Category Archives: Developing Countries

Angola and Portugal, a common struggle?

We are often confronted about the huge amounts of money some Angolan citizens spend in Portugal. We often read about their investments as well. We often tend to think it is a good thing.

As you may know, the Portuguese economy is frozen. We don’t have much money to neither invest nor to consume so any extra help will do.

There’s also the fact that Angola is a sovereign country. If there is money leaving the country against the best interest of the people, it is in first place their problem.

Now imagine there’s this guy who steals gold for living. He robs people on the streets, he robs from houses, whatever. He’s a total thieve. Let’s say he even took a necklace from my grandmother on her way to the supermarket, hurting her knees along the way.

The fact is that there are plenty of places buying gold without any consideration regarding the origin. So this inglorious thieve has the incentive to keep on robbing as he knows there will always be a buyer.

And what do you expect the owner of the place to do? Do you really expect him to say something about it and end up ruinning his beautiful business? With this economy? No way, a man’s gotta eat. I’m sorry for the old lady though, she should start carrying a gun or something.

My point is that laxity is dangerous: when you decide to take the dirty money you are actively incentivating corruption and deviant behaviour. There will always be excuses for doing it though, that’s why it is so dangerous to accept it the first time.

But back to our topic: all this investment from Angola, where does the money come from? Are those personal investments or is the money coming from the government budget? Is there even a difference?

Is it thievery? Or is it good business?

It is common knowledge that bags and bags full of money arrive ‘undercover’ from Luanda to the Lisbon airport. However, nobody (at least nobody with power to do anything) seems to find it weird.

Isabel dos Santos, the daugther of the President Eduardo dos Santos, is according to the Forbes magazine the most powerful woman in Africa. Her first business was Unitel, the biggest mobile operator in Angola, in partnership with Portugal Telecom and the state-owned Sonangol.

With Sonae, Isabel dos Santos took Continente retail stores to Angola.

In Portugal, Isabel dos Santos owns relevant shares on companies such as banks BPI and BIC, Galp Energia and Zon Multimedia, who is expected to acquire Optimus from Sonae.

There are rumours connecting such prodigious daughter to everything from traffic of diamonds to political bias, inside trading and lobbying. Without surprise, it looks like Portuguese elites are all over these schemes.

As companies and economic agents in Portugal try to make a profit out of the situation, they are enduring a regime of oppression in one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 148th on 2013 HDI rankings, behind countries like Pakistan or Bangladesh.

So there is a common struggle after all: responsability.

Some thoughts on US upcoming elections

I’m no expert in none of the topics below. However, and since there is a widespread disbelief about the importance of next American elections, I felt like pointing out a couple of points I believe to be worthy of consideration for non-American citizens. It isn’t like we have a voice but, in the age of globalization, we sure could use some.

First of all, America’s approach to economic policy remains very influent, while setting the tone for economic policy worldwide. As Stiglitz points out:

(…) Romney has not really distanced himself from the Bush administration’s policies. On the contrary, his campaign has featured the same advisers, the same devotion to higher military spending, the same belief that tax cuts for the rich are the solution to every economic problem, and the same fuzzy budget math.

Therefore, if you are not exactly in line with “austerity politics” or, more broadly, with “structural adjustment” and economic contraction, then Romney’s not your guy. While we global citizens are trying to make the push for the implementation of adjustment policies more prone to economic growth, job creation and to overcome deprivation, we can use some support from a candidate like Obama, more keynesian-oriented, than the righ-winged, business as usual, Reagan-inspired Romney.

In fact, the area where we can express greater praise for Obama is precisely in fighting deprivation – health deprivation, to be concise. As the The Economist explains:

The other qualified achievement [of Obama’s Administration] is health reform. Even to a newspaper with no love for big government, the fact that over 40m people had no health coverage in a country as rich as America was a scandal.

Obama deserves praise not only for doing the right thing, building capabilities for the more vulnerable american households, but also for the example Obamacare represents for all the developed states, urging to get rid of their social responsabilities in favor of budget consolidation. I’d like to see similar commitment to providing better education for the very same vulnerable households, in a country where the poor get poor health, poor education and very poor opportunities.

However, there’s a major challenge in chasing such noble social goals: America cannot continue to tax like a small government while spending like a big one. Some adjustments are necessary and they need to be done as soon as possible and in a way that reduces the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Additionaly, environment and climate change cannot be ignored no more. While both Romney and Obama did not pay great attention to this issue during the campaign – at least before “Sandy” crushed in – Obama is more likely to do something about it than the very skeptic market-solves-all-bads Romney, trapped in a party of “climate deniers”.

