- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2000

Over the past half-century, the post-World War II "liberal international economic order" has facilitated an extraordinary worldwide spread of prosperity, with estimated global per capita output rising by almost 150 percent between 1950 and 1992 alone. Sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately, has barely participated in this great economic upswing; over the past generation, in fact, the sub-Sahara has suffered prolonged and virtually continentwide economic failure, marked by pervasive economic retrogression and even reversals in social development.

Sub-Saharan Africa's dismal economic performance and still-bleak development prospects pose at most only indirect threats to American security, and no more than peripheral challenges to U.S. national interests. Nonetheless, the sub-Sahara's ongoing development disaster should command the attention of American policy-makers for at least three reasons:

(1) The compelling humanitarian consequences of this vast and tragic failure.

(2) The demonstrable American political preference that human beings around the world share in the arrangements that generate prosperity.

(3) Development and the spread of prosperity within the sub-Sahara itself will contribute directly to the strengthening of the liberal international economic order, leading indirectly to the improvement of living standards in the United States.

Washington cannot simply will a sub-Saharan economic revival into existence. The United States can, however, take a number of positive steps to enhance the region's economic outlook by encouraging sub-Saharan integration into the liberal international economic order. With American leadership at the forefront, the perverse foreign aid policies that have distorted, and even undermined, African development can be reformed or replaced.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), private capital flows to developing countries over the 1990-97 period exceeded $600 billion but amounted to barely $10 billion for all of sub-Saharan Africa. Of that total, fully $9 billion accrued to one country, South Africa meaning that the other 49 countries and 560 million people of the sub-Sahara attracted essentially no net new private capital during the greatest international investment boom ever witnessed.

Sub-Saharan Africa has, instead, grown ever more reliant for external resources upon foreign aid ironically named "official development assistance" (ODA) programs that transfer funds from Western taxpayers to the coffers of sub-Saharan regimes. The scale of this transfer has been breathtaking. Between 1960 and 1997, net disbursement of ODA, adjusted for inflation, amounted to roughly $400 billion. In absolute magnitude, this would be equivalent to almost six Marshall Plans. Unlike the Marshall Plan, however, sub-Sahara's ODA flows have sparked neither renewed economic growth nor financial self-sufficiency. By virtually any measure chosen, sub-Saharan Africa is more dependent today upon foreign aid than any major region of the world now, or within historical memory.

There are strong reasons for entertaining only modest expectations for sub-Saharan economic growth and development in the years immediately ahead. Degradation of educational attainment and health status among rising young cohorts in much of the sub-Sahara will make the task of eliciting dynamic long-term growth extremely difficult.

An American initiative to encourage growth and prosperity in Africa can only bear fruit if it is envisioned for a realistically long-range horizon, implemented consistently, and comprised of sensible, politically sustainable measures. But such an approach is feasible, and some its essentials can be briefly described. As has already been indicated, there are strong reasons for entertaining only modest expectations for sub-Saharan economic growth and development in the years immediately ahead.

The sub-Sahara developmental troubles are a complex and deeply rooted historical problem, not a passing aberration; those troubles can only be resolved over a correspondingly extended time-frame. Degradation of educational attainment and health status among rising young cohorts in much of the sub-Sahara, moreover, will make the task of eliciting dynamic long-term growth even more difficult. It is important for American leaders to recognize these constraints and to face them realistically. Any program that promises quick and dramatic results for the sub-Sahara will likely only raise hopes and fail conspicuously, thereby consigning that tormented region to further U.S. neglect. An American initiative to encourage growth and prosperity in Africa can only bear fruit if it is envisioned for a realistically long-range horizon, implemented consistently and comprised of sensible, politically sustainable measures. But such an approach is feasible, and some of its essentials can be briefly described.

• First, the "aid-based" approach to development that has helped strangle economic growth in the sub-Sahara over the past generation must be thoroughly repudiated and scrapped. ODA and other state-to-state resource transfers permit the recipient regime to pursue its intentions with less constraint and if those intentions are economically irresponsible, foreign aid cannot elicit self-sustaining development. American leadership can encourage reform of the international ODA apparatus not least through a redirection and overhaul of our own USAID programs. Bilateral U.S. aid, however, accounts for only about 5 percent of ODA inflows to the sub-Sahara. ODA reform will therefore require continuous and attentive engagement with the other OECD countries and the international institutions (such as the World Bank and the United Nations) that provide the lion's share of the area's congressional funding.

• Second, the United States can take specific steps that encourage greater sub-Saharan participation in the world market economy and can urge other affluent Western countries to do the same. America is the world's largest export market already, and by most standards is already quite open but our markets could be still more open to products in which African products (textiles, among others) might successfully compete. Washington could encourage business leaders to visit African countries and explain to interested local circles just what it would take to make their countries attractive prospects for specific kinds of U.S. investment. And since remittances by workers overseas can have a tremendously positive impact in low-income settings, the United States could raise the number of skilled immigrants from the sub-Sahara it admits each year.

• Finally, U.S. leadership can promote economic recovery and development in the sub-Sahara through a number of discrete measures in the fields of security assistance and humanitarian aid. Stable, accountable governance will be indispensable to long-term development in the sub-Sahara. The United States can indirectly encourage such political developments by helping to foster professionalism and democratic values among the region's militaries. As for humanitarian efforts in the sub-Sahara, perhaps the most pressing of these will be to slow the seemingly relentless march of AIDS. In the final analysis, we will have to rely upon medical research for the innovations that will ultimately make medical treatment of HIV or AIDS affordable to all. Until such time, U.S. health officials can promote sub-Saharan public education and public health campaigns that will contain the plague by changing local practices and strengthening local prevention policies.

The American global vision, and the ideals that underpin it, are universalist: They recognize the rights and worth of every human being, and eagerly await the day when all people can share in the prosperity and freedom that we Americans enjoy. If American leadership is to be true to our country's universalist vision, Africa's plight cannot be ignored.



Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute.

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