Back Into Africa

Howard W. French has an engrossing piece on China's imperial encroachment into Africa:

Many African farmers, [World Bank chief economist Justin Yifu Lin] told me, “would strongly benefit from simple technology, like cheap diesel pumps to irrigate their fields.” Chinese involvement in agriculture, he believes, could make a big difference. Through investment and demonstration, Chinese farmers could serve as an important catalyst in an African economic takeoff, much as they did a generation ago in China itself.

But agricultural transformation is the most unlikely part of the Chinese project. Farming, of course, takes place in plain view, and foreign encroachment on fertile land raises passions; African governments are likely to find it easier and more profitable to sell oil and mineral rights.

But the Western approach to the continent is hardly an alternative:

“Between 1970 and 1998,” [economist Dambisa Moyo] writes, “when aid flows to Africa were at their peak, poverty in Africa rose from 11 percent to a staggering 66 percent.”

Subsidized lending, she says, encourages African governments to make sloppy, wasteful decisions. It breeds corruption, by allowing politicians to siphon off poorly monitored funds. And it forestalls national development, which she says begins with the building of a taxation system and the attraction of foreign commercial capital. In Moyo’s view, even the West’s “obsession with democracy” has been harmful. In poor countries, she writes, “democratic regimes find it difficult to push through economically beneficial legislation amid rival parties and jockeying interests.” Sustainable democracy, she feels, is possible only after a strong middle class has emerged.

Read the rest here.