Thursday, October 13, 2011

Big Bag of Africa: Statistics, Governance, and Food

Shanta at the World Bank discusses the importance of good statistics to understanding what goes on in Africa:

Today, only 35 percent of Africa’s population lives in countries that use the 1993 UN System of National Accounts; the others use earlier systems, some dating back to the 1960s. To show that this is not an arcane point, consider the case of Ghana, which decided to update its GDP last year to the 1993 system.  When they did so, they found that their GDP was 62 percent higher than previously thought.  Ghana’s per capita GDP is now over $1,000, making it a middle-income country. ... 
Only 11 African countries have comparable data for the same year. For the others, we need to extrapolate to 2005, sometimes (as in the case of Botswana) from as far back as 1993.
In short, even the economists’ celebratory estimate of poverty declining in Africa during a period of growth needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  In reality, there are many countries for which we simply don’t know.
What’s going on here?
The vice president of Zambia, Guy Scott, is, to not put too fine a point on it, white. Jayawardane argues that this will be most surprising to people who believe African countries are primarily divided along ethnic and tribal lines. For Zambians and many other countries, however, status and occupation are much more important dividing lines.

A very vocal critic of Nigeria's government, Richard Dowden, was invited to speak to the government. He reports his shock at seeing Pres. Jonathan nodding and smiling encouragingly as he and other speakers described what was wrong in the government, including being the highest paid government in the world. His assessment of the president is cautiously optimistic, though he also still has some real questions.
My impression of President Goodluck Jonathan is that he is Nigeria’s first intellectual president – a laid back former academic who wants to walk round a problem before deciding what to do about it. He likes to listen and ask questions – taking his time to understand and reframe the problem.
In other news, nearly half of Zambia's maize production got soaked during the rains last week. While it does not have to be destroyed - the government is optimistic it will dry oat - it may well decrease the amount of maize for human consumption that would have been available after another bumper harvest.

Ghana is providing northern farmers with 110 combine harvesters as part of its agricultural subsidy programs that currently lower the price on 100-150,000 tons of fertilizer.

Banana wilt has already wiped out 20% of the crop in one Ugandan district and is threatening nearly all the rest. This is an area where bananas/plantains are a major staple food.

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