Debating African development

In: Uncategorized

1 Jul 2007

Niall Ferguson, a professor of history at Harvard, had a review of Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion in today’s New York Times (also see posts of 14 May and 6 June). Ferguson argues that the most high profile recent debate on Africa has been between Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and William Easterly of New York University – both white men based in New York. Sachs argues for government intervention to help solve the problem whereas Easterly is sceptical about the benefits of aid.

Ferguson goes on: “Now comes another white man, ready to shoulder the burden of saving Africa: Paul Collier, the director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. A former World Bank economist like Easterly, Collier shares his onetime colleague’s aversion to what he calls the “headless heart” syndrome — meaning the tendency of people in rich countries to approach Africa’s problems with more emotion than empirical evidence. It was Collier who pointed out that nearly two-fifths of Africa’s private wealth is held abroad, much of it in Swiss bank accounts. It was he who exposed the British charity Christian Aid for commissioning dubious Marxist research on free trade. And it was he who pioneered a new and unsentimental approach to the study of civil wars, demonstrating that most rebels in sub-Saharan Africa are not heroic freedom fighters but self-interested brigands.”

Collier argues there are four traps into which the poorest countries tend to fall:

* Civil war.
* The resource curse.
* Being landlocked.
* Bad governance.

His preferred solution, which Ferguson supports, is more Western intervention. This can take the form of the growth of international law and military intervention where necessary.

David Chandler, professor of international relations at the University of Westminster, also refers to Paul Collier, although in passing, in a review article on liberal interventionism in spiked this week. Chandler points out that Collier was the head of a World Bank team on conflict studies which influenced, among others, Paddy Ashdown. Chandler also cites a 2000 book by Collier and a World Bank paper (PDF) he co-authored in 2001.

Meanwhile, William Easterly has an article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy (July / August) attacking “the ideology of development”. His argument is straightforward: “like Communism, Fascism, and the others before it, Developmentalism is a dangerous and deadly failure.” His target is not increasing prosperity as such but the idea it can be promoted by the authorities from above. He names Jeffrey Sachs and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times as key proponents of the developmentalist approach.

Comment Form