Somali – The Ancient Lost Kingdom of Punt

Somali, well known as the ‘Land of Punt’ or the land of the gods by ancient Egyptians, is a country situated on the Horn of Africa, which lies along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Just across the Gulf of Aden is Saba the land of legendary, eloquent politician and expert theologian Queen of Sheba, who paid a visit to the wise king Solomon to quench her thirst for knowledge.

After Somali gained its independence from Britain in 1960, the country only enjoyed 9 years of parliamentary democracy until 1969, when the military led by Mohamed Siyad Barre overthrew the incipient civilian government in a bloodless coup. After more than two decades, Barre government was late ousted from power by a conglomeration of various clan-based rebel groups in 1991.Late in 2000 after twelve failed attempts to organize a central government, the government of Somali was formed though it is still facing challenges from Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab insurgents.

With a population of 15 million of which 70% is under 30, an unemployment rate of 14% and a GDP of $7.48 billion, Somali is ranked as the most corrupt country in world by transparency international and is ranked 190 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business. It is classified as a debt distress country with external debt estimate of 77% of 2017 GDP. Its economy is mainly dependent on international Aid, remittances, foreign direct investment and grants which represent more than a quarter of the country’s GDP as a sources of revenue.

The country’s main economic activity is livestock which contribute three-fifths to the economy. As a result its major exports are led by sheep and Goats representing 44.4% of the total exports, followed by Bovine which accounted for 22.1%.Its main imports are Raw Sugar which represent 11.8% of the total imports, followed by Rice, which account for 7.41%. Its major export destinations are Oman, China, Japan, France and Bulgaria and its top import origins are China, India, Oman, Kenya and Turkey.

On the Neil Economic scale, the price of a can of coke in Somalia is 342.20 (SOS) Somali Shillings (R8.67) and the price of a litre of petrol is 493(SOS) Somali Shillings (R12.51). The annual rate of inflation of the country is estimated at 4.5% as at October 2019.

Despite its economy being driven by agriculture; livestock raising and the services sector, the country is reported to hold large, untapped reserves of numerous natural resources such as iron ore, uranium, copper, tin, bauxite, gypsum, salt, and natural gas. According to Sophy Owuor (2019) Somali holds a huge potential of oil reserve because of its proximity to the Gulf of Arab states such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The country is also believed to have one of the largest gypsum reserves in the world. In 1960s Somali Uranium reserves were one of the largest in the world and was estimated to be 25% of worlds known reserves. It also had a biggest salt factory in the world which was later destroyed by fire during the British conquest of Italian East Africa. This sector has failed to develop mainly due to the country’s high political instability and poor infrastructure.

Somalia has the potential to be a regional economic hub due to its strategic geographic location and having the longest coastline in Africa. Its key opportunities growths include a vibrant private sector; a diaspora willing to invest in the country; regional integration; import substitution and export promotion; nascent agricultural, agribusiness, and fishing industries, and a young population (AEO 2019).

Gabon – Home of the Free City

With approximately 85 percent of its total land being covered by rain-forests, Gabon, a Country in Central Africa is strategically nestled on the Gulf of Guinea. It’s home to 80 percent of Africa’s gorilla population; 50 percent of all remaining forest elephants in Africa; and thousands of species of birds, reptiles, mammals and plants that you can’t find elsewhere, indeed Gabon heavily endowed with unique flora and fauna. It’s Capital City Libreville, also known as ‘free city’ was the landing place for a ship of freed slaves in the 1800s. It was later in 1849 declared the city for the freed slaves.

Bordered by Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and The Republic of Congo, there is not much known about Gabon prior to European contact in the late 15th century, and this gives the country and air of mystery. Gabon is known for its beautiful and untouched beaches, which only adds to this fact. The 885 kilometres of Atlantic coastline are truly a sight to behold.

Gabon has a population of 2.1 million, with 86 % of Gabonese living in urban areas, it has one of the lowest population densities in Africa. It has unemployment rate of 19.5%, a risk rating of B and classified as an upper-middle-income country by the World Bank.

