Category Archives: Steps Forward

Nigeria: Africa’s top economy and its future

As of last Sunday, Nigeria is Africa’s top economy and the 26th largest in the world. The country underwent a process of recalculation, bringing the base year of calculus from 1990 to 2010 and its GDP jumped 89%. New data provides a more adequate assessment of the country’s economic structure and includes several important sectors that were previously excluded from the statistics. The film industry (the second biggest employer after the oil industry) telecoms, music, online sales, airlines and information technology are among them.

This new data, revised and approved by the IMF and World Bank paints a prettier picture of Nigeria’s economy, not just because it is 89% larger but also because it is more diversified (full data available here). As Africa’s biggest oil producer and exporter, Nigeria could have allowed its economy to be over dependent on the oil industry, as most producing countries are. Instead, the sector accounts for only 14.4% of National GDP (even if it is the source of 70% of the state’s revenues).

Source: Nigeria Bureau of Statistics

Agriculture and industry have 21,6% and 25,6% of the share, respectively, and  telecoms are now a huge part of the economy as well (see chart above). The sector accounts for 8,6% of GDP and has seen a rapid growth in the last few years, as mobile phones become more and more accessible to Nigeria’s 169 million citizens. Nollywood, the country’s film industry and second biggest employer, accounts for 1,4% of GDP. Services, as expected, dominate and are responsible for 51,9% of GDP.

All these indicators paint the picture of a healthy economy that is worth a second look by investors and could be the start of a new age of investment in Nigeria, and possibly in Africa. Often referred to as the “world’s richest continent”, Africa is poised for an economical boom and it is only a question of “when”. Adding to the already attractive indicators, is the fact that Nigeria’s economy is under performing. South Africa’s population of only 51 million managed to achieve a GDP of $372bn last year. With 169 million people living within its borders, Nigeria’s GDP stood at $509bn. Numbers that mean the country can dream of even more if it can improve its productivity. Investment should not be hard to find and, with public debt dropping to 11% of GDP, some of it can even come from the state.

However, there are some problems that the government must try to solve. Terrorism and violence are still a problem in the North, due mostly to the Islamic extremists of Boka Haram. Attacks continue to make headlines when it comes to African news and can be a major disincentive for possible investors. Another issue in Nigeria is inequality. While the economy has been growing steadfast, 60% of the county’s population live in extreme poverty, while at the top end, new multimillionaires emerge, each year. Such inequality can stifle violence, crime and instability, another investor deterrent, and can partly explain the prevalence of Boka Haram.

Capitalism and Socialism: a reflection

I can see the warning signs as I prepare myself to write about this. It is, in every way, a complicated topic. However, I would like for you to indulge me, it is nothing more but a short reflection. I will start by saying I have no political ambitions, I am a journalist and my purpose is to be a watchdog for those that do. I would also add that I tend to vote more on the right than on the left but I would say I am right there in the middle. Allow me to explain. I believe in market solutions, in private initiative and in a small State apparatus. However, by small I don’t mean non-existent. I believe the State must protect the weakest and most vulnerable and provide for good education, health and social security. All in all, I believe in balance. Having said that, I believe no such system exists.

We all know about the dangers of socialism and its extremes as we have seen with some communist countries, mainly USSR. It seems obvious that it is impossible for everyone to aspire to the same thing, to be awarded the same wage, regardless of merit. Competition is in itself an incentive for excellence and if there is no visible difference in rewards between a dedicated worker and a lazy one, competition is impossible. Also, in a non competitive environment even the most brilliant minds tend to wane. Successful people would feel the disincentive and the results would be ever decreasing productivity. Adding to that, you can be sure to have some environments that are more equal than the others. Despite its negative side, Socialism did have a social consideration embedded in it, an ideal worth preserving.

Capitalism sits on the other side of the fence. It allows one to take the initiative, a fight for new ideas that can have a real impact in our world. It inspires competitiveness, creativity and, hence, excellence. Economic relations are formed and expanded and a stability is welcomed by the system. It is however an unbalanced system and the disparities are huge. As the international organization Oxfam mentions in a new report, the 85 richest people in the world have the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest. I cannot begin to comprehend how this is possible, let alone just, or right. As I mentioned above, I believe in a system that rewards merit, where I would include hard work, inventiveness and entrepreneurship. However, it is impossible to believe that 85 people work harder, are more creative, inventive or entrepreneurial than 3.5 billion people. Even if we exclude the 200 million unemployed worldwide, it still seems ridiculously unfair. This level of inequality is visible at a smaller scale as well, when you witness a growth in the wealthiest fortunes, even if their countries are struggling, a practice that has become common not only in developing countries but in western society as well.

