Africa

Using a problem-driven approach in Ethiopia

Guest blog by Abdu Nuru

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 65 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

It was my director in my department who sent the email to us briefing us about the program. It specifically addressed those who...

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Hausmann, R., et al., 2022. The Economic Complexity of Namibia: A Roadmap for Productive Diversification .Abstract
After a large growth acceleration within the context of the commodity super cycle (2000-2015), Namibia has been grappling with three interrelated challenges: economic growth, fiscal sustainability, and inclusion. Accelerating technological progress and enhancing Namibia’s knowhow agglomeration is crucial to the process of fostering new engines of growth that will deliver progress across the three targets. Using net exports data at the four-digit level, we estimate the economic complexity of Namibia – a measure of knowhow agglomeration – vis-à-vis its peers. Our results suggest that Namibia’s economy is relatively less complex and attractive opportunities to diversify tend to be more distant. Based on economic complexity metrics, we define a place-specific path for productive diversification, identifying industries with high potential and providing inputs – related to their feasibility and attractiveness in Namibia – for further prioritization. Namibia’s path to structural transformation will likely be steeper than for most peers, calling for a more active policy stance geared towards progressive accumulation of productive capacities, well-targeted “long jumps”, and strengthening state capacity to sort out market failures associated with the process of self-discovery.

#DevTalks: A New Agenda for African Continental Integration

The Growth Lab's "Development Talks" is a series of conversations with policymakers and academics working in international development. The seminar provides a platform for practitioners and researchers to discuss both the practice of development and analytical work centered on policy.

In this conversation, Donald Kaberuka, former President of the African Development Bank (2005-2015), discusses the current state of growth in Africa, the need for debt relief, the role of multilateral organizations, specific capabilities for global competitiveness, foreign...

Read more about #DevTalks: A New Agenda for African Continental Integration
Hausmann, R., et al., 2022. A Growth Diagnostic of Namibia.Abstract

In the thirty years that have passed since independence, Namibia has been characterized by its over-reliance on its mineral resource wealth, procyclicality of macroeconomic policy, and large income disparities. After an initial decade marked by nation building and slow growth (1990-2000), the Namibian economy embarked on a rapid growth acceleration that lasted 15 years, within the context of the global commodity super cycle. Favorable terms of trade translated into an investment and export boom in the mining sector, which was amplified to the non-tradable sector of the economy through a significant public expenditure spree from 2008 onwards. Between 2000 and 2015 income and consumption per capita expanded at an average annual rate of 3.1%, poverty rates halved, and access to essential public goods expanded rapidly. As the commodity super cycle came to an end and the fiscal space was exhausted, Namibia experienced a significant reversal. Investment and exports plummeted, bringing GDP per capita to contract by 2.1% between 2015-2019. With debt-to-GDP ratios 3.5 times higher than those in 2008, the country embarked on a fiscal consolidation effort which brought the primary fiscal deficit from 6.8% of GDP in 2016 to 0.6% by March 2020. Along all these years, inequality has been endemic and is reflected across demographic characteristics and employment status. At present, a large majority of Namibians are unable to access well-paying formal sector jobs, as these tend to be particularly scarce outside of the public sector. Looking forward, the road to sustained inclusive growth and broad prosperity entails expanding the formal private labor market by diversifying the Namibian economy, while at the same time removing the barriers preventing Namibians from accessing these opportunities inherited from the apartheid.

The Growth Lab at Harvard University has partnered with the Government of Namibia to develop research that results in inputs for a policy strategy aimed at promoting sustainable and inclusive growth. The Growth Diagnostic is a cornerstone of the ongoing research engagement and is meant at providing an overview of the most binding constraints to Namibia’s economic performance and outlining how these relate in a systemic way to the concurrent challenges of growth, fiscal sustainability, and inclusion. 

