Waylaid Dialectic

December 29, 2011


Filed under: Governance — terence @ 7:16 am

On the Guardian’s blog Owen celebrates a new era in Africa. One of increased economic performance, decreased dependence on aid, decreased vulnerability to disasters (in most countries) and increased democracy.

He attributes this to:

The emergence of a new generation of leaders, the end of the continent’s debt crisis, business-friendly policies, new technologies, the spread of peace, and strong demand for natural resources…

Not knowing a lot about Africa I have the following questions.

1. How pro-poor has this growth actually been?
2. What’s the within continent variation?
3. What’s the actual evidence that business-friendly policies and new technologies have actually played a major role in the changes as opposed to rising resource consumption in China?
4. Are the good new leaders (who?) achieving change on their own or are they doing so because the institutions that they preside over are changing in a sustainable way.

To me questions 3 and 4 are the crucial ones. Because Africa has been here before, or at least parts of it have been: inspiring looking leaders and reasonable economic performance, only for things to end up imploding. And unless something fundamental has changed it is hard to see why this won’t happen again. Demand in China drops (for whatever reason), the economies of many African countries stagnate and, freed from the tailwind of economic improvement, older zero-sum problems of political economy re-emerge. And things start to look grim.

This mightn’t happen. I hope it doesn’t happen. But, for what it’s worth, I think it’s too soon to be making too much noise about a new dawn in Africa. Or, at least, it’s too soon to be doing this without good evidence of structural change.

[Update: Great review of the Radelet book that informed Owen’s column here by Edward Miguel.]

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