Did European Colonialism Benefit Africans?

“We find it difficult to bring the available evidence together with plausible counter-factuals to argue that there is any country today in Sub-Saharan Africa which is more developed because it was colonized by Europeans. Quite the contrary.”

That is Leander Heldring and James Robinson writing in a new paper on the negative impact of colonialism on Africa’s economic prospects.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Interesting attempt at positive analysis of a difficult subject (esp. with regard to counter-factuals), although normative undertones drive most of the analytical narrative.

The negative legacies of colonialism – despotism, negative ethnicity, aid dependence, and general underdevelopment, etc – certainly do persist.

But for those unwilling to submit to the gods of path dependence, the question remains one of how long incompetent African leaders will continue to blame outsiders for their own ineptitude. After half a century of independence, many Africans are wary of being the only ones left in the “bottom billion” once the East and South Asians climb up.

When will African leaders (and elites more generally) realize that a generator, a borehole and a septic tank, and a security guard at their mansions on dusty streets are not substitutes for well functioning power grids, water and sanitation systems, and general security?

To paraphrase Achebe, the trouble with Africa is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the African character. There is nothing wrong with the African land or climate or water or air or anything else. Even external conquest and subsequent colonialism was not unique to Africa.

H/T Chris Blattman.

Emperor Bokassa’s madness immortalized at the UN Plaza in San Francisco

Emperor Bokassa (of the Central African Republic/”Empire”) ranks high among Africa’s worst dictators. For his coronation as emperor of the Central African Empire he spent half the national budget (with the assistance of the French, of course).

This afternoon I once more encountered his colossal error which remains immortalized at the UN Plaza in San Francisco.

african dictators

Yours truly has a piece in Uganda’s Independent newspaper (as usual, the piece had edits because newspaper people know their audience better…). Here’s a quote:

As a young East African in the United States, I am constantly confronted with the uncomfortable question of; why Africa? The question becomes particularly touchy if raised in the presence of my East and South Asian friends who take pride in their respective nations’ gargantuan achievements on the economic front. Instead of discussing high speed rails, turbo-charged economic growth rates and potential for massive reverse brain-drain, the discourse on my home continent is often clouded by stories of famine, illiteracy, economic stagnation, disease, and misrule etc. My attempts to answer the “why Africa?” question have generated a number of case-contingent answers, but the one answer that invariably comes up in all the cases is bad leadership.

And more….

Throughout the region, from Senegal, Somalia, Sudan to South Africa, socio-economic stagnation and misrule predominate. The only success story is Botswana, a middle-income country of less than 2 million people. But even life expectancy in Botswana is 55 years and over a quarter of its adult population has HIV. That is Africa’s success story