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Infrastructural Development In Nigeria In The Face Of A Rising Debt Profile

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Nigeria’s external debt currently stands at US$25 million, which is about 24.1% of its GDP. Although this debt ratio is one of the lowest in the world, it is still a significant percentage. More worrisome is the fact that Nigeria’s debt service to revenue ratio is at 60%, significantly higher than the World Bank prescribed ration of 22.5%. Also, despite the fact that Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, its GDP of $400 billion is not nearly enough to service an economy that has a population of almost 200 million people. These two realities have significant implications for major infrastructural investment.

First of all, it ensures that over 25% of expenditure under the 2019 National budget is directed towards debt servicing. More importantly, it also suggests that any major infrastructural projects taking place in the foreseeable future will be funded to an extent by some form of borrowing. Two main questions stem from this: can infrastructural development still be possible without a significant rise in our debt profile and if so, how?

In answering the first, it is important to consider what areas of infrastructural expenditure are most relevant to our debt profile. In the author’s view, the most pressing infrastructural needs in this regard are provision of stable electricity and a viable transport network.These factors according to recent Investment Climate Assessments (ICA) conducted by the World Bank constitute two of the three most important constraints to doing business effectively in Nigeria, particularly in the context of private sector participation.

 

POWER SUPPLY

Provision of stable electricity has remained a significant problem in Nigeria notwithstanding the various strategies applied by successive governments aimed at reviving the power sector. The latest in a series of commitments to electrification in Nigeria is the World bank electrification project which is expected to cost about US$765 million . The power sector recovery programme (PRSP) initiated by the government in conjunction with the World Bank in 2017indicates that the total bailout fund required for Nigeria’s power sector is close to US$7.5 billion. This seems like a significant investment, especially considering the fact that such bailout funds will most likely be secured by borrowing.

However, this is a small price to pay considering the fact that Nigeria could potentially save more than $1 billion per year if a nationwide electrification project is successful, a figure that could rise  as high as US$25billion if PRSP estimates are taken into account.

 

TRANSPORT NETWORKS

Ensuring infrastructural development takes place in a country with scarce resources requires that infrastructural projects represent good value for money. Great emphasis is currently being placed on rail travel to boost transportation and ease domestic trade. Major ongoing railway projects in this respect include the light rail project connecting Abuja-Kaduna and a railway connecting Lagos-Ibadan. The former is estimated as costing US$876 million for a distance of 186 kilometres (US$4.70 million per kilometre while the other is estimated to cost $1.6billion for a distance of 156 kilometres (US$10.6 million per kilometre.

Comparison with similar projects in other countries suggests that this is good value for money. The688-kilometre East Coast rail project in Malaysia is costing the Malaysian government about $11billion dollars($15.9 million per kilometre. The Eglinton Crosstown project covering 19 kilometres in Toronto, Ontario is expected to cost US$5billion dollars(US$263million per kilometre). The CBD light rail project in Sydney Australia costs US$1.58billion for a distance of 12 kilometres (US$131million per kilometre).

Questions will nevertheless remain as to the true value of expenditure on the projects and the quality of materials being used. This is particularly given the corruption prone nature of our infrastructure sector evident in the mismanagement of previous rail projects such as the 2.6 kilometre downtown monorail project in Port-Harcourt.

 

PURSUING INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT WITHOUT INCREASING DEBT PROFILE: A FEW CLOSING THOUGHTS

Investment in infrastructure is an integral part of economic growth and cannot be avoided in the 21st century. However, with a rising debt profile, Nigeria must begin to consider alternative strategies for securing funds outside of borrowing. The first strategy will be to reduce recurrent government expenditure particularly in the area of salaries and allowances for public officials. Nigeria’s legislators are the 2nd highest paid lawmakers in the world and nearly $400 million is being used to service a National Assembly of less than 550. This amount is hardly sustainable particularly in view of revenue generated by the government which is less than The various interests involved indicates that doing so will prove extremely difficult but it is not impossible.

Secondly, projects must be arranged in order of priority in accordance with recognized economic laws of allocation of scarce resources. One will argue that given its importance to large and small scale businesses as well as families, projects relating to power supply should be prioritized. This will not only save costs of nearly $1bn per year, it will also enhance FDI and provide alternative means of income for both the government and citizens.

Finally, procedural requirements for infrastructural investment must function in such a way as to provide easier access to market for potential investors. Privatization of the power sector for example is of little benefit if investors still struggle to obtain permits and licenses for development of power plants and other power generation mechanisms.One particular measure that has been proven by research to enhance long-term macroeconomic growth is enhanced property rights.In particular , modern economists have established a connection between protecting property rights and economic growth  and further acknowledged that properly enforced property rights lead to increased participation in economic activities.

Also Read Meet Sivi Malukisa, The Congolese Entrepreneur Whose Food Startup Is Promoting DRC Cuisine

Thus, one would advocate that access to property through land registration be made less complex, especially for infrastructure investors. Other measures such as better access to credit facilities and reduced import and excise duties may also prove useful in developing an investment-friendly climate.