Regarding trade, well, we don’t need a trade war between America and China at this point of our lives. We really don’t, Mr. Romney. Obama wins again.

Is is also commonly accepted today that balanced regulation enables markets to operate better, not the contrary, as some highly iluminated minds around Romney seem to believe. Even though Obama has not excelled on his trade and commerce policies, it is hard to imagine how Romney could even do better.

Said this, Obama has not been perfect. Far from it. As strange as it may sound, it was during Obama’s mandate that China overtook the US as Africa’s largest trading partner. Quoting from Reuteurs:

In 2009, China overtook the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner. According to the Brookings Institution, President Hu Jintao of China has made up to seven trips to Africa, five as head of state, and has visited at least 17 countries. In contrast, Obama’s 20-hour 2009 sojourn in Ghana has been his only trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president.

“We would have expected to see more American involvement instead of a retreat. If you go to many countries and ask them about who is doing more, they will tell you China,” said Mwangi Kimenyi, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In my personal opinion, Obama’s lowest point was reached in the day America got their public enemy number one, Osama Bin Laden.

I did appreciate the departure from the previous approach to the «War on Terror», sustented on “all muslims are suspects of terrorrism and all suspects of terrorrism can die and suffer if for the good of National Security”. Obama has managed to focus on terrorrists, dropping religion.

Anyway, war is still war, an invasion is still an invasion, aggression is still aggression and I still don’t understand why the Americans forced the occupation of  Afghanistan andI still don’t like OTAN and what it represents. It just doesn’t make sense in today’s world, I have expressed it before.

I must say I was extremely disappointed with Obama the day I saw him celebrating cheerfuly the murdered of another human being, even though it was for the good of National Security (or was it revenge?). Osama Bin Laden was a criminal and I do not support criminals; however, criminals belong to justice, not to graveyards. Martyrs belong to graveyards, and, as I see it, we sure didn’t want any more of those.

Four years ago, I had great expectations for Obama. I’ve spent Election’s night celebrating his announced victory. We all thought he could make the difference in a increasingly multipolar and globalized world. He proved he cannot do such thing, at least alone. He proved to be a lot weaker than we thought, in a variety of topics.

But Romney just shouldn’t represent a viable option in today’s world.

Countries of the Future no more?

Just got to read this article from Adrés Velasco. Like him, many of us believe that starting an episode of growth is very different from being able to mantain it for the years, or decades, to come. Checking out the World Economic Forum Index rankings for 2011, there are at least a few important question to ask regarding Agola’s economic development: how does one of the fastest growing economies in the world (6%) rank so low (139th, ranking just ahead Burundi, Haiti and Chad, and below countries like Timor-Leste, Mozambique or Burkina Faso) in competitiveness rankings? What can we expect from Angola in the future if nothing’s done to reduce this gap and to build better foundations for long term development?

Far more important, what can the different political actors do in order to promote sustainable growth in one of the most unfair countries in the globe? Is government’s intervention part of the problem or part of the solution? Is more activism from the political actors desirable in this case?

What should Angola learn from the Brazilian case-study?

Africa, linguistics and neo-colonialism: in search of the “right” path?

Africa is the cradle of humanity. Every scientist in the world admits today that the first human being has emerged in Africa. Even though nobody contests it, a lot of people forget it. I’m sure that if Adam and Eve were born in Texas we would hear about it everyday on TV.

The slow asphyxia of the African languages would be dramatic, would represent the way down to hell of the African identity.

Joseph Ki-Zerbo in «For when Africa?» (2006)

For most Europeans (and for some non-Europeans as well) the history of Africa begins with the history of colonization. Widely seen as a continent without history, Africa was living in pre-history until such event, passively waiting to be civilized and exogenously integrated in the world system and ultimately in the history of humanity (deprived of autonomy, playing a secondary role on other continents’ history). Such erroneous (and full of prejudice) idea still persists in European imaginarium despite the evidence that Africa has always been (1) an open system and (2) a diverse continent full of (3) dynamic forces and societies. Of course such dynamics are not easily observable with imported concepts and grills of analysis or through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know the African reality; to see and study such dynamics requires a deep knowledge of the continent’s culture(s) and historical path(s). Africa is still regarded as a Continent to be “civilized” (civilized is out of fashion and even Catholic entities now privilege the verb “to teach”) and as a passive agent in the sense that all good and, for some, all bad comes around exogenously (from outside the continent). To promote African development one must learn the African history from an African stand of view (with Africa in the center of the map): what happened in the continent since the beginning of times, when, by and for whom, how and for what reasons – pretty much like we learn European history. The inside-out approach must replace the failed academic neo-colonialism; probably this is the only possible way to overcome the present territorial and historical fracture between Europe and Africa.