Inclusive growth in Namibia is currently facing a set of self-reinforcing constraints. The country is missing both the productive capabilities (words) and required skills (letters) to sustain longer periods of growth. The low degree of knowhow agglomeration that can be inferred from its current productive structure – as gathered by the Economic Complexity Index (ECI) – leaves very little opportunities of diversification that can be pursued by redeploying existing skills (low connectedness). Our analysis reveals that Namibia has been able to diversify differentially more that most of its peers given its current set of productive capabilities, but the problem is that the set of adjacent opportunities are neither complex nor plenty. As the marginal cost of acquiring new capabilities tend to be high, the government needs to take a more active role in sorting coordination and information failures associated to the process of productive diversification and self-discovery.

Relatedly, Namibia’s growth prospects are also constrained by a shortage of specialized skills. Three empirical facts derived from econometric analysis of Labor Force Survey statistics point in this direction. First, certain skill-intensive industries and occupations exhibit differentially higher wage premiums. Second, highly educated, and experienced workers face the lowest unemployment rates in the economy, by a wide margin. Third, skill-intensive industries tend to grow less than the rest of the sectors in the economy.

The demand for high skilled foreign workers is high – as proxied by their wage premium. This skill shortage may be constraining not only existing industries but also the development of new engines of growth, limiting access to opportunity for Namibians across all skill levels. Missing skills at the top of the spectrum tends to depress job creation at the bottom. These two constraints – low knowhow agglomeration with poor connectedness and skills shortages – seem to reinforce each other. Using the Scrabble metaphor, Namibia is missing the letters (productive capabilities) and the entire words (more complex products).

Knowhow, by definition, resides in brains of people and it’s embedded in the goods and services a country produces. A broad knowhow-enhancing strategy aimed at targeting efficiency-seeking foreign direct investment (FDI, firms bringing entire new words to Namibia), and migration regulation policies (specific letters needed by more complex industries) is required to ease the binding constraints. Investment promotion efforts shall be targeted to ‘efficiency-seeking’ firms, which tend to take advantage of a competitive factor in the country (efficient labor force, access to international financial markets, infrastructure, etc.) to produce and export to foreign markets. This type of FDI is essentially different from the ‘natural resource-seeking’ investments that have characterized the Namibian economy and pose additional challenges. At the same time, the country would benefit from a more open immigration policy targeted towards high-skill workers. The evidence we have gathered suggests that high-skill foreigners tend to function as complements – rather than substitutes – to Namibian workers: industries with larger shares of high-skill workers tended to pay lower skill workers significantly higher wages. Easing the existing restrictions t labor flows and incentivizing inflows of high-skill foreigners will likely trickle down into the rest of the labor force and enhance the knowhow agglomeration of the Namibian productive ecosystem.

A challenge to productive diversification broadly, and attracting foreign investment and talent more particularly, might be policy uncertainty. Existing levels of policy uncertainty – instability or absence of the adequate regulating environment, worries about potential issues for property rights, inexperience with respect to the efficiency of domestic courts – in Namibia might not be enough to deter investments in resource-based industries, but might be an important hurdle for other type of industries, especially the ones that have a choice regarding their international location. To attract these investments, a simpler and more transparent investment environment, coped a more comprehensive set of international investment treaties, might be necessary.

The report is organized in six sections, including this Executive Summary. Section 2 outlines the Growth Diagnostic methodology. Section 3 provides a summary of the growth trajectory of Namibia and the challenges facing inclusive growth. Section 4 covers the main takeaways of the analysis conducted in each of the branches of the Growth Diagnostics Tree, including those related to access to finance, low social returns, government failures and agglomeration of collective knowhow. Section 5 concludes by highlighting potential binding and providing inputs for a collaborative exploration of why these issues have persisted and become an equilibrium.

#DevTalks: Confronting Post-COVID Macroeconomic Challenges in Namibia

The Growth Lab's "Development Talks" is a series of conversations with policymakers and academics working in international development. The seminar provides a platform for practitioners and researchers to discuss both the practice of development and analytical work centered on policy.

