Sunday, October 09, 2005

Four Fallacies of African Development

Someone called Chris has placed a comment below my last little piece on aid and conditionality and, as is sometimes the case when he resists his impulse to troll, he has made some almost-sensible points. Or at least, points that have had much currency in the mainstream media and debates about international development. So I thought I’d take the time to discuss them here.

In his post Chris wrote:

...the fact remains, Africa's problems are by and large internal…True, agricultural subsidies must be lifted by the US and the EU, but simply throwing aid money at the problem will ultimately come to no good. After all, even when African countries do possess sources of great wealth--diamonds in Sierra Leone and oil in Nigeria, for instance--those resources often end up being a curse on95% of the respective country's populace. On the other hand, a few nations have done better through internal improvements; Botswana is often cited as an example of this, but their 40% Aids rate--definitely attributable to rampant sexual activity--is impossible to overlook.

Encapsulated in this spiel are what could be termed ‘the four great fallacies of the Africa Debate’. I’ll attend to each of these in turn.

Fallacy 1 - Africa’s problems are by in large internal

There’s no denying that some of Africa’s problems are internal but the claim that they are entirely (or even by in large internal) is demonstrably false: it ignores history and turns a blind eye to the interconnected world that we live in.

For a start, many of Africa’s current problems stem from the colonial epoch; and colonialism was hardly an internal process. Instead, an external force (that’s us – the Europeans) plundered Africa’s natural and human resources and set in place tools of governance (involving an extractive local elite) that still haunt the continent today. The example that Chris uses above of Botswana is illustrative in this case. One of the reasons that Botswana did relatively well after colonialism was that it benefited from a policy of benign neglect during the colonial epoch. Because Botswana lacked strategic significance and extractable resources (that were known about at the time) the ruling colonial power in the country (the British I think) intervened in Botswana much less than they did in other countries. This is one of the major reasons for Botswana’s post colonial success (it’s not the only reason mind you).

Above and beyond colonialism it is simply naive to say that the actions of the rest of the world aren’t contributing to Africa’s problems. Take the example of Angola above: Chris is right to say that an abundance in natural resources (in this case diamonds) have played a role in Angola’s grief (and who, I might add buys those diamonds Chris? Not other Africans.) Yet, Chris’s formulation ignores the role that the superpowers played in fuelling Angola’s conflict. Likewise, Chris also ignores the role that western business interests have played in more recent African conflicts (Shell and Nigeria being an example). Furthermore, Chris ignores the role that western arms traders have played in perpetuating many African conflicts (go on Chris – who sells them the guns?).On top of this, the ‘Africa’s problems are internal’ claim ignores the role that western multi-laterals have sometimes played in undermining the economic development of African countries. (Joseph Stiglitz in Globalization and its Discontents provides good examples of this). Chris does at least mention the unfair global trading regime that demands that African countries open their economies to exports and then floods them with subsidised agricultural products – yet even this basic point is missing from many of the “Africa’s problems are its own” diatribes.

Finally, the “Africa’s problems are Internal” slogan misses the probable environmental catastrophes that await parts of Africa as a result of global warning. The gas guzzled by American (and New Zealand) SUV’s is a pretty strange example of Africa causing its own grief.

Fallacy 2 – Africa’s problems are the result of poor governance and corruption

According top this fallacy, the primary impediment to Economic Growth in Africa is poor governance and corruption (and at a deeper level institutional problems). Institutional issues are certainly a major problem in Africa (for two very good discussions of the role that institutions play in economic growth see here and here - links to pdf files). Yet Jeffrey Sachs in his book The End of Poverty provides convincing evidence that – while institutions are important – they are not the only issue effecting economic growth: geographical constraints, disease issues, conflict, and the global trading system all matter as well. On top of this Sachs makes the worthwhile point that the relationship between corruption and economic underdevelopment is not simply one way. While corruption does contribute to economic underdevelopment, economic underdevelopment also (through low salaries providing a greater incentive to take bribes) also leads to corruption.

