Africa: The Challenge of Development

See Map

I.    Regions

A.  Northern Africa - Five countries, relatively homogeneous Islamic/ Arabic culture. Average income is triple the Sub-Saharan average, supported by mineral resources and convenient ports.

B.  West Africa - largest region in Sub-Saharan, including Nigeria and 16 other countries.

C.  Central Africa - dominated by D. R. Congo (former Zaire), has the lowest average income.

D.  Southern Africa - with mineral wealth and unique polity,  Republic of South Africa is richest.

E.   East Africa - many troubled countries, some showing new signs of stability and growth under new political leadership.

African and South Asian GDP

II.  History

A.  Indigenous Cultures

1.   Egyptians of the Old Kingdom - hieroglyphic writing, broad education, developed mathematics, plotted movement of stars and planets, prepared 365-day calendar.

2.   Kingdom of Kush - wealthy merchants of ebony, ivory, perfume, and gold. During the 8th century B.C., conquered Egypt and controlled N.E. Africa. Discovered how to make iron; developed a major industry and spread technology to other regions of Africa.

3.   Kingdom of Ghana- First major power of West Africa, based in modern Mauritania and Mali during 5th C., A.D. Most people were farmers, but wealth derived from gold mining and iron production. Iron production supported military power, tribute from neighbors.

4.   Mali Empire - Replaced Ghana during 13th C; gaining control of the gold-salt trade. Led confederation of 3 states and 12 provinces.

5.   Songhai Kingdom - Based on Niger River, gained control of gold-salt trade from Malis in late 1300s. By end of 15th C., built largest empire known in W. Africa. Established efficient  provincial government and enforced system of weights and measures. Timbuktu became center of Islamic learning.

B.  Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

1.   Slavery (usually of conquered people/tribes) was practiced within several regions of Africa before the Europeans arrived, and was conducted with Europe and the Middle East for many years, but grew enormously after Americas were discovered in 1492, revealing a huge labor shortage in the Western Hemisphere. Native populations were decimated, creating labor shortages. Slaves first exported from Africa to the West Indies in 1510. Continued more than three centuries.

2.   Africa lost 23 million to the slave trade, including many of the healthiest, strongest, and most skilled workers and craftsmen.

3.   The trade was abolished in England, the U.S., Holland, and France during the early 1800s. Sierra Leone and Liberia provided settlements for returning slaves.

UPDATE: Nunn and Wantchekon (2011) argue that the slave trade caused long-term and continuing harm to economic development, because it damaged trust within and between tribal groups, educing cooperation and the effectiveness of local governments.

C.  The Colonial Period

1.   Short period of "legitimate" commerce between Africa and Europe during mid-1800s.

2.   During 1870s-1890s, all African territories except Ethiopia and Liberia divided into 23 colonial possessions, held by 7 European countries. Africans adopted languages and legal systems colonizers.

3.   Results of colonialism:

a.   Focus on low-cost extraction of primary products. Each colony became dependent on exports of a small number of commodities.

b.   Transport routes were built for a single purpose—to move the products of mines and plantations to their external destinations.

c.   Dual pattern of export enclaves in the center, migrant labor in periphery.

d.   Political boundaries ignored African ethnicities; interrupted indigenous nation-building.

e.   Little attention devoted to education of Africans.

f.    Little infrastructure built in rural areas, where most of the population lived.

D.                                 Independence, State Ownership,
and Import Substitution

E.                                  Socialism, Capitalism, and Authoritarianism

III.  Agriculture

Africa has more than 25% of the world's arable land, and nearly 70% of the African labor force is engaged in agriculture (compared to 16% in Brazil and 1% in the U.S.), however, it produces only about 10% of the world's food, and crisis countries, such as Somalia and South Sudan, are facing famine.

Today, about 85 percent of Africa’s farms are smaller than two hectares (5 acres), compared with about 11% at that scale in the U.S. and Brazil.

According to a World Economic Forum report, the irrigated share of Africa’s cropland is less than a quarter of the world average. Only 4 percent of crop areas are irrigated in sub-Saharan Africa; in com-parison, this represents only a small fraction of the Asian investment in irrigation, where 39 percent of the production area is irrigated in South Asia and 29 percent in East Asia. Nevertheless, agriculture attracts little domestic investment, and very little FDI.

