Why African Economies are Teetering

Nwachukwu Egbunike

Donald Kaberuka, AfDB’s Chief

Donald Kaberuka, AfDB’s Chief

With the grey-haired haughtiness of a village headmaster, the President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Donald Kaberuka recently declared that, “the geometric growth in African countries’ population had sustained the high level of poverty among families.” These apocalyptic words would have been true had Mr Kaberuka made a bit more effort in digging deep into the root cause of poverty in the continent. Unfortunately, he did not, because the lack of good governance is the rope that has continually teetered Africa to the tree of poverty.

Before going into the economic sophistry against AfDB’s chief statement, one is tempted to ask if Zimbabwe’s population was the catalyst that sent White farmers packing. So much so that, the erstwhile food basket of Southern Africa has morphed into a starvation station. Or was the geometric rise in the population of the Niger Delta of Nigeria responsible for the neglect of the people, the desecration of their land and water?
The disappearance of the groundnuts pyramids in northern Nigeria, cocoa plantations in western Nigeria and oil palm industry in eastern Nigeria had nothing to do with population but rather the governance-enfeebling bent of a natural resource trap. Certainly, President Barrack Obama must have been ill-advised when he deliberately ignored the land of his father, Kenya, electing rather to visit Ghana. Perhaps the current trial of Liberia’s former President, Charles Taylor and the warrant of arrest of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir respectively, are all due to Africa’s overpopulation crisis?

Poor economic security, lack of title to lands, corruption, absence of seedlings and fertilizers are some of the root cause of endemic poverty among rural Africans (majority of Africans are rural farmers). Kofi A. Anan’s Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) informed analysis concurs that: “A root cause of this entrenched and deepening poverty is the fact that millions of small-scale farmers — the majority of them women working farms smaller than one hectare — cannot grow enough food to sustain their families, their communities, or their countries.” In order words, the travails of subsistence farming beget poverty. Had Mr Kaberuka been more diligent, he would have realized that “deficiency in government policies and farming practices” is the yeast that produces the stale bread of poverty which constipates Africa.

The solution should therefore be participatory, leading from behind not the archaic top down approach, follow your leader. The AGRA insists that “this agricultural revolution must rely on uniquely African solutions to uniquely African problems: solutions that improve the productivity, biodiversity, and nutritional quality of food crops; that practice sound agro-ecosystem management across dramatically different environments; that support mixed crop-livestock farming systems; and that consistently promote equity. It must be pro-poor and pro-environment.”

The reason of being of any government is to provide utilities that facilitate the common good. In most countries in Africa, transportation, access to information, power, communication and education are a disaster. The lack of these public utilities certainly breeds poverty. Truth be told, unchecked governance not population control is the bane of Africa’s underdevelopment.

Political stability is not possible without good governance. A tide of change is gradually sweeping through the continent, with Africans demanding that their right to elect their leaders be adhered to. If elections are not credible, then there’s little or no guarantee of peace. Without calm in the polity, development is a mere flight of fancy. The leaders of the G8 group of industrialized nations had this in mind when resolved that: “food security is closely connected with economic growth and social progress as well as with political stability and peace.” (‘L’Aquila’ Joint Statement on Global Food Security – L’Aquila Food Security Initiative (AFSI) 10 July, 2009)

Sound economic theories seem to fail in most African countries due to the greasing of hands and lining of various pockets. Though corruption is not peculiar to the continent, there are Madoffs all over the world. Nonetheless the absence of institutional lids makes Africa exceptional. According to the World Bank’s 2009 governance indicators, “In the dimension of rule of law one standard deviation is all that separates the very low ratings of Afghanistan or Zimbabwe from the still-low ratings of countries such as Nigeria or Paraguay”. Furthermore, it contends that “improved governance strengthens development, and not the other way around. When governance is improved by one standard deviation, infant mortality declines by two-thirds and incomes rise about three-fold in the long run”.

It’s unfortunate that Mr Donald Kaberuka made that statement. Coming from a man who should know, makes it more worrisome. It has no basis in reality, except in the consciousness of some fishy humanitarians. And who says that population is a threat? If so, then China, India and Brazil will not be the darling of US trade efforts. To boot, the Chinese consumer market is the world’s fastest-growing. China is mulling the revamp of its one child policy while Sweden pays parents to have children. Rapidly growing cities like Shanghai are ageing at a faster clip. Without adequate social security, there are fears that caring for the aged will fall on a disproportionate number of working age citizens.

In The Myth of Population Explosion, Anthony Okoromadu and Juan Elegido contrast this to “Belgium and Sweden, for instance, rich and technologically sophisticated countries, but due their small populations they have little weight in the international scene.” The success of MTN a mobile telephone company in Nigeria lends credence to the old saying that where the people are, there you’ll find the market. The company was able to record highest profits ever after one year in Nigeria than it had done after many years in South Africa. No use peering into the crystal ball, fix governance in Africa and poverty will fly off the continent. It’s as simple as that.



  1. The argument that population growth is responsible for poverty in Africa is nonsensical.

    Nigeria with 180 million people has a much higher per capita income than Gambia which has a population of 2 million people.

    The reverse is also true which suggests that the effect of population growth is minimal as compared to other factors like bad leadeship or corruption.

    The reason why Africa was colonized was because it had a very small population at that time and only when the populations rose did they apply enough strain on the colonial administrations.


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