Africa (and Aid): Not Dead Yet

Dambisa Moyo  is one of Time’s 100 most influential people alongside the women of The View and ahead of Vladimir Putin (influential last year.  This year, meh).  She continues to attract attention and stir acrimonious debate.  But one thing her critics and supporters agree about is that Africa is in a mess.   

I’ve just finished a book (free online, for a bit) that paints a more positive picture.  It is true that the region’s performance in terms of GDP per capita has been pretty dismal –many countries are as poor as economies in Medieval Europe.  But that’s a pretty narrow measure of success or failure.  If you look at measures of health, or education, or civil and political rights, Africa has seen real progress.  Even as parts of the continent are mired in civil war and famine, the average African born today is far more likely to survive childhood, to go to school and to have some modicum of civil and political rights than their parents or grandparents.  Progress in the quality of life has continued at a historically unprecedented pace in large parts of the continent. 

The book discusses how economic stagnation and broader development have coexisted even over the long term –a subject for a later post.  Regardless, these measures of broader success suggest that it is premature to write off the region as a failure –and perhaps even to declare the death of aid.

3 thoughts on “Africa (and Aid): Not Dead Yet

  1. Dambisa Moyo’s brief moment in the spotlight always struck me as a little strange. That a lovely African woman with a semi-British accent and a smooth weave should do all the talk shows and newspapers in the U.S. and Britain to denounce aid to her own continent seemed a little too convenient. Like the way neocons seize on a more-or-less telegenic but dubious dissident from this or that country to ratchet up whatever militarist project they happen to have.

    I don’t doubt there are problems with the aid industry. I don’t know enough to really have an intelligent assessment of the subject. There is no doubt Africa has been caricatured. It is no doubt still the worst off continent economically. But there is growth in many countries, and politically, African states are much more likely to have a degree of democracy and civil society than those in – say – the systematically authoritarian regions of the Middle East, Central Asia and continental East Asia.

    It isn’t all Congolese warlords and Somalian pirates.

  2. “Regardless, these measures of broader success suggest that it is premature to write off the region as a failure –and perhaps even to declare the death of aid.”
    On the contrary. Given that most well designed studies of IQ of Sub-saharan Africans have shown it to be around 80 (for example the recent paper by Wichert, doi:10.1016/j.intell.2009.05.002), it is most likely that exogenously influenced (i.e. through aid) metrics like childhood mortailty will improve, will endogenuous metrics, like GDP, patents, productivity, will continue stasis or even decline. Thus, expect aid to increase instead of decrease.

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