A.  Historical Farming Practices

1.   Shifting cultivation

2.   Settled cultivation

3.   Colonial cash-crop production

B.  Land Tenure Systems

1.   Tribal communalism

2.   European private ownership

3.   Gradual transition to African private ownership
UPDATE: Many studies have demonstrated that effective land reforms can contribute to agricultural productivity and economic development. Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe and other African countries, land has been redistributed to political cronies, and has reduced access to skill and investment.  See this article.

UPDATE from World Bank 2014 report: At the end of apartheid in 1994, 86 percent of all farmland was held by the white minority (10.9 percent of the population). Although a land reform program was launched in 1994 to reduce land ownership inequality by transferring land from white South Africans to the majority and poor black population, as of March 2013, nearly 80 percent of the land was still owned by white minorities. In Kenya, three powerful political families are estimated to own more than 1 million acres of rural land, while at least 4 million rural Kenyan citizens are landless and at least 11 million own less than 1 hectare.

IV.   Governance

Drawing on Freedom House assessments, Ruchir Sharma finds that only 5 African countries were free or partly free in 1990, and that number rose to 30 in 2009. Progress on that front has apparently stalled, because the number stands at 29 in the 2017 report.

V.         Infrastructure

As Sharma emphasizes, lack of power and transportation infrastructure is a major impediment to growth in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Mexico generates 14 times more power per person than Nigeria, and inadequacy of roads and other transport facilities hamper both internal and international trade..

VI. Health and Development

Recent research by Bhattacharyya (2007) indicates that malaria, AIDS, and other infectious diseases have a stronger negative influence on African development than the lingering effects of slave trade or colonialism.  Disease, morbidity, and mortality reduces the level and growth of income by:

  1. Directly reducing labor productivity and its growth

  2. Reducing saving and investment (including education) by reducing the expected life span.

VII. Resource Curse

Oil, diamonds, and other materials cause rent-seeking behavior and corruption of governments, stunting economic development. See this.

VIII. Cold War and Its Aftermath

Rivalry during Cold War contributed to civil wars, political instability, authoritarian governments, and military orientation of foreign aid.  With end of Cold War, foreign aid to Africa declined between 1990 and 1999, and then started growing slowly. 

2010                       Country Name GDP per capita, PPP (2005$) Life expectancy at birth Infant Mortality rate per 1,000 Adult Literacy rate %
Equatorial Guinea 25,619 52 76 94
Seychelles 21,067 73 12 92
Botswana 13,013 46 44 84
Gabon 12,811 62 45 88
Mauritius 12,702 73 13 89
South Africa 9,516 54 35
Namibia 6,092 62 31 89
Angola 5,048 51 105 70
Swaziland 4,722 48 61 87
Congo, Rep. 3,748 57 66
Cape Verde 3,534 74 20 84
Nigeria 2,120 51 83 61
Mauritania 2,110 61 67 58
Cameroon 1,948 54 65
Sudan 1,775 61 52 71
Gambia, The 1,764 58 51 50
Cote d'Ivoire 1,761 50 80 56
Senegal 1,669 63 47
Lesotho 1,602 47 77 90
Sao Tome and Principe 1,544 66 40 89
Ghana 1,486 61 51 67
Kenya 1,472 60 52 87
Zambia 1,370 55 63 71
Benin 1,321 59 62 42
Tanzania 1,289 59 42 73
Chad 1,281 50 93 34
Burkina Faso 1,205 55 70
Uganda 1,130 57 51 73
Mali 1,095 54 83 31
Comoros 1,058 60 61 75
Rwanda 1,056 62 44 71
Guinea-Bissau 1,035 54 85 54
Sierra Leone 997 45 123 42
Guinea 898 55 70 41
Ethiopia 888 61 51
Togo 862 55 65
Madagascar 849 63 44
Mozambique 805 49 71 56
Malawi 774 53 53 75
Central African Republic 716 48 95 56
Niger 544 57 67
Liberia 493 59 61 61
Burundi 475 53 71 67
Eritrea 448 61 40 68
Congo, Dem. Rep. 336 49 105 67
54 96
54 59 92
South Sudan
53 71
mean 3512 57 62 66
median 1370 55 62 70