Why has democracy had so many problems in developing countries?
October 27, 2006 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Why has democracy, at least our version of it in the west, proven so difficult a system of government to maintain in the third/developping world?

I think this boils down to what are the conditions that we in the west had that differ from the developing world that made democracy possible. Is it because of the elites in society? The existing histories of the nations?

Links to sources on this topic would be helpful, thank you in advance.
posted by dflemingdotorg to Law & Government (35 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
How about being completely screwed by colonial powers for generations until they're poor, completely unrooted from any local traditions, and continue to be economically screwed by unjust aid programs and unscrupulous local elites who sell their own people down the river.

Read Leslie Sklair. He's known as a Marxist, but he's not nearly as lopsided about this stuff as that term would suggest.
posted by mikel at 12:43 PM on October 27, 2006

Hernando de Soto's The Mystery of Capital suggests that capitalism (and by extension democracy) has a hard time existing without strong property rights.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 12:44 PM on October 27, 2006

It just might also have something to do with constant interference by the west when those countries elect leaders the west is not fond of, (e.g., Iran, Chile, etc.).
posted by milarepa at 12:47 PM on October 27, 2006

Sufficient per capita income, basically. For a more nuanced, fleshed-out version, see Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom.
posted by ewiar at 12:52 PM on October 27, 2006

Education, strong middle class, wealth and strong legal system are all needed to maintain a democracy. Democracies are cripple under the weight of corruption, which is a large problem in the developing world. The developing world is an incredibly broad spectrum and each country has its own nuanced problems.
posted by geoff. at 1:17 PM on October 27, 2006

How about being arbitrarily, involuntarily cobbled together willy nilly from tribes or ethnicities that have nothing in common and may outright despise each other?
posted by spicynuts at 1:17 PM on October 27, 2006

I'd suggest reading Confessions of an Economic Hitman. It has been our government's policy for many years (since the middle 1950's) to keep third world nations in debt they cannot pay back. We do this by convincing them to take out loans to build infrastructure they can't afford with "analysis" that shows their economy will grow enough to easily pay it back. It doesn't, but they still have the debt. This makes them essentially indentured servants. We can then take their resources for very little money, and force them to vote as we wish in the UN.

We talk them into these bad deals by making a few people at the top very, very rich, and making everyone else in the country very, very poor.

Note that Asia is developing quite nicely now; Korea and Taiwan are real powerhouses. A country absolutely can bootstrap itself from poverty, but it's very hard with a millstone of deliberately-induced debt.

As others are saying, low corruption, strong property rights, strong contract law, and a good justice system are also important components.
posted by Malor at 1:20 PM on October 27, 2006

Which kind of democracy are you defining? There are many versions extant (monarchy, presidential, parliamentary, direct, representative, liberal, etc). And in point of fact, as a vague concept it has proven to be pretty difficult to maintain in the developed world as well. Democracy defined as full enfranchisement is a product of the early 20th century, and for much of that time many countries now "democratic" were actually tyrannies or oligarchies. I believe several dozens of millions of people died, in fact, to prevent "democracy" from regressing even further than it did. Many of the countries in the "old" EU were fascist or dictatorships until the 1970s, and many of the newer EU countries were tyrannies even into the 1990s. Some of them still barely qualify as functioning democracies - oligarchies is probably a closer match.
posted by meehawl at 1:26 PM on October 27, 2006

Maslow's Hierarchy, surely. When you're dirt-poor, you don't really have much time or energy to spend on the essentially intellectual exercise that is democracy.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:29 PM on October 27, 2006

Democracy is a fragile system, which cannot be simply implemented by force (Iraq).

I have thought much about this, and here are some of my conclusions:

1) It needs a critical mass of law abiding citizens.
2) It needs a large group of people who will lose a lot if things change - e.g. lose their houses, busineses, property. This means they care, and will vote accordingly.
3) A solid constitution to protect property.
4) A system to enforce point 3
5) A free press.
6) Solid banking laws and practices.
7) An "educated" population.
8) An culture of healthy critisism, where leaders can be corrected.
9) I agree withUncle Jimmy. Capital is very important.

