Varieties of African successes


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Tolstoy notwithstanding, the 20 African success stories described in the booklet “Yes, Africa Can” show that success comes in many different forms.  Broadly speaking, the cases fall into three categories:

- Success from removing an existing, major distortion.  The best example is Ghana’s cocoa sector, which was destroyed by the hyperinflation and overvalued exchange rate in the early 1980s.  When the exchange rate regime was liberalized and the economy stabilized, cocoa exports boomed (and continue to grow).  Similar examples include Rwanda’s coffee sector and Kenya’s fertilizer use.  Africa’s mobile phone revolution, too, is an example of the government’s stepping out of the way—in this case by deregulating the telecommunications sector—and letting the private sector jump in. 

The country cases, Mozambique, Uganda and Liberia, are also examples of what happens when a major impediment to growth—civil conflict—is removed.  The Uganda case strikes a cautionary note about the future: if entrenched interests develop, rapid growth may not be sustainable.


- Government intervention to correct market failures.  The example of Mali’s mangoes is a beautiful illustration of how, when governments intervene to provide genuine public goods—and only those goods—the private sector can spur growth and poverty reduction.  In Lesotho’s textile industry and Rwanda’s gorilla tourism case, too, the government stepped in to provide just the enabling factors for take off.

- Smart subsidies.  Finally, there are cases where the government provided a subsidy, but did so in a way to minimize the chances of “government failure.”  In the case of NERICA (New Rice for Africa) or the KickStart pump, the government went beyond providing an initial subsidy. 

They continuously consulted with farmers about the design of the new technology (in the case of NERICA) and how to market it (in the case of KickStart).  They were able to avoid the fate of other subsidy programs that simply provided the subsidy without paying any attention to the beneficiaries’ knowledge or preferences.  Similarly, Uganda’s abolition of user fees could have been politically captured (as has happened elsewhere), but they publicized the amount of money each school district would be receiving—so citizens could play a role in making the reform work.

In short, this collection of African success stories not only tell us that “Africa Can.”  They also teach us about the nature of success—a phenomenon that is as complex and varied as the continent itself.

For more information:  Visit the website of the Africa Success Stories Study

Below is a preview on the information contained in the website:


Kickstart Irrigation Pumps - adapting technologies to development challenges from World Bank on Vimeo.


Shanta Devarajan

Senior Director, DEC and Acting World Bank Group Chief Economist

Join the Conversation

Hudson Lucky Masheti
May 11, 2010

After decades of famine and war, life is finally looking up for many Africans. A new spirit of self-reliance is taking root among many Africans as they seize control of their destiny.

Hope is Africa’s rarest commodity. Yet buried though it is amid the despair that haunts the continent, there is more optimism today than in decades. Francisco Mucavele found hope in September 1997 when an armored steel Casspir rolled over the hill and began to blow up the land mines contaminating Mozambique’s rich soil. Olga Haptemariam acquired it in Eritrea’s war-scarred port city of Massawa when she laid down 2,000 birr for a license to open a building-supply store. The villagers of N’Tjinina found it as they prepared for the solemn experience of voting in Mali’s first elections. Sarah Galloway Hage-Ali spread hope in Ghana, when she purchased the country’s sole manufacturer of sanitary napkins in 1994 and launched a famine-hygiene crusade.

This story is not about the Africa you think you know. The usual images are painted in the darkest colors. At the end of the 20th century, we are repeatedly reminded, Africa is a nightmarish world where chaos reigns, nothing works, poverty and corruption rule, war, famine and pestilence pay repeated calls. The land, air, water are fouled and polluted. Chronic instability gives way to lifelong dictatorship. Every nation’s hand is out begging aid from donors. Endlessly disappointed 740 million people sink into hopelessness.

That portrait is real, all right in places like Nigeria, Burundi, Kenya etc. But it is no longer the whole picture. Academics, diplomats and bankers who do business there talk seriously these days about an African renaissance. A grand word, it turns out, for the slow, fragile, difficult changes that are giving the continent a second chance. But the description fits. Out of sight of out narrow focus on disaster, another Africa is rising, an Africa that works: the Africa of Mozambique and Mali and Eritrea and Ghana, of South Africa and Uganda, Benin and Botswana, Ivory Coast, Tanzania.

What is new is how some nations are figuring out ways to harness their natural and human resources into working models of development. What is new is the methodological instruments to which ordinary Africans are searching out their own paths to progress. What is new is how much of the still limited prosperity and security they have managed to acquire is homegrown-political and economic advances rooted in the soil of local culture. What is new is that the enduring example of (former South African President) Nelson Mandela has heartened all Africans with a fresh vision of leadership, how men of their own kind can be admired, respected, even emulated.

For so long the victim of historical circumstance, Africa is finally a beneficiary. Let me first stipulate some common truths. By any Western standard, Mozambique, Eritrea, Mali and Ghana are countries in awful straits. Their statistics still show an abysmal record of poverty, illiteracy, early mortality. While all four have achieved a dose of national economic success, with higher growth rates, lower inflation and more stable currencies that flow from obedience to stringent International Monetary Fund reform programs, they have yet to see their growing wealth trickle down very far. For ordinary citizens, daily hardships are intense: few jobs, few schools, few hospitals, poor diets, rising prices, no money. For the majorities of these populations that are ill fed, ill clothed, illiterate and just plain ill, what Mozambicans dubbed the “years of cabbage” are not over.

Let me also acknowledge that for every tale I tell, even these countries can tell 10 times as many despairing ones. Nevertheless, each of these countries is moving ahead and what I discovered was the reasons – some unique, some replicable – but they set the key benchmarks of lessons learned from successes that needs to be adopted/replicated by the other African nations for developmental roadmap for MDGs attainment by 2015 or sooner thereafter.

