26 March 2012

The Post-Colonial Stagnation In Africa

Over centuries, bit by bit, most of Africa was placed under colonial rule for European powers, with England, France and Portugal being among the more prominent colonial powers. By the time World War I arrived, almost all of Africa was under colonial rule, and it mostly stayed that way until well after World War II. When decolonialization arrived, it mostly happened all at once as a collective policy decision of the colonial powers fostered to a great extent as an early initiative of the United Nations. The year 1960 was the modal year, when more African countries were granted independence than any other.

The pattern of decolonialization was depressingly familiar. The country declaring independence, within boundaries set based on administrative convenience by colonial powers during the colonial era enacted a constitution establishing Western style representative democracy, a Western style court system, and a wide set of guaranteed rights. A thin local elite, educated by the colonial power during the colonial period attempted to conduct government under this system, but were inept, corrupt, and lacked a widely accepted legitimacy in the countries they were given to rule. In short order some combination of military coups (often multiple coups), abrogation of constitutions by current leaders who became dicatators and established cults of personality, or one party political systems modeled on Russia and/or China emerged. Wars, both civil and international raged intermittently in most of the continent. Mass starvation and public health disasters followed. Non-democratic government was the norm for at least a generation or two in most of the continent. Only in the last decade or two had Western style democratic self-government really taken hold. And, Africa has not been exceptional in this regard. Almost all post-colonial regimes have experienced something generally similar.

The economics of the post-colonial era in Africa have reflected this reality, with modest GDP growth at times in some countries masking a genuine deterioration in Africa's economic health.

"The paper [by John Page] shows that between 1975 and 2005 the size, diversity and sophistication of industry in Africa have all declined." . . . The growth has come largely through commodities.

Africa's industrial production, outside of South Africa, is marginal, as the paper explains:

The 1980s and 1990s were marked by a shift of manufacturing production out of Africa. Excluding South Africa, the region’s share of global manufacturing production fell from 0.4 per cent in 1980 to 0.3 per cent in 2005, and its share of world manufactured exports from 0.3 to 0.2 per cent (UNIDO 2009). . . . The share of manufacturing in GDP is about one third of the average for developing countries, and in contrast with developing countries as a whole, it is declining. Per capita manufactured output and exports are less than 20 and 10 per cent of the developing country average, respectively. . . .

Africa’s skills gap with the rest of the world is large and growing. While East Asian countries increased secondary enrolment rates by 21 percentage points and tertiary enrolment rates by 12 percentage points between 1990 and 2002, Africa raised its secondary rates by seven percentage points and its tertiary rates by only one percentage point. Real expenditure on tertiary education in Africa fell by about 28 per cent between 1990 and 2002, and expenditure per pupil declined from US $6,800 in 1989 to US $1,200 in 2002. Staff student ratios in West African universities increased from 1:16 in 1990 to 1:32 in 2007 (World Bank 2007b).

Needless to say, the baselines of secondary (i.e. high school) and (tertiary) (i.e. college) enrollment rates were never very high to start with in Africa.

The average Sub-Saharan African business suffers 91 days of electrical outages and 28 days of telephone outages per year, and it takes an average of 80 days to set up new electrical service and 97 days to set up a new landline telephone.

Atrocities from Africa often resemble situations in the Americas and elsehwere sufficiently distant in our historical memory that we like to forget that they ever existed.

For example, Mauritania, while it banned slavery a couple of decades ago, and criminalized keeping slaves in 2007, still has an ongoing institution of slavery that neither government interest nor private activism has been sufficient to halt. According to CNN, in a report earlier this month, in Mauritania, "An estimated 10% to 20% of the population lives in slavery." People still actively kill people for being witches in Nigeria. Since South Sudan gained independence this past summer, its elite, many of whom served as child soldiers themselves, is trying to figure out how to run a national military force comprised only of adults.

In multiple countries in Africa, the average woman has six, seven or eight children in a lifetime, and there are extremely high levels of infant mortality, something that remains the case outside of Africa only in Afghanistan.

The policy recommendations made in Page's twenty-four page discussion of the question "Should Africa Industrialize?", don't obviously improve on the prior literature which hasn't produced result, but the bare factual observations that he makes, that Africa's industrial and higher education sectors has spent the last few decades getting weaker rather than stronger is the take away point that is notable.

While Africa now is close to a low point in terms of internal armed conflict (although there are multiple armed conflicts and deadly insurgencies brewing in Africa as I write this post, for example, in Somolia, Uganda, Northern Nigeria and most recently Mali where coups and possible counter coups of broken out in the past week), and is also at or near a high water mark in terms of the share of the continent that has civilian, democratic self-government, these developments merely establish pre-conditions to meaningful economic development.

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