Infrastructural development remains a key aspect of economic growth in Nigeria, rising debt notwithstanding. A properly structured approach in this regard may serve as the way to debt reduction and will provide an invaluable boost to the economy.

 

Author: Fifehan Ogunde Ph.D (Resarch Consultant)

 

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Africa speaks

Exploring a new model for cooperation between business and society- Nonny Ugboma

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Nonny Ugboma is the Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation (Image source: Nonny Ugboma)

The hand-me-down capitalism models Africa inherited from her colonial masters have failed to yield a prosperous continent despite its vast resources. Therefore, Africa is in desperate need of something different that takes into consideration its unique history, qualities, and context.

Experts have mostly seen the interdependence of businesses and society as transactional, with the society needing business for products and services, for jobs, for government taxes revenues. In turn, business needs the society for the market, sales and profits and public infrastructure, security and the rule of law! According to Amaeshi (2019) businesses, though sympathetic to societal challenges, are reluctant to act positively through their companies as they sometimes see such requests as irrelevant to their objectives.

However, due to the interdependency and interconnectedness of business and society, companies must work collaboratively with the government for a common purpose. That purpose is to build local resources.

There have been calls for western economies to rethink their capitalism model (Jacobs & Mazzucato, 2016). There have also been calls for Africa to develop its model of capitalism, with theorists and entrepreneurs exploring ideas like Africapitalism (Amaeshi, 2015). Africapitalism, coined by Nigerian entrepreneur Tony Elumelu, focuses on the role of business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs on the continent’s development to create economic prosperity and social wealth. It rests on the following four pillars: a sense of progress and prosperity; the sense of parity and inclusion; a sense of peace and harmony; and a sense of place and belongingness.

Africa does need its model. However, I would argue that this model should be spearheaded by the state in collaboration with willing stakeholders in the private sector and third sector, unlike Africapitalism. A government-led push is especially relevant now that a few 21st century economists are reassessing and rethinking capitalism in its present form. One of such critics is UCL’s Mazzucato (2018) The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths who debunks the mainstream neo-classical narrative that the private sector alone drives innovation but takes the position that the state is the driver of innovation.

Mission-Oriented Innovation Approach (MOIA) could help address some of the identified gaps to ensure state and business work jointly to solve grand challenges, to co-create public value and co-shape a robust and sustainable society that it can bequeath to future generations.

There is, therefore, a need for an alternative model of collaboration for business, society and government. A suggested way forward for Nigeria, and indeed Africa, is to embrace a mission-oriented innovation approach. The concept of the mission-oriented approach that involves government co-creating and co-shaping the market with the private and third sectors has enormous potential for Africa. The four pillars of ROAR, developed by Mariana Mazzucato (2016), is a useful tool-set to anchor MOIA in Africa:

1. Routes and directions– Government and Public institutions and agencies to set
missions. Also, private sector leaders can nudge government agencies to agree to
work collaboratively on national priority areas.

2. Organisational Capacity– Building of dynamic Capabilities within the Public sector through advocacy, capacity building, conferences and training.

3. Assessment and evaluation– Agencies, academia and organisations to determine new
dynamic tools to assess public policies to create new models and markets.

4. Risks and rewards– Government and private organisations need to engage on the
best risks and rewards sharing formats from initiatives to ensure smart, inclusive and
sustainable growth.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

In conclusion, as Western Economies are reviewing and rethinking capitalism and their operating models, Africa must ensure she does the same. The reason is that the future of the development of the continent depends on the economic model that it chooses to adopt, in the future, especially with the growing youthful population.

Aurthor: Nonny Ugboma is the Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation and has recently returned from one-year Sabbatical studying for a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of London Institute for innovation and Public Purpose.

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Economy

Leveraging Digitized Social Welfare Programs to Deepen Female Financial Inclusion in Africa

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(Image credit: jumo.world)

Global economies- from Nairobi to Beijing- are undergoing a rapid
transformation, with digital technologies changing the way people
communicate, work, bank, and access information.

Today, previously unbanked households in Nigeria, Kenya and other nations of Africa can now access instant credit over their mobile phones.

Rural households in Senegal are lighting their homes by linking their bank accounts to off-grid solar energy systems. Government officials in India are combining digital payment and ID technologies to deposit money directly into the accounts of citizens living in distant villages, increasing the transparency and efficiency of social welfare programs.

These and other digital innovations are creating opportunities for countries to build more inclusive, productive, and prosperous societies.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that widespread adoption and use of digital payments and financial services could increase the GDP of all emerging markets by $3.7 trillion by 2025. This additional GDP could create up to 95 million new jobs, raise overall productivity and investment levels, and make government spending more efficient.

Interestingly, no one stands to benefit more from this growth than women. It is a fact beyond argument that women and girls shoulder the global burden of poverty. Decades of research show that poverty deprives women of vital health, education, and socioeconomic opportunities throughout their lives. As a result, women earn less, own fewer assets, and are underrepresented in economic and political decision-making. This inequality means they experience fewer benefits from economic growth and suffer more of the challenges of life lived in poverty.

