Supporting an Upswing in Africa Through Good Economic Policies


By Antoinette Sayeh

Ensuring that sub-Saharan Africa emerges strongly from global recession will require both a sustained recovery in the global economy and sound domestic policies. The good news is that domestic policies are already supporting economic activity.

Many countries entered the crisis in much better shape than in the past. The region’s fiscal position was on average in balance in 2008, compared with big deficits in past cycles. Debt levels were also much lower than in the early 1990s, supported of course by recent debt relief initiatives. Inflation had been brought under control across most of the region. And, reflecting sounder and more open policies, countries had accumulated much larger buffers of foreign reserves—the median ratio of reserves to GDP was 14 percent last year, compared to about 5 percent in the early 1970s.

Nigerian market: many African economies are in better shape than during previous crises (photo: Reuters)

Nigerian market: many African economies are in better shape than during previous crises (photo: Reuters)

This favorable starting point gave many countries in the region a fair amount of breathing space. They were able to respond to the crisis by allowing fiscal deficits to rise and interest rates to fall, reaping the rewards of previous good policies.  Countries with flexible exchange rates also let them adjust to the changing external environment. Such policy responses helped economies absorb some of the impact of the external shocks. Not all countries were able to take this route, however. Faced with large macroeconomic imbalances that pre-dated the global slowdown, a few countries had to tighten their fiscal or monetary policy stance.

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