Development Briefing Paper No. 6

Why Is Africa Poor?

By Greg Mills
December 6, 2010

Sub-Saharan African countries have not fulfilled their potential since independence. While other developing countries and regions have grown over the past 50 years, much of Africa has stagnated. African leaders have become adept at externalizing blame, holding others responsible for Africa’s failings. Yet African leaders — not a lack of capital, access to world markets, or technical expertise — are to blame for the continent’s underdevelopment.

As Asian countries have shown, African countries must liberalize their economies to grow. Africa must embrace globalization and trade with the rest of the world. African countries must also make their business environment much friendlier to domestic and foreign investors. The political elite, which benefits from the status quo, is the main obstacle to reform. The spread of democracy on the continent — haphazard though it is — will make African governments more responsive to the needs of the populace, but Western governments must also help — by ending or reducing foreign aid to African regimes. That move could help establish a better link between governments and citizens and reduce disincentives to necessary reforms.

Read the Full Development Briefing Paper

Greg Mills is the director of the Brenthurst Foundation, which is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is the author of Why Africa Is Poor — and What Africans Can Do About It (Johannesburg: Penguin, 2010).