Sisay Asefa, noted Professor of Economics, supports a position on optimism but calls for caution:
Yes, there is a need for a cautious optimism as the Professor Onwudwe has indicated. African development problems are primarily about getting "institutions' and policies right. Getting "prices right" or "market fundamentalism" may not work because information problems, high transaction costs. Indeed markets may be "missing" or do not work for various reasons, so the challenge is to develop markets themselves.
Africa's natural resources can be both a curse or a blessing depending on how they are managed. For example, it was a curse for Zaire under Mobutu, or Petroleum under Abacha, in Liberia under Charles Taylor, etc.. This is what economists call the "Dutch Disease" where high windfall profits are squandered and stolen by corrupt authoritarian regimes.
But, there are a few cases in Africa such as the quiet nation of Botswana in southern Africa, where Diamond revenues were used with prudence and invested on human development, as a result of a democratic governance and well managed economy. Botswana which at independence in 1966 was the poorest country in Africa is now a middle income country of per capita income over $3500 per annum. It also has one of the highest Human Development Index, and lowest corruption in developing countries. This is not only because of existence of diamonds or homogenous ethnicity as some scholars tell us. It has to do with the type of democratic governance that has evolved with a wise and competent leadership over time and rooted in the African culture and tradition of Kgotla (where all people speak freely and solve problems in the villages). Botswana's success is not primarily due to the relative ethnic/linguistic homogeneity, since other African states with the same ethnicity and religion such as the Somalis have committed massive atrocities to each other resulting the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. During the 1980s, the period which some scholars have called the Lost Decade of Africa, Botswana was the fastest growing nation in the World surpassing the Asian Tigers. So, African states can learn not only from Asia but from a quiet sister state of Botswana.
But, in the 1990s and beyond there may be reasons for cautious optimism for Africa. I will qualify Prof Onwudwe's piece by adding the word "cautious".The danger in some states today is the politicization of ethnicity and religion, where politicians, elites and rebels use religion and ethnicity as a means of grabbing power, and committing massive atrocities over the African peoples. For a true democracy politics and religion/or ethnicity should be separated. Religion and ethnicity are natural private matters, they should not be mixed with politics and governance which is public affair.
So, as Jesse Jackson would say, we must "keep hope alive", but African elites, leaders, and intellectuals must think and act constructively.
Sisay Asefa, Professor
Department of Economics
Western Michigan University