Oxfam’s report states that the wealthiest bend the laws in their favor, guaranteeing that wealth continues to be funnelled to the upper echelons of society. We see them investing in political campaigns, huge lobbying firms, lawyers that help them find loopholes in the law and there is always the good old bribe. There are many examples on Forbes top 10, let alone in the top 85, of billionaires with strong political connections that help them maintain their wealth. They use money to buy support, to make sure their interests are in good hands, to make sure they make more money. It is an endless circle, almost of a feudal nature, with and increasing disparity between the richest and the poorest.

Thus, the current system perverts the very essence of democracy, and the consequences are more than just the concentration of wealth on the upper 1%, as the Occupy movement labelled them. As we’ve been witnessing in the last few decades, the oil lobby has managed to keep alternative power sources that can be as or more efficient from being fully adopted (hydrogen, for example), even if some countries seem to be making real progress. Oil companies and their shareholders need to keep their incomes so they prefer if life altering research is kept hidden or just is not investigated any further. They do so through lobbying groups, campaign donations and all the other mechanisms mentioned above. The point is, it is not just about money any more.

The point I am trying to make is that, even though communism was an ineffective economical system, capitalism seems to be showing some of its flaws as well. Just as we realized socialism was not the best way to move forward, I believe we will soon realize capitalism is not the solution either. At least as it is right now, with disregard for communal interests, a lack of a social conscience and lawless markets. A mix between the two ideals may be the answer, I honestly do not know. However, I do know that, as we are today, we are at risk of falling prey to populist rhetoric, anarchy and we endanger our future.

Masdar, the Green City

What should the city of the future be like? Should the focus be on technology? Catering to everyone’s needs? To answer that we would probably need to know what the future is going to be like. Either way, Abu Dhabi went ahead and designed their version of a city made for the future and they have already started building it. It is called Masdar City and it aims to be a sustainable place that relies solely on renewable energy sources. Six square kilometres of environmentally sustainable architecture, with a capacity to house up to 50,000 people, 1,500 businesses and an extra 60,000 daily commuters.

The city will be powered by a mix of renewable energy sources the main one being solar energy. Two gigantic solar power plants will be built on the outskirts of the city and solar panels will be placed on most roofs, with the total production amounting to 130 megawatts. Wind and geothermal energy will also be used to power the city but on a much smaller scale. In addition to these energy sources, Masdar City will have the world’s largest hydrogen reactor.

The aim of the city is not only to produce clean energy but to maximize its use. Thus, the city has been designed to minimize the use of air conditioning. Buildings will be build close together, making sure they shade each other, and carefully positioned as to maximize the cooling powers of wind currents. Most materials, such as the tiles on the floor, will have cooling properties, and the city will have a perimeter wall designed to keep out the hot desert winds.

Masdar City
Masdar City’s architecture and materials reduce the need for air conditioning

As for transportation, the motorized vehicles are banned from the city, to reduced carbon dioxide emissions. The original project intended for people to move around using public mass transit and personal rapid transit (PRT) systems. The idea was abandoned to reduce costs but only electric vehicles will be allowed to circulate inside the city. A minor setback in a project that seems to be worth the wait and that, besides its environmental motivation, has an economic one.

Masdar means ‘source’ in Arabic, and the thought behind this project is also to make sure Abu Dhabi is ready when fossil fuels become obsolete or the country’s reserves run out. In a way, it is a way to diversify the country’s income and energy source. The emirate’s economy is dependent on oil exports so why not diversify? The aim is to spend less on energy production to maximize oil profits, while they last. At the same time, the country’s government, which is main stakeholder of the entire project, is investing in the development of new technology that one day might be sold to every corner of the planet, as the world turns green.

The entire project is expected to cost between 13,4 and 15,8 billion euros and has been delayed due to the global impact of the financial crisis. It was supposed to be completed by 2015, a deadline that has been pushed to 2025. However, despite the delays, some of the city’s facilities are already functional, such as the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a research facility developed in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and that has been helping with the engineering plans for the city.

