What Is Africa Worth?

What Is Africa Worth?

Why you should care

Officials say the economic toll of Ebola will be less than anticipated. But are we counting the right way? 

In October, the World Bank warned that Ebola could cause $32.6 billion in economic losses in West Africa. Earlier this month, a Bank official revised that estimate downward to more like $3 billion to $4 billion, according to Reuters. But amid all the projections, it’s worth examining how we understood Africa’s economic value before the Ebola crisis:

In Uncooking Africa’s Books, Pooja Bhatia describes Africa’s big data problem: Official GDP figures for most African countries are dramatically understated — literally off base, for they’re measured against baselines so old they’re obsolete. Before it revamped its national accounting this spring and saw its GDP nearly double overnight, Nigeria was calculating its income against a baseline set in 1990. And that’s just the half of it. World Bank data indicate African countries have the weakest overall statistical capacity in the world. The stakes of “Africa’s statistical tragedy” are quite serious. We don’t really know continental vaccination rates or how many kids go to school in, say, Rwanda. Most important, we don’t know whether the approximately $150 billion spent annually in development aid is actually helping. These stakes will shift as aid-dependent countries transition to emerging markets, experts say. Read more here.

In Ian Khama and Placing a Value on Nature, Laurene Powell Jobs describes how the president of Botswana is “spearheading an international effort focused on the value of natural capital to long-term development in Africa and across the globe.” That means, in a phrase, “natural capital accounting,” which “involves developing green GDP indicators that take into account the economic value of natural resources, biodiversity and other natural goods and services, like soil fertilization and fresh water.” Monetizing forests, wildlife and soil quality isn’t just about accuracy, Powell Jobs writes: “What leaders in Africa and elsewhere are attempting is nothing less than the first step toward ensuring that natural ecosystems go from being ‘worthless’ to being ‘priceless’ or priced.” Read more here.

To get there, many African countries need some basic information first — and they don’t have it, writes Jacob Kushner in The Map That Could Save Africa a Trillion Dollars. Often, African governments don’t know the value of the natural resources underground, but mining companies from the West — and, increasingly, China — do. That knowledge asymmetry has cost African countries and their citizens as much as $1.4 trillion over the past 30 years. But a more level playing field may be in sight, thanks to a World Bank initiative that aims to compile Africa’s mineral maps into a single public database: the so-called Billion Dollar Map. The goal is to give African nations as much information as possible about their natural resources so that they can earn a fair price for the minerals they sell, World Bank officials say. Read more here.

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