Africa Is Not a Victim of Nature; It Is a Victor of Nature.
August 17 2010
In the new Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), developed by Oxford University to replace the UN's Human Poverty Index, African countries were again ranked as the poorest of the poor.
In that Index, the ten poorest countries in the world, starting from the poorest were: (1) Niger, (2) Ethiopia, (3) Mali, (4) Central African Republic, (5) Burundi, (6) Liberia, (7) Burkina Faso, (8) Guinea, (9) Sierra Leone, and (10) Rwanda. This takes us back to the age-old question: Will Africa's poverty ever be eliminated?
For Case #2, Ethiopia, I start in India. According to Professor Jeffrey Sachs, "India is a civilization of great river systems and large-scale irrigation, thanks to the Himalayan snowmelt and glacier melt and the annual monsoon rains. Africa is a continent of rain-fed (non-irrigation) agriculture." Thus, when the rains do not come, victims of geography like Ethiopia have to turn to the West for help.
What is remarkable is that, since 2000, Indian firms have been spending billions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of hectares of arable African land, including some $1.5 billion spent by 80 different Indian firms on Ethiopian land to grow rice, lentils, and other foods to export back to India and other countries.
Somehow India, which has been blessed with natural irrigation systems, has been buying land in Ethiopia, which is not as blessed, to grow water-hogging crops such as rice and export them to India and elsewhere. The question is, why couldn't Ethiopia grow these foods, feed its own people, and export the rest to India and other countries, creating jobs and wealth for Ethiopians in the process?
With at least 80 million people living in Ethiopia, it is difficult to believe that one could not find a few hundred people out of these millions or the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians living abroad, who are capable and willing to learn how to run large-scale farms. Ethiopia is blessed with enough land and hardworking people to feed itself and many other countries. It also has many other natural resources including gold, platinum, copper, potash, natural gas, and hydroelectric power potential. And don't forget the high elevations that can be used as training venues for athletes, especially long distance runners.
There is no reason why Niger and Ethiopia should be the two poorest counties in the world. Africa is not a victim of nature. It is a victor of nature that should get to work and create wealth using its abundant resources. Fortunately for Africa, China is willing to work with Niger and other African countries to help them do what the West has failed to do since it went to Africa for slaves: Help Africa lift itself out of poverty.
Allan Afuah is Associate Professor of Strategy at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Dr. Afuah's latest book is The African Paradox: Is China the Solution?