Gabon economic growth for past five years has mainly been driven by its heavy production of oil and manganese. It’s the Third largest producer of manganese in the world and the fifth largest oil producer in Africa. The oil sector accounted for 80% of exports, 45 % of GDP and 60% of fiscal revenue on average for the past five years (World Bank 2019). It’s also one of the largest exporters of raw wood in Africa and one of the world’s top 10 producers. Gabon’s cash crops are palm oil, cocoa, coffee, and sugar. They are also major exporters of timber. Its major imports are machinery (14% of total imports), boats (14%), electrical machinery (11%), and Poultry meat (6%) (ITC, 2017).

In 2018 Gabon’s GDP growth reached an estimated 2.0%, up from 0.5% in 2017 with a figure of $17.02 billion (IMF). Industry sector accounted for 45.47%, followed by Service Sector 42.65 %, Manufacturing 17.62% and Agriculture 5.27%. Gabon’s GDP per capita income is over four times that of most sub-Saharan African countries, making it one of the highest in the region. In the quest of diversifying its economy, the government has promoted the local processing of timber, palm oil, and manganese which has resulted in the growth of manufacturing sector, contributing 17.62 % to GDP in 2018 compared with 6% in 2012

Its public debt decreased to 58.4% GDP in 2018 from 62.7% GDP in 2017 mainly due to rapidly increasing of large investments, however, its high proportion of external debt is denominated in foreign currencies which remains a source of concern. Fiscal deficit improved from 3.6% in 2017 to an estimated 0.3% in 2018, largely through fiscal consolidation (AFDB)

On the Neil Economic Scale, the price of a can of Coke in Gabon is 400 XAF (Central African Franc) (R9.96) and the price of a liter of petrol is 693 XAF (R17.29). Inflation rate in Gabon is 2.8%.

For over 50 years Gabon had never experience a coup attempt until January the 7th 2019, when the military tried to overthrow the current President, Ali Bongo Ondimba. Bongo came in power in 2009, after the death of his father Omar Bongo who held the presidency for 41 years. The coup, however, was unsuccessful.

Gabon is currently facing serious challenges; Low reserves, low economic activity, infrastructure impediments, a small and vulnerable banking sector, and insufficient protection of vulnerable groups. However, In the context of the three-year extended arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility signed with the IMF in 2017, the government’s priorities for 2019 remain fiscal consolidation and structural reforms (Societe Generale,2019).

Equatorial Guinea – Goliath of Africa

In 1968 Equatorial Guinea claimed independence from Spain making it the youngest Spanish colony in Africa and the only Spanish speaking country in African apart from the tiny Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla which sit on the northern shores of Morocco’s Mediterranean coast. The country’s current capital city, Malabo, is the only capital city in the world by a non-island nation not to be located on its mainland but on a tiny Bioko island.

With a population of 1.3 million, Equatorial Guinea is a high-income country in the West African territory which is comprised of, Río Muni (also known as Continental Equatorial Guinea) and five islands (collectively known as insular Equatorial Guinea). Just a few years before its independence the country’s exports per capita were the highest in Africa. In addition, the country was the 5th largest producer of cocoa on the continent despite its size compared to its neighbouring rivals: Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest producer of oil in Sub-Sahara Africa after Nigeria and Angola. The country is also rich in mineral resources like gold, oil, uranium, diamond, columbite-tantalite and petroleum which were discovered in the 1990s.

The first President of Equatorial Guinea, was Francisco Macias Nguema who after winning the election in 1971 pushed through a constitution that names him a president for life. However,8 years later, his nephew, Lieut. Col Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo who was the minister of defence led a military coup that overthrew him in 1979.  40 years later, Teodoro Obiang Nguema is still the president of Equatorial Guinea making him the longest current serving non-royal President in Africa, perhaps living the dream of his uncle. In 2009 he won the elections with over 95 percent of the vote and in 2016 he appointed his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, as the Vice President.

