By the end of the twentieth century, sub-Saharan Africa had experienced twenty-five years of economic and political disaster. While "economic miracles" in China and India raised hundreds of millions from extreme poverty, Africa seemed to have been overtaken by violent conflict and mass destitution, and ranked lowest in the world in just about every economic and social indicator.
Working in Busia, a small Kenyan border town, economist Edward Miguel began to notice something different starting in 1997: modest but steady economic progress, with new construction projects, flower markets, shops, and ubiquitous cell phones. In Africa's Turn? Miguel tracks a decade of comparably hopeful economic trends throughout sub-Saharan Africa and suggests that we may be seeing a turnaround. He bases his hopes on a range of recent changes: democracy is finally taking root in many countries; China's successes have fueled large-scale investment in Africa; and rising commodity prices have helped as well. Miguel warns, though, that the growth is fragile. Violence and climate change could derail it quickly, and he argues for specific international assistance when drought and civil strife loom.
Responding to Miguel, nine experts gauge his optimism. Some question the progress of democracy in Africa or are more skeptical about China's constructive impact, while others think that Miguel has underestimated the threats represented by climate change and population growth. But most agree that something new is happening, and that policy innovations in health, education, agriculture, and government accountability are the key to Africa's future.
Contributors: Olu Ajakaiye, Ken Banks, Robert Bates, Paul Collier, Rachel Glennerster, Rosamond Naylor, Smita Singh, David N. Weil, and Jeremy M. Weinstein
After decades of disappointment, the economies of sub-Saharan Africa are looking up, according to the discussion in this forward-looking, issues-of-the-day volume... Miguel and company set forth the big-picture parameters for general-interest readers or debaters pondering the problem of poverty in Africa.
[A] terrific new book in MIT Press's Boston Review series... an interesting and thought-provoking but non-technical read.
This concise volume from the Boston Review series creates a conversation between leading scholars on Africa and development specialists. The opening salvo comes from economist Miguel (coauthor of Economic Gangsters) who, recalling a visit to Kenya and the plethora of cellphones, road improvements and small stores he witnessed, tentatively posits, ‘It is now possible to wonder whether the terrible decades of war, famine, and despair are finally over.” In the ensuing chapters, nine scholars debate this claim, highlighting technological, political and environmental aspects of African development. Olu Ajakaiye, of the African Economic Research Consortium, questions China’s ability to improve African trade markets; Paul Collier (The Bottom Billion) questions Miguel’s assertion that democratization is responsible for recent economic gains on the continent. While the book focuses on Africa’s recent political and economic gains, the authors do not gloss over the violence, corruption and global economic factors that could still derail Africa’s economic renewal, but they avoid “politically correct positive and stereotypically negative” prognostications, making this a refreshing take on the fortunes of Africa in the current century and a fascinating compendium of some of the leading theorists of African development.