International Development and Africa

17 01 2011

I don’t know enough about development to contribute anything fresh to the conversation, but I am pretty convinced that endless “big pushes” (where we essentially free-flow money to Africa) don’t work. Bill Easterly has won my allegiance, and I’m with him and the many others who wish that Jeffrey Sachs’ ideas would work, but have seen little evidence that they do.

One of the damaging tactics of some aid campaigns is showing photos of emaciated African children, crying women, and child soldiers. This needs to stop. James Michira, a professor at University of Nairobi, writes:

“The popular images of Africa in the West include the ‘dark continent’ characterized by primeval irrationality, tribal anarchy, civil war, political instability, flagrant corruption, incompetent leadership and managerial ineptitude, hunger, famine and starvation as well as rampant diseases, especially AIDS. Africa is seen as a homogenous entity comprising of uncivilized and heathen peoples who are culturally, intellectually, politically and technically backward or inferior, who are incapable of governing themselves, or at least embracing democratic principles of governance. The African continent is depicted as the ‘dependent Africa’, ‘crisis driven Africa’ and ‘hopeless’ or ‘pitiable Africa’. Without exception, the images have been negative and then sensationialize the ‘dark’ side of Africa.”

I Wouldn't Be Surprised To See This Photo In An Ad Campaign

I Wouldn't Be Surprised To See This Photo In An Ad Campaign

Or This One

Or This One

In 2007 the New York Times published an op-ed by Bill Easterly titled “What Bono Doesn’t Say About Africa.” In it, he argued that not only are the above misconceptions false or misleading, but that Africa was developing economically as well:

“The real Africa also has seen cellphone and Internet use double every year for the last seven years. Foreign private capital inflows into Africa hit $38 billion in 2006 — more than foreign aid. Africans are saving a higher percentage of their incomes than Americans are (so much for the “poverty trap” of being “too poor to save” endlessly repeated in aid reports). I agree that it’s too soon to conclude that Africa is on a stable growth track, but why not celebrate what Africans have already achieved?….. As for the stars — well, could Africa be saving celebrity careers more than celebrities are saving Africa?

In truth, Africans are and will be escaping poverty the same way everybody else did: through the efforts of resourceful entrepreneurs, democratic reformers and ordinary citizens at home, not through PR extravaganzas of ill-informed outsiders.

The real Africa needs increased trade from the West more than it needs more aid handouts. A respected Ugandan journalist, Andrew Mwenda, made this point at a recent African conference despite the fact that the world’s most famous celebrity activist – Bono – was attempting to shout him down. Mwenda was suffering from too much reality for Bono’s taste: “What man or nation has ever become rich by holding out a begging bowl?” asked Mwenda.”

I wrote this post because of an article that I just read in this week’s issue of The Economist. The article’s title is The Lion Kings? Africa Is Now One Of The World’s Fastest Growing Regions.

“An analysis by The Economist finds that over the ten years to 2010, no fewer than six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The article isn’t about South Africa or Egypt. It’s about countries like Chad, Mozambique, and Angola. It’s about Nigeria and Ethiopia. I doubt that you would ever guess the African country with annual average 7.6% GDP growth over the last ten years. Think about it for a minute. I’ve already given you a big hint by saying that you’d never guess it.

Downtown In The Mystery Country's Capital City

Downtown In The Mystery Country's Capital City (Click For A Clearer Shot)

When you’re ready, click here to find out the answer.

Were you right? I’m guessing not.

My next hunch is that you won’t see a headline about rapid African economic growth in a UNICEF campaign. A shame. It’s not that there are no negatives to report, it’s just important to present a complete picture that doesn’t exclude tremendous achievement.

posted by jay




One response

19 01 2011

Thanks for coming by and leaving comments at A Camp Host’s Meanderings. Appreciated!

I absolutely agree with your last statement about showing a fuller picture of Africa. I have been bothered by the limited exposure we have that is mostly negative. I would love to see success stories too.

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