Look at Zimbabwe, Italy, Switzerland and US. Read Noam Chompsky. Perhaps a question for you; there are countries where there is no democracy, where people are wealty and doing well. Can you name them?

Think about it.

posted by bright77blue at 1:30 PM on October 27, 2006

I started answering this, but then had to delete my answer because I found I could not do the question justice in less than 10 pages. It is a complex question with no definitive answer, but one that involves history, cultural studies, economics, psychology, and any number of other -ologies. Any answer is sure to be controversial.
posted by edgeways at 1:43 PM on October 27, 2006

Transition to a democracy requires that those who hold power give some of it up. They must therefore be more committed to the idea of democracy than to the idea of holding onto their power. Such leaders are extremely rare -- well-meaning people usually don't make it to the top in situations where might makes right -- and those ruthless individuals already on top generally don't have changes of heart.

The only other possibility, I think, is economic. Wealth is a form of power, and as open trade permits wealth to become less concentrated in the hands of a supreme leader or a few wealthy feudal lords, democracy stands a chance.

And, really, it probably can't happen in a sustainable way without both conditions being present at once.

But I think it's worth pointing out that even fascism can be "democratic." Sometimes, I think, the vast majority of people really do want all political power consolidated into a single governing entity. Seems to me such a model usually goes hand-in-hand with traditional, "family" values -- the family is like a little state -- a strong father to lead & discipline his family, who receives his authority from the "uber-father" of the state.
posted by treepour at 1:52 PM on October 27, 2006

You should look at Robert Putnam's writings, specifically Making Democracy Work (1993).
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:56 PM on October 27, 2006

Start by thinking about power.

A medieval country resembles a mountainous terrain. You have a number of lords who have considerable power in their own right: they have followers who are loyal to them, they can raise armies, they have strongholds which they can defend.

In contrast, a democracy resembles an absolutely flat plain with a single center of power. Everyone in a democracy is equal. No individual has the power to challenge the central government. Think of Bill Gates. No matter how much money he has, he can't raise his own army. As Stalin said of the pope, "How many divisions does he have?"

In this situation, it's possible for the central government to enforce peace and security, because it can meet any challenge with overwhelming force. (The downside is that someone who takes over the central government can easily turn the country into a dictatorship, but that's a different story.)

Now imagine that you have a medieval political situation, with lords and militias, and you try to set up an elected central government.

In a stable democracy, factions will typically resolve conflicts by trying to gain control of the government, or at least lobby it to change its policies -- what we think of as the "political process."

But in the medieval situation, powerful factions will find it easier to resort to violence. In fact, individual lords may have more real power and more legitimacy than the elected central government.

In order to establish a stable central government, it needs to be strong enough to be able to disarm the warlords. (They're unlikely to disarm voluntarily; why should they trust the central government?) As I understand it, in Europe this was done by monarchs; only later on did the monarchy come under control of parliamentary regimes.

A couple references:

Hans Morgenthau discusses the barriers to world government (an analogous problem, only at the international level instead of the national level) in Politics Among Nations.

Douglas Macdonald discusses US attempts at democratic reform in China, the Philippines, and Vietnam in Adventures in Chaos.

The mountainous terrain-vs.-flat plain analogy comes from Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
posted by russilwvong at 2:24 PM on October 27, 2006

"On the postcolony" by Achille Mbembe (reviewed here) is a great book, but maybe not a good place to *start* if you aren't familiar with Foucault.

Global Shadows by James Ferguson is very readable, and offers real insights into the place of "Africa" (as a concept) in the world. This includes a discussion of democracy.

