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The Impact of the Financial Crisis on African Development (1)

Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 07:58 AM EDT

Because of the existing overall crisis, the projected growth for 2009 should move down to the lowest rate of decrease in 60 years. In 2008, the drop in demand resulting from the financial crisis together with synchronized crashes in manufacturing and industrial production, credit problems in traffic finance and consumer reliance caused a fall by 4 % in the growth of global trade.

Initially, many analysts believed that the world’s emerging economies, mainly those in Africa, would rather be protected from the effects of the crisis that came from the advanced industrialized countries. However, in the developing world the impact of financial instability and uncertainty in industrialized countries are beginning to take hold. Access to emerging markets for trade and investment is unlikely to diminish. In fact, UNCTAD estimates that exports of developing countries could decline by 9.2 % in 2009 [1]. The fall in commodity prices that went along with the downturn is particularly troublesome to African economies, many of which are greatly dependent on fresh commodities and raw material exports as the main source of export income. Moreover, the market for trade finance has seriously declined over the past six months; the crisis has aggravated the lack of liquidity to finance trade credit. Emerging economies are also expected to experience ongoing financial contamination, particularly in the form of capital flight and capital flows.

Even though these potentially weakening effects, the G20 predictions suggest that over 80 % of potential world economic growth depends on emerging market countries. In the same way, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that developing countries will increase by 3.3 % in 2009, it is expected that advanced economies will decline by 2 % roughly [2].

GDP Growth by Country Group

In this context, measuring the impact of the crisis on African economies and the accessibility and adequacy of measures to alleviate the effects of crises on the continent, are decisively imperative considerations for prospect growth scenario in Africa.

The Impact

The impact of the global financial crisis is expected to differ among African countries in line with their exposure to international financial system, its production and export structure and its aptitude to employ policy instruments to lessen the adverse effects. Overall, the short term in many African countries can be mitigated by the fact that most countries on the continent are relatively detached from the global financial system. Moreover, emerging banking systems in many African countries are generally characterized by simple structure, conservatism, the rules of prudent financial management, foreign exchange controls and a very limited exposure to subprime loans and the Credit default swaps, has protected the continent’s financial structures of all the effects of the crisis. In fact, Benedicte Christensen, deputy director of IMF’s Africa Department, went so far as to state in late 2008 that “there is no systemic risk that we see in any African country in terms of banking.” [4]

This does not mean that Africa is immune to the effects of the crisis. It is in the medium and long term effects of the crisis on African economies will be realized. The slowdown in global growth linked to the crisis could drive millions of Africans in the line of poverty. This possibility was highlighted in the report of the IMF, World Economic Outlook April 2008, which stated that a fall in world growth of just one % could result in a decrease of 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product of Africa. Already, the IMF predicts that growth in sub-Saharan Africa will be reduced from about 5.25 % in 2008 to about 3.25 % in 2009. [4]

The slowdown in global growth, together with a sharp drop in world industrial production, has reduced the demand for African exports, reflected especially in the downward spiral of prices and demand for commodity exports. This is alarming given the fact that exports of commodities represent the main source of export earnings of most African countries. Moreover, the fall in export earnings is likely to have negative repercussions in terms of reduced government revenues, thus. Worsening already precarious budgetary situation in many African countries.

Prices of commodities for sub-Saharan Africa

The global credit crunch following the crisis has also caused a huge reduction in the flow of private investment and bank financing, thereby reducing capital inflows and a restriction on the availability of trade finance. This is likely to be reflected in a substantial decrease in international financial flows to African countries, most prominently in the form of reduced foreign direct investment, portfolio flows and remittances from the Diaspora living in the developed world. Regarding the latter, a long-term reduction of remittances from Africans living abroad is likely to be particularly difficult to feel, as these funding streams currently contribute an estimated $ 10 billion annually across the continent .

The effects of reduced foreign investment in Africa to countries that are funding large current account deficits could be especially devastating. For example, South Africa depends to a large extent, at least in the short term, on private capital flows to finance its large current account deficit – equivalent to about 8 % of the country’s total GDP. The projected reduction in capital flows means that South Africa will be responsible for their substantial current account deficit. Other African countries operated relatively large current account deficits, such as Uganda and Tanzania are likely to be similarly affected. These problems may be compounded by the prospect of expanding the deficit caused by the crisis itself. In fact, the IMF has forecast the current account deficit of the entire sub-Saharan African region will expand by more than 4 % of GDP to reach 6.75 % of GDP in 2009.

Saharan Africa: the current versus pre-crisis growth forecasts, 2009

The projected decline in private capital flows can also have a long-term impact on investment in infrastructure projects in African states, many of whom may face funding shortfalls. Since many African capital markets are small, even the relatively limited withdrawal of foreign investment can have a significant potential impact.

Furthermore, African countries may face increased pressure for debt repayment as international institutions and Western banks, not only to strengthen their lending policies, but try to shore up its reserves. Along with this there is the possibility that the global financial crisis will result in a slowdown of foreign aid and development funding to African countries due to the global credit crunch.

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Related Posts: The impact of the global financial crisis on African development (Part 2)

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[1] South-South trade could soften impact of financial crisis for vulnerable economies. UNCTAD. 2009.

[2] Impact of the crisis on African Economies. Sustaining growth and poverty reduction, African Perspectives and Recommendations to the G20, by The Committee of African Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. 21 March 2009

[3] World Bank to Help Mitigate Impact of Global Financial Crisis on Africa’s Development. 19 November 2008

[4] International Monetary Fund. 2009. What the Global Financial Crisis Means for Sub-Saharan Africa. Speech by Takatoshi Kato, Deputy Managing Director, IMF, 12th AU Summt, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 3 February 2009.