Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This in from ... Africa: "Think Again: Africa's Crisis"

In preparation for Sec. Clinton's trip to Africa in August, Charles Kinney wrote to try to dispel 7 myths about the development process in Africa. A few of them bear repeating in my usual "it's bad, but not as bad as you've been told" vein:

1. "Conditions in Africa Are Medieval."

Not in the slightest. It's true that some countries in the region are as poor as England under William the Conqueror, but that doesn't mean Africa's on the verge of doomsday. How many serfs had a cellphone? More than 63 million Nigerians do. Millions travel on buses and trucks across the continent each year, even if the average African road is still fairly bumpy. ... About 10 percent of infants die in their first year of life in Africa -- still shockingly high, but considerably lower than the European average less than 100 years ago, let alone 800 years past. And about two thirds of Africans are literate -- a level achieved in Spain only in the 1920s.

2 - "Africa Is Stuck in a Malthusian Trap."

Hardly. Malthus's world was one of stagnant economies where population growth was cut short by declining health, famine, or war. Thanks to the spread of technologies and new ideas, African economies are expanding fast and population growth has been accompanied by better health.

The continent of Africa has seen output expand 6½ times between 1950 and 2001. Of course, the population has grown nearly fourfold, so GDP per capita has only increased 67 percent. But that's hardly stagnation. Indeed, only one country in the region (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) has seen GDP growth rates average below 0.5 percent up to this year -- the run-of-the-mill growth rate when Malthus was writing in early 19th-century Britain. And though there have been all too many humanitarian disasters in the region, the great majority of Africa's population has been unaffected. The percentage of Africans south of the Sahara who died in wars each year over the last third of the 20th century was about a hundredth of a percent. The average percentage affected by famine over the last 15 years was less than three tenths of a percent. Africa has seen child mortality fall from 26.5 to 15 percent since 1960 and life expectancy increase by 10 years.

6. "Development Means Economic Growth."

It's more than that. ... income growth alone is unlikely to be a panacea. Economist Bill Easterly's study of "life during growth" around the world found that changes in per capita income were the driving force behind improvements for perhaps three of 69 measures of broad-based development -- calorie and protein intake and fixed phones per person. But for the other 66 measures -- covering health, education, political stability, and the quality of government, infrastructure, and the environment -- income growth was not the driving force in change. There's much more to life than money, and people concerned with development need to think more broadly if they are to help sustain Africa's progress.Clinton's messages in Africa


Speaking of all this, here is an entertaining map of Sec. Clinton's speech topics. By and large, it's the same topics Bush 1, Bush 2, and the other Clinton have been sending their envoys to say also.

(hat tip to those who sent me to the people who gave me this stuff: Texas in Africa for the map, Marginal Revolution for the above discussion, both linked on the left)

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