For democracy to work, governments have to be accountable to the citizens. Simply put, the structure of international aid makes African governments accountable to banks first and citizens second.
posted by carmen at 3:56 PM on October 27, 2006

I'd suggest reading Confessions of an Economic Hitman. It has been our government's policy for many years (since the middle 1950's) to keep third world nations in debt they cannot pay back.

I actually was convinced to read Confessions of an Economic Hitman by a prior recommendation by Malor, and would recommend against it for anyone looking for a serious study of the problems with international aid. The book is written like a spy novel, with a complete absence of data to support its claims. A much stronger case was made in about 1% of the space by Joseph Stiglitz after the Asian crisis of the late 90s.

Also, I haven't read it yet, but the recently published The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly apparently makes the case (from a strong free-markets perspective, unlike the preceding writers) that too much western aid is planned by overly ambitious westerners who are too unwilling to work within the existing institutions of recipients. Easterly and Stiglitz have very different political backgrounds, but both make the case that the immediate imposition of new property rights regimes and economic liberalization ("shock therapy") have often done more harm than good.
posted by gsteff at 4:49 PM on October 27, 2006

Amartya Sen wrote a good, critical review of The White Man's Burden.
posted by gsteff at 4:50 PM on October 27, 2006

Guns, Germs and Steel is all you need to know.
posted by frogan at 7:10 PM on October 27, 2006

A less Poli Sci answer would be the passage in Barbara Kingsolver's "Poisonwood Bible" where the tribal chief has democracy explained to him.

Their system of government is essentially "one wise and powerful man decides what's best, and everyone goes along with that decision", and democracy is clearly not nearly as good a system, because, after all the hassle and complication of voting, a large number of people haven't got what they want, sometimes even the majority haven't got what they want.

I live in a democracy, and have suffered under a government that I actively loathe and detest for many years now. Perhaps he's got a point.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:48 PM on October 27, 2006

Democracy paradoxically requires both a strong, entrenched, and immutable economic and political ruling class AND the illusion that the lower class can attain this position.

The latter is lacking in third world countries.
posted by Willie0248 at 7:51 PM on October 27, 2006

AmbroseChapel...that is a rather broad generalization. Take the institution of chieftaincy in Ghana for instance. The paramount chief does not wield absolute power but rules in tandem with a council of elders who also double as kingmakers.

The queenmother (not neccesarily his relative, but a female of good standing in the community, who by the way is elected, also serves as advisor to the paramount chief.). Also the although the title is inherited, it is actually a form of democracy in action. The title belongs to a family and once the incumbent is deceased or incapacitated for any reason, a pool of potentials that are nephews of the incumbent are assembled, and one is voted into power by the council of elders.

And besides, Africa is not a homogenous unit with uniform traditional structures of governance. Even within one country, using Ghana as an example, there are differences in the structure of traditional leadership among the different tribes; (and we are talking at least 75 separate tribes with distinct languages, not dialects, with the unifying language being English), And to further complicate issues, throw in western style poltiical leadership and the whole thing becomes a quagmire! What ends up happening is that a parallel system of governance emerges. Take for instance the Ashanti tribe. The paramount chief of the ashantis has about 50 sub chiefs reporting to him. He is also governed by the constititutional laws of Ghana as a political unit. The president of Ghana (Ghana being a western styled democracy), who is also Ashanti, is subservient to the Chief in tradtional matters because they come from the same tribe. However in matters of national political relevance, the President of course wields the power.
Note that (still using Ghana as an example), tribal allegience typically takes precedence over national allegience (rightly or wrongly)...(and nationalism is only evident when soccer is involved!!!).

So no, it's not as simple as you state. There are a lot of extraneous factors that make it difficult if not impossible for western styled democracy to succeed. What the west should focus on, instead of imposing democracy on Africa by force (a la Iraq) or by economic blackmail, is to help those countries figure out a way to balance the traditional structure of government with the national system of government. (It worked for the British on a small scale as colonial powers of Ghana, where they had a Governor of the colony but also relied on the local chiefs for local governance.)

