The Trouble with Africa by Robert Calderisi is a calm, clear-headed look at Africa, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, and why it has performed so badly over the past 50 years. Calderisi is a French and English speaking economist who worked for the World Bank and other aid giving institutions for many years. He really knows Africa. Few people would be in as good a position to assess how Africa has fared and how effective aid and loans to Africa have been
The book is divided into 4 parts, What Sets Africa Apart, Stories from the Front Line, Facing the Front Line and Facing the Future.
The First Part looks at the usual excuses given for Africa’s lack of development, colonialism, the Cold War, slavery and racism. All of these are discounted. It’s pointed out that slavery has long been outlawed in the rest of the world, the cold war was fought over small parts of Africa, decolonisation happened long enough ago that things should have improved and that racism is a poor excuse. This part also points out that one of the things that really sets Africa apart is Africa’s awful political leadership. This is repeated throughout the book. Calderisi also points out that the biggest loss of income for Africa has been African government’s allowing trade to decline. He estimates that the failure of governments to go for exports has cost Africa 70B a year, far more than all the aid income.
Part Two looks at a number of examples, Tanzania, Ivory Coast and the discord in Central Africa. Tanzania tried socialism and failed. A number of African governments attempted to become rich by industrialising and introduced policies that hurt agriculture. The industrialisation attempts failed and the continent fell to pieces. In places that had done reasonably well, or better than many other African countries like the Ivory Coast the end of a dictator’s rule resulted in anarchy and the country declining still further. The impact of war on Africa in Central Africa is examined.
Part Three’s look at the economics of Africa looks at how Foreign Aid doesn’t work. A number of examples, large and small, are chosen to highlight the myriad of failures of foreign aid. The chapter also looks at the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline that would bring billions to Chad and money to Cameroon. The pipeline was difficult politically and was made further so because of environmental groups in developed countries.
The books conclusion, ten ways for changing Africa makes the point that despite the past 40 years things can be done to help Africa. Calderisi recommends that aid must be given transparently, that all heads of states and senior officials of countries receiving aid have open accounts, direct aid to individual countries be cut in half, about 4-5 countries that are serious about poverty reduction be focused on, all aid recipients should be required to have internationally supervised elections, democracy and free press be pushed for all countries, supervise running schools and HIV programs, establish citizen review groups for the aid, putting more emphasis on infrastructure and regional links and that the World Bank, IMF and UN aid programs be merged.
The book is though provoking, includes solutions and changes not recommended in other places and is written by someone who is erudite and clearly has a lot of experience with the matter that he is writing about.