African population density to surpass Europe’s next year (graph)

A graph from Ryan Briggs (using UN data found here). HT: Aid Thoughts

Population Density tumblr_kps850PrZK1qz80k2o1_r1_400

Briggs also posts this wonderful heat map of population density in Africa that he got from Lee at Roving Bandit (probably the best economics blog in Southern Sudan).

Africa Population Density 2000 heat map

Click the picture to see maps from other decades going back to 1960.

Briggs says, “Charles Kenny has a good  explanation of the African population explosion and how it could happen without large amounts of economic growth.” Kenny summarizes his upcoming book on The Success of Development.


  1. Introduction: Abandon Hope?
  2. The Bad News: Diverging Incomes
  3. The Worse News: It’s Hard To Raise Growth Rates
  4. The Good News: The End Of The Malthusian Trap
  5. The Better News: The Great Convergence In Quality Of Life
  6. The Great News: The Best Things In Life Are Cheap
  7. Drivers Of The Better Life: Innovation, Ideas And Institutions
  8. Policies For The Quality Of Life
  9. The Global Agenda
  10. Conclusion: Realistic Optimism

…and concludes:

Realistic optimism is the right attitude with which to face the issue of development. This is based on a recognition of the challenges still facing the world –significant progress to be made, limits to the likely speed of that progress, and concerns with sustainability. But we should also acknowledge that the rapid and unprecedented improvement in global quality of life over the past fifty years provides some significant grounds for hope about the future. Understanding the causes of this success, and building on existing progress, is a vital part of ensuring that it is sustained.

American hypocrisy, exploitation, and the future of African economic thought (Stiglitz and Texas in Africa)

For the lay person like myself—someone who has never taken a course in economics, Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz provides a great metanarrative of the past and future of global economic thought in light of the recent crisis: Wall Street’s Toxic Message (Vanity Fair). (BTW, this was my introduction to Stiglitz, so don’t feel bad if his name doesn’t ring a bell. Maybe I should feel bad ;-). Before getting to Stiglitz, I need to quote Texas in Africaobama goes to ghana (where I originally got the Stiglitz link):


…a dispassionate analysis makes it virtually indisputable to claim that Western policies hurt African economies. [Obama’s] speech earlier this week came at the summit of the G-8, an organization whose trade policies have done far more to hurt African economies than to help them. Through the G-8, the WTO, and the Bretton Woods institutions, the United States and other Western countries engage in horribly unfair trade practices against most African states. My government’s subsidies to American farmers makes it virtually impossible for African farmers to compete in American markets; the insistence by World Bank that African states not subsidize domestic industry is a double standard of the worst kind… What’s more, African states often have no say in the economic policies they are forced to adapt …Economic neo-colonialism is alive and well…

…watching the U.S. refuse to use the same sorts of measures it forces on other countries during their economic crises on itself may push some of those elites towards other economic systems that will lead to human suffering. Obama would do a much greater service to the continent’s people by acknowledging how deeply unfair my country’s trade practices are and by committing to moving toward negotiations that treat African states not as children to be disciplined, but as mature countries with educated elites who know how to run an economy.

[I (Ben) think that politics in the US would probably make this a form of political suicide for Obama—business interests (legalized corruption), and politics in Africa (more traditional corruption) keeps African economists from being able to shape their own economies.]

[Back to Texas] Obama claimed in his speech earlier this week that he probably knows more about Africa than any previous president. That’s true, but it’s also not saying much. American policy makers have a long tradition of almost willful ignorance about what really happens on the continent and how the U.S. should – or should not – be involved there. I am not hopeful about this administration’s policies towards the continent; sending weapons to Somalia and suggesting that noticing the effects of neo-colonial and paternalistic policies amounts to excuse-making suggests that Obama is headed in the same direction as his predecessors.

Bill Easterly grades Obama’s speech; Chris Blattman grades and then collects other graders of Obama’s speech:  Michael Kevane, Mark Goldberg (part II), Elizabeth Dickenson, Sean Jacobs, and Gregg Zachary

Now to Stiglitz Wall Street’s Toxic Message

…no crisis, especially one of this severity, recedes without leaving a legacy. And among this one’s legacies will be a worldwide battle over ideas—over what kind of economic system is likely to deliver the greatest benefit to the most people. Nowhere is that battle raging more hotly than in the Third World, among the 80 percent of the world’s population that lives in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, 1.4 billion of whom subsist on less than $1.25 a day…The fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, marked the end of Communism as a viable idea…

…In truth, historians will mark the 20 years since 1989 as the short period of American triumphalism. With the collapse of great banks and financial houses, and the ensuing economic turmoil and chaotic attempts at rescue, that period is over. So, too, is the debate over “market fundamentalism,” the notion that unfettered markets, all by themselves, can ensure economic prosperity and growth. Today only the deluded would argue that markets are self-correcting or that we can rely on the self-interested behavior of market participants to guarantee that everything works honestly and properly…

…The World Bank and the I.M.F. said they were doing all this for the benefit of the developing world…Not surprisingly, people in developing countries became less and less convinced that Western help was motivated by altruism. They suspected that the free-market rhetoric—“the Washington consensus,” as it is known in shorthand—was just a cover for the old commercial interests. Suspicions were reinforced by

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Food aid for Africa: “From America; for America”

Owen writes:

The US imports food aid to Ethiopia.  It is bought from American farmers and shipped by boat to Djibouti, then brought by road to where it is needed in Ethiopia.  The cost of all this works out at $568 per metric tonne.  Here in Addis Ababa, today’s market price of wheat is $489 per metric tonne.  It is cheaper out of the capital.  So America’s generosity could buy 16% more wheat if it were bought locally.  From that difference alone, another 190,000 people could be given a full ration of food for four months.  Furthermore, buying the food locally would increase the incomes of farmers either in Ethiopia or in neighbouring countries and the improve livelihoods of other parts of the economy (e.g. haulage companies) needed to make the agriculture market work.  Their livelihoods, which are undermined by imported food aid, would be improved if the food were bought locally.  If there is sufficient supply response among local farmers (which there probably would be) so it does not have to be imported, then the generous aid would also provide $50 million of much needed foreign currency for Ethiopia.

