Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rocking Africa's boat

While the government sometimes seems impotent within Nigeria's borders, it's actions have real effects beyond its borders.

Big fish (or shark) in a small pond
HUGE jars of iridescent yellow liquid glow on almost every street corner in Cotonou, the commercial capital of Benin. Taxi drivers pull over to fill up their cars using a hose and funnel. Proper petrol stations, by contrast, stand empty. “It’s cheaper this way,” explains a taxi driver, as he tanks up using the unofficial method.

The origins of this black market lie less than an hour’s drive away, across Benin’s eastern border, in Nigeria, where imported fuel is sold at subsidised rates and the price paid by drivers is capped, thus generating a massive trade in illicit petrol. Known in Benin as kpayo, it is a third cheaper than the legal stuff; 80% of the petrol in Benin’s cars is said to have been smuggled in. Of the 2m or so barrels of oil pumped out of wells in Nigeria each day, as many as 400,000 are reckoned to be stolen, often with the connivance of politicians…

Ghana is another country in the region that has been hurt by Nigeria’s shortcomings—in the supply of gas. Nigeria has consistently failed to fulfill a contract to supply its neighbour with 120m cubic feet a day. In fact, it has recently been providing as little as half that amount, causing Ghana to fall short by as much as a third of peak demand for electricity every day.

Fuel-smuggling and gas hold-ups are not the only way in which Nigeria affects its region. Since its population, of 170m or so, and its economy are both by far the biggest in Africa, it has a huge influence in almost all spheres. Some of it is beneficial. With annual growth of over 6% in the past decade, it lifts the economy of the entire region…

Yet Nigeria is also an exporter of insecurity, much of which can be traced to dizzying levels of corruption and political inertia. “Corruption is so pervasive in Nigeria,” said a report in 2011 by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog, that “it has turned public service…into a kind of criminal enterprise”—with spillover effects across the region.

The inability of Nigeria’s army to defeat or even contain Boko Haram, a violent Islamist group that has been trying to set up a caliphate from its base in the north-east, has also hurt the region, by letting the rebellion seep into Chad, Niger and Cameroon. This, too, is partly down to corruption…

Nigeria also hurts the region with its protectionist trade policy. It bans the import of hundreds of goods, from cement to noodles. Yet Nigeria has failed to industrialise. The biggest beneficiaries may well be businessmen (often politicians) with ties to government. With friends in the right places, Nigerian supermarkets and posh shops can stock up with prohibited imports such as exotic beer and shoes…

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