The end of the commodity super-cycle slowed growth in Namibia and the fiscal situation worsened with COVID-19. In this Development Talks Seminar, Ipumbu Shiimi, Namibia's Minister of Finance, discusses the growth challenges facing the country, including high poverty...

Read more about #DevTalks: Confronting Post-COVID Macroeconomic Challenges in Namibia
Hausmann, R., et al., 2022. Macroeconomic risks after a decade of microeconomic turbulence: South Africa 2007-2020.Abstract
This study analyses the performance of macroeconomic policy in South Africa in 2007–2020 and outlines challenges for policy in the coming decade. After remarkable economic growth in 1997–07, South Africa’s progress slowed dramatically in 2009 with the global financial crisis. Real GDP growth decelerated more than in other emerging markets and mineral exporting peers and never recovered pre-crisis levels. In addition, the budget deficit that provided counter-cyclical support to the economy was never reigned in, leading to a rapidly rising public debt load. The study assesses three accounts of South Africa’s post-GFC growth and fiscal slump: (1) an external story; (2) a macro story; and (3) a microeconomic story. Evidence of strong linkages between micro- and political developments and growth performance is provided.
Economics of Covid-19 in three sub‑Saharan African countries: Ethiopia, Namibia and South Africa
Goldstein, P. & Hausmann, R., 2021. Economics of Covid-19 in three sub‑Saharan African countries: Ethiopia, Namibia and South Africa. In R. Arezki, S. Djankov, & U. Panizza, ed. Shaping Africa’s Post-Covid Recovery. The Centre for Economic Policy Research Press, pp. 195-214. Publisher's VersionAbstract
With the exception of some flashpoints in Northern and Southern Africa, the continent has been largely spared from the direct health effect of Covid-19. However, the African economy has been significantly hurt by the economic consequences. This eBook summarises recent research on the economic effect of the Covid-19 pandemic in the continent covering a wide array of topics focusing on the response of firms, households, governments, and international organisations.
Goldstein, P., 2020. Pathways for Productive Diversification in Ethiopia, Growth Lab at Harvard's Center for International Development.Abstract

Ethiopia will need to increase the diversity of its export basket to guarantee a sustainable growth path. Ethiopia has shown stellar growth performance throughout the last two decades, but, in this period, export growth has been insufficient to finance the country’s balance of payments needs. As argued in our Growth Diagnostic report,1 Ethiopia’s growth decelerated as a result of the increasing external imbalances which have resulted in a foreign exchange constraint. This macroeconomic imbalance is now slowing the rate of economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation across the country. Although export growth will not be rapid enough to address the foreign exchange constraint on its own in the short-term, the only way for the country to achieve macroeconomic balance as it grows in the longer term is to increase its exports per capita. With only limited opportunities to expand its exports on the intensive margin, the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) will have to strategically support the diversification of its economy to expand its exports base.

This report applies the theory of Economic Complexity in order to describe the base of productive knowhow and assess the opportunities and constraints to diversification in Ethiopia’s economy. The theory of Economic Complexity offers tools to capture and quantitatively estimate the diversity and sophistication of productive knowhow in an economy and to analyze the potential to develop comparative advantage in new industries. These tools provide valuable inputs for informing diversification strategies and the use of state resources by providing rigorous information on the risks and potential returns of government industrial policies in support of different sectors.

Hausmann, R. & Bustos, S., 2012. Structural Transformation in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia: A Comparison with China, South Korea, and Thailand. In African Development Bank, pp. 15-68. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Countries seldom grow rich by producing more of the same. Development implies changes in what countries produce. Structural transformation is the process by which countries move into new economic activities. In turn, new economic activities are the ones that are able to achieve higher levels of productivity, pay higher wages and increase the level of prosperity of a country’s population. Structural transformation is crucial for economic growth: countries that are able to upgrade their production and exports by moving into new and more complex economic activities tend to grow faster.

