Good Luck, Buhari
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Africa’s largest economy still has extraordinary, untapped potential.
In Nigeria, it’s out with the old, in with the older. Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to former Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who was Nigeria’s leader for about 20 months back in the 1980s. Buhari is in many ways a surprising choice for the kinetic country. When he came to power some 30 years ago, it was in a military coup, and he wasn’t so good with the human rights. At one point, he jailed Fela Kuti for what the superstar musician said were trumped-up currency charges.
But the appeal of a disciplinarian military man is perhaps understandable in a nation threatened by a bunch of jihadi terrorists, and putting up a rather effete defense. Nigeria’s failure to quell Boko Haram has even realigned power in the region, as Emily Cadei reported for OZY this week — and, oddly, it’s impoverished, landlocked Chad that’s emerged as the neighborhood’s hegemon. Versed in guerrilla warfare and supported by the West, Chad’s military has made surprising progress against the jhadis. It’s just the latest in a series of military ventures that has extended Chadian influence, and though it’s too early to know whether this will be good or bad in the long term, one thing is clear: There’s little like a terrorist group laying waste to villages and kidnapping schoolgirls to reconfigure power in a region. Read more here.
Buhari will have plenty of other challenges. Nigeria scored a wave of headlines last year when it recalibrated its books and rocketed past South Africa as the continent’s largest economy — but that only underscored what OZY’s Pooja Bhatia called Africa’s big data problem. Official GDP figures for most African countries, even relative powerhouses like Angola, are dramatically understated — literally off base, for they’re measured against baselines so old they’re obsolete. Nigeria was calculating its income against a baseline set in 1990, which meant it undervalued fast-growing sectors like telecom and movies. Read more here.
Besides having accurate books, Nigeria faces the challenge of diversifying its economy, which has depended largely on oil for its blazing rates of growth. As Nathan Siegel wrote last year, Nigeria does have industries other than oil. These include its Nollywood film industry, which admittedly accounts for a smidgen of GDP but is also the country’s second-largest employer. The construction industry is a big player too, of course. In 2013, Dangote Cement, for instance, hiked profits by 30 percent in a market that grew 15 percent that year, and recently opened a $1 billion plant that will surge output by 40 percent. Chairman Aliko Dangote is Africa’s richest man, and there are some legitimate worries about his cozy relationships and predatory ways. Read more here.
The housing situation in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, attests both to Nigeria’s energy and its constraints, Laura Secorun Palet reported earlier this year. In Lagos and its environs, crazy construction projects go up by the week, the airport’s expanding and the cultural scene is taking off. It’s a party city. But that’s only if you can find a place to rest your weary head — for even in a city high on high-rises, the housing stock is seriously stressed. With 21 million people, Lagos is already Africa’s most populous city. Now it’s swelling fast enough that it could be the world’s third-largest megacity by the end of 2015, after Tokyo and Mumbai. Finding a house there is pretty much impossible for low-income earners. Is Lagos too sexy for itself? Read more here.