Why Africa Has Lagged Behind Other Continents and Regions in Development
It is apparent that countries exhibit differences in wealth. This is some nations are considered as rich, whereas other are said to be poor. From an economic lens, it seems easier for someone to distinguish rich countries from poor ones based on the quantity of resources that are available to a given society. However, it is relatively difficult to identify in-depth information about income distribution among social groups, resources utilization and the trends of production and consumption within a given country or region (Acemoglu & Robinson, 2012). These parameters can only be determined through the use of a ‘development gauge.’ Therefore, this paper will provide a precise description of ‘development’ and attempt to explain why Africa has lagged behind other continents and regions in development.
From an international parlance, ‘development’ can be defined as the interplay between economic growth and human development of a country. This interplay determines peoples’ quality of life which is not necessarily related to average incomes. This is why countries may have similar average incomes yet the people’s quality of life differ significantly (World Bank, n.d.). Ordinarily, people’s quality of life is determined by some factors such as access to healthcare and education, the threat of crime, availability of adequate safe drinking water and clean air, employment opportunities, and suitable housing.
In respect to the trends of economic growth and the progress of human development as the key components of development, it is easier to determine how a country is developed. This why countries are grouped into two broad categories; developed (wealthier) countries and developing countries (poor) countries. According to the World Bank, these differences are determined by the goals and means of development. In order to gauge the relative progress of a country in development, it is worth to evaluate the goals and means of development. This is so because different countries adopt different development policies that reflect their goals and means of achieving progress in development. In most countries, the goal of development is to increase national wealth which is measured by the country’s per capita income. This serves as the means for achieving development progress through enhancing human development. In developed countries, as well as developing countries, the goal to increase national wealth is meant to improve the people’s well-being. It also aims at increasing their population’s economic security and promoting the people’s freedom. In this perspective, human development is the key focus of development. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), economic growth is usually the means, whereas human development should be observed as the end (World Bank, n.d.). Therefore, increasing the country’s total wealth as an aspect of economic growth plays significant roles in addressing poverty and social problems. In a fair society, economic growth correlates with significant progress in human development. This implies that economic growth has a close link with environmental and social issues. Despite the notion that economic growth enhances human development, some rare incidences occur in which economic growth is not accompanied by significant progress in human development. This phenomenon occurs in unfair societies where democracy has suffered greatly in which economic growth is attained at the expense of disparities such as overconsumption of resources, high rates of unemployment and lack of cultural diversity. Due to the fact that these inequalities create economic and social imbalance, such economic growth is considered unsustainable because the future generations lack adequate resources. This is why it is believed that sustainable economic growth should always be accompanied by the dividends of progressive human development.
In a precise definition, sustainable development refers to a form of development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Lee, Mc Neill & Holland, 2000 p. 42). It is also viewed as a balancing approach between the environment and the economy (Drexhage & Murphy, 2010). Despite the existence of appropriate economic policies that enhance economic growth and human development, there are some main conditions that are necessary for sustainable development. This is so because development is a process that needs the interaction of its main components. In a situation where one or more components of development are not available, development is said to be unsustainable because any economic growth is ephemeral. In light of the new concept of sustainable development, social, environmental and economic factors are believed to be the main components of sustainable development. However, it is worth noting that their relative significance is determined by the country’s system of values (World Bank, n.d.). Therefore, sustainable development must meet all the economic, social and environmental objectives. Economic objectives include growth, efficiency and stability, whereas social objectives comprise of equity, social cohesion, cultural identity, public participation, and social mobility. On the other hand, environmental objectives of sustainable development should focus on the rational use and conservation of natural resources and the creation of a healthy environment for citizens (Client Earth, 2011).
In theory, progress in development is usually measured depending on a number of parameters. Economic growth is usually measured by the level of human capital development and its efficient utilization. However, these economic growth conditions require sound economic policy that is designed to increase the country’s wealth. On the other hand, progress in human development is measured by human development indicators such as democracy, education services, environmental protection, health services, and employment opportunities (World Bank, n.d.). Based on these measures, the divide between wealthy and poor countries can be distinguished. In theory, the United Nations Development Program determines the country’s development through the use of what is referred to as Human Development Index (HDI). This measure encompasses human development parameters such as standards of living, access to healthcare, employment and educational attainment. As such, it has been possible to rank countries depending on their development. Countries with high HDI are considered to be experiencing a high rate of development, whereas those with low HDI exhibit low progress in development. According to the 2012 UNDP rankings, the United States, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia were found to have the highest development; thus considered as rich countries. On the other hand, Niger, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Mozambique were ranked the least developed. All these countries are in the African Continent. This implies that development exhibits geographical localization characterized by wealth disparities, and this explains why some countries are richer than others (The Levin Institute, 2015).
In this case, it deems necessary to digress into the reasons why Africa has lagged behind other continents and regions in development. Evidence indicates that Africa has not achieved significant development over decades because most of its countries are poor. According to the 2013 UNDP report, 37 of the 46 countries with the lowest human development index are found in Africa. In contrast, Europe hosts 32 of all the 47 countries with a high human development (The Levin Institute, 2015).
One of the reasons why Africa has lagged behind other continents and regions is the enormous challenge in economic growth. It is reported that most African countries had potential to attain sustainable development at independence. Some of these countries had a high per capita income compared to countries in other continents. For instance, some African countries such as Ghana and Egypt had a higher per capita income than most Asian countries including China, India and Singapore (Alpay, 2007). Surprisingly, these Asian countries have come from behind to emerge as some of the most developed economies in the world, whereas their African counterparts are becoming poorer day-by-day. These challenges can be attributable to the use of unreliable economic policies, poor development of human capital and its utilization for economic growth. On the other hand, Africa has lagged behind of other continents and regions due to challenges in human development.
Ordinarily, most African countries have adopted unsustainable economic policies and human development approaches. These policies do not reflect liberal ideas as it is defined by the dependency theory. Dependency theory has been instrumental for development in developed economies. For instance, Europe and the United States designed their economic policies consistent with the dependency theory that aims at creating favorable conditions of development. This theory combines liberal ideas from Keynes’ economic theory with neo-marxist perspective. This theory aims at controlling monetary exchange rate with emphasis fiscal policy. This is what has enabled European countries, United States, as well as, countries in Latin America such as Brazil to attain sustainable development. In contrast, African governments have been focusing on controlling monetary exchange rate through emphasis on monetary policy. As a result, these countries have missed the benefits of dependency theory. For African countries to achieve progress in development, they have to adopt the precepts of dependency theory. These approaches include developing internal demand in order to promote domestic market, focus on the industrial sector to promote national development, promote government role in improving national standards of living, and increasing employment income for their citizens (Reyes, 2001).
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- Caroline Mutuku (Author), 2018, Why Africa Has Lagged Behind Other Continents and Regions in Development, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/432506