Sorry for such a long post, but it annoys me when people make such broad generalizations about Africa without understanding the understanding the underlying issues! I'm Ghanaian and i studied history at the undergrad level in Ghana (it was my minor) and i did some research on the subject as it pertains to Ghana.
posted by ramix at 10:31 PM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Great comment by ramix.

dflemingdotorg, I'd summarize it like this:

1. Democracy is not universally applicable.

2. Its feasibility depends on the existing society. I've highlighted the distribution of power. Tocqueville emphasizes political traditions ("customs").

Hans Morgenthau describes the conditions of domestic peace (an important precondition for a democracy):
Peace among social groups within the nation reposes upon a dual foundation: the disinclination of the members of society to break the peace and their inability to break the peace if they should be so inclined. Individuals will be unable to break the peace if overwhelming power makes an attempt to break it a hopeless undertaking. They will be disinclined to break the peace under two conditions. On the one hand, they must feel loyalties to society as a whole which surpass their loyalties to any part of it. On the other hand, they must be able to expect from society at least an approximation of justice through a modicum of satisfaction for their demands.
3. There are in fact examples of successful democracies in the developing world: India and South Korea come to mind.
posted by russilwvong at 1:18 AM on October 28, 2006

Power corrupts.
posted by oaf at 6:11 AM on October 28, 2006

But ramix, it's more complicated than just aligning the traditional governing systems with the national one.

At The Halifax Initiative they discuss the ways in which the World Bank and the IMF undermine democracy:
... Amenga-Etego noted that these institutions, while spouting the need for increasing democratization, actually undermine democracy. The World Bank demanded that Ghana remove subsidies for the rice* and poultry industries. These industries collapsed – Ghana now imports rice from the US and poultry from Poland. In response, Parliament passed a law to protect these industries. Two weeks later the IMF instructed the President that the law was unacceptable as it discriminated against a fair market. The President, without Parliamentary approval, was forced to make an announcement on radio reversing the policy. Amenga-Etego continued, “Privatization, deregulation, liberalization has not only brought poverty, it has undermined our democracy, it has undermined our dignity as human beings, eroded our sovereignty and it has made us completely, not only marginal, but very vulnerable. We feel almost as if we are not human.”
*Note that rice production is subsidized in America (and that agriculture is heavily subsidized in most "developed" nations such as the US, Canada, and England). This has been a very common story with structural adjustment: that market "barriers" are dismantled in Africa, but market opportunities for African products are not opened up in the West, nor are policies that allow rich countries to undercut indigenous industries dismantled.

How can it be possible to create an effective democratic government if there exist institutions with the power to alter law that are not accountable to citizens? While African countries do face the difficulties of integrating many different values and forms of governance among their populations, it seems to me that the greatest constraint to *democracy* per se is not "traditional" versus "modern" governments, but what power the government has to answer the needs and concerns of it's citizens.
posted by carmen at 8:47 AM on October 28, 2006

Carmen, i was referring to AmbroseChapels remark that referred to the traditional setup as being in effect autocratic. I dont disagree with you either. Note that i refer to economic blackmail in my post.

However like i said, there is no single factor that prevents western style democracy from flourishing in Africa, but a myrlad of complicated and interwoven economic, social, cultural, historical and political factors...and perhaps maybe, western styled democracy isnt the right answer.

As a side issue, not all countries in africa can be considered 3rd world. States that are predominantly Islam, think Egypt, Libya, Morocco etc tend to be better off than the rest. Is that cause and effect? I don't knpw, but it's worth exploring.
posted by ramix at 11:54 AM on October 28, 2006

Egypt, Libya, Morocco etc tend to be better off than the rest

They border Europe and have been major trading hubs with Southern Europe for millennia. They have had their ups and downs.
posted by meehawl at 3:38 PM on October 28, 2006

On the economic history of global markets, you could try reading some Wallerstein, maybe. [Articles] [Books].