Viriato and Afonso Henriques were seen as the founders of Portuguese nationality and therefore  as the ancestors of all Angolan populations. Huílas and muílas, mbundus and quiocos, bangalas and cuanhamas, all were “lusitanos” and all had as eponymous figures the uncertain Viriato and the more than certain Afonso Henriques.

Isabel Castro Henriques in Os Pilares da Diferença (2004)

The importance of African history and culture for the development of the region allows me to trace a parallelism with my last post Economics: does linguistics matter? (Part 1) – the part 2 is still to come. Colonial powers without exception always privileged the expansion of their language overseas and emphasized the overwhelming importance of such cultural tie; true that, cultural tie it is. Or should I say colonial tie? Who benefits from it? Cape Verde’s official language, and therefore language of instruction, is Portuguese even though the majority (students and teachers) of the population speaks creole at home and among friends; result? decreased effectiveness of country’s commitment to education due to participants’ poor command of the Portuguese language. Obvious isn’t it? The impact on the populations is ambiguous.

In the immediate post-colonialist era the African countries’ language policy aimed at reducing the great variety of languages and dialects in the continent in order to facilitate communication, reduce ethnic conflicts, promote social unity and cohesion and decrease transaction costs. However, as the awareness rises relatively to the importance of the continent’s cultural heritage, multilingualism gained importance. I’d love to see Cape Verde adopting a more sensitive approach to the language problem, favoring its culture, its society and its development and of its children.

Professor Ki-Zerbo advances with the idea of culture trade imbalance. North-South trade (and probably the increasing South-South trade as well) with Africa largely favors the developed world and the expansion of its model of society and development: industrial powers export industrial goods with a great added cultural value (coca-cola, jeans, mp3s, computers, cars) in exchange for primary goods with no embedded cultural value. Such imbalance leads to the prevalence of the foreign social and cultural values in the African societies. The adoption of colonial languages or, more recently, of the anglo-saxonic language in certain sectors comes to increase such effect and together with other factors they create a model of neo-imperialism and neo-colonalism and limit Africa’s ability to pursue its development with base in its history and culture.

Restrictive language policies are dangerous as well as the adoption of colonial ties because (1) it promotes all the erroneous ideas evidenced in the first paragraph and (2) it limits our perception of culture, history and context and, again, our ability to see. Rather than uniformity we must contemplate specificities and incentive diversity as a central element to good development policies and literature. Literature itself should be diversified instead of increasingly uniform. The missionaries’ time is over, shaping policies for or writing about Africa is not any different from doing that to anywhere else – work it out together with the society.

Even if demography guarantees nothing…

But even if demography guarantees nothing, it can make growth harder or easier. National demographic inheritances therefore matter. And they differ a lot.

«A tale of three islands» in The Economist,

October 22nd-28th 2011

We are the 99 percent. Are we? (Part 2)

The UNDP Human Development Rankings for 2010

Human Development Rankings:

Dark Blue: Very High; Ocean Blue: High; Light Blue: Medium; Almost-white blue: Low; Grey: Data Unavaible.

The 99%? I wonder about what the other 82% says about us. Don’t you?

We are the 99 percent. Are we?

Though appealing the slogan lacks honesty and sounds unfair.

OECD Countries Total Population = 1.220.992.000*

World Total Population = 6.928.198.253**

(World Total Population / OECD Countries Total Population) * 100 = 17,62%

Which is very different from 99%. Despite the lack of economic and social justice we experience in our home countries people must keep in mind what are we fighting for: we are the 18% lucky enough to live in the developed world and we don’t want to put ourselves in the other 82% shoes. And if we’re not fighting for them, we probably should keep their numbers out of this. This recent contestation phenomenon is mostly a western world movement as people are ultimately fighting to improve their own life conditions and against the imposed austerity; more or less exarcebated patriotic arguments more than common are the rule. We don’t want to belong to the 99%, we are not the 99%.

* Data extracted on 17 October 2011 from OECD.stat

** Figures for July 2011; Data extracted on 17 October 2011 from CIA – The World Factbook