Poverty in Africa and elsewhere


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Poor people are poor because markets fail them and governments fail them.  That markets fail them is well-known.  Failures in capital markets mean that young people cannot get loans to finance their education; imperfect or nonexistent insurance markets mean that poor people will not get decent health care if left to unfettered markets; economies of scale as well as the simple fact that basic services such as water are necessities mean that markets will not ensure that poor people will get the services they need to survive.  As Roy Radner, a former professor of mine once put it, “When you allocate resources by market prices, you discriminate against poor people.”

To overcome these failures—that is, to protect the poor—governments step in.  They finance and provide primary education and basic health care; they subsidize water and electricity so poor people can afford these services.  Unfortunately, these well-intentioned government interventions lead to failures of their own.  In Ugandan public schools, teachers are absent 27 percent of the time; health workers in primary health centers are absent 37 percent of the time.  Only one percent of the money allocated to non-salary spending in Chad reached the health clinics.  These “government failures” are sometimes as pernicious as the market failures they were intended to correct.  They are also difficult to overcome because various interest groups who benefit from the status quo may resist reform. 

One way to overcome them may be to create a debate around these failures, to amplify the voices of the poor, so that political leaders will listen to them. Today is Blog Action Day 2008, and the topic that bloggers worldwide are writing about is “Poverty.”  Let us hope this global movement, that is based on information-sharing, debate and discussion, will eventually help overcome both market and government failures so that poor people around the world can escape poverty. 



Shanta Devarajan

Teaching Professor of the Practice Chair, International Development Concentration, Georgetown University

December 07, 2010

I think this is a very telling point, and it's unfortunate that opinions like this are not more prevalent. Reading through this blog and others like it, you wonder why so many people are spending line after line describing how bad poverty is. POVERTY IS BAD. We got it. It leads to disease and death. We understand. Aid needs to go to the right people who will do the right things and cause the right reforms while at the same time respecting the national and cultural sovereignty of the people and elevating everyone to an equal footing while providing everything the country needs to become self-sufficient. Yeah, right. Is anyone that naive? Do you expect the wealthy of any nation to just hand over their power just to "do the right thing" as you see it? The powerful in these nations did not become powerful by being such idealistic rubes.
The truth is that there are no easy solutions, and that true reform will likely come at the expense of cultural heritage and autonomy. Force will be needed and used. Traditions will need to be reformed and demands and conditions placed on aid. It is unfortuneate, but just throwing money at the problem and expecting people to do the right thing by western standards will not work any better than it has to this point.

Joddi Don
January 21, 2011

Poverty is a mojor problem in Africa. The rich tend to get richer while the poor get poorer... it's sad but true.

March 29, 2011

Discussion always only about poverty is not an sufficient and not a solution for any poor people but we have to rescue them from this situation as far as possible.Blog shows us the emotion ,pathetic condition of each people which are under the poverty line & also give us an encouragement to do something for them. If government and all people belonging this particular nation have to take extraordinary action for improvement poor people's situation with collaborating each other then also one day it will disappear permanently.

April 13, 2011

Fighting poverty in Africa requires strong will power by the people in control of resources natural and human capital. Leaders in Africa simply mismanages resources meant for the poor or marginalized. Also good governance and strong institution are important tools in fighting poverty in Africa. President Kagame has tried it in Rwanda.

auto insurance companies
April 19, 2011

African people are suffering the most because of poverty mostly in the world.and there are many other countries are suffering too.It's mostly happening because of not using their natural properties well.We can hope things will change soon.

May 28, 2011

Africa has suffered a lot of injustices and at the same time, Africans don't often do much to help their own situations. There are so many things that come into play as to why Africa is the way it is. Africans need to take responsibility for their continent and their future. The world can assist Africans, maybe not by just providing ahand up instead of a hand out.

Wealthy Affiliate
June 25, 2011

Wow, this article just makes me realize how lucky we are in the USA and other countries that are considered wealthy. Unfortunately we take a lot of things for granite that these people do not have easy access to, simple things like water. It's so unfortunate...

Kimbatsa guy
July 29, 2011

Thanks for this blog. that informe us about economics problems in others African's countries.

About absence rate in public sector, I think its a problem of all pubilc sector in Africa. absence rate is generally higher in this sector. the main problem is lower salaries. the gap salaries between prive sector and public sector is very higher. Many civil servants are forced to follow informal activies to get money. eg. nurses, doctors, teachers, ...

Best regards

August 13, 2011

The African continent is poor but has immense natural resources. it is poor because it has been exploited by developed countries. If it understands the process for quick removal of poverty and understands that the process is independent of money , it will sucseed in improving the quality of its inhabitants very quickly. In this direction I have seen recently a seminal book " 5 Years Guarantee : How to Make India Richer " by Shrawan Vikram which may be of aid for African countries too.

February 06, 2012

Local District councilors in Rural areas should be elected on Qualifications and ability to participate in the Economic development of their districts not by choice of chieftainship or ancestral spirits but capability issues like profession and technological skills to develop the district are more crucial than being partisan in culture.A civil Engineer would identify what needs to be done and will question the district council decisions and contribute to well being of community in economic development than a cultural councillor with no clue of concrete or water pumping station,power generation, road culverts,building construction.If all levels of community leaders are upgraded to these qualifications then better judgement and decision making standards will rise and disctricts will benefit.

Nyancho manneh
February 05, 2012

very interesteing to read the views of different commentators on Africa's poverty, there are many factors that contributed to poor economic growth in the region but the major ontributing factor is behaviour of our policy makers which needs to change and apply some honesty and effeiciency.

February 16, 2012

There is a need to advance the socioeconomic security of Africans through a compassionate and vigilant leadership. The African Governments must immediately implement a workable model of Social Policy Programs in Africa that will combine efforts, reduce duplicity, and adequately serve both the people and governmental needs. This is most pertinent now that world attention is on Poverty Eradication by way of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) as a part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In essence, we can mitigate poverty by categorizing them into defined sectors and I propose that we start with our disabled.

There are known methods and strategies used by developed Nation that we need to employ in managing time, resources, and recourse to the advantage of Africa. Africa has what the world needs and the world has what Africa needs. It is time for African to plan its future and request assistance from the world; not the reverse.