By: OBADIAH MAILAFIA
The British economist and banker, Jim O’Neill, has been at it again. He recently coined the acronym MINT to refer to the second-eleven emerging economies of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. The former Goldman Sachs Chief Economist believes these countries have the strongest prospects of joining the ranks of the emerging world economic powers, following on the heels of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS). O’Neill identifies the MINT as “the growth markets” within the overall BRICS grouping. The latter was coined by him as far back as 2001; becoming the rallying point of an economic grouping that is now an important player in international economic relations.
No group of countries could be more diverse from the viewpoint of history, culture and geopolitics. And yet they share some commonality in terms of economic conditions. They are potentially high-growth countries with strong prospects of joining the leading nations of the twenty-first century.
Mexico is a nation of 118 million people, with a GDP of US$1.4 trillion and per capita income of $11,224. It is a major oil exporter. Its geopolitical contiguity to the United States and Canada places the country in a propitious neighbourhood. It is also a member of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA). Mexico is an increasingly competitive and diversified economy, with a thriving middle class. It is also the home of the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, whose total assets stand at the magnitude of $53 billion, ahead of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Mexico has been a relatively stable democracy since 1920s. However, there are certain challenges. Mexico has become a major producer and transit channel for narcotic drugs. Entire regions have been blighted by this curse. In the drug-producing regions policemen and women are afraid to wear their uniforms. Crime is endemic and the rule of law is increasingly under severe test. In spite of these drawbacks, Mexico’s prospects remain strong. It has a good educational system and its economic institutions are robust. The Bank of Mexico is one of the best central banks in the world and its Governor, Agustin Carstens, is an economist of vision and courage. As it happens, our Trade and Industry Minister Olusegun Aganga invited the head of the Mexican National Competitiveness Council to be one of the international advisors to the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria (NCCN), of which yours sincerely is a board member.
Turkey is a country of 77 million people, sitting at crossroads of civilisations between Asia and Europe. It has a GDP of US$790 billion and a per capita income of $10,666. From being a world power during the age of the Ottomans, Turkey underwent a rather traumatic period of modernisation and secularisation under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during the 1920s and 1930s. A member of NATO and a candidate for membership of the European Union, modern Turkey is a prosperous democracy and increasingly strong international trading state.
Under the leadership of Recep Tayipp Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the economy has been managed with prudence and sagacity. Irredentist elements within its Kurdistan province have been tamed. Its currency, the lira, has been stabilised and monetary policy has ensured growth under the dynamic Governor of the central, Erdem Basci. Turkish companies are all over Europe, Euro-Asia, Africa and Arabia. I first got to know about the sheer power of Turkish conglomerates through my friend Eyup Sabri Carmikli, whose family own the multi-billion dollar Nurol Group of companies.
Indonesia is one country that shares considerable similarities with Nigeria. My good friend Peter Lewis, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), has written a brilliant book comparing the economic and development trajectories of Indonesia and Nigeria. Both are populous, oil-exporting nations endowed with considerable natural resources. Both have experienced traumatic civil wars and decades of corrupt military dictatorships. But that’s where the similarity ends. Whereas military tyrants such as Suharto and his colleagues amassed enormous fortunes, they made a point of investing in their own country and building a thriving capitalist economy. The Nigerian militariat, on the other hand, squirreled everything abroad, leaving us in penury. The reforms undertaken by former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati were outstandingly successful. I have met Sri Mulyani, a woman of intellect and charm, who is currently a Managing Director at the World Bank.
A member of the G-20, Indonesia has a population of 237 million people and a GDP of US$867.4 billion, with a per capita income of $3,499. According to WTO data, Indonesia ranks 27th among the world are trading nations. It also has an increasingly diversified export base. Geographically, the country is a fissiparous archipelago of over 17,000 islands, many of them prone to earthquakes and Tsunamis. It is a moderate Muslim country that is increasingly confident as a flourishing democracy. It has continued to grow at a rate of 6 percent over several years, with unemployment estimated at 6.1% and the incidence of poverty at 11.7% of the population. Indonesia shares a neighbourhood with Japan, China, Malaysia and Singapore. Both as a market and as an exporter, its potentials are considerable.
Nigeria’s population of 170 million is well below that of Indonesia. Our GDP stands at US$318.5 billion while per capita income is estimated at $1,831. We are more dependent on hydrocarbon exports than Indonesia and Mexico. Nigeria faces exceptional challenges of nationhood. Our public institutions remain weak while the political elites remain fractious. Our infrastructures are shambolic. The rule of law remains weak. Welfare remains bleak; with unemployment at 25% and the incidence of poverty ranging between 50 and 65 percent.
Ruchir Sharma of investment bankers Morgan Stanley, in his new book, The Breakout Nations, believes Nigeria has turned the corner. He believes Goodluck Jonathan is exercising strong leadership and that we are on course to take our place among the civilised nations of the twenty-first century. To echo the late Mwalimu Nyerere, “we must run while they walk”.