On neoliberalism, IMF policies, and the prospects for Third World democracy, there's also David Harvey's Brief History of Neoliberalism, which came out last year. [Publisher] [Amazon].
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:55 PM on October 28, 2006

Sorry ramix. I wasn't trying to discount your comment (actually, it got me excited because the intersection of Asante kinship/monarchy and national government is what I'm doing my PhD on), but the suggestion that the West should "help" Ghanaians balance traditional and national government sits weirdly with me. I find that there is a huge focus in the West (or North America, anyway) on "helping" Africa, without any significant focus on the world power structure in which African countries and governments are embedded. So, I guess I think that the West should help African countries by creating fair and non-exploitative conditions for development and democracies. If such a thing could be achieved, then it would remain to be seen whether African countries actually needed any help in dealing with the other factors that make democracy difficult.

But until governments have the power and authority to respond to their citizens demands, helping balance intra-national sovereignty conflicts can't result in any significant changes. Even if the paramount chief and the president can come to an understanding of how to work together effectively, they will still remain subject to extra-national powers that are beyond the democratic reach of their citizens. Thus their government would remain fundamentally undemocratic despite their (or anybody's) best efforts.
posted by carmen at 11:00 AM on October 29, 2006

My post wasn't intended to describe the current system as autocratic -- perhaps I should have added "a wise and powerful man decides, after listening to his advisors"?

It was more about a fresh look at the idea of democracy -- if you grow up in a democracy, like a fish not thinking about water, you tend not to question it. Democracy is clearly the best system because everyone has a voice.

Kingsolver presents us with someone to whom the concept is new, that's all, and shows us an alternative interpretation: democracy, the system in which almost nobody really gets what they want.

I should try and quote the actual passage though. I'll look on my bookshelf later.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2006

--if you grow up in a democracy, like a fish not thinking about water, you tend not to question it.

Right. When we (people in democracies) look at governments, we tend to focus on how democratic they are. But I think it's more important to look at how well they perform.

What does a government do? It fights wars when necessary, provides law and order at home, levies taxes, strengthens the economy, and runs a bureaucracy to manage all of these things. Since the Great Depression and World War II, governments in the West provide a range of public services as well: education, health care, welfare.

An autocratic government may perform these tasks well or badly; it may meet the challenges facing it, or its efforts may result in dismal failure. The same is true of a democratic government. If a democratic government fails to perform, it may very well be overthrown and be replaced with an autocratic government which performs better.

What makes government particularly difficult is the need to maintain one's power relative to other domestic factions. This often overrides all other priorities. George F. Kennan, Realities of American Foreign Policy, 1954:
Every government has a dual quality. It is in one sense the spokesman for the nation at large. Yet at the same time it is always the representative of a single dominant political faction, or coalition of factions, within the given body politic, and thus the protagonist of the interests of that political element over and against the interests of other competing political elements in the respective country. [Its policies] therefore do not necessarily reflect only the actual desiderata of the totality of the people in question; they may also be the reflection of the internal political competition in which the respective governmental leaders are engaged.
This applies to democracies as well as to autocracies.

If a government performs well, others tend to look to it as an example to be imitated. G. M. Trevelyan, A Shortened History of England:
It was only when the period of internal evolution had resulted in the settlement of 1688-9, that the new Parliamentary England, based on freedom in religion and politics, was matched under William III and Marlborough against the new type of continental autocracy personified in the all-worshipped Louis XIV, Grand Monarch of France. ... The wars against Louis [the War of the League of Augsburg, 1688-1697, and the War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1714] may be regarded as the ordeal by battle which demonstrated the greater efficiency of the free community over the despotic state.

