Why is Africa Poor?
Western protectionism is not the principal reason why Africa is poor. Nor is Africa poor because of latent colonialism. After all, many former colonies have prospered (e.g. Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Canada). Meanwhile, Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world (except for six years) has been independent for forty CENTURIES. I'll tell you why Africa is poor - but first, some gratuitous background info:
How bad is it? It's really bad - Africa is the poorest part of the world by a long shot.
It is in Africa that we find countries like Zaire, Ethiopia, Chad, and the Sudan, where gross national product per person is less than $200 a year. The 41 nations of sub-Saharan Africa produce no more wealth than the tiny country of Belgium, which has only one FIFTIETH as many people.
Numbers like these mean that Africans live in misery so desperate that Americans can scarcely imagine it. Every year, thousands of Africans die of starvation. In bad years, hundreds of thousands starve. Even in tropical parts of Africa untouched by famine, as many as one third of all children die before the age of five. One in a hundred births kills the mother. Malaria, sleeping sickness, hepatitis, leprosy, and AIDS are rampant.
Nevertheless, the population of Africa grows faster than that of any other region of the world. The total number of children, grand children, and great-grand children that the average American woman will have is 14. The equivalent figure for the average African woman is 258! Despite the ravages of disease, starvation, and inter-tribal warfare, Africa’s population increases by more than three percent a year. At that rate, populations can double in 20 years.
Africa is poor because of these three main reasons:
1. Africa is poor because of bad government.
Tribal politics prevents the best from succeeding in life. Corruption and bureaucracy literally robs the poorest in Africa. Land reform – whether in Ethiopia in the 1970s or in Zimbabwe more recently – has caused starvation. Wars kill off a valuable economic input – labor – and create massive instability.
But that doesn’t mean that Africans are bad people. Not even all African politicians are bad people. Case in point: Botswana.
Through good governance over the past 35 years Botswana has grown faster than any other country in the world. “Yet,” says Robert Guest of The Economist, “cabinet ministers have not awarded themselves mansions and helicopters, and even the President has been seen doing his own shopping. Exchange controls were abolished in 1999, the budget has usually been in surplus (even though this has slipped recently), and GDP per head tops $3,000.”
That is not bad for a country that was one of the world’s poorest when granted independence in 1966.
2. Africa is poor because of lack of investment caused by lack of property rights
A key is that fact that Africa is undercapitalized and there is little investment occurring. This is because most people do not have legal title over their own property. Thus, in many African countries it is impossible to mortgage a home to gain the capital to create a business. For markets to operate, legal structures are necessary and many African countries are lacking these. Call it bad government, call it tribal politics the effect is still the same. Without the notion of “ownership” and “rights to possess” by ordinary people, nothing can improve. Sorry socialists and communists – capitalism works from the bottom up - primordial ooze of society where socialism, collectivism and communism never can. Hillary, it doesn’t “take a village”.
It takes a frigging fence.
3. Africa is poor because we enable their governments
Because we are polite, and because we want to be seen as altruistic, we pander to the local and national African politicians, we give aid to the countries where it is promptly embezzled and we provide arms and support for their regimes.
Since 1957, there have been 150 African heads of state, but only SIX gave up power voluntarily. All the rest died in office, were murdered, or were thrown out in military coups. In virtually every African country, the people who rule are the people who own the weapons. This explains why African countries spent $2.2 billion on imported weapons in 2003 while they spent only $1.7 billion on medical care. Until it was overthrown in 1991, the Ethiopian government was spending 60 percent of its revenue on the military.
Zaire has not built a hospital in 20 years. In the ones that still remain, nurses and doctors must be bribed to do their work. Road maintenance is so primitive that the 1,100-mile drive from the Atlantic to Zaire’s eastern border that used to take two days now takes three weeks. In the rainy season, the trip may be impossible. Reliable electricity and plumbing are hazy memories from the colonial past.
Rarely do African leaders show the slightest evidence that they have any concern for their people. Consider Madagascar. When the French controlled the island, they nearly succeeded in wiping out the malaria mosquito. When the Malagasies were given independence, they let public health programs fall into decay. By 1988, when 100,000 people had died of the disease in just six months, the national malaria-control laboratory owned one Bunsen burner and two old microscopes. The Swiss government, under World Bank auspices, has offered to donate 300 million tablets of anti-malarial drugs — enough to treat the entire population for two years — but the Madagascar government insisted on selling them rather than handing them out free.
This ensures that most people won’t get them and that a few government officials will get even richer than they already are.
Zambia’s president, Kenneth Kaunda, has stolen so much of the state budget that he is estimated to be worth as much as $6 billion. In the capital, Lusaka, only an estimated one half of city employees actually work.
The government of the Ivory Coast has overstayed its legal welcome by 5 years, and we do nothing.
There you have it. Stark in its application and cold in reality. If we want to help Africa we have only one choice and it is overthrow their corrupt governments by force if necessary and create an international tribunal to run each country.
Sorry – colonialism got shit done. Time to go back to the future.