I just read this article on the Economist website on the security situation in Southern Sudan. The piece reminded me of posts I made on this blog a while back about nomadic pastoralism and other supposedly “African” ways of life.
The strongly worded emails that I got over these two posts notwithstanding, I still stand by them. I think that it is time we woke up and faced the truth. Subsistence agriculture, nomadic pastoralism and the isolated rural life that characterizes most of Africa are inefficient at best and the real causes of African poverty at worst. Economic history shows that the percentage of a state’s population involved in agriculture is inversely proportional to per capita GDP. Forgive the cliche, but numbers don’t lie (at least not all the time).
Now I am not advocating for Soviet-style relocation of whole populations or anything close to that. But African governments ought to be cognizant of the above mentioned trend and so offer incentives to their nomadic communities to settle down (plus it easier to provide public goods to sedentary populations) and encourage rural farmers to consolidate their production.
I say this with a firm belief in agriculture as a pillar of economic development. Again, the history books show us that agriculture, textiles and construction comprise the holy trinity of economic development. This was true for England during the Industrial Revolution in the mid 18th century and is still true today. Starving, unclothed and homeless people will not magically start thinking about how to land a man on Mars.