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Views from the Center


This is a joint post with Julie Walz

Since the mid-nineties, many African nations have ushered in dramatic economic and political changes.  But growth in other countries is stalled due conflict, repressive regimes, and lack of infrastructure.   A new publication captures the diversity across Africa, using an economic lens to evaluate the key issues affecting Africa’s ability to grow and develop.  The Oxford Companion to the Economics of Africa is a compilation of 100 essays on key issues and topics across the continent.   It includes contributions from young African researchers, longtime researchers on Africa and four Nobel Laureates.  Authors were given the freedom to write their own perspectives, thus the result is not a literature review but an engaging snapshot of concerns and possibilities across the continent.  With 48 country perspectives (from Algeria to Zimbabwe) and 53 thematic essays, the book rejects a one-size-fits-all approach yet recognizes that there are continent-wide opportunities and challenges.  As the first work of its kind, it is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the field, from graduate students to policymakers.

Five CGD experts (4 current and one former) contributed to this work:

  • Chris Blattman, “Post-conflict Recovery in Africa: The Micro Level.” Blattman examines the effects of war and violence on human capital and physical capital.  The losses of war lead to increases in household poverty, but he argues that there is also the potential for unexpected positive social and political events that speed up the recovery process.
  • Ibrahim Elbadawi, “Developing Post-Conflict Africa.” Elbadawi tackles the conflict-poverty trap that plagues many African nations.  He offers two proposals: first, that democratization is the only viable institution, and states should avoid confining interim power-sharing arrangements to military-parties; and second, that a model of real currency undervaluation should be adopted as soon as possible in a post-conflict environment.
  • Alan Gelb, “Natural Resource Exports and African Development.” Unlike other regions, Gelb argues that sub-Saharan Africa has not diversified into manufacturing and remains largely resource-dependent. Gelb explains the challenges countries face in managing the volatility of commodity prices, maximizing the development value chain, and using resource incomes to diversify, reducing domestic costs, and raising the productivity of other sectors.
  • Ben Leo, “Liberia: Debt Relief.” Leo details Liberia’s remarkable achievement securing comprehensive debt relief, despite economic, institutional, and social instability.  In two and a half years, the government cleared its arrears to the international financial institutions, secured comprehensive debt relief, and signed a landmark commercial debt buyback deal.
  • Vijaya Ramachandran, “Africa’s Private Sector.” I explain why business performance lags in Africa, using data from enterprise surveys to argue that a high cost, low-density environment has restricted the formation of a broad-based private sector.  I discuss solutions to encourage regional investments, especially in infrastructure, including electricity and roads, that will help lower costs and increase profits for businesses, both large and small.

Finally, there is an essay from a member of CGD’s Board of Directors.  In an essay entitled “Nigeria: Managing Volatility and Fighting Corruption,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala argues that Nigeria has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges of managing volatility and combating corruption.  Okonjo-Iweala discussed the successes of Obasanjo’s comprehensive economic and governance reform program since 2003, and the challenges Nigeria faces moving forward in its battle against corruption.

The Oxford Companion has the potential to serve as a great resource to students, researchers and policymakers in Africa and elsewhere.  It will be launched in the U.S. at an event hosted by the World Bank on March 5.  I strongly encourage Oxford University Press to publish the book in paperback form and as an e-book that can be downloaded and used as a definitive reference on the politics and economics of Africa.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.