Africa: Why Fast Economic Growth Does Not Always Bring Development

Africa Growth
African countries are experiencing rapid growth

AFRICANGLOBE – Richard Joseph explores how “discordant development” – deepening inequalities and rapid progress juxtaposed with group distress – is often one of the root causes of uncertainty, insecurity and violent conflict in Africa.

For example, Mali and Ghana have experienced similar growth rates but Mali is sundered and in disarray, while Ghana has experienced both political and economic progress.

Joseph discusses the causes of discordant development and provides recommendations for how policymakers can begin tackling this problem in order to address broader issues of insecurity.

He warns development officers and political leaders against viewing Africa solely through “polarizing lenses,” either screening out security challenges in growing economies or overlooking axes of growth in conflict-plagued societies. 

The good news about Africa is that many countries are now showing sustained economic growth. Not to be overlooked, however, are the persistent security dilemmas in many parts of the continent exacerbated by “discordant development.” Addressing these troubling problems of security and social unrest requires an understanding of the complex factors involved and the need for innovative approaches.

The idea of discordant development conveys more than just “unequal development,” but rather how deepening inequalities and rapid progress juxtaposed with group distress can generate uncertainty and violent conflict. Unfortunately, continued discordant development is in the forecast for Africa in 2013.

The International Monetary Fund’s 2011 World Economic Outlook shows a score of fast-growing African economies. While such statistics reveal successful economic growth, they also often conceal discordant development. For example, in terms of GDP growth, over the past two decades Mali tracks just behind Ghana: 3.8 percent vs. 4.4 percent growth in the 1990s and 5.6 percent vs. 6.5 percent growth since 2000, respectively.

The two countries do not seem that far off from each other in terms of economic growth. Yet, this is the same Mali that is now sundered and in disarray; meanwhile Ghana has experienced both political and economic progress while at the same time strengthened national unity.

Another example is Nigeria, which has experienced a robust increase in GDP from 2.9 percent in the 1990s to 8.9 percent in the following decade. However, poverty rates in Nigeria have increased and continue to rise. Most of the northern part of the country has been in economic free fall, and the share of manufacturing–an essential component for job creation and employment growth–has been stagnant.

Security Necessary for Sustained Economic Growth

Insecurity is the flip side of discordant development, whether previously in the oil-producing Niger Delta, in recurrent inter-communal violence in the Middle-Belt (central Nigeria) and recently in the appalling onslaughts in the northeast attributed to Boko Haram.

Unfortunately, much of the recent analysis of insecurity in Africa recommends action without delving into the under- lying problems. There has been insufficient examination of the causes of Africa’s persistent unrest and violence, one of which is discordant development.

What are some of the principal causes of discordant development? The first is the African jigsaw bequeathed by the colonial carve-up of the continent. Governments located in the capitals of vast countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan, as Jeffrey Herbst shows in States and Power in Africa (2000), have never projected power over their extensive domains.

African regional and continental organizations should take up an issue that is usually verboten: Are some post-colonial territories simply ungovernable? Can all of the massive DRC ever be governed from Kinshasa in its extreme southwest? J. Peter Pham (2012) advocates, as Herbst and others have long done, that the DRC should be subdivided into more viable states that can enhance security and promote development. In an era of renewed growth in Africa, many Congolese are condemned to lives of extreme deprivation.

Look at Mali on a map. It consists of one large triangle in the north connected to a smaller one in the south that includes the capital, Bamako. Travel throughout this “nation” of disparate peoples has been daunting at the best of times. There are calls for urgent international and continental action to re-establish sovereign authority in Mali and evict the Arab terrorists from the north.

As the prolonged failure to achieve such an outcome in Somalia demonstrates, external forces cannot rebuild nations in the absence of domestic forces able to cohere to pursue such an objective. The restoration of peace and stability in Mali must include a framework for making this sprawling and disjointed territory more governable.

Discordance has been fostered by state capture in countries that are ethnically, linguistically and religiously plural. New discoveries of exploitable oil, gas, coal and other minerals are increasing the stakes of state capture and prebendalism, i.e., government officials using state offices as prebends to serve themselves, their cronies and kinfolk but not the public (Adebanwi & Obadare, 2013). Therefore, the current African growth spurt should not lead to a relaxation of efforts to increase transparency, accountability and law-based governance.

Without external pressure and scrutiny, the vast oil revenues of Angola, another increasingly discordant state, will continue to finance plush lives for the political leaders and their circle while basic services for the population languish. After a half century of oppressive rule, a breakthrough to constitutional government in Guinea is at risk of following the path of the similarly richly endowed Congo, perennially wracked by war and predation. As Anne Pitcher demonstrates (2012), peace and democratic progress in countries such as Mozambique have enhanced significantly the prospects for sustainable development.