April 17, 2012 12:12 pm

Q&A: Twelve days in west Africa

Lionel Barber answers readers’ questions on the future of west Africa
A view of Falomo Roundabout in Lagos, Nigeria©Jane Hahn

A view of Falomo Roundabout in Lagos, Nigeria

Lionel Barber, editor of the FT, recently returned from a 12-day trip to west Africa, and has written an account of his visit here. Here are Lionel’s answers to readers’ questions about his trip.

Atueyi Giniz via Facebook: What do you think about the future of Nigeria’s economy? And I’d like to know what you found truly disturbing about these west African countries.

Lionel Barber: Please read the rest of my travelogue for my view on the future of Nigeria’s economy and the region of west Africa. I am guardedly optimistic because of the transformative power of technology and the increasing role of the private sector as an agent of positive change. Foreign investment is also helping. I did not find much that was “truly disturbing” about Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone, though I worry about growing populations and a high number of youths without a job.

[The following question was submitted before the decision yesterday to choose Jim Yong Kim of the US as the next president of the World Bank]

Motto Lenghi via Facebook: What do you think the chances are of Nigeria’s finance minister becoming World Bank president?

LB: Slim at best. The US has the votes and is putting very heavy pressure on countries to support their American candidate. Pity. Ngozi is a very credible candidate.

Graham Sinclair via FT.com: How does Nigeria interpret the competition for trade and for investment from Brics countries?

LB: Nigeria is forging cultural, trade and investment links with Brazil. It is wary of China and does not appear to do much with Russia. Investment in the oil and gas sector is very important and Nigeria has plenty of both. I heard interesting plans for power liberalisation and will watch carefully to see if the Brics countries get involved.

An okada (motorbike taxi) in traffic in Lagos©Jane Hahn

An okada (motorbike taxi) moves through traffic in Lagos

Southern highlander via FT.com: There have been recent gas and oil discoveries in eastern Africa. Have the eastern African countries learnt from the problems Nigeria has in managing its resources?

LB: I will have to revisit east Africa to give you an intelligent answer. Nigeria is certainly a case study in how to manage and mismanage natural resources. But remember: the federal system, the north-south divide and the ethnic mix make the politics of Nigeria very complicated. East African countries do not suffer from the same problems and are smaller.

Richard Hotchkis via FT.com: Was your impression that Nigeria is two steps forward, one step back, or is it one step forward, one step back?

LB: One-and-a-half steps forward, three quarters back. So I’m guardedly, very guardedly, optimistic.

People waiting to board public buses in Oshodi, Lagos©Jane Hahn

People wait in line to board public buses in Oshodi, Lagos

ok1985 via FT.com: In light of the so-called Arab Spring and uprisings in similar commodity-driven “one leader” states where distribution of wealth has been for the minority, what are west African leaders doing about food security/energy security/inflation? I would be interested to know if west Africa is still pitching agri investment to Gulf SWF [sovereign wealth funds].

LB: Not enough is the short answer. I did not come across the agri investment/Gulf play, but I may have been talking to the wrong people. But food security is a huge issue in west Africa. I was impressed that, finally, the private sector (and the government in Abuja) is trying to push through reform and deal with the critical power supply problem. Same in Ghana. But it is happening too slowly. West Africa really should be able to feed itself.

David F via FT.com: What about a piece on the threats to shipping on [Nigeria’s] west coast? Do the international laws on maritime defence and trade need to be changed?

LB: I will think about this on my next assignment – and our Lagos correspondent will consider your suggestion.

Read the first three instalments of Lionel Barber’s report from west Africa at www.ft.com/magazine

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