Updated forecasts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show global expansion weakening with the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) growing by an estimated 3.7% in 2018, and forecast at 3.5% in 2019 and 3.6% in 2020. The projections are downward revisions from October’s World Economic Outlook (WEO), in part reflecting the trade war between the United States and China. A tightening of the Chinese economy may be reflected in Beijing’s reappraisal of lending to sub-Saharan Africa. The IMF sees growth in sub-Saharan Africa picking up from 2.9% in 2018 to 3.5% in 2019 and 3.6% in 2020, but projections in its late January WEO Update are 0.3% lower than October’s forecasts as softening oil prices have caused downward revisions for Angola and Nigeria.

For all the talk of building non-hydrocarbons economies, the oil price (and associated gas sales) remains a key variable. Growth is expected to remain subdued in the Middle East and North Africa, at 2.4% in 2019 before recovering to about 3% in 2020. The IMF calculates a $68.58/bbl average oil price in 2018 and for its January data assumes a futures-based price of around $59/bbl in 2019-20. But even better performing energy importers are failing to produce spectacular growth. Moroccan GDP grew by 4.4% in 2018 and is forecast at 4.6% and 4.7% in 2019-20, according to the IMF, but other weaknesses persist: the current account deficit could more than double to nearly $1bn in 2020.

IMF data show Nigeria grew by 1.9% in 2018 – better than 2017’s 0.8% – and forecast 2% in 2019 and 2.2% in 2020. This is hardly a sparkling performance for President Muhammadu Buhari to take into a tight election in February (AE 382/20). Neither is South Africa making much progress, despite the more business-friendly President Cyril Ramaphosa replacing the discredited Jacob Zuma. The IMF forecasts South African GDP rising to 1.4% in 2019 and 1.7% in 2020, from 0.8% in 2018. Meanwhile, regions like Central Africa remain stuck in patterns of moribund growth and poor governance (AE 384/20).

Significant pockets of growth remain in sub-Saharan Africa, where headline numbers for the region mask significant variation in performance. Over one-third of sub-Saharan economies are expected to grow above 5% in 2019-20 and the WEO database shows Ethiopia growing at around 7.5%/yr in 2018-21. While Ethiopia is the focus of much recent excitement as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed introduces reforms (AE 380/1, 373/19), the data reflect the challenges: a current account deficit estimated at $12.8bn in 2018 is forecast at $15.8bn this year, rising to over $22bn by 2021.

For all the problems facing President Felipe Nyusi’s government, the IMF says Mozambique grew by 7.9% in 2018 and growth will remain above 7.5% in 2019-20. The WEO database forecasts an astonishing 38.9% growth in 2021 as gas development gathers pace.

However, forecasting is an imprecise science. A detailed report accompanying the IMF’s December 2018 second extended credit facility review for Mauritania observed that, if all three phases of the Grand Tortue-Ahmeyim gas field development are delivered, net revenues for Nouakchott (under a $60/bbl baseline Brent crude price) “could reach $14bn during 2022-51 (about 9% of 2018 GDP annually)”. However, the IMF added the caveat: “These estimates vary between $4.2bn-25.5bn under oil price assumptions between $30-90 per barrel.”