They were emerging in the 70’s! Where are they now? A case study of the big four of the French Francophone Africa (Ivory- Coast Senegal-Cameroon-Gabon?)


The African continent since almost a decade is changing its economic dynamic. Its nations are indeed widely at the top in rankings of high growth rates. In addition, African economies have been able to withstand the great recession of 2008. As culmination of this achievement, South -Africa has been admitted within the BRIC, group of emerging countries that are the Brazil – Russia the India – the China.
Africa also has its own “photo-album” of economic emergence and it contains leading countries/nations like Nigeria; Angola; Botswana; Tunisia; Mauritius and Egypt. Recently new nations such as Burkina-Faso, Ghana, the Cape Verde, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia who are serious candidates for emergence to be added to the list. If these countries receive so much praise, what about the old glories of the economy of francophone Africa (Cameroon; Ivory Coast; Senegal and Gabon) what are they becoming and how are they doing?
This analysis tries to present the economic growth of these four countries between 1970 and 2010. To assess the evolution of these economies, we define an index called “net growth gain” which is the number of years where the growth rate is positive minus the number of years where the growth rate is negative . We take into account the annual growth rate of GDP per capita over the period considered. The number of years when a country is in a recession is also taken into account. We will qualify a “recession” when annual per capita GDP growth rate is negative.

The 1970s
Ten years after independence, Senegal is looking its marks. Throughout this period, this country had five years where the annual GDP growth rate has declined (negative) and 6 years of periods where it has been positive, indirectly revealing the instability of economic growth in the 1970s. During the same period, oil was discovered in Cameroon towards the end of the 70s. The country must however wait for 5 years to see the effects of oil on economic growth. The oil producers from the list (Gabon and Cameroon) share the middle of the ranking with a net growth of +7. These growth gains are confirmed by high rates of GDP per capita for the two countries. Gabon is on the top with 6.5% followed by Cameroon with 3.49%. The case of Cote d’Ivoire is a little perplexed. This country has a net growth of + 9, however when we consider the average rate of growth of GDP per capita, Cote d’Ivoire can only harvest 1.23%! When we takes into account the number of recessions (number of times or per capita GDP is negative), Cameroon with only 2 “recessions” the most stable economy of the group. Gabon (4 recessions) has experienced large positive increases in GDP, which were wiped out. It is by far the most powerful economy. Our table data provides a modest 3rd place for Cote d’Ivoire where the footprints of the so-called “Ivorian miracle” are hardly seen. Senegal is at the bottom of the ranking where it collects not only the highest number of recessions, but also the lowest average growth rate.
The 1980s
This period reveals the economic crisis of the African countries south of the Sahara. Economic growth rates almost everywhere landed in the negative zone. The deterioration of the terms of trade and the poor global economic conditions associated with the inefficiency of national economic policies were the main causes of the breakup.
The average in growth rate was -1.1, whereas for the preceding decade it was 2. Cote d’Ivoire and Gabon are in the red zone with respectively with – 4.5 and – 0.73. These strong outward-oriented economies suffer the consequences of the decline in the prices of export products. Senegal with an average growth rate of – 0.87 has succeeded in reducing his economic woes without being able to get out of the red zone. Cameroon was the only country in the list to limit the damage with a positive growth (1.76) which is above average growth rate (-1.08). Taking into account the number of recession, it is clear that Cote d’Ivoire with 10 years of negative growth out off 11 was the most affected country. Cote d’Ivoire could just reach a + 1 in net growth for the 1980s, while starting from + 9 of net growth in the 1970s. During the same period in Senegal, the economy is showing signs of improvement. From + 1 in the 1970s the country gets + 3 in favor of growth in the 1980s. It is the only country to increase its average grow rate.
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The 1990s
The general bleeding continues until 1994 where by mutual agreement with international institutions, the CFA Franc will be devalued. This devaluation will stop for a time little the railing of the economies of Cote d’Ivoire; Gabon; and Senegal. Cote d’Ivoire is still in the negative zone with average rate-0.93. Gabon increased its average rate of growth to 0.3 Senegal confirms what I already expected from the data in the 1980s. This country is the “rising star” of the group. In term net growth, it has increased from + 3 in the 80’s to + 7 in the 90s. For the first time after a period of 20 years Senegal managed to stabilize its economy. Cameroon is the biggest loser of the 90s. Accustomed to the first places, this country reached an average growth rate of-2. Over a period of 20 years, its net growth remained frozen to + 2. The devaluation indeed has slightly reduced the number of recessions over the past decade.

The new Millennium
Ten years after the new millennium, the dynamics of the Group of four has slightly changed. Senegal is leading of the group with an average growth rate of GDP per head of 1.23 between 2000 and 2010. Cameroon with 0.66 returned in the positive area after the “Lost Decade of the 1990s”. Gabon failed to maintain its positive growth rate of the last decade and returned in the negative zone with – 0.28. Despite these mixed results, Senegal – Gabon – Cameroon have all improved their net gain growth a + 6. The case of Cote d’Ivoire is pathetic! Its gain in growth is negative (-2). It is in fact for the first time in 40 years that a country of the list knows such a result. The political instability of the past ten years has relegated Cote d’Ivoire at the last place in the group. In 2002 a civil war erupted and divided the country, lowering then economic growth. In 20

What can we learn from this analysis?
1. Senegal is the emerging economy of the group. From the last place in the period of the 1980s, the country has improved its position to be at first place in the last decade (00-10).
2. Cameroon is the most stable country in terms of “recession”. Its average rate of recession (3.5) is the lowest, besides the economy comes to the 2nd position of the Group[2].
3. When one considers the overall period of our analysis, Gabon is on top of the ranking. If instead we consider the period between 2000 and 2010, Gabon appears to be losing some momentum.
4. Cote d’Ivoire! Francis Konan “cries O beloved country”. The economy of Cote d’Ivoire is the more unstable with the average rate of 7.5 recessions( the highest of the group). This economy in perpetual turbulence (economic crises of the 1980s, devaluation of the 1990s and the last decade armed conflicts) may only explain why the country is as the last position of the group.

Francis Konan
Economist, a graduate of the University of Economics and management of Vienna (Austria), a graduate of the Institute of studies advances Vienna (Austria), a graduate of the Faculty of Economics & management of the University of Abidjan (Cocody).

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[1] Earthtrends data.
[2] In some analyses (Radelet works on 17 emerging countries in Africa South of Sahara) Cameroon is the 2nd place after Senegal over the period 1996-2008.

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