This result greatly astonished and impressed a world that had up till that time held a diametrically opposite theory of power. Despotism, it had been thought, was the secret of efficiency; freedom was a luxury to be enjoyed by small communities like the Cantons of Switzerland and the Seven Provinces of Holland--and Holland's power after a short period of glory was waning fast before the rising might of the French King. The victory of parliamentary England over despotic France was a new fact of the first order; it was the prime cause of the intellectual movement abroad against despotism in Church and State which marked the Eighteenth Century, from the time of Montesquieu onwards. The British Navy and Marlborough, the battles of La Hogue and Blenheim, gave to Locke and the other English philosophers a vogue on the continent seldom enjoyed by English philosophy in its own right. English institutions for the first time became an example to the world, though they remained somewhat of a mystery and were very imperfectly understood.
In the period immediately after World War II, Western democracy wasn't the only model available to developing countries. The Soviet Union was regarded as a model by many countries seeking to "catch up" to the rich countries, because that's exactly what the Soviet Union appeared to have done. Later, Maoist China became a similar model.

Looking at the original question from this point of view, perhaps a related question would be: which developing countries have succeeded, which have failed, and why? In economic terms, most of the success stories are in East Asia--Japan, the four "tigers" (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore), now Malaysia, Thailand, and China. Democracy wasn't really a big part of the story; most of those countries had autocratic governments during their initial growth phase.

Another way to look at the data would be to consider those developing countries which adopted democratic political institutions, and see which ones succeeded. India's a democracy, for example, but so far it's been outpaced by China.

As far as the IMF being to blame for holding countries back, I think the story's more complicated than that. The reason the IMF's involved in the first place is because these countries borrowed a lot of money (for development, or to pay for oil imports during the 1970s), and now can't pay it back. If a government can only keep subsidies in place by borrowing more money and increasing its debt burden, maybe the IMF should say no.

Moreover, if it's a choice between having decisions made by the IMF and having decisions made by a particular domestic faction, I'm not sure we should assume that the decisions made by the IMF will necessarily be worse.
posted by russilwvong at 11:08 PM on October 29, 2006

"The reason the IMF's involved in the first place is because these countries borrowed a lot of money (for development, or to pay for oil imports during the 1970s), and now can't pay it back. If a government can only keep subsidies in place by borrowing more money and increasing its debt burden, maybe the IMF should say no."

This is disingenuous. The loans were structured very differently from, say the Marshall Plan (the most successful international development plan in history). The institutions that make loans extract a lot of money in debt servicing: In 1996, sub-Saharan Africa (minus South Africa) paid $2.5 billion more in debt servicing than it got in new long-term loans and credits. The IMF alone has transferred over $3 billion out of Africa since the mid-1980s.

"Moreover, if it's a choice between having decisions made by the IMF and having decisions made by a particular domestic faction, I'm not sure we should assume that the decisions made by the IMF will necessarily be worse."

You may argue that it's better (and I may disagree) but surely you don't argue that it is democratic (note that the article I pointed to said that the World Bank required the overturning of a law passed by the elected government, not the rule of some "faction")? Nor conducive to democracy?

Look, I agree that the big picture of problems in Africa is complicated. And I know that blaming the World Bank and the IMF is tired sounding and often done by people who seem more reactionary than informed. But there is a lot of evidence that the West exploits Africa to great gain, and that this exploitation leads, in Africa, to increases in poverty, health crisis, war, corruption, and undermines the successful functioning of democracy.

I'm not trying to suggest that Africans know how to do everything perfectly and are only hindered by the evil West. But I do think that African problems cannot be taken out of context of the extra-national context. I suggest that the extra-national context is the most critical because I cannot think of conditions under which it is possible for an African nation to achieve a decent standard of living that does not include drastic changes to international aid/trade relations.

I'm just me, and although my opinion is informed, it's obviously not total. If you have reasons to think that national and sub-national efforts can make real, lasting change, send them my way.
posted by carmen at 8:45 AM on October 30, 2006

Look, I agree that the big picture of problems in Africa is complicated. And I know that blaming the World Bank and the IMF is tired sounding and often done by people who seem more reactionary than informed.

