L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

29 September 2009 Blog Home : September 2009 : Permalink

70 Years of Progress in Africa

Via this LJ post I came to a blog called First Thoughts which seems to be jolly sound and which has a rather depressing table from a relatively recent UN report:
1938 priorities vs 2005 priorities
I suppose we British have to take the blame for the inaction of the first 20 years or so - OK so we got distracted by a war but really! - however the last half century has seen us hand the baton over to the UN, the NGOs and the rest of the "International Aid" organization.

The results of their "transformational" campaigns have, generally speaking been non-existant as the table above illustrates. The table, and much of the work comes fom a paper (PDF) by William Easterly which points out just how stupid the developed world's Africa strategies have been. I'll quote the abstract and suggest that people find some time to read the entire 120 page thing:

In the new millennium, the Western aid effort towards Africa has surged due to writings by well-known economists, a celebrity mass advocacy campaign, and decisions by Western leaders to make Africa a major foreign policy priority. This survey contrasts the predominant "transformational" approach (West saves Africa) to occasional swings to a "marginal" approach (West takes one small step at a time to help individual Africans). Evaluation of "one step at a time" initiatives is generally easier than that of transformational ones either through controlled experiments (although these have been much oversold) or simple case studies where it is easier to attribute outcomes to actions. We see two themes emerge from the literature survey: (1) escalation. As each successive Western transformational effort has yielded disappointing results, the response has been to try an even more ambitious effort. (2) the cycle of ideas. Rather than a progressive testing and discarding of failed ideas, we see a cycle in aid ideas in many areas in Africa, with ideas going out of fashion only to come back again later after some lapse long enough to forget the previous disappointing experience. Both escalation and cyclicality of ideas are symptomatic of the lack of learning that seems to be characteristic of the "transformational" approach. In contrast, the "marginal" approach has had some successes in improving the well-being of individual Africans, such as the dramatic fall in mortality.

Mind you its not all grim - child mortality has fallen significantly, for example, although it remains higher than elsewhere - but he shows that Africa as a whole seems to take one step back for every step forward. It's depressing reading.