Fallacy 3 – Aid has no role to play in assisting Africa; indeed it only leads to more corruption and less growth

When this claim is made it is often backed up by references to studies by economists such as Paul Bauer and William Easterly which purport to show that aid has an inverse effect on economic growth. Yet makers of this claim fail to note that accompanying such landmark studies such as Bauer’s and Easterly’s are numerous other studies which show that Aid does have positive effect on economic growth. Moreover, across the board claims that aid has a negative impact on economic growth ignore the fact that all aid is not equal. In the past much economic assistance was given for geopolitical reasons, tied to purchases of donor country products, accompanied by poorly advised economic conditionalities, or wasted on ridiculous infrastructure projects. Much other aid was given as famine relief (and so shouldn’t be expected to stimulate economic growth – simply keep people alive), or was spent on education and health projects, which one would expect not to have a short term impact on economic growth but rather a long term impact – the type not easily captured in econometric studies. When studies take these considerations into account (such as this study) the positive relationship between aid and economic growth becomes much stronger. Moreover, when the criteria for successful development assistance are broadened beyond mere economic growth to take into account a variety of other human development indicators there is considerable evidence that aid can be a force for good in Africa. One needs only to look at the results of successful, well designed aid programmes like the campaign against River Blindness to see this.

Finally, the idea that aid fosters corruption is an oversimplification. While there can be no denying that some aid programmes in the past have gone mainly to lining the pockets of corrupt officials, much of this took place as the result of a cold war climate that saw aid money being given regardless of how it was spent simply to ensure that dictators stayed “our dictators”. The statement that aid fosters corruption also ignores the potential that aid can be used to fight corruption by enabling a strong civil society to act as a watchdog on the government. There are already examples of this taking place in Africa.

Fallacy 4 – That HIV in Africa is a result of Sexual Promiscuity

This, our final fallacy, ignores one glaring fact. The glaring fact is that HIV transmission isn’t the result of sex as such but rather the result of un-protected sex. While this may seem trite it is an important point: countries that have been successful in stifling the rise of the AIDS epidemic – such as Thailand – have done so through the promotion of condom use. This isn’t always easy and it can be complimented (in some cases) by campaigns promoting limiting the number of sexual partners that one has – but the safer sex massage is integral to stopping the spread of the disease, at least until medical technology improves. On top of this, glaring omission, there are a few minor misunderstandings that need attending to here as well. The reason why AIDS is rampant in Africa is not entirely (or even primarily) the result of promiscuity. For a start, the disease is most common in Africa because it that is where it came from. Secondly, nutritional factors (or, more specifically, the impact of under-nutrition on peoples’ immune systems) may also play a role in the spread of the disease. Furthermore, the unavailability of treatment drugs (which can – if I recall correctly – make people less infective) aids the spread of the disease. If you really want to understand why HIV is so prevalent in Africa you need to consider these facts – not engage in simplistic formulations which link the illness only to a stereotyped image of African people.

And – finally – one last point: not only sexually promiscuous people contract HIV. As is witnessed by women in Africa (and other parts of the world) who have stayed entirely faithful to their partners but have contracted the illness as a result of their partner’s infidelity. HIV transmission is there result of a lot of factors not the least of them being the fact that – in many parts of the world – women do not have effective control of their sex lives.

Ok – that’s enough for now. I have to admit that I had had better things planned for my Sunday morning than typing away a blog entry that hardly anyone will read. However, it seemed important to be to have a go at disposing the four great fallacies of development and Africa. After-all only once these mistaken beliefs are put to rest can Africa and the rest of the World begin to move towards creating a happier future for the continent.


Chris said...

Wow, I elicited a whole post from you, Terence! Not bad, I must say. But first, some preliminaries:
Given that 'trolling' involves disrupting an ongoing discussion, I'd say that that is quite hard to do on this board, given the extremely low level of comments, so I must declare myself innocent of the acts.
And for the purposes of this reply, I'll make two assumptions:
1. Africa is to continue to have governments for the time being (something I rue, but I'll accept as fact).
2. Western governments are to continue to send aid to Africa (again, rueful due to the immoral compulsory nature of the aid, but I'll accept that too).