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology
The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology

What at first looks like one of the many megalomaniac projects we are used to see in Gulf countries, is actually an interesting endeavour to create a sustainable, efficient and, ultimately, marketable concept of a city that can become essential in years to come. Men’s impact on the planet is less and less up to debate and Masdar City explores solutions to some of the issues posed by our actions on Earth. The idea can inspire others to follow the same path and, hopefully, lead humankind towards a more clean and sustainable way of life.

I recommend watching the following report from Bloomberg Brink for additional information:

Watch the full report here.

The story of the Children of the Creuse

For two decades now, France has been engaging in an interesting process of recognition of its past wrong-doings. It has so far adopted four very different “laws of memory” (Lois Mémorielles), one creating an offense for those denying the Holocaust, another one officially recognizing the Armenian genocide of 1915, another recognizing that slavery and the trade of slaves that started in the 15th century were crimes against humanity and a final one expressing the gratitude of France to those who were repatriated from the ex-colonies upon decolonization. These laws are important in the sense that France as an entity pays respects to several sad episodes of the past.

France is now moving towards the recognition of one of its crimes, which is something that is not easy to do. Between 1963 and 1982, at least 1 630 children from the Island of La Réunion, a French Overseas Department since 1946 (and a Region since 2003), were moved by the authorities to the metropole. Indeed, certain departments in France, such as the Creuse, the Tarn, the Gers or the Oriental Pyrenees, were suffering of lack of population due to the rural flight (or exodus). The children were thus meant to repopulate these departments and to create a greater workforce in those areas. They could be or not abandoned by their parents, but still, they became “wards of the State”, meaning that they were placed under the “parental” responsibility of the French State.

This was a terrible event. Indeed, many times the authorities promised the children’s parents that they would return briefly or better qualified, which never happened. Many of them never returned, and others had to wait for years to be able to do it. They were always separated from any of their siblings, and many times didn’t even know that their siblings could live just some kilometers away from them.

Today, those who were victims of these practices consider themselves as deported people.  Indeed, only in 2002 started the first complaints against the French State, and in particular against Michel Debré, the La Réunion member of Parliament who had allowed this to happen. Now all grown-up, the “children” accused France of forced deportation, kidnapping and roundup, some serious crimes.

After a long battle for making the public aware of their condition and for obtaining recognition, the “Children of the Creuse” (Enfants de la Creuse, as they are known), were recently able to convince politicians of the importance of their claim. Indeed, on the 18 of February 2014, the French National Assembly passed a resolution (which doesn’t have value of law) in which France affirms that it failed in its moral responsibility towards these children and demands the historic recognition of this event. This is far from making a consensus, since not all members of Parliament were willing to admit France’s misdeed. But it is already a step-forward for these now grown-up children.

EU’s First Anti-Corruption Report

For the first time in its history, the European Union (EU), more precisely the European Commission, has launched an anti-corruption report. This latter gives a reflection of the current status of corruption in Europe, defining corruption as an “abuse of power for personal gain”. Although each country individually knows that these type of practices plague their political and economical settings, this has long been a taboo subject at the scale of the EU. More than that, developed countries often have the bad habit of pointing fingers at corruption practices in developing countries, while themselves are far from being free from blame. Indeed, as the report claims, “The Member States of the EU are not immune to this reality.”.

Several ideas ensue from the report, that also intends to prevent and fight corruption. First, that all Member States are affected by corruption, even if in different degrees. Indeed, Scandinavian counties, as well as Germany, have much higher levels of transparency than countries such as Portugal, Spain, France, Italy or Ireland. Secondly, it acknowledges that virtually all Member States have the needed mechanisms to fight against corruption, but that in practice these tend to fail in acting against it. More importantly, it finds out that corruption costs every year more than €120 billion per year to the EU (almost the equivalent to the annual budget of the EU)!

According to this report (thanks to a Eurobarometer analysis) and to the organization Transparency International, 76% of the Europeans who responded, perceive that there is a lot of corruption in their country. Moreover, 26% of respondents believe this corruption affects their daily lives and 56% believe this is an increasing phenomenon in the past three years. Finally, 40% of companies consider that corruption damages their ability and liberty for doing business.

It is interesting to note that, despite being groundbreaking in EU policy, this report did headlines amongst the european media but passed mainly unremarked amongst Member States and the international press. From now on, every two years the Commission intends to launch a new report to reevaluate and make an état des lieux of corruption in the EU. Let us hope that this will serve as an incentive for Member States’ politicians to be more respectful of the power endowed to them by the people. Indeed, the end of corruption can only be positive for Europe’s growth and for its “competitiveness in the global economy”.

