One of the central pieces of reading for this week was the Economist article “A Hopeful Continent,” which attempted to offer a different view of Africa than is typically depicted in Western Media – which is to say, something other than an entire continent in constant crisis. The article opens by describing the general situation in Africa as undergoing improvement, stating that “many goods and services that used to be scarce… are now widely available.” It also says that the situation has improved because “a booming economy has made a big difference.”
It is difficult to say how accurate a picture this paints of the actual situation on the continent. The Economist clearly attempts to paint a picture that an neoliberal economy can eventually be built in Africa that will produce prosperity the way it has in Europe and North America, and to a somewhat lesser extent China and East Asia.
Weather or not this is possible, however, is certainly questionable. The Western World is capable of extreme material prosperity is large part because it is able to benefit from exploitation of African resources. Indeed, this exploitation is ongoing, and now with Chinese interests becoming prevalent in much of Africa (something unmentioned in the article) it seems unlikely that African economies will free themselves from this type of exploitation, especially under a profits-focused neoliberal model (after all, for a few members of the population, the exploitation of their countrymen is quite profitable.)
The apparent alternative to this would be some type of advocacy for a leftist economic model where private ownership of resources is either eliminated or sharply curtailed. It may be worth asking, however, how this system could be established now when in the past commercial interests always thwarted it in some way. And furthermore, it is worth asking if such a system would solve the problem of widespread poverty – after all, the original problems facing African states (arbitrary borders, lack of basic infrastructure) would remain. Would these problems by themselves be enough to destabilize a state that attempted to divy up resource profits to the general population? It certainly is not impossible.
All this consideration comes down to a simple and unsatisfying statement about African economies: there is no sure way to fix problems with them. What is certain is that while the Economist’s attempt to dispel with Western fictions about Africa is admirable, but seems to be somewhat lazy in contemplating the actual economic challenges facing Africa.