Point 1:
To begin with, colonialism wasn't all bad. To be sure, as 'Heart of Darkness' alludes to, Europeans did some pretty horrible things in Africa, like the well-nigh genocidal practices of King Leopold in the Belgian Congo. But they also brought Christianity to parts of Africa, which is a good thing. And they also civilised the place by teaching European languages, culture, and technology to the natives. This last point is bound to be controversial, as one could respond that Africans already had their own civilisations, that Europeanisation had a negative effect both on precious local cultures and through the fact that many of its consequences were disastrous (eg, Belgian notions of race and ethnicity ultimately leading up to the Rwandan Genocide). That is true, but I would say that colonialism did still do some good through its civilising influence. Also, I would add that (probably) relatively few colonialists acted out of altruism; still, some, such as missionaries, did.
You're right that benign neglect isn't the only contributing factor in Botswana's relative success: after all, Liberia, independent all along and so without any formal Western intervention, isn't exactly a success story, and neither is Ethiopia, which withstood a mere five years of (wrenching) Italian occupation. By contrast, Uganda and Senegal, long occupied, are, relatively speaking, points of light on a dark continent. So are Ghana (the Gold Coast) and (at least until recently) Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), whose very names bespeak their history of being exploited.
I mentioned Sierra Leone, not Angola, but I'd be glad to discuss the latter. The diamonds, I imagine, are bought by people in the developed world. And they need not be a cause of civil strife: if the guiding hand of the free market were to operate without restrictions, then there would be no cause for war, but since various government monopolies intervene in the process, bloodshed results. And you're right that Portugal should have let go of Angola in 1961 (if you're implying that), but once the USSR tried to get a foothold there, the war against global Communism required an equally muscular US response, so I do have to defend great-power involvement there.
Guns are sold to Africa by Westerners, and rightly so, as the right to keep and bear arms is a vital human right that ensures freedom against tyranny. Those abusing this right by committing murder should, of course, be brought to justice.
Increasingly, pollution is the fault not of Western nations but of pooer industrialising ones--India and China are chief examples, and as Africa goes through this stage, it too shall contribute its fair share. Furthermore, as last year's deranged Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai reminds us in her more lucid moments, Africans themselves cut down countless trees in their own countries, so they too contribute to their own calamities.

Point 2:
There is definitely a correlation between corruption and poverty: broadly speaking, the poorer a nation is, the more corrupt it is. The solution to this is a more thorough inculcation of that cardinal Christian virtue: 'Thou shalt not steal'. Furthermore, as you did say, corruption and poor governance are indeed a 'major issue', so we are in agreement here. They're not the only issue, but they are nonetheless an issue, and African governments would be wise to look at South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore and see how those nations managed to lift themselves from poverty (especially the first two) through a movement toward full democracy and greater transparency.
But let me write here for a bit on South Africa. Why did it do so well during the apartheid period? Or did it really--was the nation's wealth almost exclusively in white hands? I have heard that blacks from neighbouring countries sought to enter SA even during apartheid, which, if true, would indicate better living standards even for them. I have no definite answers for any of this, and it would also be interesting to look at the country's direction in the last decade--but I did want to put the questions out there, because it is a rather anomalous case in several ways.

3. Aid can be good, but I think it needs to be done wisely. What bothers me is throwing money at a problem. Too often that just creates further problems. Aid should ideally be targeted with specific, manageable goals in mind, because too often the Live8-type platitudes of 'lift Africa from poverty!' or 'cure Africa's diseases' simply end up being hot air that fizzles very quickly. Plus, aid programmes need to see their goals met in concrete fashion--otherwise, money keeps on being pumped in but no results emerge.
I do think that aid still fosters corruption, though that could be fixed if the right measures are put in place. Interesting, too, about government watchdogs. This could work well in a semi-free, weak state like, say, Gabon or Guinea (at least I think those two match the description), but not so well in a confirmed dictatorship like Equatorial Guinea. I believe Kenya is a good example of a nation where independent groups criticise the government to good effect.

4. However, sex, even with condoms, outside of marriage, is sinful. But leaving theology aside and focusing on epidemiology: let's look at Uganda rather than Thailand. Uganda has been very successful at bringing down its AIDS numbers. How? Through the ABC method ( 'Abstain, Be faithful, or use Condoms if A and B are not practiced'. And indeed, abstinence must be the first and foremost practice. Do that, and you will be free from sexually-transmitted AIDS.
Still, there are those who claim ( that poor medical practices are much more to blame than sexual activity. Could be. The point, then, is that sterilisation techniques must be improved, and, of course, sex reduced. After all, Botswana's anti-AIDS programme does include emphasis on condoms but not on abstinence; look at the results. And I'm not stereotyping either--at least some African men are indeed very promiscuous. Not all, of course, but some are.
Another component in Uganda's success story is the fact that Ugandans are increasingly embracing Christianity over paganism and Islam--the Lord is blessing them with good health in return.
Yes, women who are not promiscuous can and very often do get AIDS, but this is what I'd call second-generation promiscuity--they themselves are not to blame, but their husbands are, and if their husbands behaved themselves, then they would be disease-free.
In any case, I end with the observation that of course, one of Africa's least-infected countries is none other than that paragon of liberty, Somalia, with an infection rate that stands at a meagre 1%--comparable to levels in Western Europe and North America.

