Foreign direct investment (FDI) can theoretically reduce income gaps between developing and advanced economies. In a neoclassical world, with perfect capital mobility and technology transfer, capital readily flows from rich to poor countries, seeking higher returns in capital-scarce economies. The real world differs starkly from the theory.
Even though southern African countries (the Southern African Development Community, SADC hereafter) are poor on average, per capita FDI inflows are a meager 36.6 U.S. dollars per year (in 2000 value), which is about 18 percent of average per capita FDI in non-SADC countries and 58 percent of the average level for similar-income economies. Moreover, within SADC, country differences are huge: FDI per capita ranges from single digits (Malawi, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania) to 10-30 dollars (Mozambique, Zambia, Mauritania, and Swaziland), to 50 to 100 dollars (Lesotho, South Africa, and Angola), and to 167 dollars in the outlier in this region, middle-income Botswana. And even within this region there is a positive relationship between average income and FDI per capita, a pattern that holds for the world as a whole. Thus, any hope of relying on FDI as a supply-side remedy to catapult poor countries onto a development fast track is not likely to materialize soon.