You’ve surely being asked this before and I wish the answer is simple, a black and white situation: why is your country so poor even though it has all the ingredients to make a perfect mélange?
Scholars have devoted enormous time and efforts into solving it. Some have reached the conclusion that it was a location matter, Geography hence where you live will determine who you’re; by lack of good institutions, bad governance; economic policies : trade deals, Dutch-Disease, export oriented instead of manufacturing and Aid. Liberals and conservatives have different opinion on the latter. Lately Globalization with all its glare is not a solved –all remedy. It‘s indeed helped many nations lift millions out of extreme poverty but for the countries of the bottom Billion it is a bit complicated. It will be wrong to treat every country the same regarding their failures to get out of the poverty trap but they do share some aspects of this problem.
Mali is landlocked country in western Africa, blessed with arable lands, a lot of Gold and other minerals and most importantly a young population. That country was receiving as much Aid as South Korea but why is the latter well off today than Mali? This is what I hope this paper will try to solve.
Geography is the curse
Being an underdeveloped country is hard enough but being poor and landlocked is indeed the very definition of bad luck. The road to success is long, not impossible. Having no harbor of your own, no direct link to the coast, trading with the world becomes impractical. A country in that position should concentrate it effort into having good roads, infrastructures, break the monopolies on imported goods. After all this one might think that Mali is now out of trouble but studies have shown that that will only be the first step. Success will only be attained when it neighbors do as good by building the required system to transport and services, by being in peace. Situations Mali cannot control or predict. Imagine your life being dependence on not what you do but most importantly what your friends do!
Lack of good Institutions ( democratic or otherwise)
In every nation there is a starting point, a moment when change is propitious and reforms most likely to succeed. It’s usually after a conflict or a great catastrophe where the elites and the governing Mafia lose their iron grasp on the society: The British Glorious Revolution of 1688 resulted in the overthrow of the king James 2, a catholic and replaced by none but his own daughter, Mary, a protestant; the French Revolution (1789-1799) had succeeded in gaining concrete and big changes notably land becoming free and the old corporate society was destroyed; the monarchy was dead.
The French and British people have consolidated their gains and strove to carve out a new way of living where the Church and the King were not to dictate who lives or dies, who to be rich or poor; they established economic and political institutions that were inclusive – targeting power sharing, new method of production, education, adapted to technological advances which inevitably led to better living conditions for all. They’ve established institutions strong enough to survive the whims of leaders, time and circumstances. A system of check and balances was put in place to avoid any particular person or institution to gain too much power… These revolutions could have gone in a very different direction had they been hijacked by tyrants or wolfs in sheep clothes, had they applied the system of Extortion. This is exactly what happened in Mali in 1991.
The recent political history of Mali
The West African nation gained independence in 1960 and was then run by a Socialist, Modibo Keita, as were many newly independent countries. He was deposed in a coup led by one Moussa Traore. That lad will go on to lead his country with an iron hand for 23 years. And then there was a revolution, sort of. The people stood up against his regime and destructive way of governing. He went the same way he came. Mali then held its first democratic transition of power. Thus the coup trap was well entrenched. Instead of following in the footsteps of other successful revolutions, this one failed to live up to the basic consequences of a revolt: take back control and was hijacked by well-dressed bourgeois who had a very good sense of la langue de Moliere than of any way of governing. They were so called democratic leaders, sent by God to solve the people’ problems. Instead they’ve resorted to extortion by usurping and holding wealth away from those who needed it the most and use it for their personal wellbeing leaving millions into dire poverty. They instituted a rent seeking democracy, a kind of cronyism that was rampant in the USSR at the time. Those who benefited from this schemes became very rich are still the ones holding all the cards when it comes to the nation’s future.
The games reached its apex when then Amadou Toumany Toure came to power. This time by the polls, an other successful peaceful transition. If by democracy you mean polls as many think then Mali was on the right path but unfortunately it is more than that. He was very popular among all strive of people, but his rein will be among the most destructive of all. Corruption reached levels not heard of, the army was depleted and recruitment was by recommendation rather than will to fight. He once sat on national TV and said grosso modo that he can’t jailed those convicted of frauds, embezzlement…because, guess what, they were also head of family. It was no surprise when the regime of Gaddafi fell and armed groups descended on the north of Mali, winning easily against poorly trained and armed republican forces. It is the savage images of dead Malian soldiers that put an end to his soft tone governance. He was chased away by a little known captain at the time, someone who can hardly lead a town let alone a country as ravaged by then as his. The one that followed as president is by any metric the worst, the most incompetent, the most bourgeois of all and finally the one who bought his family into the game. The actual leader is so bad ATT is now become a bit more popular. Remember George W. Bush?
Still not satisfy why this piece of land is still poor and there seems to be no end to it? Well the next and last part of this paper will try to assuage your questions, and if you think as I do that that no country is cursed, then I hope to give you breadcrumbs to ponder about.
The Economists think they know why
The prospect of anything good happening to Africa was so dim that a well-known magazine described it as the Hopeless Continent. That was soon to change, a big transformation was underway : the prices of commodities was surging thanks in large part by high demand of Chinese market of raw materials, a new unpredictable phenomenon that will change the course of Africa in ways that nobody has ever imagined. Countries were growing once again and millions were uplifted from extreme poverty. It marked people and some leaders in a way that centuries of western colonization and cooperation after independence failed to do. The new kid on the block asks very few questions.
Is Globalization the solution?
