Missing the Real Africa Story

We are missing the big picture–and the main stories of Africa’s rise, including three clashes, according to David Brooks: pluralism, human development and governance.  But since “too many of our images of Africa are derived from nature documentaries, fund-raising appeals, and mission trips” we miss the mark.

But this is more or less the opposite of the truth. Boko Haram is not the main story in Africa or even in Nigeria. It is a small rear-guard reaction to the main story. The main story in Africa is an impressive surge of growth, urbanization and modernization, which has sparked panic in a few people who don’t like these things.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are growing at a phenomenal clip. Nigeria’s economy grew by 6.7 percent in 2012. Mozambique’s grew by 7.4 percent, Ghana’s by 7.9 percent. Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole is predicted to reach 5.2 percent this year. Investment funds are starting up by the dozen, finding local entrepreneurs.

via The Real Africa – NYTimes.com.


Keep in mind that “bad news sells”–in the case of reporting, donors and even international organizations, as Karen Rothmyer writes in CJR. Stereotypes and outdated frames, such as Africa as a country and all the other images of blood diamonds, conflicts, and even groups like Boko Haram, dominate the narrative.

Charter City Plan to Fight Honduras Poverty Loses Initiator – NYTimes.com

How hard the fight against poverty?  So tough that an entrepreneurial NYT prof setup a transparent model with a charter city, called “a Hong Kong in Honduras” by the Economist–that was quickly turned opaque, added “bad rules” and was, in essence, corrupted.  (He dropped out of the project.)  Sigh.

But now, Mr. Romer, an expert on economic growth, is out of his own project, tripped up by the sort of opaque decision making that his plan was supposed to change.

An internal contradiction in the theory is playing out: To set up a new city with clear new rules, you must first deal with governments that are trapped in the old ones.

“I do feel disappointed on behalf of the people I have gotten to know,” said Mr. Romer, an economist at New York University’s Stern School of Business and the director of its Urbanization Project. “The Hondurans who hoped this would be a way to escape from business as usual.”

via Charter City Plan to Fight Honduras Poverty Loses Initiator – NYTimes.com.

Scandal Bares Corruption Hampering India’s Growth – NYTimes.com

India is the world’s largest democracy, but an uruly one to be certain–even having a rough time of things lately.  Will it fare any better in efforts to reign in corruption?

Coalgate, as the scandal is now known here, is centered on the opaque government allotment process that enabled well-connected businessmen and politicians to obtain rights to undeveloped coal fields. Investigators are now looking at whether Mr. Jayaswal and Vijay Darda, a member of Parliament, conspired to fraudulently obtain five lucrative coal allocations. Naveen Jindal, another lawmaker and one of India’s richest industrialists, is also reportedly under investigation.

Even as the scandal has renewed public anger about rising official graft and the state of the economy, Coalgate has provided fresh ammunition for those who say India’s politicians have become so venal and feckless that they are no longer able or willing to address the country’s entrenched problems.

via Scandal Bares Corruption Hampering India’s Growth – NYTimes.com.

A Campaign Issue that Matters | Romney on Why Nations Rise

Thankfully the fallout of Romney’s big overseas adventure has reached stage two.

So sure, Romney has been pilloried by political reporters and left-wing columnists and foreign policy writers and former U.S. diplomats and snooty British publications for a bad trip… but they’ve mostly been focusing on the “gaffes.”

via Mitt Romney is living every social scientist’s nightmare | Daniel W. Drezner.

Its nice to be talking about an issue that actually matters, even though Dan Drezner at FP calls this Romney’s “Annie Hall/Marshall McLuhan Moment” as Jared Diamond, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Fareed Zakaria, and Charles Kenny weigh in on the problems with the development argument.

As Acemoglu and Robinson, authors of Why Nations Fail, point out in another FP article that a lot more than culture accounts for prosperity.  Such as?  Institutions.

That’ won’t help Romney in the short run, but sometimes you lose an argument.  But  what is the lesson for budding IR students everywhere?  Professor Drezner (again):

Still, three out of four social scientists have flunked Romney’s comparative political economy comp. Will this make a whit of difference in the campaign? That depends entirely on whether you believe that voters still respond to cues from elites… so for me the answer is “probably not.” This entire episode is nevertheless an instructive parable for graduate students studying for comps everywhere:

1) Define your terms clearly;

2) Make sure you’ve done your reading and not staffed it out relied on book reviews or summaries of the Big Arguments — cause those summaries can be way off base;

3) Don’t double down when you make a bad argument.

Seven Billion – NYTimes.com

What does seven billion people mean for this planet?

Can the earth support seven billion now, and the three billion people who are expected to be added by the end of this century? Are the enormous increases in households, cities, material consumption and waste compatible with dignity, health, environmental quality and freedom from poverty?

via Seven Billion – NYTimes.com.

Applying Management Lesson to Foreign Aid

If you’re tired of debating foreign aid–and you should keep an open mind–what about finding a solution from the private sector?

But it’s in the realm of charity, and especially in international aid, where these methods are really succeeding beyond the confines of the corporation, as Alex Perry, chief African correspondent at Time magazine, demonstrates convincingly in “Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time” (PublicAffairs, $25.99).

This little gem of a book heartens the reader by showing how eagerly an array of American billionaires, including Bill Gates and the New Jersey investor Ray Chambers (the book’s protagonist), are using concepts of efficient management to improve the rest of the world. “Lifeblood” nominally chronicles the global effort to eradicate malaria, but it is really about changes that Mr. Chambers, Mr. Gates and others are bringing to the chronically mismanaged system of foreign aid, especially in Africa.

via review of Lifeblood – NYT.com

Whither Foreign Aid?

The old US foreign aid debate–luxury or necessity–is revisited in the context of a world in flux, and from hard-headed economists (mostly) is “does it work?” (George Ayittey has argued on “Dead Aid” that it actually is counterproductive.)

Aid has been debated by the likes of Steven Radelet, State Dept v. William Easterly, NYU, among others.  Nicholas Kristof has a reading list, in case you’re still interested.  Your view?

Given the relatively small foreign aid budget — it accounts for 1 percent of federal spending over all — the effect of the cuts could be disproportional.

The State Department already has scaled back plans to open more consulates in Iraq, for example. The spending trend has also constrained support for Tunisia and Egypt, where autocratic leaders were overthrown in popular uprisings. While many have called for giving aid to these countries on the scale of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild European democracies after World War II, the administration has been able to propose only relatively modest investments and loans, and even those have stalled in Congress.

“There is a democratic awakening in places that have never dreamed of democracy,” Mrs. Clinton said on Friday. “And it is unfortunate that it’s happening at a historic time when our own government is facing so many serious economic challenges, because there’s no way to have a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa.”

via Foreign Aid Set to Take Hit in U.S. Budget Crisis – NYTimes.com.

There appears to be a ‘third way’ developing–somewhere between Sachs and Easterly, that Jacqueline Novorgratz and others are exploring.