Friday, March 06, 2015

The Fortunes of Africa

Martin Meredith, author of "The Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000-Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour", discusses why Africa remains the world's poorest despite fabulous natural wealth and the idea of  a "resource curse" - the distressing tendency of developing countries to fail to translate their minerals and hydrocarbons into wider prosperity - is a very modern one.

Q: Africa's natural riches have long been coveted and exploited by outsiders. Can the continent take control of its own destiny in this regard and extract its minerals and hydrocarbons in such a way that the wealth can be spread?

A: In theory it could be. Unfortunately, the pattern that most African governments have adopted is to use the resources mainly to benefit elite groups or reward supporters. It's sometimes called a resource curse, but the resources are a huge benefit. It's the management of the wealth that comes from those resources where the problem lies.

Q: What is your take on the "African Rising" narrative that is currently fashionable?

A: I find it a rather foolhardy notion. It's quite true that in the first decade of the 21st century the growth rate in Africa after some 40 years of economic mayhem, the growth rate has been quite impressive. The general average over that period would have been about 5 percent, which is impressive. But much of that had to do with rising commodity prices. And if you take out the rise in commodity prices you are left with a much less impressive economic record.

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