July 9, 2007

Good corrective to the stuff you are hearing...

What Bono Doesn't Say About Africa, By William Easterly (Thanks to Orrin)

....It's a dark and scary picture of a helpless, backward continent that's being offered up to TV watchers and coffee drinkers. But in fact, the real Africa is quite a bit different. And the problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help.

Let's begin with those rampaging Four Horsemen. Do they really explain Africa today? What percentage of the African population would you say dies in war every year? What share of male children, age 10 to 17, are child soldiers? How many Africans are afflicted by famine or died of AIDS last year or are living as refugees?

In each case, the answer is one-half of 1% of the population or less. In some cases it's much less; for example, annual war deaths have averaged 1 out of every 10,800 Africans for the last four decades. That doesn't lessen the tragedy, of course, of those who are such victims, and maybe there are things the West can do to help them. But the typical African is a long way from being a starving, AIDS-stricken refugee at the mercy of child soldiers. The reality is that many more Africans need latrines than need Western peacekeepers — but that doesn't play so well on TV....

A lot of people have a vested interest in a "a helpless, backward continent." (Not least from the superiority implied by being the advanced people helping the poor wretches who can't help themselves.) My own Christian community is among them, and I suspect that they will not want to hear messages like this for the additional reason that African poverty is an easy problem. My estimate is that in our world prosperity is far more dangerous to souls and bodies than poverty, but is a much tougher nut to crack, or even to get a grip on. It's easy to drop a twenty in the collection basket to help the poor darkies, and feel like one has done something. What to do about our own world of prosperity, where we absorb nihilism and corrosive change and the "Culture of Death" through our pores?—That's tough! And baffling.

I put a bit more of the article below...

...Further distortions of Africa emanate from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's star-studded Africa Progress Panel (which includes the ubiquitous Geldof). The panel laments in its 2007 news release that Africa remains "far short" of its goal of making "substantial inroads into poverty reduction." But this doesn't quite square with the sub-Saharan Africa that in 2006 registered its third straight year of good GDP growth — about 6%, well above historic averages for either today's rich countries or all developing countries. Growth of living standards in the last five years is the highest in Africa's history.

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?

Instead, the international development establishment is rigging the game to make Africa — which is, of course, still very poor — look even worse than it really is. It announces, for instance, that Africa is the only region that is failing to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs in aid-speak) set out by the United Nations. Well, it takes extraordinary growth to cut extreme poverty rates in half by 2015 (the first goal) when a near-majority of the population is poor, as is the case in Africa. (Latin America, by contrast, requires only modest growth to halve its extreme poverty rate from 10% to 5%.)

This is how Blair's panel managed to call Africa's recent growth successes a failure. But the reality is that virtually all other countries that have escaped extreme poverty did so through the kind of respectable growth that Africa is enjoying — not the kind of extraordinary growth that would have been required to meet the arbitrary Millennium Development Goals...
Posted by John Weidner at July 9, 2007 7:32 AM
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