the latest year reported to the WTO these were reported to be €5.6 billion, on a crop of sugar worth a total of €4.8 billion. But the ruling also had a strongly negative effect on ACP countries because it removed the preferential market access quotas that they previously had. These quotas allowed ACP countries to export a certain amount of unrefined sugar to the EC at the EC’s high internal price rather than the much lower world price. The effect of removing this was estimated to cost the ACP countries $352 million a year.

Finally, there is the issue of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) currently being negotiated by the EU. These result from the expiry at the end of 2007 of the previous Cotonou Agreement that granted preferential market access to ACP countries into the EC market. The Cotonou Agreement was not compliant with WTO rules since it did not include any reciprocal preferential market access for EC exports into ACP countries, but was entirely one-way. As such, it could be challenged by other developing countries that were not part of the ACP group that felt that their exports were harmed by the arrangment. In order to prevent this, the EU (more…)