Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The African Crisis

Some direct quotes out of the African chapter from Jeffrey Sachs book, "The End of Poverty":

Look Who's Lecturing Who

"The outside world has pat answers concerning Africa's prolonged crisis. Everything comes back, again and again, to corruption, misrule. Western officials, including countless 'missions' of the IMF and World Bank to African countries, argue that Africa simply needs to behave itself better, to allow market forces to operate without interference by corrupt rulers. An American talk show host, Bill O'Reilly, reflected a common view when he recently declared that Africa 'is a corrupt continent; it's a continent of chaos. We can't deliver a lot of our systems that we send there. Money is stolen Now when you have a situation like that, where governments don't really perform consistently, where there's just corruption everywhere, how can you cut through that?'

Western governments enforced draconian budget policies in Africa during the 1980s and 1990s. The IMF and World Bank virtually ran the economic policies of the debt-ridden continent, recommending regimens of budgetary belt tightening known technically as structural adjustment programs. These programs had little scientific merit and produced even fewer results. By the start of the twenty-first century Africa was poorer than during the late 1960s, when the IMF and World Bank had first arrived on the African scene, with disease, population growth, and environmental degradation spiraling out of control.

When it comes to charges of bad governance, the West should be a bit more circumspect. Little surpasses the western world in cruelty and depredations that is has long imposed on Africa. Three centuries of slave trade, from around 1500 to the early 1800s, were followed by a century of brutal colonial rule. Far from lifting Africa economically, the colonial era left Africa bereft of educated citizens and leaders, basic infrastructure, and public health facilities. The borders of newly independent states followed the arbitrary lines of the former empires, dividing ethnic groups, ecosystems, watersheds, and resource deposits in arbitrary ways.

As soon as the colonial period ended, Africa became a pawn in the cold war. Western cold warriors, and the operatives in the CIA and counterpart agencies in Europe, opposed Africa leaders who preached nationalism, sought aid from the Soviet Union, or demanded better terms on Western investments in African minerals and energy deposits. In 1960, as a demonstration of Western approaches to African independence, CIA and Belgian operatives assassinated the charismatic first prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, and installed the tyrant Mobutu Sese Seko in his stead. In the 1980s, the United States supported Jonas Savimbi in his violent insurrection against the government of Angola, on the grounds that Savimbi was an anticommunist, when in fact he was a violent and corrupt thug. The United States long backed the South African apartheid regime, and gave tacit support as that regime armed the violent Renamo insurrections in the neighboring Mozambique. The CIA had its hand in the violent overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in 1966. Indeed, almost every African political crisis - Sudan, Somalia, and a host of others - has a long history of Western meddling among its many causes.

The one thing that the West would not do, however was invest in long-term African economic development. The die was cast in the 1960s when senior U.S. policy makers decided that the United States would not support a Marshall Plan type of policy for Africa, even though such an effort was needed to build the infrastructure for long-term growth. It was not that U.S. officials rejected the diagnosis - they knew it was needed - but the political leadership was not willing to pay the price."

This just sets up US hypocrisy with regards to the African continent, but funny enough, it is not even the real reason for Africa's hardships:

"During the past decade I witnessed close at hand how relatively well-governed countries in Africa, such as Ghana, Malawi, Mali, and Senegal, failed to prosper, whereas societies in Asia perceived to have extensive corruption, such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan, enjoyed rapid economic growth."

Here's some statistics from 2004:

Corruption and Economic Growth

CountryCorruption Perception RankAverage Yearly GDP per Capita Growth, 1980-2000

(The higher the corruption rank the worse the government is).

He discredits colonialism and western intervention as the root cause as well, citing Vietnam as a counter-example of a country that experienced colonialism and civil war, but emerged and found rapid economic growth.

Root causes - disease

"Malaria also has extremely pernicious effects on the investments in human capital. Children who suffer repeated bouts of malaria can suffer lifetime ill effects caused by chronic anemia and the aftermath of complicated cases. With so many repeated episodes, they may drop out of school early because of poor attendance and a poor ability to learn. But there is an even deeper, if indirect, channel straight to poverty. In highly malarious regions, malaria impedes the demographic transition and the investment in human capital. When children die in large numbers, parents overcompensate and have more children, with devastating results. Too poor to invest in the education of all their children, the family might educate just one child, usually the elder son. If children in malarious regions manage to survive, they enter adulthood without the proper education they need to succeed.

"Why, though, was Africa so much more vulnerable to malaria than other regions? I was frequently asked how it was that malaria had not crippled the United States, which had had malaria until the 1940s, whereas it arguably had crippled Africa. It took me a while to understand some basic disease ecology, but once I did, the answer became clear. Malaria in the United States, and indeed in every other place in the world, outside of Africa, was easier to control. Africa had it worse, not because of poor governance and lack of public health services, but because of a unique disease environment. Malaria had coevolved with humans in Africa, and the result was a special intensity of transmission unequaled in any other part of the world.

I learned that malaria is transmitted when a female anopheles mosquito takes a blood meal from somebody already infected with malaria. After being digested by the mosquito, the parasite finds its way to the mosquito's gut. There it undergoes a life-cycle transformation, after which the parasite migrates back to the mosquito's salivary glands, where it can be injected into another's victim. But here is the catch. The life-cycle change, called sporogony, takes about two weeks, roughly the life span of the mosquito itself. If the mosquito dies before sporogony is completed, the mosquito never becomes infective. The central ecological point is that the warmer the temperature, the faster the sporogony - and the more likely it is that the mosquito will live to become infective. Malaria is largely a tropical disease, and if warm weather is a prerequisite, Africa has it!

Another important point is that some types of mosquitos prefer to bite people, whereas others feed off cattle. Transmitting malaria requires two consecutive human bites: the first for the mosquito to ingest the parasite and the second for the mosquito to infect another person, roughly two weeks later. If the mosquito feeds frequently on cattle rather than on people, the odds are that at least one of the two bites, if not both, will be taken on cattle. In India, for example, the predominant type of anopheles tends to bite humans about one third of the time, and the cattle the rest. Africa, sadly, has another predominating mosquito type which prefers human biting nearly 100 percent of the time....

Thus Africa is really unlucky when it comes to malaria: high temperatures, plenty of breeding sites, and mosquitos prefer humans to cattle...."

Sachs also describes the devastating consequences of the AIDS pandemic in Africa and how disease, more than any other cause is holding Africa back.

1 comment:

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