Friday, April 11, 2014

The Rebasing Saga

 I posted this on my Facebook page two nights ago:

“Education is a disgrace: according to the World Economic Forum,” the country “ranks 132nd out of 144 countries for its primary education and 143rd in science and maths. The unemployment rate, officially 25%, is probably nearer 40%; half of” its nationals “under 24 looking for work have none. Of those who have jobs, a third earn less than $2 a day. Inequality has grown…and the gap between rich and poor is now among the world’s largest” …The ruling party “has sought to undermine the independence of courts, the police, the prosecuting authorities and the press. It has conflated the interests of party and state, dishing out contracts for public works as rewards for loyalty…This has reduced economic competitiveness and bolstered a fabulously rich…elite. As a result too little wealth trickles down…Young people who fail to find work by the age of 24 will probably never have a full-time formal job…Because the stakes are so high, competition for power is bitter and sometimes bloody, particularly at the local level”… The ruling party “has more money than any other party. It can afford to go to townships days before elections and hand out food parcels.”

“This is an excerpt from a report by The Economist from two years back. Can you guess what country it is about?

This report actually refers to South Africa. It was published in The Economist (October 20th – 26th 2012) highlighting South Africa’s decline. According to the report, “…South Africa, though still a treasure trove of minerals with the most sophisticated economy on the continent, is on the slide both economically and politically. By some calculations Nigeria’s economy, messy as it is, will overtake it within a few years.”

It seems that both South Africa and Nigeria have their challenges as well as their strengths. What is fascinating is how so many of us, both Naija-pessimists and Naija-optimists alike (including people I met personally), assumed that the report was referring to Nigeria. One overwrought respondent even scolded me for “always finding fault” with Nigeria – a strange assertion since he was the one who was willing to believe entirely without proof that the report applied to his country.  

Is it the case that we are too willing to believe the worst about our country; that we have come to believe that any set of negative statistics is applicable to Nigeria? Has our pessimism become so ultimately chronic and self-defeating that positive news about Nigeria is no longer intelligible to us?  

The rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP which has provoked so much needless disputation is essentially a statistical adjustment factoring in dimensions of her economic life that were previously not included in the measurements of her economic progress. It is a statistical reboot not an economic miracle. It is quite similar to a man who decides to revalue his assets or to recalculate his worth factoring in assets that were not included in previous valuations. His worth will rise but that does not mean that he has a greater quantity of raw cash at his disposal. So, the arguments about how an increased GDP puts money in our individual pockets, while understandable, miss the point.

In summary, the rebasing of the GDP is a good thing; it is not a bad thing. It is an economic map that profiles our strengths and weaknesses and is therefore a valuable tool for data-driven economic planning. It isn’t something for which we should break out champagne and caviar; but in no way does it call for sackcloth and ashes. There is neither need for triumphalism nor negativism. It just puts our economic progress in perspective. What matters is how we respond to this new data; whether we rest on our oars in a self-satisfied stupour or consolidate on it and strike out boldly to enhance our strengths and remedy our weaknesses. There is much work to be done.

A nation is always more than one story; it is a multitude of narratives. This is more so when dealing with a population of over a 100 million people, with diversities, frictions and fault lines of race, religion, ethnicity or culture. India, for example, is one of the emerging market success stories of the past decade but is also dealing with multiple insurgencies and security threats including those posed by Hindu extremists, Jihadists and Maoist guerillas.

The United States has about five percent of the world’s population and has 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Its criminal justice and penitentiary system disproportionately “targets” African-Americans and Hispanics. Yet for all of this it calls itself “the land of the free.” We will find similar contradictions in Brazil, China, Indonesia and Malaysia; in short in any country that is growing with the burden of managing the aspirations of millions.

Nigeria’s most readily recognizable narrative is of a place rife with corruption, poverty and violence but there is also growth and opportunity. Being cognizant of the former need not blind us to the latter. Remember, a nation is always more than one story. There is more to this country at this moment than Boko Haram or corrupt politicians; there are also millions of people who are creating, inventing, teaching, peacemaking, trading, curing, innovating; and addressing our challenges in a variety of ways. They too are Nigerians even though their feats rarely make the daily headlines.

The history of a nation is not the history of its government alone; it is also of its people. And more than anything else, it is the exertions of Nigerians since 1990 that have altered the face of the Nigerian economy. It is the exertions of Nigerians that will continue to propel our progress not only in economics but also in our politics. 

(All images sourced online) 

No comments:

Post a Comment