Read this interesting article by Transparency International that says “We have an EU Anti-Corruption Report: So now what?” and gives a critical perception of the report.

The Right to Food Campaign

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states that:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food […]”

States have long accepted that there should be a right to food, at least on paper (many States even consecrate it in their Constitutions). Unfortunately, there at least 870 million people who suffer from chronic hunger around the world, meaning 1 in 8 people… Governments around the world recognize their failure in addressing world hunger. In spite of the 1995 World Food Summit commitment to reduce world hunger by half, from 824 million then to 412 million by 2015, the number of hungry people has in fact increased.

Today we would like to talk to you about an interesting case concerning this “right to food”. It all started in India, in 2001. That year, and for the third consecutive time, the north of India, in particular the state of Rajhastan, was facing an extreme drought. The government had several foodgrain stocks stored, while a part of the people was hungry. At that point, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, an Indian human rights organism, submitted a writ petition to the Supreme Court, demanding that these stocks be released to feed the people attained by lack of food. Then began a “public interest litigation”, meaning a litigation intended to protect the public interest, as enshrined in article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Thus was created the Right to Food Campaign in India.

Indeed, since the Supreme Court’s responded to that public interest litigation by implementing several different food programs, but not installing a real right to food, several organizations joined to create a true campaign, the Right to Food Campaign. This latter aims at establishing a true right to food. The government has so far established some interesting measures thanks to the Supreme Court like the Mid-day Meals or the Integrated Child Development Services, but so far not a right to food. Nevertheless, this shows that the civil society is really capable of organizing itself to the point of giving new rights to an important part of the population.

More interestingly, there has been the adoption of a National Food Security Bill in 2013. This offers subsided rice to more than 200 million people in India (in particular, rural inhabitants), a figure which is not negligeable. Thanks to this, these people will be able to buy 5 kilos of rice every month at very low prices. Pregnant mothers and those still feeding their babies even have more benefits. More than a right to food, it is a right to food security, which is already a step forward in government politics. Despite everything that could be criticized about these governmental measures (some criticize the fact that the National Food Security Bill is very politicized in view of future elections, while other criticize past measures, like the Mid-day Meals scheme, that has been denounced for intoxicating young children), there is no doubt that this is an historic measure, in a country that has more than 1.2 billion citizens.

The Right to Food Campaign is in itself an historic movement of public mobilization that should be observed from upclose. Read more about it here.

Guatemala Genocide Trial

Since the early 1960’s Guatemala suffered a terrible civil war, which lasted until 1996, pushed by economic and political inequalities. In the 1970’s Mayans started to protest, demanding more equality and integration in the life of the country, which was controlled by a repressive government. In 1980, the government embarked in “Operation Sophia”, with the massive support of the army. This was aimed to destroy the guerrileros and the population’s support toward them. The genocide started. The indigenous population living in the country-side was massacred, 626 villages were destroyed, through burnings, destruction of crops and pillages of livestock. Sacred places and cultural symbols were violated and the accounts of the Mayan people are countless and chilling. It is estimated that between 1962 and 1996, 200 000 people died or disappeared. Although some militaries were brought to justice and convicted for crimes against humanity in recent years, now there has been real progress. For the first time in Central America an ex-chief of government has been brought to justice, to be tried for and genocide. Efraín Ríos Montt (who was in power from 1982 to 1983) is now in court, in a country where impunity has prevailed for too long!

Pakistan’s Government Makes History

In 1947, after fifty years of pressure and struggle from the Indian Muslim League, the modern state of Pakistan was established in the eastern and northwestern regions of British India, where there was a Muslim majority. The history of this ‘First Pakistan’ was short as in 1971 it separated between Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since its foundation, the country’s history was marked by military rule (1969-1988), Martial Law (1958-1985), four wars with India over Kashmir, and numerous periods of civil war. More recently, we will never forget Benazir Bhutto’s return from exile in 2007 and her assassination just two months after on December 27. Yet, recent developments bring back hopes of a peaceful and democratic future for Pakistan. Ashraf’s government has made history this March 16th. After five years of civil government, the mandate came to an end peacefully and with no military intervention. The end of a mandate seems a normal destiny for any democratic country. Yet, for Pakistan, this is an enormous step forward, as the government did not try to stay in power over a coup. This is the first constitutional handover since independence in 1947. Elections are coming, stay tuned!