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NIGERIA – AFRICA’S LARGEST ECONOMY

1_Singapore_city_skyline_2010_day_panorama  Nigeria has overtaken South Africa as the continent’s largest  economy after it overhauled its gross domestic product data for  the first time in more than two decades.

Official figures for 2013, released by Nigeria’s statistics bureau,  put the country’s GDP at $503bn (£307bn) – nearly double  previous estimates and well ahead of South Africa at around  $350bn.

 

The announcement follows a protracted process to “rebase” Nigeria’s economic data and include information from sectors such as telecommunications and the film industry. The rebasing exercise has pushed the country’s GDP from 42.3tn naira in 2013 to 80.3tn naira ($509.9bn) – a jump of 89%.

The revision pushes Nigeria up 12 places to become the 24th largest economy in the world – on par with Poland and Belgium and ahead of Argentina, Austria and Iran.

Nigeria had not recalculated its GDP since 1990, something which many other governments do every few years. New sectors have been added to the country’s output list include e-commerce, telecommunications, music and Nollywood, which is estimated to be worth billions of dollars, or 1.4% of the economy.

Shortly before the GDP announcement, the information minister, Labaran Maku, said: “For the first time in 15 years, we will know, scientifically, what the GDP figure is and what the contributions of every sector to the economy are. We will also be able to know the sectors that have made the most progress and which ones are lagging behind.”

The data is likely to make Nigeria more attractive to foreign investors, with its economy appearing not only larger but more diverse than previously thought. Economic analysts had forecasted a jump closer to 40-60%.

Several other African countries have recalculated their economic data recently, producing sharp rises in GDP estimates. A rebasing exercise in Ghana four years ago triggered a 60% increase.

But Nigeria’s GDP figures will not on their own produce dramatic changes in living conditions. The rebasing exercise has almost doubled GDP per capita, placing it among middle-income countries. However, at just $3,000, per capita income is low – and well below South Africa’s at $7,336. Nigerians continue to struggle with poverty, inequality and electricity shortages.

Yemi Kale of the National Bureau of Statistics said: “While it [GDP] depicts how rich a nation is, this is not necessarily the same as showing how rich the individuals in the nation are, due to the problem of unequal distribution of wealth. Similarly, growth in GDP is not synonymous with job creation.

“It is expected that as the economy grows, people’s income rise and their demand for goods and services increase. As a result, producers increase output and employ more people so that employment increases. However, though jobs are being created, the jobs may not enough to reduce unemployment or poverty.”

SOUTH AFRICA ‘BORN FREE’ GENERATION VOTES

Six months pregnant, Julius Malema of the South African political party Economic Freedom Fighters was determined to cast her vote, even if it meant  standing in a sun-baked queue for hours on end. “I was so excited because it  was the first time,” she recalls, sitting on an upturned plastic basket outside her  shack in Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg. “Everybody wanted to vote.  Everybody was happy.”

South Africa held its first multiracial election 20 years ago on Sunday, defying  bombs, bluster and the threat of civil war to conjure a spectacle of voters in  long, winding lines that ravished the world. But for Kganyo, like millions of others who put a cross beside the face of Nelson Mandela, those days of miracles and wonder are a fading memory. “It’s not the same now. We’re not happy to vote any more. It’s not like the first time.”

Next month, South Africans return to the polls for the first election since Mandela’s death and the first in which the so-called “born free” generation – those whose lives began after racial apartheid – are eligible to vote. The African National Congress is in no doubt of a fifth consecutive victory on 7 May but faces an unprecedented long-term challenge both on the streets and at the ballot box.

Two decades of modest economic growth have left the white minority better off than ever but half of young black people without a job. South Africa is one of the most unequal societies on Earth and reaping a whirlwind of frustration and unrest. One expression of this is in tyre-burning, stone-throwing township protests that could point towards future social instability. Another is the rise of a militant new party that claims to be the true inheritor of the ANC’s radical legacy.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is bringing a flavour of Latin American socialism to an otherwise somewhat sterile election. It draws thousands of people to its rallies wearing an instantly recognisable motif, a red beret, as sported by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Indeed, its “commander in chief”, charismatic firebrand Julius Malema, travelled to both Venezuela and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe to hone his populist, anti-western rhetoric. The EFF regards forgotten places such as Diepsloot, a sprawling, impoverished and violent settlement, as fertile territory for recruiting angry young people who feel betrayed by the ANC.

Julius Malema of the South African political party Economic Freedom Fighters
Julius Malema, president of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters, greets the local community in Ngcingwane. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images
Sprouting on farmland in the 90s, Diepsloot (“deep ditch” in Afrikaans) is a largely post-apartheid creation and most of its 200,000 residents blame the ANC for their dismal conditions. Amid this sea of shacks, many constructed from corrugated iron haphazardly bolted together, piles of rubbish go uncollected and acrid water runs down unpaved dirt tracks. Diepsloot has become a byword for criminal gangs, vigilante mob justice and xenophobic violence.

