I hope that William Easterly and Laura Freschi of Aid Watch will reconsider resuming blogging in the near future. Their insights on development matters have been most valuable. I remember, as a college student in wintry New Haven, experiencing a change in my approach to development issues after reading The White Man’s Burden. I read it a few months after reading The End of Poverty while volunteering in the summer at a hospital in eastern Ghana.
I wonder how things would have turned out – as far as my opinion goes in the Easterly-Sachs debate – if I had read the two books in reverse.
Although the blog’s skepticism over interventionist prescriptions oftentimes left me jaded about the prospect of ending poverty in our time, I liked the diversity of the subject coverage and the authors’ dogged commitment to holding aid do-gooders’ feet to the fire.
Grinding poverty and the lack of innovative thinking among their home governments continue to force most Africans to buy second hand-clothing. The few textile industries on the Continent (with a few exceptions in West Africa) are small operations geared mainly for exports – mostly under AGOA to the US. Special interests (second-hand clothes importers), poor economic policies (many countries killed their own nascent textile sectors) and dumping of textiles from the east are to blame.
The result is the indignity of having to buy used underwear or live in a parallel universe in which the Steelers won Super Bowl XLV.
A post on the related topic of the politics of appropriate aid-giving is here.
In other news, Blattman makes the observation that younger leaders in Africa, because of their different upbringing, will be different from the independence leaders. I beg to differ. Spatial distribution based on ethnicity and malapportionment against urban centres, mixed with the toxicity of ethnic politics will continue to perpetuate rural, ethnic-based tyranny in most of Africa. The fact that University of Nairobi student council elections invariably go tribal says it all.
The current changes in the Arab world should be a wake-up call for most of Africa. Soon enough the set of examples of poor governance and general mediocrity will shrink from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia to just Africa.
A nice piece byMoussa Blimpo on Aid Watch highlights the urgent need to improve general conditions at African universities. On a related note, I totally agree with Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda’s position that Aid should be more targeted – and perhaps at times even to the middle class – if it is to make much impact in Africa. African development in the 21st century will not come from subsistence farmers and vegetable kiosks in the informal settlements. The Continent needs big business. I am not downplaying the entrepreneural ability of those target by pro-poor development initiatives. Far from that, all I am suggesting is that the better educated African middle class have a higher chance of being able to scale up their enterprises and create the kind of firms that will create much needed jobs in most of Africa.
Also, check out Texas in Africa’s posts on the increasingly authoritarian Rwandan government and the goings on in Kivu on the eastern reaches of the DRC. The Ethiopian Strongman Meles Zenawi seems to have gotten away with sham elections (the Ethiopian economy is doing well enough, I guess, so enough Ethiopians still love him) but it is not clear if Kagame will this August or his next door neighbor Museveni next year. Given Rwanda’s recent history the Rwandans will most likely opt for stability at the expense of an open free and fair democratic process. Whatever happened to Kagame, Zenawi and Museveni being the new generation of “enlightened” African leaders….
A lot of money has been poured in Africa (to use a Kenyan phrase) since the 1960s. Most of it has gone down the drain without much impact. If a tenth of the aid effort in Africa were effective things would be very different. Instead you have a cacophony of aid effort without much coordination. Yes there are the many hospitals, schools and business projects that have improved millions of livelihoods, and we applaud them. But there are also bizarre projects – like giving rape victims cameras to record their ordeals in the Congo or this crazy idea to send a million shirts to Africa. As Aid Watch aptly puts it, a lot of aid is never about what the people in this mythical place called Africa need but what people want to give – and oftentimes what they want to give is a function of their warped notion of what life is like on the Continent.
And in other news, Sierra Leone has seen the light. As I noted here two years ago, the country’s HDI indicators belong in a time long gone. It is therefore encouraging that the Sierra Leoneans have decided to take HDI matters seriously.
Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is here to stay. Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi is up next on a list of African autocrats who face elections this year. Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections on May 23rd in a vote that will determine who becomes Prime Minsiter. Africa’s second most populous country cremains under tight rule by the increasingly despotic Meles Zenawi. It is a foregone conclusion that Mr. Zenawi’s party will win. The only non-academic part of these elections will be how many seats the opposition is allowed to win. Mr. Zenawi has run the country since 1991 when he led a rebellion that overthrew the tinpot dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam.
I am a regular reader of Bill Easterly’s Aid Watch blog. I like his skepticism with regard to the efficacy of aid in the developing world. But every time I read something by him I am always left wondering; what do African finance ministers’ think? I would appreciate having some opinions from the people he keeps writing about – because otherwise he is no better than the WB or IMF clowns who conduct their business from a distance without local input. Easterly’s solutions-based approach could do with a little bit of input from third world government officials.
Taking a break from Collier and Hoeffler and Crawford Young (and into my third cup of tea for the night) I came across the following links…
William Easterly has his usual skepticism when it comes to practitioner-certainty in the field of Economics. How I wish I had time to read the two books he is banging on about in the New York Review of Books.
This result of a World Bank funded project is sort of long-ish, but I liked because one of the authors is a fellow student at the department – and because it touches on something that I care about. I can’t wait for the time I shall be doing similar fieldwork…
And Texas in Africa has a piece on Somalia that is asking the right questions. Is it time for the US and the rest of the world to call Al Shabab to the negotiating table? May be not.
From Aid Watch, William Easterly’s very informative (and sometimes controversial) blog, is a story that serves to highlight the dysfunction that is endemic in the aid industry. And unsurprisingly, the World Bank is right in the thick of things here as well.