Constraints to Africa’s growth
Lawrence Summers’ typically pugnacious article, “The Challenges of Development” (Finance & Development, March 1992), provides a cogent summary of the way in which the actions of politicians and planners in Africa have been largely responsible for the dreadful economic situation many African countries find themselves in today.
However, he attributes all of Africa’s ills to national policy failures and ignores the crushing impact that a series of droughts during the past 25 years have had on these countries in the early 1970s and the early to mid-1980s, as well as the fact that the shortage of rains during the most recent growing season in much of central east and southern Africa have had a devastating impact on the peoples and economies of many of the countries specifically referred to in the article— Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, and Zimbabwe, for example. While many African governments cannot be absolved from some of the problems now besetting their countries, Summers’ article risks being shunned as an excessively dogmatic piece by ignoring this fundamental environmental factor that has also acted as a significant constraint to growth.
Summers also fails to address one of the fundamental features of the current debate scene in much of Africa. The reduction in loans from commercial sources in recent years means that for several countries, the “major creditors” who Summers advocates should negotiate “substantial reductions in debt service,” are in fact multilateral agencies—development finance institutions such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. And yet, under their articles of association, repayments to these institutions cannot be rescheduled.
It would be interesting to know what Summers proposes as a solution to this quandary so that the debt overhang that now threatens the very process of economic adjustment can be reduced to more manageable levels.
Certainly not all of Africa’s ills are due to policy. My article focused on policy for three reasons: accumulating evidence suggests that a poor policy environment accounts for a large component of Africa’s relatively poor performance, one of the benefits of good policies is that they mitigate the effects of adverse shocks on an economy, and discussions of policies are ultimately more interesting than discussiions of the weather because, unlike the weather, policies can be changed.
The World Bank is making great efforts to maintain an appropriate level of assistance into the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including those countries that formerly received nonconcessional (IBRD) loans. Far and away the greatest portion of this assistance is highly concessional IDA resources, which contribute very little to future required debt service (especially in the near term) and hence do not exacerbate debt overhang.
Addressing gender inequality in Africa
Professor Mazrui’s article entitled “The Economic Woman in Africa” (Finance & Development, June 1992) sparks interesting questions concerning gender inequality in the African continent, and the reconciling of African traditional values with the pressures of the modern global economy. While there is plenty of evidence to support his assertions that agricultural mechanization and the internationalization of African economies have had a negative economic impact on African women, there seems to be a flaw in the third component of his argument.
Professor Mazrui states that western- style education has resulted in the marginalization of African women in the “productive professions in cities.” He defines this kind of education as the successful completion of secondary school along with at least two years of post-secondary education, claiming that as a result, women “settle for jobs as clerks, telephone operators, secretaries, and teachers.” What is implied is some sort of causal link between “female westernization and functional marginalization.”
Although it is certainly true that many elements of western-style education are inappropriate for Africa and other regions of the world (including, even, many western countries), it is perhaps distortionary to propose that it is primarily responsible for the exclusion of African women from higher-level formal sector jobs. If this were the determining factor causing women to “settle” for lower-level jobs, why has western-style education not had a similar impact on African men? Although Professor Mazrui cites the examples of a Liberian woman president of a university and a Ugandan female foreign minister, it is, of course, the general pattern that the highest positions in business, government, and politics in Africa are held by men, many of whom have received a “western- style education”. A more reasonable explanation of why African women do not hold more of these posts is because they suffer discrimination based on their sex.
The appropriate policy response in this instance is, therefore, not one that targets western-style education (although it certainly needs addressing for other reasons), but rather one that focuses on the real mechanisms that exclude women from higher-level formal sector jobs. Programs that address gender inequalities in all forms of education (including the Islamic and indigenous types to which Professor Mazrui refers) and other legal and institutional changes that contribute to promoting and protecting women’s rights would go a long way in getting at the real roots of women’s low socioeconomic status in Africa.
Anna C. Vakil Ypsilanti, Ml, USA
Who contributes to agricultural productivity?
