Daniel Kopf of Priceonomics put an interesting question to me recently: which stories about African economies don’t get the news coverage they should? I thought of a number, and also Storified some great responses I got on Twitter. What would you add to this list?
- The Continental Free Trade Area has the potential to be the biggest trade deal that no one’s heard about. I read African news constantly and I hadn’t heard of it before last week. Where did this come from, and what are its prospects?
- I’m quite interested in the expansion of both rail infrastructure and air travel. Rail transport is much cheaper than road, particularly for the bulky commodities that get traded regionally or exported, but it seems like governments are more inclined to invest in roads, and it’s not clear why. Light rail also has promise for urban areas but is being stymied by weak urban planning & the influx of motorcycles. Similarly, air travel has huge potential but there’s all manner of politics around deregulation.
- The insurance market is another place that looks like it should be taking off but has been slower than expected to do so. For example, researchers were very excited about cheap rainfall insurance for subsistence farmers a few years ago, but takeup has been very low. Personally I think there’s a rational distrust of institutions at play here — many people are accustomed to government officials extorting their money, or banks failing, and probably have good reasons not to hand over money now and expect a payout later. (There’s also some interesting discussion of a move from humanitarian aid to catastrophe insurance for individuals, but presumably it would face the same challenges.)
- The huge focus on China’s investments obscures the fact that many other middle- and low-income countries are building relationships in Africa. Some of it is fairly benign, like India and Turkey‘s investment plans; but Israel is looking for countries to house deported African immigrants and North Korea is exporting weapons.
- One thing that strikes me about African tech start-ups is that they’re consistently solving different problems than American start-ups do. For example, they’re substituting for effective fire departments and national blood donation agencies in places where these institutions are weak.
- People are growing increasingly vocal about quality of life issues, like air pollution, the quality of imported medicines, and unfair hospital billing practices.
- I also wanted to share three news sources that I’ve found really useful recently: This Week in Africa, Quartz Africa, and Africapedia. Consistently good writing and interesting stories.