Can the West Save Africa?
Journal of Economic Literature
no. 2, June 2009
In the new millennium, the Western aid effort toward Africa has surged due to writings
by well-known economists, a celebrity mass advocacy campaign, and decisions by
Western leaders to make Africa a major foreign policy priority. This survey contrasts
the predominant "transformational" approach (West comprehensively saves Africa) to
occasional swings to a "marginal" approach (West takes one small step at a time to help
individual Africans). Evaluation of "one step at a time" initiatives is generally easier than
that of transformational ones either through controlled experiments (although these have
been oversold) or simple case studies where it is easier to attribute outcomes to actions.
We see two themes emerge from the literature survey: (1) escalation -- as each successive
Western transformational effort has yielded disappointing results (as judged at least by
stylized facts, since again the econometrics are shaky), the response has been to try an
even more ambitious effort and (2) the cycle of ideas -- rather than a progressive testing
and discarding of failed ideas, we see a cycle in aid ideas in many areas in Africa, with
ideas going out of fashion only to come back again later after some lapse long enough to
forget the previous disappointing experience. Both escalation and cyclicality of ideas
are symptomatic of the lack of learning that seems to be characteristic of the "transformational"
approach. In contrast, the "marginal" approach has had some successes in
improving the well-being of individual Africans, such as the dramatic fall in mortality.
"Can the West Save Africa?"
Journal of Economic Literature,
National Security and War
Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
International Linkages to Development; Role of International Organizations