Countries were opened to the flow of unlimited cash; of skilled labor; manufactured goods… some countries were well off afterward but for those at the bottom Billion it was a mixed feeling. Leaders in resource rich localities tend to favor Export and when it does prices go down creating inequality while manufacturing would have been a better tract to follow because when it grows so does demand of labor leading to a shared wealth, a more just society. Another consequences of this system is that money stolen from the nation coffers easily are stocked into western financial systems, Swiss Banks, wealth badly needed to invest and finance the depriving nation of an important tool to develop. Most importantly it deprives the Bottom Billion countries through immigration of their most skilled and most talented workers who are attracted by developed countries. Very few of them ever returned home or take steps for their children to ever do so.
The trade that results from Globalization creates a high dependency on natural resources which will inevitably lead, if the proper policies not applied, to Dutch disease.
No efforts should be left, stones untouched to keep the skilled and talented from leaving by creating better societies, good schooling, Healthcare, with decent salaries. Those who choose should be made to pay a fee, a remittance. That’s the least they should do. Their countries paid for their schooling, financed the university studies and more….Our societies will be better off if those youths and educated stayed to help develop. Their presence could also tilt the balance of power in favor of the heroes, the reformists who are always outnumbered and outmaneuvered by the ruling Mafia and its enabler, the elites who will not hesitate to use all means necessary including violence, murders to oppose change.
Your views on this subject will vary greatly whether you are from the right or the left of the political spectrum. For the former, Aid is the problem. They tend to regard it through the lance of their domestic politics, a welfare system Conservatives believe benefit only the crooks and makes people lazy to go out to work and look for opportunities ; while the latter sees it as a solved all program, Liberals as some sort of reparations of colonialism.
Nothing alone can solve all the problems of one specific country but a coordination of policies will greatly help. Most nations will be well off if these two approaches were applied :
- Conditioning Aid ,
- Reduce the aid agencies spending,
- Punish those who refuse reform by withholding Aid,
- Demand countries to accept representation and scrutiny on how the money is spent,
- Make sure it is not spent on weapons or army
- Aid not given out by what is suggested by Lobbies but the recipient country or a combination of both, countries know what works and what doesn’t
Any government or nation which receive a lot of cash through Aid will be detracted from making difficult choices when it comes to reforms and care less about its lavish and irresponsible spending spray because more money is the way.
Face with the recurring questions of why these bottom billion countries are still suffering scholars from the IFM, the World Bank, Aid Groups… have brought forth what they think needs to be done. Theories were applied by hundreds, some contradicting others, on these nations. At the end very little has changed. In some cases it made it worse. The patient got tired of it all, paying no attention to them and now is resisting even the most proven of all theories. He was then portrayed viciously a rebel, a socialist. The language was sometimes racists. They actually really never liked one another. African blame their former colonial masters of pillage during that time without regard to the people let alone the environment and their continued support to dictators, tyrants who not only abuse their people but also significantly embezzled billions of public money. Those fund finds their ways into western financial institutions with SWITZERLAND at top. Also western companies still refuse to play fair game when looking for governmental contract bribing their way all the long. Their Excuse if we don’t do it others will making them complicit in this illegal scheme.
This is how a new player got into the game. China seems to ask few questions and it had so much cash to invest that alone it surpasses the amount of virtually the US, EU combined. A mutual love soon developed between Africa and that country. Being drawn out of the picture Europe and her Boss started to freak out. They have no plan to decrease Chinese investment on the continent, they are merely reacting to it. The alliance between the US and EU is also crumbling the Trump administration America First policy which consist of repatriating troops home and not taking part in every simple theater in the world leaving Europe unprepared to face the Tiger alone or the Bear on his eastern front.
The western African nation, once dubbed ‘’ Le Grenier de l’ Afrique ‘’ the country that has the potential to feed Africa can keep its head above water and even go the extra mile by adapting its farmers to modern technologies which will boost the country’s output and export that extra grain, by being a service hub like Lebanon did in the ME. That can also only happen if neighboring nations keep their part of the deal: sustain growth, peace, infrastructures and good governance. Mali‘s chances of success will be tainted if it lives in a trouble region, in region at war because a coastal nation tends to serve the world while a landlocked tends to serve its neighbors.
With the exception of a few many nations are infected with the Dutch-disease. One sector of the economy get all the attention and funds ( usually export, minerals) while neglecting manufacture, the real economy which employs the vast majority of citizens, left bleeding to death. Natural rich resources nations are prone to conflict by consequence International companies should be held account for doing business with tyrants and dictators. Thanks in large part through these deals those bad leaders remain in power or control a resource rich region, by rent seeking policies and continue to abuse women and children.
The Cleaned Diamond Trade Act was a right step in the right direction but more still needs to be done. In this interconnected world, if you think that the problem of the Bottom Billion is not your problem, think again. When societies crumbled and authorities lose control, disease spread easily. Terrorism is also rampant whenever there is a failed state and what does it cost the soul of a desperate Man? Those trying day and night to blow themselves and destroy the world are mostly from these failed states.
How can you help? Makes sure your government and your countries are obeying international Norms of Trade and Practices so that tyrants, dictators and warlords are not helped pursuant to the destruction of society. This is the only place we know how to leave on so let’s make it Home.
Bassouga BATHILY, observateur politique indépendant basé à New-York, (…) il s’intéresse aux questions internationales, notamment africaines et moyen-orientales.
- Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel : The Fates of Human Societies, , W.W. NORTON & COMPANY, First Edition, 1997
- Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the poorest are failing and What can Be Done About, Oxford University Press, 3rd Edition, 2008
- Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson: Why Nations Fail: The origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, Crown Publishing Group, 2012
- Jean-Michel Severino and Olivier Ray, Africa’s Moment, Polity Press, 2011