Also Read: Ava Airways CEO Olivier Arrindell On Envisioning An Airline Of The Future And Connecting Africa With The Caribbean

For women in low- and middle-income countries, digital savings, credit, and payments services can provide them with a critical link to the formal economy and a gateway to greater economic security and personal empowerment.

An emerging body of evidence shows this also pays dividends for their families in the form of better health and education. When women-headed households in Kenya adopted mobile money accounts, poverty dropped, savings rose, and 185,000 women left agricultural jobs for more reliable, higher paying positions in business or retail.

In Niger, distributing government benefit payments through a mobile
phone instead of cash helped give women who received the transfers
more decision-making power in their households.

Overall, strong progress has been made with financial inclusion in many (African) countries. And many of these countries have also experienced a sharp uptick in financial inclusion rates among women. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of women with their own account doubled in Kenya and Ghana and increased seven-fold in Senegal. And crucially, in several African countries, mobile money has emerged as an equalizing force, and can further help more and more (African) women towards financial inclusion.

However, digital financial exclusion is not merely an access problem. Although digital technologies hold vast potential to improve human welfare, they also pose considerable risks, from the establishment of digital monopolies to cyberattacks to digital fraud.

In light of that, as previously excluded women become first-time users of digital technologies, they are particularly exposed to these and other risks, such as new forms of gender-based violence, abuse, and harassment in digital contexts.

Our global challenge, therefore, is not merely to close the digital (financial) divide, but also to establish sound regulatory and supervisory frameworks to ensure that women and vulnerable citizens reap the benefits from digital technologies without suffering from their potential adverse effects.

Written By: Onyeka Akpaida, Founder at Rendra Foundation

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Economy

Thomas Pays, CEO of Ozow: SA’s economic revival depends on digital inclusion

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Thomas Pays, CEO and co-founder Ozow

Unless we ensure digital inclusion for all South Africans, any efforts to build a vibrant and growing economy will fall flat.

South African consumers and businesses need safe, convenient and accessible cash alternatives that simplify the payments process. As it stands, too many are excluded from online and other value-added services simply because they lack access to a bank card. While there are lower levels of banking services penetration in other African countries, 80% of South African citizens are banked, a commendable increase from only 46% in 2004. However, only one in eight adults have access to a credit card. For the rest, many online services remain inaccessible. The over-reliance on card payments to facilitate online and other transactions continues to exclude a large portion of the country’s consumer market. 

Cash still dominates the South African economy. Even though it is still growing change is sweeping through the ecosystem. Market-led payments companies are introducing new innovations that enable non-card users to transact safely and conveniently, greatly improving digital inclusion especially in underserved markets. Judging by recent developments, government is also searching for solutions that replace cash with more convenient and safer forms of electronic payment, and bring opportunities for underserved communities to access new payment and financial services options.

Digital inclusion a national priority

The South African government has set its sights on fostering greater digital inclusion, as is evident in the President’s State of the Nation address in February, which highlighted the need for improved digital literacy among the country’s citizens. The SA Reserve Bank’s Vision 2025 has also emerged as a roadmap to establishing a vibrant open banking ecosystem in the country.

In a bold step earlier this year, regulators instructed South Africa’s mobile operators to adjust their pricing in order to reduce inequality in digital inclusion. The Competition Commission found that lower-income mobile users were disproportionately disadvantaged by higher per-MB costs than larger data bundles for higher-income users. This will certainly aid greater adoption of online services and alternative payment types among the country’s large middle- to lower-income groups, who were previously unable to afford high ad-hoc data costs.

Solutions to low adoption of new payment types

In a 2019 global report, McKinsey identified cloud-based, API-driven architectures built on open banking principles as accelerators of innovation and competition in the payments industry. And that’s one vital role Thomas Pays believe companies such as Ozow fulfil in the African market: combining new technologies and new thinking to offer simplified payments to all. This is evident in how some of the main barriers – lack of data, low-end smartphones – are being overcome with innovative workarounds.

While South Africa’s smartphone penetration is currently over 80%, a lack of data means many consumers are often locked out of using online services and alternative payment methods such as QR code based payments. One solution is to zero-rate mobile data costs. In our experience, this helps ensure consumers can make electronic, mobile or app-based payments even when they have no data on their devices, and directly contributes to greater adoption and usage.

Also Read: Lindelwe Lesley Ndlovu, African Risk Capacity (ARC) CEO Shares Goals, Disaster Risk Solutions, COVID-19 and Future

Many of the smartphones used by lower-income consumers also lack sufficient space for the growing list of apps used to facilitate electronic payments. Here, offering the option of a progressive web app that can be accessed via a browser allows consumers to pay without having to permanently store a native app.

South Africa – and the rest of Africa – needs to put concerted effort into driving digital inclusion among the continent’s 1.3 billion citizens. I’d suggest starting with improving access to simple, safe payment options that remove the reliance on cash.

By: Thomas Pays, CEO and co-founder Ozow

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