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Poverty

Why We Work in Development

Shanta Devarajan's picture

A visual reminder of why many of us work in development:

The schoolchildren in this picture are first- and second-graders in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They're holding their new textbooks, given to them as part of a project that distributed some 14 million free textbooks to private and public schools across the country. 

After the photo was taken, the teachers tried to take the books back to put them in the classrooms for safekeeping.  The kids refused. For many of them, this was the first time they had held a book in their hands--and they weren't about to let go of them. The Minister of Education (seen in the photo with my colleague Marie-Francoise Mary-Nelly), wanting to give the kids a chance to enjoy their new textbooks, let them keep them.

Les Réussites Africaines

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Ces dernières années, de nombreux pays africains ont commencé à faire preuve d’un dynamisme remarquable.

Le taux de croissance  enregistré au Mozambique est fulgurant, affichant une moyenne annuelle de 8 % sur plus de dix ans. Le Kenya est devenu l'un des plus importants fournisseurs mondiaux de fleurs coupées. Le service M-Pesa, qui permet d’effectuer des transferts d’argent à partir d’un téléphone mobile, rencontre un succès grandissant tandis que le programme KickStart aide les petits agriculteurs à irriguer leurs cultures à moindre coût. Le tourisme rwandais fleurit depuis qu’il s’est axé sur la vie des gorilles et dans la ville de Lagos au Nigéria, les nouvelles infrastructures du BRT (réseau de transport rapide par bus) facilite un développement urbain plus efficace. En deux mots, l’Afrique est en train de vivre une réelle transformation.

Another Reason Why Aid to Africa Must Increase

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Cliquez ici pour lire ce post en français

Given its massive development deficits and the effects of the global economic crisis, many observers, included me, are calling for increased aid to Africa. Most of these appeals are based on Africa’s need for more resources.  But there is a different argument. 

Aid to Africa is today as productive as it has ever been. 

Craig Burnside and David Dollar identified a group of policies (including fiscal stability and low trade barriers) that strengthened the link between foreign aid and per capita income growth. These are the very policies that African governments have been improving over the past decade. 

 Even after the onset of the global economic crisis, and despite the fears that these

What AIDS Leaves Behind: A Heavy Burden on African Women

Kathleen Beegle's picture

Unlike other diseases in Africa (malaria, tuberculosis, intestinal worms, etc.), which mainly affect the young and the old, HIV/AIDS takes its toll on prime-age adults during the most productive years of their lives. The death of an adult family member can have large consequences for the surviving family. Given prevailing social norms in many African societies, the burden may likely be heaviest for women.

Most studies focus on the consequences for orphaned children – their schooling and health. We know less about how older adults are impacted.  In our study, we track individuals and their households in northwest Tanzania, an area of high HIV prevalence in the 1990s, over a 13-year period.

We find that, when a family member dies, women (even old women) end up working more on the farm; men do too, but not as much.  Having an asset such as goats enables them to work less. 

African Successes

Shanta Devarajan's picture

In recent years, a broad swath of African countries has begun to show a remarkable dynamism.  From Mozambique’s impressive growth rate (averaging 8% p.a. for more than a decade) to Kenya’s emergence as a major global supplier of cut flowers, from M-pesa’s mobile phone-based cash transfers to KickStart’s low-cost irrigation technology for small-holder farmers, and from Rwanda’s gorilla tourism to Lagos City’s Bus Rapid Transit system, Africa is seeing a dramatic transformation.  This favorable trend is spurred by, among other things, stronger leadership, better governance, an improving business climate, innovation, market-based solutions, a more involved citizenry, and an increasing reliance on home-grown solutions.  More and more, Africans are driving African development. 

The global economic crisis of 2008-09 threatens to undermine the optimism that Africa can harness this dynamism for long-lasting development.  In light of this, it might be useful to re-visit recent achievements.  The African Successes study aims to do just that.

The study will identify a wide range of development successes (see list), from which around 20 cases will be selected for in-depth study.  The analysis of each successful experience will evaluate the following: (1) the drivers of success—what has worked and why; (2) the sustainability of the successful outcome(s); and (3) the potential for scaling up successful experiences.  African success stories offer valuable insights and practical lessons to other countries in the region. 

I welcome your comments and suggestions for success stories. Click here to see the list of what we have come up with so far.

Useful Reading on Africa: Links of the week for Sept. 4, 2009

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Here is some good reading on Africa:

- As Africa grows richer, there are reasons to be pessimistic about its ability to capitalize on the benefits of a reduction in population growth, says The Economist. One reason is that one in two Africans is a child, which means that traditional ways of caring for children in extended families are breaking down.

Crime and Punishment in Abidjan

Shanta Devarajan's picture

The first-prize winner of the African Public Policy Awards was a paper by Jose Carlos Assi Kimou on the determinants of crime in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. 

Using rigorous statistical methods, the paper shows that crime in Abidjan (i) goes down as enforcement (measured by the number of policemen) goes up; (ii) goes up with negative external shocks, such as the 1994 devaluation of the CFA Franc and the 1999 coup d’état,

Can Zimbabwe Turn the Corner?

Praveen Kumar's picture

Much has changed in Zimbabwe since last November. There are signs of recovery following the return of price stability after full dollarization in January. However doubts about the political situation continue to obstruct further recovery.

The most visible sign of improvement is the demise of surreal hyperinflation which according to one estimate peaked at about 80 billion percent. Interestingly, full dollarization initially occurred not because the government chose it as a deliberate stabilization measure.  Exasperated residents simply abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar and moved on to using multiple hard currencies.  In January, the Government too abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar and started using the US Dollar and the South African Rand for both collecting taxes and spending.  Hyperinflation died a natural death in Zimbabwe, it was not tamed.

Are Fragile States "Too Poor to Grow?"

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Boy plays with tireA recent paper by my colleagues Humberto Lopez and Luis Serven entitled “Too Poor to Grow” asks whether, controlling for other factors, countries with higher poverty rates grow more slowly.  Their answer is “yes”.  The implication is that countries with high poverty may be caught in a poverty trap—they grow more slowly, so poverty rates stay high or even increase, which means they grow even more slowly, and so on. 

The idea echoes the one in Martin Ravallion’s post on this blog about why poverty rates are not converging. 

The two papers got me thinking about the large number (20) of fragile states in Africa.   These states have lower per-capita incomes and growth rates than non-fragile states.  More importantly, many of them have remained fragile states for a long time. 

Could it be that these countries are caught in a low-level equilibrium trap?  And if so, should aid policy—which treats them as worse-performing versions of non-fragile states—be adjusted to take into account the possibility that these countries are “stuck” in low growth, high poverty and poor governance?
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UPDATE: August 27, 2009:

Thanks to all who are taking the time to share their views on this post. Many of you seem to think that education can offer a way out of this vicious cycle. Some don't see hope for Africa until corruption can be successfully tackled. A few others advocate for more individual responsibility.  I was particularly impressed by the story David Kamulegeya shared with us (see the comment titled "it is about the attitude that people have about themselves") in which he describes his own experience navigating out of poverty.

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