Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government is counting on a new multi-billion dollar Suez Canal project to help overcome what has been described as Egypt’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s, with high unemployment — 13.4 percent — and 45 percent of the population living below the international poverty line of $2 per day. Yet, what’s more important than the new Suez Canal’s objective to stimulate the economy and create jobs is who made it financially possible to carry out such an ambitious project and what that could mean for Egypt.
In eight days, Egyptians invested 64 billion EGP (about $9 billion) in the new Suez Canal project — and 82 percent of that investment came from individuals versus just 18 percent from institutions. The influx of investments introduced 27 billion EGP (about $3.8 billion) into the banking system, which is especially notable given that only one in ten Egyptians has a bank account. The overwhelming turnout of individual, cash-heavy investors from an underbanked population points to Egypt’s strong cash economy, which in turn begs the questions: how much more money is hiding under mattresses and why have these assets remained unused?
To improve local governance in Afghanistan, CIPE conducts training seminars for the Provincial Councils in Afghanistan on democratic governance and market economics, including topics like advocacy, corruption, and the informal economy. Using the knowledge gained from the seminars, many of the Provincial Councils have taken on issues affecting their communities.
CIPE recently discussed the efforts of the Kunar Provincial Council with Chairperson Haji Mia Hassan. After discussing corruption issues with local government officials, the Kunar Provincial Council filed corruption cases against several officials with the prosecutor’s office, including the director of the Customs Department and the Director of Haj and Endowments.
Not counted: Nigeria’s GDP model is based on the year 1990. (Photo: Wayan Vota)
In 2014, one small policy tweak will grow Nigeria’s economy by 40 percent, causing it to overtake South Africa as the largest in the region. A similar change in Ghana caused that country’s economy to grow 60 percent, while in Guinea-Bissau and Gambia the economy doubled in size. Even the United States increased its output by 3.6 percent using the same technique. What happened?
GDP rebasing. Simply put, these countries are all changing the way they measure their Gross Domestic Product — the sum total of all economic activity in a country in a given year — to better reflect what’s really happening the economy.
When Nigeria’s rebasing is complete, it won’t mean the country is actually producing 40 percent more goods and services. Living standards won’t jump by 40 percent — the government will just be counting more accurately. But it’s still hugely important.
Informal businesses in rural areas are a key part of the economy in many countries, like India. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The informal sector — the unlicensed, unregistered small businesses that make up the bulk of economic life in many countries — is not all bad.
A recent article in the Economist analyzed the issue of informality in the Indian economy and drew out a range of excellent points regarding the size of the country’s informal economy and the energy and dynamism that undocumented economic activity has brought to rural India, as well as the difficulties that informality can bring. These include costs to the entrepreneurs themselves, in terms of accessing credit and problems achieving scale, among others, as well as costs to the overall economy in terms of lost tax revenue and the circulation of money outside of the financial system. Indeed, there has been no shortage of research on the challenges posed by informality around the world.
What this article gets wrong however, is its conclusion, regarding what India can do to promote the formalization of the informal sector. The author writes “The best way to speed up the process is to extend the reach of the financial system. In return for coming into the formal economy and paying taxes, firms would get access to capital.” This analysis misses an important point about informality.
Although exact data is difficult to come by, it is estimated that women control as little as 2 percent of the land in Bangladesh. According to a survey of selected countries by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), this leaves Bangladesh tied with Mali in second to last place out of 12 countries, ahead of only Saudi Arabia. I used the FAO’s data to compare Bangladesh to some of its neighbors and found land ownership by women at 11 percent in India and the Philippines, 9 percent in Indonesia, and 8 percent in Nepal (data is not available for all countries).
This is surprising given the central role of women in Bangladesh’s economy. According to the World Bank, 90 percent of the 2.5 million workers in the garment industry are women. And the garment industry is the lifeblood of Bangladesh; it has been the only sector showing significant growth. At $20 billion, the garment industry now accounts for more than 75 percent of exports.
The role of women in Bangladesh extends far beyond the garment industry. Since 1991, two women have held the office of prime minister and 19 women have been elected to parliament beyond the 50 required by law. Despite these important contributions, women remain under-represented at all levels of society, and gender equality is still sorely lacking in many areas.
Women’s land ownership might not immediately seem to be the most important of issues. Although land ownership provides wide-ranging benefits to women, as well as their families and the economy as a whole, gender equality is a goal that needs no other justification. Nonetheless, it is worth reviewing the specific benefits of increasing the proportion of land owned by women.
More than two years ago, the suicide of a Tunisian street vendor named Mohammed Tarek Bouazizi set off a string of protests that eventually led to regime change and promises of reform throughout the Arab world. Unfortunately, the root causes of Bouazizi’s frustrations have still not been addressed in countries like Yemen.
In 2011, after having his wares confiscated for failing to pay a bribe, Bouazizi succumbed to the pressures of poverty and desperation, committing suicide by self-immolation. This tragic act led to what later became known as the Arab Spring, arguably the greatest geopolitical realignment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But the millions of street vendors and others who work in the informal sector have not yet realized the promise of democracy. They remain vulnerable to extortion, harassment, and other forms of abuse. By not addressing the root causes of the Arab Spring, emerging democracies such as Yemen risk losing the popular support and legitimacy that are essential to a thriving democracy.
My recent visit to Dakar, Senegal, where I met with longtime CIPE partner, l’Union National des Commercants et Industriels du Senegal (UNACOIS) was very informative and revealed how much impact a good CIPE partnership can bring to bear.
The decade-long partnership between CIPE and UNACOIS – a Senegalese private sector association with 70,000 members who operate small and medium enterprises, mainly in the informal sector — is proving increasingly consequential within Senegal’s civil society circles. CIPE and UNACOIS have partnered on three programs whose core objective was to enhance UNACOIS’ internal governance capacity.