Published on Africa Can End Poverty

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

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


Shanta Devarajan

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

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