The economy is heavily dependent on hydrocarbons to which in 2017 accounted for 56% of GDP, 95% of exports and 80% of fiscal revenue. However, in 2018 the economy contracted by 5.8 % due to the reduction in hydrocarbons exports. Its banking sector nonperforming loans stood at about 32 percent of total loans in 2018 and government domestic arrears at 17 % of GDP in 2018. (World Bank, 2019). These have affected economic activity and government ability to use debt finance to support its growth. The GDP as of 2018 was $13.32 billion with industry contributing 56.4% followed by the service sector at 40.5%, manufacturing at 25.39% and Agriculture 2.34%.

On the Neil Economic scale, the price of a can of Coke costs 875 CFA (R21.89) and the price of a liter of petrol is 648 CFA (R16.25). Inflation is standing at 0.7% and the unemployment rate at 7.6 %.

Equatorial Guinea was one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and also the first to graduate from the Least Developed Country category, however, the economy has been experiencing recession for four consecutive years now with a decline of -5.6% in 5 years annual growth. The economy is expected to remain in recession in the medium-term as an investment in major hydrocarbon projects remains uncertain. (World Bank 2019). Like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea suffers from the “curse of natural wealth”. Despite it being a mineral-rich country and one of the few countries in Africa to have a balance of payment surplus and a handsome per capita income, most of its wealth goes to private pockets of the few ruling elites yet a majority of its citizens survive on less than a dollar a day making the country one of the living Goliath paradox of Africa.

Comoros Islands – Africa’s Perfumed Islands

Comoros Islands, also known as the “perfumed islands” as they are the world’s largest producer of Ylang-Ylang, which is valued for the perfume extracted from its flowers and its oil used as a base oil for perfumes. Comoros is a volcanic archipelago off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean, north of the Mozambique Channel, 350 km northwest of Madagascar and 250 km from the coast of Mozambique. Named after the Arabic word for ‘moon’ Qamar it comprises of four volcanic islands:  Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani) and Moheli (Mwali) which form the union of Comoros and the fourth Island Mayotte, which is under French administration.

Comoros has an estimated population of 850,886 of which 60% of the country’s population is under the age of 25 years. Since its independence from France in 1975, the country has experienced more than 20 successful and attempted coups d’états with the most recent in 2013, mainly due to the power struggle among the three Islands. The first-ever democratic transition of power took place in 2006 in which the agreement was also established that the presidential election will be held every after 5 years with the presidency rotating among the three islands.

Comoros economy is still undiversified, with Service and Agriculture sectors being the major drivers of the economy. In 2018, the country GDP was estimated at $1.2 billion (World Bank) of which the highest contributor with 56.3 percent was the service sector followed by the agriculture sector with 31.6 percent. Its primary agriculture produce is Vanilla, cloves, Ylang-ylang, coconuts, bananas, and cassava which are also its main exports. Despite, the economic activity is centred on agriculture, the country still imports 70 percent of its food products like meat, flour, sugar, fish and dairy products from its main trade partners; the United Arab Emirates and European Union. Furthermore, the Comoros agriculture sector employs 80 percent of the Comorians which has resulted in a shortage of habitable land in the country.

A story is told that King Solomon left his ring in a crater and some spirits stole it. In anger, the King swore that every day, every month and every year, there would always be eruptions in the land. On the Neil Economic scale, the price of a can of Coke costs 275 Comorian Franc (KMF) (R9) and the price of a liter of petrol is 493 Comorian Franc (KMF) (R16.16). Inflation in the country is around 1.75%.

Comoros is heavily dependent on donors and development partners with budget deficits averaging 2.1 percent of GDP and public debt standing at 28.4 percent of GDP. The Foreign Direct inflow is at $8.6 million with inflation at 1.0 percent and unemployment levels at 4.3 percent. In the last 15 years, net official development assistance averaged about 10 percent of GDP. Comoros business environment is affected mainly by lack of Infrastructure in tourism, transport and energy sector which has also affected trade among the island.

The country primary objective is an economy that is more diversified and resilient to external shocks and job-creating. Through the adoption of a new Constitution built on the autonomy of the islands and the rotating presidency among the three islands, the country has returned to relative political stability.

Although the history of this nation is one of severe instability from a political and natural point of view, one does hope that with the agricultural wealth and determination of the people, this country can rise to sustained stability and grow to be Africa’s Perfumed Nation.