Amidst budget distress and fiscal austerity, African states face perennial barriers to accessing post-disaster public finance for humanitarian relief and response operations. Such activities are prime targets in development institutions’ attempts to discipline the unruly zone of public finance in Africa, ostensibly beset with inefficiencies, rent-seeking, and corruption. This talk illustrates the stakes of “disaster sovereignty” – the terms on which disasters are declared and adjudicated, aid modalities and beneficiaries determined, state resources distributed, and debts accrued – for postcolonial economic geography. I counterpose two institutional technologies through which African states are accessing disaster risk financing: the African Risk Capacity (ARC), a sovereign mutual insurance pool in which insured states own equity shares, and World Bank loans with Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Options. Drawing on interviews, institutional records, and operational documents, I argue that ARC’s appeal has been limited by its surveilling and disciplinary design, with payments adjudicated by external calculative devices and relief distributions governed by strict conditions. Meanwhile, increasingly popular World Bank loans imposing fewer conditions can also be used to finance Covid-19 response. While such loans appear to promise greater short term disaster sovereignty to borrowers, they simultaneously exacerbate the danger of ballooning climate- and Covid-debt traps.
Speaker: Leigh Johnson, University of Oregon, USA
Leigh Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Geography Department at the University of Oregon. An economic and human-environment geographer, her research focuses on attempts to manage disaster risks and compel climate adaptation through insurance and related financial instruments. She has published on the growth of catastrophe bond markets, sovereign insurance pools, and index-based insurance for smallholder farmers. Johnson holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley (2011), and was previously a lecturer at the University of Zurich.