Radelet focuses his book on 17 emerging countries, nations that have been making legitimate progress in Africa. However, first he does take some time to talk about the usual “bad news” coming from African nations. “Newspapers report endless civil wars, repeated coups, gross misrule, famine, disease, and poverty across the continent. Academics, pundits, and Western politicians decry the failures and misdeeds of private investors, foreign aid agencies, or African leaders and paint a picture of a continent in perpetual crisis…But the image of an entire continent mired in failure and hopelessness is increasingly out of date.” A main point Radelet focuses on going forward is that all of Africa cannot be put in the same category, it’s a vast and diverse continent. Radelet divides African nations into 3 groups: the 17 emerging countries, oil producers, and the rest. “It is demoralizing for the emerging countries, some of which work so hard in the face of so many challenges to achieve even small and fragile gains, when they are lumped together and dismissed as part of a disastrous whole.” These 17 nations have showed positive patterns of growth and stability, and improved nearly across the board. The “good news” for these countries can be seen through five fundamental changes. More democratic and accountable governments, along with more sensible economic policies, provide the base upon which the other 3 changes can occur. The change in the nature of the debt crisis, along with new technologies have allowed these countries to improve economically and in quality of life. Finally, a new generation of political, social, and economic leaders are beginning to rise, educated and motivated to help their nations progress.
But how can we measure this growth, and how can we keep it sustainable? First of all, we have many metrics to see how these nations have improved their situations. Economies have grown an average of 3.2% per capita since 2006. Trade and investment have more than doubled, with a noticeable return on those investments. With education, school enrollment, completion, and literacy rates have all increased. Overall, replacing dictatorships with democracies has raised accountability and lowered corruption. But is this growth sustainable? If we look back to my previous post, sustainable growth is all about getting communities involved and keeping costs low. If a system can be infinitely expandable and increase efficiency, rapid growth can be maintained, to a point. MDG’s have helped to organize these small communities and create tangible improvements.
Millenium Villages are a series of 14 communities in 10 different countries, aimed at assisting the villages with sustainable growth. “The Millennium village financing model is built on the premise that, with modest support, rural economies can transition from subsistence farming to self-sustaining commercial activity.” The key is to get the entire community involved and invested, including women and vulnerable groups, so they can all make progress together. The village of Mayange, located in Rwanda, is one of these communities chosen to be a part of the program. The terrain around Mayange is less suitable for crops, being flat and dry. Usually these areas are used for pastoral uses and livestock. Over time with these Millennium Village projects created real growth, but in quality of life and in the economy. New businesses like a cassava flour plant, honey production, pig and chicken farming, and basket weaving/knitting businesses for women. Libraries and computer facilities have been set up to help with literacy and technology skills. The list goes on with more successful small businesses, enabling the members of the community to help themselves out of poverty and invest in the future. The program “Be-Girl Pads” also has taken an interest in the community, choosing fifty girls to participate. In Africa many girls miss fifty or more days of school because of menstrual cycles, making them fall behind and often drop out. These programs supply the girls with hygiene products like pads and help to educate the girls about their cycles. Initiatives like these help people to educate themselves and create a brighter future. If these first free systems seem to be successful, they will be looking into manufacturing these pads locally, creating local small business and jobs. These Millennium Villages have had some success, but questions of the real impact have been raised. If these communities become dependent on foreign efforts, in the future they can have problems becoming self-sustaining. That being said, the progress in Mayange is sustainable, with its small businesses and production of goods they can sell. These Millennium Villages are not the perfect solution to the problem of development, but they have created real tangible growth for the people in these communities.