Barrios, D., Russell, S. & Andrews, M., 2016. Bringing Home the Gold? A Review of the Economic Impact of Hosting Mega-Events.Abstract

There is perhaps no larger sports policy decision than the decision to host or bid to host a mega-event like the FIFA World Cup or the Summer Olympics. Hosts and bidders usually justify their decisions by touting their potential impact. Many organizers and promoters either fund or widely disseminate ex-ante studies that tend to highlight the positive effects of the event. For instance, the consultancy firm Ernst & Young produced a 2010 report prior to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that painted an optimistic picture of the event’s potential legacy. It estimated that an additional R$ 142.39 billion (4.91% of 2010 GDP) would flow through the Brazilian economy over the 2010-2014 period, generating 3.63 million jobs per year, R$ 63.48 billion (2.17% of 2010 GDP) of income for the population and additional tax collection of R$ 18.13 billion (0.62% of 2010 GDP) for the local, state and federal governments. Ernst & Young estimated that during the same period 2.98 million additional visitors would travel to Brazil, increasing the international tourist inflow up to 79%.

Such results, if true, would clearly attractive for governments considering a bid, but these expected impacts don’t always materialize. Moreover, hosting mega-events requires significant investments - and the cost of these investments is rising. Zimbalist notes emerging economies like China, Brazil, and South Africa have increasingly perceived "mega-events as a sort of coming-out party signaling that [they are] now a modernized economy, ready to make [their] presence felt in world trade and politics" (Zimbalist 2015). Their intentions may be noble, but the intention of using mega-events as a "coming-out party" means developing countries hoping to host them need to make massive investments. They are confronted by significant obstacles in that they lack sufficient stadiums, accommodations, transportation systems, and other sports-related infrastructure. As a result, each of the mega-events hosted by emerging economies has been exorbitantly expensive. The 2014 World Cup cost Brazil between USD 15 billion and USD 20 billion, while Beijing reportedly spent USD 40 billion prior to the 2008 Summer Olympic (Zimbalist 2015). Additionally, as the debt-ridden 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal demonstrates, expensive mega-events are not limited to emerging economies alone. Flyvbjerg and Stewart have even shown that every Olympics since 1960 has gone over budget (Flyvbjerg and Stewart 2012).

Such incredible figures, in terms of both costs and benefits, beget the question: are mega-events worth it? Which type of reports should governments focus their attention on? What economic consequences should a government reasonably expect? With such high stakes, policymakers need to choose wisely. We attempt to answer these questions and aid the decisions of policymakers by providing a concise review of the rich academic literature on mega-events. For the purposes of this paper, we mainly focus on the Summer Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup as mega-events. However, we also leverage information regarding events like the Winter Olympic Games, the UEFA football championships, and the Commonwealth Games. These events are organized on a smaller scale than the previous two, but they might provide some insights on how to best understand mega-events. We focus on claims surrounding the direct or indirect mechanisms that facilitate the impact that ex-ante studies predict. We provide a review of these claims and their validity according to the existing literature.

Section 1 focuses on the argument that mega-events lead to increased economic activity in the host economy. Specifically, we evaluate whether or not mega-events leads to access to previously inaccessible funds and increased investments. These investments could theoretically come from supranational organizations, private stakeholders, or public stakeholders. We also consider whether or not these new expenditures and investments have the multiplicative effect that many ex-ante studies assume they have. We finally investigate if the economic activity surrounding mega-events leads to increased revenues and tax collection for host governments. Overall, the existing academic literature suggests that any increased economic activity resulting from the event is routinely dwarfed by additional public budgetary commitments. Moreover, the arguments regarding multiplicative effects and increased revenues also tend to be exaggerated.

