Why Africa Is Poor and What Africans Can Do about It

Cato recently held a book launch for South African development expert Greg Mills (you can pre-order at Amazon). This is a very smart book by a man who has spent his professional life in the thick of the problem (bad governments making bad policy choices).

Economic growth does not require a secret formula. While countries from Asia to Latin America have emerged from poverty, Africa has failed to realize its potential in the 50 years since independence. Greg Mills, the former director of the South African Institute of International Affairs and one of South Africa’s most respected commentators, confronts the myths surrounding African development. He shows that African poverty was not caused by poor infrastructure, lack of market access or insufficient financial resources. Instead, the main reason Africans are poor is because their leaders have made bad policy choices. Please join us to hear why a growing number of African opinion makers and ordinary citizens believe that to emerge from poverty, Africa must embrace a far greater degree of political and economic freedom.

I recommend the podcast of the event (download MP3). Excellent comments by Marian L. Tupy, a policy analyst with the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

One of my favorite development economists wrote the lead blurb

“Poverty is now optional” is Greg Mills’ invigorating message’, Paul Collier, Oxford University, Author of The Bottom Billion and The Plundered Planet

African poverty has been optional for fifty years — just keep in mind that the African elites do just fine under the status quo. And so do the NGOs, who effectively get a commission cut of the western aid budgets (as does the consulting industry housed around the DC beltway).

Good job Cato! Now, if we can just inject some sanity into the NGOs and OECD aid agencies. The billowing aid continues to insulate the African leaders from the consequences of their policies (and of course insulates them from their own populations).

On aid, I was pleased to hear Greg Mills respond to questions, with, paraphrasing:

Obama said his Africa policy was to “double the aid”. In fact that is a clear signal that there is no Africa policy. An effective, Africa policy is far more nuanced and complex than “double the aid”. What is the point of aid if you do not have tools for measuring the effectiveness of that aid?

While we are at it, let’s measure the effective of NGOs! I would be perfectly happy to have the organization that I run measured. Also, measure the effectiveness of consultants.

(…) The average age of African leaders is 75. The average age of Africans is 25. The numbers for Europe are about 55, 45. I am stupified by how passive African electorates are. How long would Robert Mugabe have lasted in Serbia?

Greg Mills emphasized that Africa’s demographics are a powerful positive force for economic development. Africa is rapidly becoming urbanized; by 2020 fifty cities of over one million population. (I think Africa today is about 40% urban). One clear benefit of the urban trend is it incentivizes agricultural productivity. The subsistence lifestyle so dear to the NGOs is finally going to be swept away. My guess is that the dreaded GMO crops will finally be grown seriously in Africa.

And in about the same time frame, one-quarter of the world population of “young people” under age 25 will be in Africa. They expect what they can see in the developed world – the affordable electricity, the communications, the computers, the autos. An African policy will be focused on ensuring those wants are satisfied rapidly by economic growth (jobs). If those expectations are not met…

2 thoughts on “Why Africa Is Poor and What Africans Can Do about It

  1. Truely Africa have not been able to advance and progress to reach the peak and dis-stringe herself from the countless problem it faces because of psycho-bad”policies” adopted by her leaders. Unrefutably, Grey Mills’s article is a clear and apparent factor of the socio-economic problems facing the continent.

    • Thanks for your comments. Once the true barriers to growth are recognized, some real progress becomes possible. The challenge – I don’t know how to mobilize the citizens of these countries. The governance changes cannot be imposed from the outside.

      The ongoing dramatic explosion in mobile phones in Africa might turn out to be way that the people will learn what is really going on (?)

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