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Africa, debt relief, international financial institutions, private investment, aid selectivity
Ben Leo is a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD) and a member of the Center’s Advisory Group. He currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Copernicus.io, an Africa data analytics firm. Copernicus is a proprietary geospatial platform that provides reliable and representative data on almost any customizable geographic area across the African continent.
Until October 2016, Leo served as a CGD senior fellow. His research focused on the rapidly changing development finance environment, with a particular emphasis on private capital flows, infrastructure, and debt dynamics. In addition, he tested a range of new technological methods for collecting high-frequency information about citizens’ development priorities. His research has been cited in leading international and regional media outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Financial Times, Forbes, USA Today, Mail and Guardian, CNBC Africa, This Day, and Daily Nation.
Prior to CGD, Leo held a number of senior roles at the White House, US Treasury Department, the ONE Campaign, African Union, and Cisco Systems.
Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) dropped its long awaited Electrify Africa Act of 2015. It's good news for US development, foreign, and commercial policy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas the last Congress was unable to get similar legislation over the finish line, we are hoping that this one will get the job done. There are three key reasons for why this is so important.
President Obama has concluded what may be his last official trip to Africa. While it was relatively brief, with visits to just two countries, the messages delivered were loud and they were powerful. Ben Leo summarizes his key points.
By 2025, the number of IDA client countries will likely shrink substantially and primarily be smaller in size and overwhelmingly African. This working paper predicts how these changes will impact IDA's operational and financial models and recommends the World Bank begin addressing the implications of these developments sooner rather than later.
Jubilee essays by David Roodman and Ben Leo
Working group report: Preventing Odious Obligations
This year marks the 10th anniversary of 2000 Jubilee debt relief movement, in which religious organizations, development NGOs, and policymakers pressed successfully for deeper, faster debt relief for the world's poorest countries. What did the movement achieve? What pitfalls and policy opportunities lie ahead?
CGD fellow David Roodman discusses the beginning of the Jubilee movement. On Wednesday, September 29, 2010, CGD experts were joined by key actors in the movement to assess the legacy of the Jubilee. The event featured presentations by CGD Senior Fellow David Roodman and Todd Moss. The chair of CGD'd board, Ed Scott, and Minister Counselor Lars Petter Henie of Norway provided opening remarks. The morning and afternoon panels were moderated by CGD's Lawrence MacDonald, vice president of communications and policy outreach, and Nancy Birdsall, CGD's president.
The morning panel focused primarily on the evolution of the Jubilee movement and its growing impact in the last decade. CGD fellow David Roodman explains in his essay The Arc of Jubilee that the Jubilee 2000 movement, which called for the cancellation of the foreign debts of the poorest nations, reached its zenith in the late 1990s and 2000—and then, by design, shut down. In the space of a few years, it became one of the most successful international, non-governmental movements in history.
For complete videos, visit the CGD youtube channel.Jamie Drummond on why the Jubilee movement gained support from both secular and religious institutions.Roodman concludes that nongovernmental groups have shown that they can exercise power by educating members of the public and engaging them in the policymaking process. The success of Jubilee 2000 led directly to creation of new, high-profile NGOs in the 2000’s such as DATA and the ONE Campaign (now merged). It advanced an advocacy style that exploits the power of stars such as Bono; uses media old and new with savvy; strikes a strongly centrist stance (in the U.S. context, bipartisan); and subtly melds secular and religious appeals. In particular, Jubilee progeny unlocked more than $50 billion in U.S. government funding for global health in the 2000s, mainly for HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa. This aid flow dwarfs the new funds generated for debt relief. See David's full speech here, view the handout, or read his full paper here.
Masood Ahmed explains the importance of the process of engaging heavily indebted poor countries in the Jubilee movement.In transition between the morning and afternoon panels Masood Ahmed, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF, offered a first-hand perspective of how international financial institutions are approaching the issue of odious debt and what obstacles remain for the process of debt cancellation. Ahmed explained that in the World Bank there was always the sense that debt relief was a "crazy idea". In fact there was never any concern about where the money for debt relief would come from, but rather people within the World Bank were concerned that these efforts had short-term benefits and long-term consequences.
Speaking to these concerns, Todd Moss followed by arguing that the International Monetary Fund is partially at fault due to its proven systematic overestimates of growth for heavily indebted poor countries. Additionally, even as past debt was relieved, the sustainability of low-income countries' debt was eroded by new, even greater official lending—primarily by IFIs. Between 1989 and 2003, new nominal lending to HIPCs was twice as large as the amount of nominal debt relief provided. In the early 2000s, several donor governments, think tanks, and civil society organizations began to realize that the HIPC Initiative did not provide a lasting solution to the problem of unsustainable debt in poor countries.
Todd Moss outlines some of the crucial elements of the evolution of the Jubilee movement.However, despite sound academic support for debt relief, the reality of instituting any kind of debt cancellation policy for the heavily indebted poor countries still remains grounded in a quagmire of bureaucracy both on the scale of governments and international finance institutions. Some members of the afternoon panel raised doubts about whether there was any statistically significant evidence that debt relief was an effective tool for aid of the heavily indebted poor countries.
Clay Lowery discusses the difficulties of instituting policy changes in the face of governmental bureaucratic gridlock.The panel ultimately offered conflicting assessments of how to proceed with the future of the Jubilee movement. Panelist Seema Jayachandran posited that the status quo had to be changed in order to give poor countries better opportunities to avoid the burden of illegitimate lending. The idea of debt relief in itself can be a powerful tool in spurring economic growth for the HIPCs, but it is by no means a sweeping solution regarding the issue of odious debt.
Another approach, set forth in a recent CGD working group report, is to prevent odious debt from forming in the first place. The report, Preventing Odious Obligations: A New Tool for Protecting Citizens from Illegitimate Regimes, proposes an agreement that could declare that successor governments to a (named) illegitimate regime would not be bound by contracts that the illegitimate regime signs after the declaration. Some rogue investors might operate in defiance of the system, but this new approach would still help free successor governments from concerns about repudiating illegitimate contracts.
Attention presidential transition teams: the Rethinking US Development Policy team at the Center for Global Development strongly urges you to include these three big ideas in your first year budget submission to Congress and pursue these three smart reforms during your first year.
My guest on this week’s Global Prosperity Wonkcast is CGD senior fellow and director of the Rethinking US Development Policy program Ben Leo, here to discuss his new CGD working paper, Is Anyone Listening? in which he examines how well US foreign assistance aligns with the priorities of people in recipient countries. Answer: not so much or, as Ben puts it more diplomatically: “the alignment is modest at best.”
President Obama will deliver his 2014 State of the Union speech Tuesday, January 28. We polled CGD experts to find out what they’re hoping to hear when the president addresses Congress and the nation. Check out their oratorical contributions below and read about the development-related decisions and policies they would like to emerge in support of the rhetoric.