Africa is in better shape than experts think (Foreign Policy)

Foreign Policy: Think Again, Africa’s Crisis

"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. The list of modern technologies now ubiquitous in the region also includes cement, corrugated iron, steel wire, piping, plastic sheeting and containers, synthetic and cheap cotton clothing, rubber-soled shoes, bicycles, butane, paraffin candles, pens, paper, books, radios, televisions, vaccines, antibiotics, and bed nets.

The spread of these technologies has helped expand economies, improve quality of life, and extend health. 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.

"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.

Other myths addressed in the Think Again, Africa’s Crisis:

  • "Good Health and Education Are Too Expensive for African Countries."
  • "Adding More Schools and Clinics Is the Key to Education and Healthcare."
  • "TV Is the New Opiate of the Masses."
  • "Development Means Economic Growth."
  • “Aid doesn’t work.’
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One thought on “Africa is in better shape than experts think (Foreign Policy)

  1. […] Byerly excerpts an important article on the common myths Westerners (perhaps especially mission minded Christian Westerners) hold about […]

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