Section 2 shifts the focus to the potential impact of mega-events on a specific industry: tourism. We explore the effect of mega-events on the number of tourists visiting the host region and their spending habits. We explore this channel both for analyses specific to a single mega-event and for cross-country evaluations incorporating many events. Next, we consider the impact of a mega-event on a region’s brand and image in the international community with the idea of testing if hosting the competition will impact future tourism. Finally, we consider if mega-events lead to increases in the capacity of a city or country to welcome future tourists as a result of improved airport infrastructure, accommodations, and/or transportation systems. As was true in Section 1, the academic literature suggests that the claims of many ex-ante studies are misleading. Our review finds that there is some evidence for increases in tourist arrivals to certain events, but those increases are far smaller than what is generally predicted beforehand. These effects are also usually dependent on factors, such as the timing of the competition, that are specific to the host region and the event itself.

Section 3 briefly discusses other potential qualitative and social impacts of mega-events such as international business relations, crime reduction, and the "feel-good effect." In the penultimate section, Section 4, we discuss how these conclusions should impact the decision-making of policymakers. Finally, in a short conclusion, we summarize the findings of our review.

The Binding Constraints to Growth in Morocco
Hausmann, R., 2006. The Binding Constraints to Growth in Morocco. In Fostering High Growth and Employment in the Kingdom of Morocco. Washington, DC. Washington, DC: The World Bank, pp. 15-49. Abstract

This book identifies the binding constraints to growth of Morocco. It applies an innovative procedure known as 'growth diagnostic' and has a central finding. The Moroccan economy suffers from a too slow process of structural transformation for achieving higher growth, especially for its exports that face unfavorable external shocks arising from competitor countries in the main markets for Moroccan exports. This process of so-called 'productive diversification' requires that Morocco enhance its competitiveness. Four government failures are identified as the binding constraints to growth in Morocco: a rigid labor market; a taxation regime that represents a heavy burden for firms and an obstacle to hiring skilled human capital; a fixed exchange rate regime that has allowed regaining price stability, but, given existing rigidities in the labor market, does not favor international competitiveness; and an anti-export bias, featuring a still high level of trade protectionism despite recent progress in tariff reductions and the signing of several Free Trade Agreements. In parallel, three market failures affect competitiveness and innovation: information failures, coordination failures between the public and private sector, and training failures that rank the country among those with the lowest level of training offered by businesses.

Export Diversification in Algeria
Hausmann, R., Klinger, B. & López-Cálix, J.R., 2010. Export Diversification in Algeria. In Trade Competitiveness of the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC. Washington, DC: The World Bank, pp. 63-101.Abstract

This chapter applies new methodologies to examine the history of and future opportunities for export diversification in Algeria. The first section examines Algeria’s productive structure, which is highly concentrated in the hydrocarbons sector. It shows that this pattern of specialization is inconsistent with the country’s endowment of hydrocarbon resources. The lack of export diversification is suggestive of an inefficient distortion, reversal of which should be a clear policy priority.

The second section reviews some of the traditional explanations for a lack of export diversification in an oil-exporting country and shows that these explanations do not seem to hold for Algeria. It offers an alternative explanation, based not on macroeconomic volatility or real exchange rate appreciation but on the specificity of productive capabilities in the oil sector and their substitutability to other activities. This explanation underlies the notion of a “product space,” in which structural transformation occurs.

The third section introduces a new methodology to export diversification in Algeria, which is shown to be specialized in a highly peripheral part of the product space. Even activities that compose the non-oil export basket are highly peripheral in the product space, which helps explain the severe lack of export diversification.

The fourth section applies product space data to Algeria’s industrial strategy, using the methodology to identify high-potential export sectors. This data-driven approach has the benefit of systematically scanning the entire set of potential export goods using an empirically validated methodology. It complements other more qualitative and contextual approaches. This section uses the same methodology to review the sectors already identified by the Algerian government in the new industrial policy.

The last section discusses the policy implications of this analysis. A wide variety of methodologies can be used to generate lists of high potential export sectors; more difficult is determining what to do with such lists. The section offers a few specific policy recommendations and discusses some best practices. But the fact that most required public goods and constraints to investment are sector specific means that recommendations cannot be made at the macro level.

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