This is not possible at the moment because American legislation requires that food aid be bought in the US, that  50 percent of commodities be processed and packed in the US before shipment, and that 75 percent of food aid managed by USAID and 50 percent of the food aid managed by the US Department of Agriculture be transported in “flag-carrying” US-registered vessels. The result is that only 40% of money spent on food aid by the US actually goes towards buying food; the rest goes to US transport companies. . . .

Corporate welfare under the guise of helping the poor Africans? Why not kill two birds with one stone?

Read some of Owen’s suggested alternatives. (See comments too.)

African sacrifices, justice, and the invocation of ancestors (Ancestors – part 2)

This is part 2 of a guest post by Andy Alo. Yesterday in part 1, Andy called the belief that Africans worshipped their ancestors a theological myth. Based on field research he conducted on his own Lugbara ethnic group, he showed that semantically, respect for ancestors is not that same thing as “worship.” He also explained how “offerings” of food to the ancestors were understood. Read the whole post: Did Africans really worship their ancestors?

PART 2: Sacrifices and the invocation of the ancestors

Calamities or unfortunate events in Lugbara beliefs happen as a result of bad or immoral conduct by a member of the group, a sub group, or the entire community. In the Lugbara traditional religious system, a sacrificial lamb had to be offered to appease the anger of ADROO ‘absolute spirit’ who was capable of punishing the community. Ancestors were implicated in the process as witnesses. Ancestors were the ones who transmitted to the living generations the body of knowledge that would guide these generations in the way of truth ‘EDYO ADA’ (literally ‘true matter’). The ancestors were invoked as a way of helping the community remember what the ancestors had said would happen if anyone acted contrary to their teachings.  For the Lugbara, it was not the ancestors who punished members of the community. Rather, punishment came directly from ADROO and was immediate.

In my research, the attributes of ADROO were not clear, but a key concept for understanding justice and judgment/punishment in Lugbara culture is LEMI “truth, right and innocence.” Briefly stated, LEMI means “if any one did wrong, something wrong would happen to him; and in case he did not do any wrong, no calamity, sickness or death could touch him.” LEMI is the ultimate justice beyond the reach of humans and was administered by the ADROO (absolute spirit). After pleading guilty, anyone who did wrong could sacrifice an animal to cancel the effects of punishment. In this entire process, the ancestors were simply reminders of the right way of living.

In sum, the Lugbara view of ancestors is a conjectural statement re-opening ways for new considerations. African ancestors were not worshipped in the traditional milieu; they were simply being honored as members of the community. They are gone and yet “they are with us”; transcendental fellowship continues. The ancient Lugbara had their own ways of perpetuating that communion; but those ways were not worship.

© 2008 Andy A. Alo

[Andy, from north-eastern Congo, is currently writing his dissertation at NEGST on translating the metaphor of light.]

Black Africans saved Judah?

John Hobbins, Ancient Hebrew Poetry writes a fascinating post: Did a black Pharaoh wage war against Sennacherib and drive him away from Jerusalem? (9 March 2007). This post is a great starting point for anyone wishing to explore this issue further and includes a nice bibliography at the end.

Hobbins begins:

aubin-rescue-of-jerusalem-2008.jpgAccording to Henry T. Aubin, a black Pharaoh named Taharqa came to the aid of king Hezekiah of Judah, waged war against Sennacherib king of Assyria, and forced him away from Jerusalem. The title and subtitles of Aubin’s book are certainly impressive: The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance between Hebrews and Africans in 701 BC. An online summary of Aubin’s book is available here. Aubin’s captivating theory is highlighted in an article by Robert Draper entitled “Black Pharaohs: Conquerors of Ancient Egypt,” in the February 2008 issue of National Geographic.

[Draper’s National Geographic article Black Pharaohs is here – full text, including pictures.] Draper writes.

Until recently, theirs was a chapter of history that largely went untold. Only in the past four decades have archaeologists resurrected their story—and come to recognize that the black pharaohs didn’t appear out of nowhere. They sprang from a robust African civilization that had flourished on the southern banks of the Nile for 2,500 years, going back at least as far as the first Egyptian dynasty.

. . . The ancient world was devoid of racism. At the time of Piye’s historic conquest, the fact that his skin was dark was irrelevant. Artwork from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome shows a clear awareness of racial features and skin tone, but there is little evidence that darker skin was seen as a sign of inferiority. Only after the European powers colonized Africa in the 19th century did Western scholars pay attention to the color of the Nubians’ skin, to uncharitable effect.

. . . In any event, when the Assyrians left town and massed against the gates of Jerusalem, that city’s embattled leader, Hezekiah, Continue reading