Hudson Lucky Masheti
Kenya {East Africa}

May 03, 2010

The world Bank and other foreign institutions are treating africa and africans are subjects and managing projects in african with only marginal inputs from africans and african scholars and researchers. Until this multinationals institutions and organisations realise that development is a self-induced process, which is 100% local in terms of initiatives and management, all of these projects are minor shadows of the past 60 years of "Phantom development" in africa and their successes are short live.

Eddie Amanam
May 05, 2010

World Bank keeps shouting of African sucess stories, while still depending on textbook statistics. Rwanda and Mali may well represent some level of leadership determination but how does that affect GDP of Mali and Rwanda? What is the live expectancy for instance. Why are these so call success stories not translated to enlightenement of the people, service focused delivery and an improved living condition for Africans? When will these stories lift Mali and Rwanda from the third world? Has it ended poverty in these places? What is their per capita? Speak World Bank.

Nwankwo Stephen
May 07, 2010

The success stories are insignificant compare to situations of the continent, all the same it is a mile stone of development step. Thanks to the multinational organisations like world bank, donors etc for their fund support and technical assistants.

However, the success of these stories should be attributed to national development consensus between the African policy makers and their government implementation response to compete in the world market. I hope this story should be extend to more African leaders like Nigerian leaders. Nigeria is a country where political-power tussles has taken over the issue of national economic development.

May 04, 2010

Thank you for your comment, with which I broadly agree. The cases documented in the African Successes study are not necessarily projects of multinational institutions like the World Bank. Many of them, such as Rwanda's tourism, Mali's mangoes and the Kickstart program, were conceived, designed and implemented locally. Even those that received external support could not have succeeded without local initiative and drive. In fact, what distinguishes these successes from similar efforts that didn't succeed is that they emerged from a domestic consensus or idea within the countries.

May 04, 2010

I would suggest that trade liberalization and fair trade can explain part of the successes in most of the export oriented projects. The rapid success of targeted policies, designed to remove governments and other market failures in land locked countries such as Rwanda and Mali for coffee and Mangoes respectively, suggests that neighboring countries, with similar climate and with direct access to the sea, stand to gain a bigger surplus in these sectors. In addition to fair trade, special trade agreements such as AGOA are also vastly underutilized. Identifying and removing government and markets failures to take advantage of these opportunities should be the top priority for any government on the continent.

The debate on local vs foreign initiatives raised by earlier comments is irrelevant in my view. It often generates heated debate, but it is a futile exercise. It stems from the colonization vs Independence mindset, not particularly useful for policy. After all, Malians farmers care about their income far more than where the project originated, and who is doing what in the process.

George Amadi
May 04, 2010

The era of worrying about the geographical, racial or religious origin of project initiatives is gone.
We now live in a world where the oil leak currently troubling the Gulf of Mexico is a serious global concern.
So, the question of Multinationals dictating the pace of project initiatives in Africa or in any other developing region for that matter, does not arise.
African Leaders can no longer ignore the invaluable benefits to be derived by allowing effective public-private partnerships to flourish in their respective countries.
A base to illustrate this point is, when government liberalised the telecommunication sector in Nigeria, this led to an astronomical growth of cellphones from zero to 70 million in 10 years. The initiative for the project was home-grown!
A few years ago it was a herculean task driving around in Lagos, but now with the introduction of a peculiar bus rapid transit scheme initiated by the State Governor, getting to the Island is a lot easier!
The Multinationals and the World Bank must be commended for the technical assistance and funding they respectively, put at the disposal of Africa. What developing countries need to do, toward reciprocating this kind gesture, is to use these resources judiciously because they are, indeed, finite.
The citizens of Africa must increasingly hold their political leaders to account.
Public utilities must also be guarded jealously by one and all, lest they fall into decay and then new money would be needlessly spent toward putting them back into good working condition.
George Amadi, MD, George Amadi Media Consultants (GAMCON), LAGOS, NIGERIA

May 05, 2010

I think it is a paint up to claim that Africa is making economic progress when our collapsed local industries are not coming up. Africa is still depending up to 90 percent on the West and Western propelled industries in China for survival. At home graduate unemployment is growing every year, polityiicans are still engaging in massive capital flight while western globalized monetary control has not permited to hacve a clear picture of our financed. I still wonder where The World Bank are getting the information of recovery without material evidence to show. I guess it is still the same act of looking at Africa from western spectacle. Please forget this paintups

May 05, 2010

Viewing the artcile and commentary makes me ponder if there are not ways in whcih we can help benefactors to comprehend and understand our problems through our eyes. One of the major drawbacks I've experienced is that international advisors, donors and the like tend to view problems through their lenses of knowledge and problem-solving experience and have great difficulty in localising their views without having to resort to packaged or off-the-shelf Western solutions.

Any them to help us to help ourselves...?

Sonja Ende
May 20, 2010

Thank you, Shanta, for the short selection of African success stories. We hear everyday how China and India have overtaken Africa long ago in terms of economic development, we hear about global dependency, the role of unfair trade policy and and global markets. It all sounds as African coutries are helpless puppets at the mercy of industrial nations.
It is about time to highlight some success stories which display how economic development takes place in African countries. The reasons for thoses successes are manifold. They can depend on economic conditions, the drive of individuals or even just fortunate combinations of different factors. What is certain, though, is that success stories for economic growth are definitely not solely the outcome of donor interventions. Thanks again for sharing some positive information for a change!