I enjoyed reading Robert Blake’s article on “Challenges for Global Agricultural Research” (Finance & Development, March 1992). Mr. Blake rightly points to the major contribution of the International Agricultural Research Centers to producing and disseminating more productive food crops. He also draws attention to the recent desirable change of direction toward promoting more sustainable agricultural systems.
But in his prognosis for the future of global research, Mr. Blake places far too much emphasis (despite caveats) on the ability of the international centers to “be all things to all men.” While he acknowledges the important role of national institutions of various kinds in agricultural development, he understates the key contributions that such institutions have already made to agricultural progress in many countries, especially in Asia. The huge advances in tree crop cultivation over past decades have had little connection with the International Centers. The examples of Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia also attest to the great effectiveness of local food crop programs, whose only link with the Centers has been through using or modifying new varieties. It seems to me that the major roles of the Centers are in the breeding of improved crops and in the assessment of global needs that go beyond national boundaries. This emphasis, which has been carried out effectively in the past, should not be too watered down by other types of programs.
In addition, I believe that Mr. Blake puts undue weight on the role of agricultural research in the World Bank, which he suggests should take on the job of overall “managing director.” While financial institutions obviously have an important contribution, it would be dangerous to place too much power and direction in their hands. Surely the national producer and consumer groups, scientists, and governments have the best appreciation of local situations and can together provide excellent guidance in agricultural research. The Bank already has considerable political weight in programs of agricultural development around the world, and it would seem unwise to increase that any further.
Cook, A.C.T., Australia
Attaining food security
The article by Ridwan Ali and Barbara Pitkin, “Searching for Household Food Security in Africa” (Finance & Development, December 1991), reveals to a great extent the task before African policymakers in addressing and tackling the food crisis in the continent. The authors clearly point out that food security is access to enough food by all people at all times for an active, healthy life. But food security should be viewed not only from the perspective of supply stability but also from income stability.
Food security can be achieved by evolving a strong food policy that will stabilize both food supplies and the real incomes of the more vulnerable groups. These include the biologically vulnerable (lactating mothers and children), and the economically vulnerable (the poorest of the poor). And for this to be achieved, food security should take top priority in the food policy framework. The authors also note that the attempt by many developing countries to attain food security through food self-sufficiency, with particular attention to increasing domestic production, has so far failed. This comes as no surprise. In general, the governments of many of these countries pay lip service to food security and self-sufficiency in food production, using mere slogans to expect miracles without any concrete planning. Food security and food self-sufficiency should be regarded as a policy statement rather than a working plan and, therefore, should not be abandoned or modified midway without good reasons.
Food self-sufficiency, however, does not automatically result in food security. Rather, the harnessing of domestic inputs or resources to reduce the magnitude of rural poverty to the barest minimum, by raising the real incomes of rural inhabitants, is fundamental to achieving food security. African policymakers are faced with a dual problem of setting a price floor (price above the market equilibrium), which might increase malnutrition, and enforcing a price ceiling (price below the market equilibrium), which might reduce farmers’ income, thereby discouraging production. The reason the marketing system in Africa is inefficient is in large part the result of improper education of rural farmers, who are the major food producers. The government could help them to (1) expand the market for farm products, (2) understand the marketing system, and (3) reduce the cost of marketing farm products.
Further, the physical functions of the marketing system in Africa, especially the storage and processing facility, is grossly inadequate. Most farmers in Nigeria, for instance, dispose of their grains and other farm produce shortly after harvest for fear of rodent attack, not because they are in urgent need of cash. In this regard, appropriate technology should be employed to develop good storage facilities, taking into account the social and climatic conditions in Africa.
Finally, the article offered some short- and long-term measures to alleviate food insecurity in Africa. These measures, however, should be applied with caution, taking into account the social and policy environment of each country. Only then can the desired result be attained.
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Credits: Cover art and art on pages 2,16, 21: Dale Glasgow, Art on pages 9, 30 and 31: David Wisniewski, Art on pages 13,14, 33, 34, 35, 46, 47, and 52: Luisa Watson. Charts: IMF Graphics Section. Composition: Betty McGuire. Bank photos: M. lannacci. IMF photos: D. Zara and Padraic Hughes-Reid.