Sure, that's what I was reacting to--blaming as a form of escapism. I agree that the debt burden is a huge problem for sub-Saharan Africa, and I'd support debt forgiveness.

But the point I'd make is that these countries got into trouble (to the point where they have to answer to the IMF and the World Bank) because they made bad decisions in the past.

The only thing that's going to get these countries out of trouble is good government. I agree that the rich countries should do everything they can to help (primarily debt forgiveness and trade policy), but if the countries themselves lack good government, they're still going to struggle.

I don't see democracy as a panacea; democratically elected governments can make extremely bad decisions, as the Bush administration demonstrates.

--surely you don't argue that it is democratic--

No, certainly not.

Regarding factions: even a democratically elected government will represent a faction or coalition of factions. Paul Krugman discusses an example from Mozambique:
Mozambique's cashews are grown overwhelmingly by small farmers. The great majority of the country's 19 million people live on the land; at least a quarter of them grow cashews. Until 1995 farmers were forced to sell those nuts to a state monopoly at artificially low prices; the state company then processed the nuts, employing about 10,000 workers. ...

In poor countries organized urban workers (and factory owners) typically have far more political clout than much more numerous but illiterate and unorganized farmers; the result is an often extreme policy bias against the countryside. Governments frequently tax the rural poor to subsidize urban industries -- industries whose workers are very badly paid by Western standards, but nonetheless receive much higher wages than most of their compatriots. This case -- in which peasants were forced to sell their crops cheaply in order to protect the jobs of 10,000 processing workers -- fits right into the pattern.
(Note that Robert Naiman disputes Krugman's example. Dani Rodrik.)

The institutions that make loans extract a lot of money in debt servicing:--

Of course. Any lender, foreign or domestic, will demand to be repaid with interest.

You probably know a lot more about the problems of African development than I do, but I'm pretty familiar with the Marshall Plan. European recovery was a very different problem from what we usually think of as "international development"--in postwar Europe, the US could make a huge difference with comparatively little aid because it was a matter of breaking bottlenecks that were holding up industrial production. PPS/1.

If you have reasons to think that national and sub-national efforts [in sub-Saharan Africa] can make real, lasting change, send them my way.

It might be worth looking into examples of post-colonial successes elsewhere in the developing world. How do you build up the state? How do you strengthen the economy? I have in mind the first volume of Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs--Singapore basically started from zero after it got kicked out by Malaysia, and dealing with hostile neighbors (Malaysia, Indonesia) was a constant concern--but of course there's probably better post-colonial models.

To me what would really make a big difference to sub-Saharan Africa would be one success that others would then follow, just as Japan provided a model for the rest of East Asia. Post-apartheid South Africa is probably the best candidate.

What's your opinion of Jeffrey Herbst's argument in States and Power in Africa? (Herbst argues that low population density in Africa makes it difficult to establish an effective centralized state.)
posted by russilwvong at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2006

By the way, the full text of Herbst's book The Politics of Reform in Ghana, 1982-1991 is available online.
posted by russilwvong at 12:33 PM on October 30, 2006

I haven't read Herbst, so I can't really say. We have pretty low population density, though, and we're doing pretty well :) Compare Canada's 3.3 per square kilometre to Ghana's 63 per square kilometre (and probably rising). I'm sure he's referring, at least in part, to pre-colonial times, but there you go. I'm not sure how different it was in the past, but I'm pretty sure Canada never had what you'd call a "high" population density.

I'd recommend Ferguson really highly for a well researched, interesting, and well articulated views of African states. And Mbembe for a challanging but thought provoking one. I'm not sure how much more I can add personally.
posted by carmen at 1:07 PM on October 30, 2006

Thanks for the recommendations, carmen, I'll try not to derail the thread further.
posted by russilwvong at 3:28 PM on October 30, 2006

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