Terence said...

Chris - Point 1.

It's true that some colonials acted out of altruism (my grand father was a minister and doctor in the Pacific, for example); but the fact is that most didn't - and the consequences can be seen today in Africa.

Liberia - the key word in your sentance there is formal . there was still plenty of intervention. Likewise the Soviets (if I recall correctly) propped up the horid Marxist government in Ethopia for a long time - more outside intervention.

Pollution - the majority of the World's GHGs still come from the developed world and (on a per capita basis, at least) will continue to do so for a long time to come. It's true that China and India's emmissions are increasing but, last time I looked, they weren't part of Africa.

Point 2 - So basically we are in agreement - corruption is an issue - not the only issue. Perhaps we can debate South Africa at a later date - although I think that the point that you are implying here is wrong.

Point 3 - We have some quibbles here (no time to address them all) but basically we appear to agree that Aid, when given propperly, can help. You appear to have changed your position here from your original post. But good on you for being able to adapt your position in light of evidence.

Point 4 - A lot of what you say is meaningless here; but let's just clarify one thing - what does the C stand for in ABC? Well hello, it stands for condoms . Can you provide me evidence of any state that has cut its HIV rate with a programme that specifically rejects condoms?

Somalia may have a 1% reported infection rate but I think you'll find that, in the absence of there being a state to actually collect statistics, under-reporting might be an issue. Another interesting point is that Somalia (if I recall correctly) is an Islamic (non)state. There is increasing evidence that circumcision dramatically reduces transmission of HIV - so, as an Islamic state, Somalia may be benefitting from this.

Terence said...

Oh and Chris,

You have a blog don't you? well fair's fair - tell me your blog address so I can return the favour and troll on your blog (and yes you do troll, at least as I understand the definition. And by any definition you were trolling on JH's website). If you don't give me your blog address and give me the fair chance to discuss your own posts - I'll just have to start deleting your comments here (or turn off the comments facility - which, given the number of people who comment on this blog - is, in effect, the same thing.)

Chris said...

Terence, how your kind have fallen since your grandfather's time: he, a minister of God (unless he was a government minister; your post was unclear on that point), you, an unbeliever! Ah well, there is always hope for your children to take up Christ, and maybe even you, one day.

Most colonials didn't care very much about their subject peoples: we agree on this point.

All right, so Ethiopia and Liberia may not have been all that independent, but then I cited Senegal, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, and Uganda, all of which are relatively well off and were quite exploited by their colonial masters.

And we'll agree to defer the South Africa discussion until later; I myself need to study it better. I think Alex Higgins would know quite a bit about the issue; perhaps he could be induced to become a commenter here.

Yes, I appear to have dramatically shifted on aid, until you note the caveat at the beginning of the comment, which states my belief that government-provided aid is immoral and should never be given. But as long as it is given (which it shouldn't be--charities should be doing this), then it does have the potential to be beneficial.

Theology is not meaningless. And in Uganda, C was only used as a last resort--according to doctors, most people didn't need to go beyond A and B. And starting at C, as Botswana and other nations show, is tragically ineffective. One state that has cut its HIV rate by rejecting condoms is, I regret to admit, the Holy See. As for larger countries, I'm afraid I don't know, but I would like it if Uganda simply did an AB programme, without the C--I think that would be even more effective.

Terence, you need to escape your étatiste thinking for a little while at least. How well did the Stalinist Soviet State report the deaths it caused in the Ukrainian Genocide of 1932-3? Or the Maoist Chinese State the deaths it caused during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution? Or, for that matter, can we trust the Stalinist North Korean State in its recent assertion that it is AIDS-free? Really, your naiveté amazes me sometimes. Even if we look at some of Somalia's fellow African states--can Sudan be expected to provide an accurate casualty report in Darfur? Can the Central African Republic, Gabon, Malawi, and Togo really have such sophisticated AIDS-counting techiniques?
The point is, I find no reason to put less faith in Somalia's AIDS statistics than in those of any other sub-Saharan African nation. And yes, Somalia is, for now, Muslim; interesting point on circumcision and AIDS transmission, though I continue to oppose the practice as unsightly, unneeded, and of unproven benefit.