Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Are Fragile States "Too Poor to Grow?"

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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?
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.

There were a couple of readers who suggested that until Africans are themselves engaged in a debate about solutions to the problems they face, no solution imposed from outside is ever going to work. I agree. One of the goals of this blog is to help inform this debate by sharing analysis and providing a platform for discussion. It is in that spirit that I thank you all again for participating in this dialogue. I hope you will continue to enrich this blog with your experiences, opinions, and  suggestions on how best to end poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.



Shanta Devarajan

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

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