I share Edward Miguel’s cautious optimism: the new millennium has started out well for Africa. Democracy is making steady progress, with genuinely contested elections more common and the press increasingly free. GDP per capita is growing at an average rate of 3 percent per year—not East-Asian miracle levels, but quite respectable for any developing country, and a sea change from the previous several decades in Africa. Foreign investment is rising; inflation has dropped in most countries; debt has fallen; and foreign exchange reserves have risen. High commodity prices have been a big driver of African growth, but there is evidence that the current boom is more broadly based. The explosive growth of cell phones (from 7.5 million users in 1999 to 100 million today), which are making markets more efficient and alleviating Africa’s curse of bad transportation networks, shows how technology and entrepreneurial innovation can radically change the economic environment. Finally, rapid economic growth in the rest of the developing world, particularly China and India, can only be to Africa’s advantage, and not only by raising commodity prices. As other countries get rich, there will be more demand for expensive sport shoes, and fewer people in the world poor enough to stitch them—and so the jobs (and millions like them) may migrate to Africa.

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Africa’s Turn?

Edward Miguel
Cloth / April 2009

“A refreshing take on the fortunes of Africa in the current century and a fascinating compendium of some of the leading theorists of African development.” — Publishers Weekly

By the end of the twentieth century, sub–Saharan Africa had experienced twenty–five years of economic and political disaster. While “economic miracles” in China and India raised hundreds of millions from extreme poverty, Africa seemed to have been overtaken by violent conflict and mass destitution, and ranked lowest in the world in just about every economic and social indicator.

Working in Busia, a small Kenyan border town, economist Edward Miguel began to notice something different starting in 1997: modest but steady economic progress, with new construction projects, flower markets, shops, and ubiquitous cell phones. In Africa’s Turn? Miguel tracks a decade of comparably hopeful economic trends throughout sub–Saharan Africa and suggests that we may be seeing a turnaround.

Responding to Miguel, nine experts gauge his optimism: Olu Ajakaiye, Ken Banks, Robert Bates, Paul Collier, Rachel Glennerster, Rosamond Naylor, Smita Singh, David N. Weil, and Jeremy M. Weinstein.