Africa in the news: Buhari to sign 2016 budget, malaria incidence in Africa down, and Machar returns to South Sudan

Nigerian economy update: President Buhari to sign 2016 budget next week

Nigeria’s political leadership has their work cut out for them as they attempt to address the country’s ongoing economic challenges. In response to the 2014 oil price slump, which put extreme pressures on Nigeria’s currency and foreign-exchange reserves, the Central Bank of Nigeria introduced capital controls in 2015 to defend the naira, stop the erosion of currency reserves, and curb capital flight. These measures included banning the release of foreign exchange for the import of certain items, reducing the amount of dollars available at foreign exchange bureaus, limiting the amount of dollar-denominated transactions Nigerians can make using debit or credit cards, and restricting the amount of dollars that could be withdrawn from ATMs, among other policies.

While aiming to boost local manufacturing and agriculture in the medium- to long-term, these policies had the more immediate effect of blocking the import and purchase of hundreds of items. In turn, since some businesses can no longer import the materials necessary to manufacture their products, they have reduced operations and laid off workers, the Financial Times reported this week. According to another recent article from The Economist, the import bans have also encouraged rampant cross-border smuggling.

It is against this backdrop of economic volatility that the 2016 budget, passed by the National Assembly last month, is expected to be signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in the week ahead (after several delays). One of the ways in which the budget proposes to compensate for lower oil revenues is by increasing tax and customs receipts. However, it remains unclear if, given the slowing of imports and production and Buhari’s continued defense of capital controls, this plan will still be effective.

In other news, at meetings between Buhari and the World Bank in Nigeria this week, Managing Director Sri Mulyani Indrawati offered the World Bank’s support for “a healthy, stronger and transparent budget” in Nigeria and also to “… help Nigeria to make the very important decisions, whether on micro economic policy and other sectoral policy, that will make this economy move forward to become a strong middle income country.”

For more analysis on Nigeria’s budget and how it proposes to address Nigeria’s economic crisis, please see the following piece by AGI Director and Senior Fellow, Amadou Sy: Foresight Africa 2016: President Buhari’s budget sets the right course.

On World Malaria Day, the WHO highlights Africa’s progress to date

Monday, April 25, marked World Malaria Day. For the occasion, the World Health Organization released a new report, Eliminating Malaria, which highlights the progress to date towards eradicating the disease and the remaining challenges to that goal. The African continent has taken great steps towards the eradication of malaria. Since 2000, the malaria mortality rate in the continent has fallen by 66 percent while the malaria mortality rate for children under 5 has fallen by 71 percent. Still the continent continues to be the most affected region in the world. Nine out of 10 malaria deaths occur in Africa, with 35 percent of all malaria deaths in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo alone. In 2015 the WHO adopted the Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030 (GTS), a 15-year blueprint for malaria control and elimination, which, according to WHO estimations, can be achieved through global financing in the amount of 8.7 billion dollars annually by 2030. The report also states that six African countries—Algeria, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Comoros, South Africa, and Swaziland—have the potential to be malaria free by 2020. These estimates are based on (i) the number of indigenous cases of malaria reported, (ii) the declared malaria objectives set by affected countries, and (iii) the informed opinion of WHO experts in the field. Still, despite the progress, 3.2 billion people—nearly half of the world’s population—remain at risk.

Also in honor of World Malaria Day, the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) published its 10th annual report, entitled A Decade of Progress, which highlights the U.S. government’s efforts in eradicating malaria. According to the report, the PMI, which was launched in 2005 by President George W. Bush and extended by President Barack Obama, has provided $4.4 billion in funding toward eradication of malaria. The funds have been directed toward providing 197.8 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets, training 77,000 health workers, and providing other malaria-eradicating services.

After two years, Riek Machar returns to South Sudan to join unity government

After about a week of delays, Riek Machar, former rebel leader in South Sudan’s civil war, returned to Juba on Tuesday, April 26 to form a new coalition government. As part of the peace agreement, Machar took up his former post of first vice president (from which he was fired in August 2013 on claims he was plotting a coup) and took the oath of office almost immediately upon his arrival at the presidential palace. Since December 2013, Machar and President Salva Kiir have opposed each other in a civil war that has taken on ethnic undertones. A peace deal was signed last August, but its implementation has been slow.

The leaders have a long road ahead of them. The war has devastated the young country, with tens of thousands people dead and over 2 million displaced. According to the United Nations, over half the population needs humanitarian assistance. The end of the rainy season will also increase the already-high food insecurity and malnutrition in the country.

In addition, the economy is in tatters. Oil production has been halved, commodity prices have dropped, and the South Sudanese pound has lost almost 90 percent of its value. So far, the government has approached the International Monetary Fund, U.S., U.K., and France, among others, but these donors are wary of their funds being used to fuel corruption and potentially more violence.  According to British Ambassador to South Sudan Tim Morris, for any real support, foreign donors need to see major reforms in how the country’s finances are managed.

The U.N. has highlighted the need for international and regional efforts in supporting peace efforts, urged local leaders to address impunity, and emphasized that without “justice and reconciliation, healing old wounds will not be possible.” Peace remains precarious, according to many experts, due to high levels of mistrust. In fact, many of the recent delays involved how many weapons and soldiers Machar could have available upon arrival. Indeed, lasting peace depends on honest power-sharing, as Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow John Mbaku noted, “So if they continue to fight for power, then nothing is going to change in South Sudan, conditions will continue to deteriorate.”