Kganyo rises at 5.30am every day to commute to her suburban job as a domestic worker, earning 3,000 rand (£170) a month, while her husband is away for months at a time working down a mine, retracing a pattern known to generations under apartheid. “Diepsloot is getting worse,” she said. “The price of paraffin is up, the price of taxis is up, the price of food is up. There are criminals here: sometimes you can’t go out at 10 o’clock.”

Kganyo lives in a cramped tin shack without electricity at the back of a dusty yard. She has been on the waiting list for a government house for more than 10 years. “We always voted for the ANC but we’ve been living in the shacks for many years. They say they’re going to build a house and nothing happens. If you select a council, they work for themselves, not for us.”

The ANC faces an uphill battle to win over “born frees” with no memory of the liberation struggle and no instinctive loyalty to the party. Among them is Bonginkosi Dlamini, another Diepsloot shack dweller who was robbed at gunpoint last year. “They benefit themselves instead of the country,” he said. “They build big houses and drive fast cars while the rest of us suffer and don’t have access to water. They should be making changes in Diepsloot but it’s getting worse.”

Surveys have found that the ANC’s political power rests on an underclass: at least two thirds of its voters are unemployed. Now it faces a competitor for this constituency for the first time. The EFF is hoping to invoke Mandela’s words from 1993: “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.” The fledgling party essentially claims that Mandela’s revolution is half-finished: while political liberation was achieved 20 years ago, economic liberation remains elusive.

White-owned land is one emotive example. Soon after 1994, the ANC set a target of 25m hectares, representing 30% of agricultural land, for transfer to black people within five years, but to date only about 7% has been transferred and most is not used productively. The EFF claims that the ANC has sold its revolutionary soul to “white monopoly capital” and that serial corruption scandals, notably the spending of £13.7m on president Jacob Zuma’s homestead in Nkandla, show its contempt for the poor.

TUNISIA SIGNS IN NEW CONSTITUATION

Tunisian President Marzouki Three years after Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben  Ali’s regime and triggered the Arab spring, the country’s lawmakers have signed off on  a new constitution.

The document, approved by an overwhelming majority, is the most progressive  foundational law of any Arab state, guaranteeing Tunisians’ rights to freedom of  speech, to healthcare, to a living wage, to a clean environment, and to freedom from  discrimination.

The law also extends significant new rights to women, including protections from violence, the right to marry and divorce freely, and the right to work on the same terms as men.

Perhaps most impressive: at a time when other Arab nations are mired in religious factionalism, Tunisia’s Islamist and secular groups sought to overcome their differences, crafting a document that both asserts Tunisia’s Islamic status and enshrines citizens’ rights to worship and to discuss religious matters freely.

“By adopting the constitution, Tunisia celebrated a triple victory – over dictatorship, over terrorism … and over our own divisions,” said President Moncef Marzouki. His sentiments were echoed by many world leaders, with French president François Hollande saying the constitution affirmed “that Islam is completely in line with democracy,” and should “serve as an example and a reference point for a lot of other countries.”

The Tunisian people, too, expressed excitement about the constitution’s passage. “It is the first time we have been so united since the revolution,” Asma Habaib, a young bank worker, told reporters. “It is like another revolution.”

“The law extends significant new rights to women, including protections from violence and the right to marry and divorce freely”

Tunisia’s government remains split between religious and secular factions, with Islamist majority party Ennahda pressured in January into ceding control to a caretaker government ahead of a general election later this year. The tension has sometimes spilt over into violence, including political assassinations, but equally clear, observers say, is the rivals’ mutual determination to forge a viable republic.

“We did it in a very innovative, democratic way,” Fehri added. “I dream that kids who are 15 will look back when they are 60 and say, ‘Those guys put us on the right track.’”

Still, there are some missing pieces, Guellali said. The constitution failed to ban the death penalty, and is also ambiguous about whether the rights it describes apply to everyone in Tunisia, or only to citizens.

Additionally, some articles contradict one another in a bid to please both sides. Of particular concern, Guellali said, was the clash between an article guaranteeing freedom of conscience, and another – inserted under pressure from Islamist legislators – that requires the state to “protect the sacred.”

“This formulation is vague and gives too much leeway to the legislators to trample other rights such as the right to free expression, artistic creation and academic freedoms also enshrined in the constitution,” Guellali said. But, she added, another article covering the “legality, necessity and proportionality” of restrictions on basic rights would limit the degree to which lawmakers could use such ambiguities to partisan ends.

Concerns also remain over Tunisia’s economy, with some analysts fearing that joblessness and market volatility could undermine efforts to forge a stable democracy.

“Going forward in a way that makes democracy sustainable is going to be a challenge,” Ginsburg said. “But if there’s any country in the region that can do it, it’s Tunisia.”