Can Africa Prosper? 'Third World' Once Meant 'Mired in Poverty.' Parts of Asia and Latin America Left That Behind. So Can Africa

Article excerpt

With the discrediting of communism as a route to prosperity, the world turned to variants of the democratic, competitive, private enterprise economy.

Thatcherism/Reaganism spread. Then it got turned out of office in favor of Clinton/Blairism. The Asian Tigers and the ABC nations of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile) adopted the bureaucracy-cleansing message of Thatcherism. Now, those areas of the old third world may follow the first world's lead and institutionalize free-market democracy as the credo of both sides of their political spectrums.

Already they have gone a long way toward making the "third-world bloc" obsolete. But that historic change will not be complete until the 43 principal nations of sub-Saharan Africa join the march out of poverty, boss rule, and entrenched bureaucracies. On that subject, there's good news and worrisome news. First, the good news: Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has averaged about 4 percent in the past two years, some 2 percent better than in the previous decade. That means that production is outstripping population growth, a prerequisite for prosperity. Then the bad news: Most of these nations have seen their economies shrink in the quarter century since the 1973 oil shock. So today's growth builds on a shrunken base. President Clinton's current trip through Africa points up another problem. He is avoiding Nigeria, Zaire, Zimbabwe, and Angola - states that in the past were praised as resource-rich engines capable of pulling their neighbors into faster growth. As one analyst noted, those nations - with their stores of oil, copper, diamonds, and rich soil - give "potential" a bad name. Instead of leading Africa toward democratic prosperity they are variously mired in autocratic rule, the aftermath of civil war, and corruption. …