Three decades ago the founder of the global-minded Club of Rome
wrote a prophetic book. In essence, it forecast that Western
technology, communications, investment, and trade would:
* First, break through the Iron Curtain and bring the Soviet
bloc into the free world's economy.
* Second, pull Latin America into a growing free-market system.
* Third, include Asia.
* And, finally, draw in sub-Saharan Africa.
The book made misjudgments (e.g., the Asian Tigers roared in
before the East bloc and Latin America.) But its central insight
about global growth spread by trade, investment, and telecom was
correct - except, to date, for Africa.
Overall most of the 43 principal sub-Saharan nations have seen
their economies shrink in the quarter century since the first oil
shock in 1973. Food production has declined in more than half of
the African states. Civil wars persist. Hunger, genocide, and
massive refugee problems have accelerated the economic decline.
Several waves of optimism have been dashed. First, that the
replacement of strongman "fathers of their countries" meant an end
to "one man rule." Second, that aid flowing from superpower
competitors in the cold war would create modern economies in
strategically located nations. Third, that "breadbasket" lands like
Sudan and Zimbabwe would feed the continent. Fourth, that big
nations with rich resources - notably Nigeria, Zaire (now the
Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Angola - would get their
acts together and lead the region out of poverty and despotism.
Instead, entrepreneurial Nigeria plunged backward into
dictatorship and stagnation despite oil riches. Zaire took decades
to shuck its embezzling boss. Angola has had trouble moving past
its several-times-ended civil war.
As Financial Times analyst Michela Wrong wryly notes, such
mineral rich nations gave potential a bad name. Their potential
wealth in oil, copper, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, and farmland lies
untapped or in the hands of inept, debt-laden state firms. World
Bank statistics show Zaire's economy to have plunged back to its
1958 level as population tripled and inflation zoomed to 9,800
percent before settling back to a recent 750 percent. New leader
Laurent Kabila and his diverse coalition face a daunting task,
especially in view of overblown public expectations.
But, economic successes in South Africa, Botswana, Ivory Coast,
Mauritius, and, lately, Uganda and Tanzania indicate the region is
not doomed to economic and political purgatory. …