• This is the course blog for ECON 3510 African Economic Development offered the Spring term at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. It will include abbreviated versions of the Power Point presentations and some notes that will be used during the course. The Course Outline and Reading List plus all other administrative announcements and matters will be posted. The site also serves as a medium of exchange of views and questions of a general nature for the course.

Upwardly mobile Africa: A day in the economic life of Africa’s biggest shanty-town

Attached is a description of the small enterprise economy of Kibera, a large shanty-town area of Nairobi.

The original essay from the Economist, December 22, 2012 is here:

Upwardly mobile Africa

 

MEN in patched overalls and women in freshly washed blouses walk down a narrow lane just after six in the morning. They are packed in tightly like spectators leaving a sports stadium, but this is their life, their every morning. Backs are straight; trousers and sleeves rolled up, exposing mottled yet able limbs. They crush discarded wrappers of quick-fry breakfasts under foot, corn and oil dripping from mouths. Banana skins are ground to dust by thousands of feet.

Everyone is moving in one direction, jostling and shoving, out of a maze of low-strung shacks, past shops selling shoes and phones that have already been open an hour, out into the high-rise centre of Nairobi, where factories and offices pay salaries—everyone, that is, except a limp male figure huddled in a corner strafed by the first delicate rays of the sun. He seems to wait for the crowd to pass or at least thin before he dares to swim upstream. His hair is short and shiny as if sanded down rather than cut; his shirt is in pieces. He tells your correspondent that he has just arrived from the countryside. This is not home, he says. He does not sound convinced it ever will be.

His name is Jonah Kasiri and he is 23 years old. He came to Nairobi on an overnight minibus with his worldly possessions—a battered alarm clock and an additional pair of cotton trousers—packed into a canvas bag that smells of ripe fruit. His village in Kenya’s west, as he describes it, sounds like many: a verdant clump of trees and animals where man eats what he can hunt or gather but has little chance of betterment.

For that one has to come to the city. His cousin went to Nairobi two years ago and returned for a visit last week, wearing two mobile phones in a leather pouch on the belt of a brand new pair of pleated trousers. That made an impression on Mr Kasiri. When his cousin offered to help him follow suit, he jumped at the chance.

The crowd eases and we walk into the maze of shacks. Mr Kasiri says he must relieve himself but cannot afford to. In the city nothing is free. We come to a cement floor divided into seven stalls, each with a hole. “Is it clean?” asks the customer in front of us. The proprietor, Teresia Ngusye, seated on a stool, handing out tissue paper, says she cleans every hour, pointing down the alley to similar looking shacks. “See the competition I have.” She charges us ten shillings (12 cents), which she says will go toward building a second set of toilets. Mr Kasiri nods. Everything in the city is an opportunity. He too might one day like to run such an establishment. In parting, the newly minted city boy hears a warning, “Bowel problems are expensive.”

This is Kibera. Often, and probably rightly, described as Africa’s biggest slum, it is home to perhaps a million people. Nobody knows for sure, since Kibera is left to its own devices. Government is absent: it offers the residents (regarded as squatters) no services, opens no schools, operates no hospitals, paves no roads, connects no power lines and pumps no water into homes.

To equate slums with idleness and misery is to misunderstand them

And yet Kibera, wedged in between ornate embassies and a well-tended golf course, is an integral part of Nairobi. Its residents live in a dozen villages on a piece of land half a mile wide and two miles long, draped like a bath mat on a tub across a slope falling into a man-made lake. Once the slope was wooded and each village had only a few houses. In the past 30 years they have fused to become one of the world’s most densely populated places, garnering a measure of first-world notoriety. Kibera features in the film “The Constant Gardener”, based on the eponymous John le Carré novel, as well as in a music video by Sarah McLachlan, a Canadian pop singer, representing the epitome of poverty.

Kibera’s origins are Western. A century ago British colonial rulers gave small plots of land on the edge of Nairobi to Nubian soldiers serving in the King’s African Rifles. They built mud huts below the road leading to the farm of Karen Blixen—made famous in the film “Out of Africa”, based on the Danish writer’s life. The land was later nationalised but the Nubians stayed put and rented parts of it to newcomers. Today most homes are made of ragged tin and reused timber. Walking in the warren of narrow lanes that divide them, some only shoulder-wide and all of them devoid of cars, one is reminded of a medieval European city.

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The Economist, “The continent’s impressive growth looks likely to continue”

Africa’s hopeful economies: The sun shines bright

The continent’s impressive growth looks likely to continue

Dec 3rd 2011 | LAGOS | from the print edition

HER $3 billion fortune makes Oprah Winfrey the wealthiest black person in America, a position she has held for years. But she is no longer the richest black person in the world. That honour now goes to Aliko Dangote, the Nigerian cement king. Critics grumble that he is too close to the country’s soiled political class. Nonetheless his $10 billion fortune is money earned, not expropriated. The Dangote Group started as a small trading outfit in 1977. It has become a pan-African conglomerate with interests in sugar and logistics, as well as construction, and it is a real business, not a kleptocratic sham.

Legitimately self-made African billionaires are harbingers of hope. Though few in number, they are growing more common. They exemplify how far Africa has come and give reason to believe that its recent high growth rates may continue. The politics of the continent’s Mediterranean shore may have dominated headlines this year, but the new boom south of the Sahara will affect more lives.

From Ghana in the west to Mozambique in the south, Africa’s economies are consistently growing faster than those of almost any other region of the world. At least a dozen have expanded by more than 6% a year for six or more years. Ethiopia will grow by 7.5% this year, without a drop of oil to export. Once a byword for famine, it is now the world’s tenth-largest producer of livestock. Nor is its wealth monopolised by a well-connected clique. Embezzlement is still common but income distribution has improved in the past decade.

Severe income disparities persist through much of the continent; but a genuine middle class is emerging. According to Standard Bank, which operates throughout Africa, 60m African households have annual incomes greater than $3,000 at market exchange rates. By 2015, that number is expected to reach 100m—almost the same as in India now. These households belong to what might be called the consumer class. In total, 300m Africans earn more than $700 a year. That’s not much, and many of those people could be pushed back into penury by a small change in circumstance. But it can cover a phone and even some school fees. “They are not all middle class by Western standards, but nonetheless represent a vast market,” says Edward George, an economist at Ecobank, another African banking group.

As for Africans below the poverty line—the majority of the continent’s billion people—disease and hunger are still a big problem. Out of 1,000 children 118 will die before their fifth birthday. Two decades ago the figure was 165. Such progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, a series of poverty-reduction milestones set by the UN, is slow and uneven. But it is not negligible. And the mood among have-nots is better than at any time since the independence era two generations ago. True, Africans have a remarkable capacity for being upbeat. But it is seems that this time they really do have something to smile about.

Lions and tigers (and bears)

Since The Economist regrettably labelled Africa “the hopeless continent” a decade ago, a profound change has taken hold. Labour productivity has been rising. It is now growing by, on average, 2.7% a year. Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by 200% since 2000. Inflation dropped from 22% in the 1990s to 8% in the past decade. Foreign debts declined by a quarter, budget deficits by two-thirds. In eight of the past ten years, according to the World Bank, sub-Saharan growth has been faster than East Asia’s (though that does include Japan).

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