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Sub Saharan resource based economies in trouble - IMF

Publishing Date : 28 October, 2019

Author : ALFRED MASOKOLA

Sub Saharan countries which have their economies pivoted and anchored on resource intensive revenue streams - predominately those with undiversified profiles will be negatively affected by the current slow growth experienced in the world economic space.


This is according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Sub Saharan Africa Regional Economic Outlook report released this week. The outlook states that growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to remain at 3.2 percent in 2019 and rise to 3.6 percent in 2020.IMF Africa Director Abebe Aemro Selassie says the expected recovery, however, is at a slower pace than previously envisaged for about two-thirds of the countries in the region, partly due to a challenging external environment on the global economic sphere.


Growth is projected to remain strong in non-resource-intensive countries, averaging about 6 percent. “As a result, 24 countries, home to about 500 million people, will see their per capita income rise faster than the rest of the world,” he said when deliberating on the outlook on Monday. In contrast, growth is expected to move in slow gear in resource-intensive countries reaching low levels of 2.5 %. Mirroring 21 countries will have per capita growth lower than the world average by 0.5 %.


Sub Saharan African countries with resource intensive economies are anticipated to receive a hard hit from subdued activity in the global manufacturing sector which is currently negatively affected by trade wars and geo-political tensions. About 21 countries in Sub Saharan African region have their economies depend on natural resource such as oil, mineral revenue; etc.


In the case of Botswana which largely depends on mineral revenue, in the main diamond industry, growth is expected to be shaken by the current depression in the global diamond market where there is lack of appetite by manufactures for new stones. On Inflation IMF says figures are expected to go ease going forward. While the average sub-Saharan African-wide debt burden is stabilizing, elevated public debt vulnerabilities and low external buffers will continue to limit policy space in several countries.


IMF Africa says the regional outlook faces further downside risks. Abebe Aemro Selassie underscored that  external headwinds have intensified compared to April ,explaining that this  include the threat of rising protectionism, a sharp increase in risk premiums or reversal in capital inflows owing to tightening global financial conditions, and a faster-than-anticipated slowdown in China and in the euro area.


For Sub Saharan Africa near-term downside risks include climate shocks, intensification of security challenges, and the potential spread of the Ebola outbreak beyond the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, fiscal slippages, including those ahead of elections in some countries, and a lack of reform in key countries could add to deficit and debt pressures.


The International Monetary Fund says over the medium term, a successful implementation of structural reforms, including in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), could pose significant upside risks. “Reducing risks and promoting sustained and inclusive growth across all countries in the region requires carefully calibrating the near-term policy mix, building resilience, and raising medium-term growth,” advised IMF Africa Director Abebe Aemro Selassie.


The Sub Saharan Regional Economic outlook suggests that for African economies to realize significant growth amid external shocks a three-pronged strategy that reduces risks and promotes sustained growth across all countries has to be put in place. The IMF says this will require carefully calibrating the near-term policy mix considering the fact that amid limited buffers and elevated debt vulnerabilities in some countries, policymakers have limited room for maneuver to counter external headwinds.


“The room for supporting growth remains mainly on the monetary policy side and is restricted to countries where inflation pressures are muted and growth is below potential,” observed Abebe Aemro Selassie. The IMF Africa department Head further observed that in the event downside risks materialize, fiscal and monetary policy could be carefully recalibrated to support growth, in a manner consistent with debt sustainability and available financing, and as part of a credible medium-term adjustment plan.


Selassie notes that in countries that are growing slowly, the pace of adjustment could be made more gradual, provided financing is available, or its composition fine-tuned to minimize the impact on growth. “In fast-growing countries that are facing elevated debt vulnerabilities, the priority remains rebuilding buffers,” he said. The IMF also recommends that Sub Saharan countries build resilience in their structural reforms. The Global think tank is of the view that this would help the region sustain longer episodes of strong growth.


“Building resilience, to weather-related, health, and security challenges, would require mobilizing domestic revenue, streamlining inefficient subsidies, and improving public financial management to strengthen sovereign balance sheets and create fiscal space for development needs.” It is further noted that promoting economic diversification, improving macroeconomic policy frameworks, and reducing nonperforming loans (NPLs) would also reduce countries’ vulnerability to shocks.


In raising medium-term growth the Outlook observes that raising per capita growth rates, especially for resource-intensive countries, is essential to sustain improved social outcomes and create jobs for the 20 million new entrants poised to join labor markets every year. “Comprehensively tackling tariff and nontariff barriers in the context of the AfCFTA, developing regional value chains, and implementing reforms to boost investment and competitiveness could lift the region’s medium-term growth” recommends the report.


The IMF Africa department also observed in the outlook that most of Sub Saharan African countries are not competitive when comes to being investment destinations, when compared to most parts of the world. The outlook states that although there is considerable heterogeneity across countries, more than 70 percent of the countries in the region are in the bottom half of countries globally in terms of competition indicators.
“Firm markups are about 11 percent higher in sub-Saharan African countries relative to other emerging market economies and developing countries and are more persistent” says IMF.
The regional outlook further observes that state-owned firms in the region are also more prevalent. Abebe Aemro Selassie says it is research proven  that increased competition can boost real per capita GDP growth rate by about 1 percentage point through improved export competitiveness, productivity growth, and investment.
The IMF also says domestic arrears in Sub Saharan Africa have been pervasive in many countries, reflecting weak public financial management. Furthermore, arrears have increased in recent years to about 3.3 percent of GDP in 2018, following the 2014 commodity price shock. However, despite the prevalence of arrears, the report says their causes, effects, and consequences are not well understood.
The IMF study has found that domestic arrears negatively impact private sector activity and the delivery of social services while increasing banking sector vulnerabilities and undermining citizens’ trust in the government. “Arrears also weaken the ability of fiscal policy to support growth, casting doubt on the merit of relying on arrears financing to avoid spending cuts.”

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