Saturday, May 1, 2010

How do you divide up Africa?

Hey all,

I went to an event at the World Bank, called Yes! Africa Can!, an event attempting to address the dearth of positive events in DC that discuss the continent of Africa.

It was a bit of a mixed event--some of it good, some of it interesting, some of it atrocious. I don't want to make any enemies, so I won't name panelists, but the first group mostly named 1 small success story (without telling us what made it a success), and then complained about how difficult 'Africa' is. There was even the suggestion that, since African countries can't run their own economies (these were their words, not mine), that African countries should rent coast lines or areas with minerals to other 'more productive' countries to take over and manage.

I don't see how this would address governance issues, empower countries to have control over their own wealth (or lack of it). In fact, the first panel left me somewhat the idea that neo-colonialism is the answer and we're all going to he** in a hand basket. The interesting part of being at a World Bank event, as opposed to a US government organization, no mention was made of AFRICOM.

The second panel was a relief from the first. The first speaker brought up the fact that discussing Africa as a whole was difficult and often not very productive.

So, he divided Africa into 3 groups: Oil/Resource rich countries (ex: Nigeria, Angola, DRC), High Performers (almost all democracies and sources of fairly dynamic growth) and Low-Performers (almost all dictatorships, where quality of life and other norms have been steadily declining). I really would like to see this list.

What do you think of this as an approach? How do you tend to think of the continent?

As of yet, I've only been to two African countries, both Anglophone, both in West Africa, and both like night and day to each other. So I will reserve judgement until I've got more to go on.

The speaker also brought up an interesting point. Many people see various life-quality indicators on Africa remaining about the same for the last decade. The speaker maintained that it is really that Group 2 (see above) were steadily improving and Group 3 (also see above) were steadily declining, effectively cancelling each other on any graphical representation of change of the whole continent. I think this speaks to not grouping the continent as a whole, in general, unless you are, say the African Union.

What do you think?



  1. WB is a really amazing organisation (irony inside). The panelist with the three different groups should avoid saying funny things: what can we say about Niger - rich country with Uranium but also a dictatorship or about Gabon - rich country thanks to oil and minerals but also a dictatorship.
    It makes me think to a paper written by people of the WB that was trying to justify the Washington Consensus on trade and liberalisation. They said that growth was necessary and a basic condition of development, but they forgot working on social development, human development index to explain that!!

  2. slightly off the subject, i would recommend you look online at old maps of africa, before the emergence of today's nation states, since those maps tend to categorize africa's peoples in different ways, e.g they will show the true extent of the hausa/fulani areas, might help in your analysis

  3. I think that's a very interesting way of doing it. Africa is hard to divide up geographically because of the religious, economic, and cultural diversity even among groups of countries that are adjacent and were colonized by the same people. I hadn't thought of leaving geography out of it the way that panelist did, but his way of looking at Africa seems to make the most sense.