The Lost Continent

With refugees spilling over borders, pirates hijacking ships, and terrorists finding shelter, it is clear that, although Africa’s solutions are its own, its problems are not. But, while the rest of the world can no longer afford Africa’s poverty, the evidence of 50 years of failed efforts is that no one has a clue what to do about it.

LONDON – Home to one-sixth of the world’s people, but contributing only one-fortieth of world GDP, Africa is the most conspicuous victim of the global recession. After a half-decade of 5% growth, the continent’s growth rate is expected to halve in 2009. Some countries, like Angola, are contracting. Elsewhere, the crisis has swept away the benefits of several years of economic reform. Many Africans will fall back into desperate poverty.

Development economists wring their hands in despair: Africa defies their best efforts to create a miracle. On the eve of decolonization in 1960, real GDP per head in Sub-Saharan Africa was almost three times higher than in Southeast Asia, and Africans were expected to live two years longer on average. In the 50 years since, African real GDP per head grew by 38% and people lived nine years longer, while in Southeast Asia GDP per head grew by 1000% and people lived 32 years longer.

At first, the solution for Africa’s under-development seemed obvious. Africa needed capital, but lacked savings. Therefore, money had to be provided from outside – by institutions like the World Bank. Since extracting commercial interest rates from starving people seemed like usury, the loans had to be offered on a concessionary basis – in effect, aid.

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