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July 30, 2003

Poor, poor Africa....

Why is Africa so poor? asks an article in Frontpage Magazine. Like many mainstream conservative outlets, they diagnose the symptoms well enough, lack of civil society & clean transparent government, but they neglect to be very specific about a course of treatment (corrupt international agencies & toothless NGOs?). Granted, this is better than much of the modern day Left, which either ignores the issue to focus on "injustice" that can be more directly ascribed to Western perfidy, or simply takes recourse to a blanket accusation of racism hanging over the continent like a mythical penumbra, affecting events far after its direct existence has been excised through decolonization and empowerment of native elites.

If we want most of Africa to step back onto the path of progress-toward-modernity, we need to speak it loud and proud as Jonah Goldberg did years ago, recolonize and take up the "White Man's Burden"! In lieu of indigenous social & political structures, modern nations must provide them so that the native genius can be fully expressed and incubated, just as a secular modern elite was born from the British Raj to lead an independent India that stumbles unsurely but steadily along the path-of-progress. Civilized nations must feed, clothe and educate African elites and erase from their minds a tribal mentality. Eventually, these elites will revolt against colonialism and establish their own independent political structures, but that's the whole point....

Oh yes, you say this has been tried before, but unfortunately it was aborted. Remember that most of Africa was untouched by European colonialism until the turn of the 19th century, while India had at least the benefits of 50 extra years, as well as a receptive indigenous elite which was already literate. The "colonial elites" of Africa were often semi-educated like Patrice Lumumba or illiterate like Idi Amin.

Of course, I don't favor recolonization personally, but that's probably the appropriate course of treatment if you want to cure the infection....

Posted by razib at 07:10 PM

"If we want most of Africa to step back onto the path of progress-toward-modernity, we need to speak it loud and proud as Jonah Goldberg did years ago, recolonize and take up the "White Man's Burden"!"

The White man has too much guilt on his shoulders to carry any more burden.

Posted by: Peter Phillips at July 30, 2003 10:55 PM

This is the first time I am reading this website, so its unfortunate that I have start commenting by disagreeing...:

There is a very big difference between Africa and any other continent. An absence of cynicism. Despite having really difficult problems , you find people being driven just on the hope, that the next day is gonna be a better one. It may not, but there is nothing wrong with beleiving. Unfortunately, over the years, I find most magazines and editorials leaning towards a cynical view that "the dark continent has no hope".

Some years back, I was of the same opinion myself. It's easy to sit back, read The Economist and form an opinion about a far away land and its people, and finally heap the blame on genetics or native ignorance or whatever. Being judgemental in this manner is largely inaccurate, as reality is very different.

Many problems in Africa seem to relate to history. Not just the colonization and what happened during that time, but before that. Very many african cultures have never had a written history (since most of the languages were "spoken" languages, without a script); most african history (pre-colonization) taught in text-books is very sketchy and vague as it relies on historical events passed down by word of mouth.

Cultures that have a long written history, tend to look back on the past to maybe learn from a past mistake, or feel good about something.
Sadly, Africans really have not had that oppurtunity to a large extent.

Give them time, dont judge them as a people yet.

(Personally, I dont think colonization was "good" in the first place -- so this whole recolonization thing just doesn't make any sense to me)


Posted by: Ashok at July 31, 2003 08:07 AM

Of course, the most heavily colonized parts of Africa--Rhodesia & the RSA--were/are the most prosperous & developed. Godless, RSA was founded by (Jewish) mining interests...a fact that the ADL doesn't want bruited about. Outside of Rhodes himself, most of the mining magnates were Jewish. The creation of market capital in Southern African was largely a Jewish thang.

Posted by: Diana at July 31, 2003 08:15 AM

Egypts is in Africa-and they were at the top for a long time. Sub-saharan Africa's problem is it's a round thing being forced into a square hole. African genes are perfectly well adapted to Africa. African genes are not well adapted for the world the white man has made. (Forget Asians-they're riding the white man's tide too-though some of 'em swim pretty well)
Who introduced the nation state into sub-Saharan Africa? This is a western concept which Africa has not digested and has caused many problems.
"Blaming" Africa for not coming up to Western standards is unfair, as these standards are not indigenous to Africa.

Posted by: sliggy at July 31, 2003 08:37 AM

I see the difference between successful societies and unsuccessful ones as boiling down to basic structure. Primarily secular democracies versus despotic systems. In my view market economies are the key to social wealth and success but what does it take to have a viable market economy? The fundamental thing I see missing when I look at struggling societies is an absence of the rule of law (corruption), free press, religious tolerance, etc.

Look at the Arab world. Why is a society that was so advanced a few centuries ago so far behind now? The entire Arab world comprising around 500 million people exports less than Finland if you take away oil. There's a pretty good look at some of this on this website:


And specifically here:


I also recently read an article that pointed to the "clan" culture as a fundamental issue causing African poverty. That is, a leader that does not enrich his clan through what we call "corruption" is considered to be selfish and/or corrupt.

Anyway, whenever I look at these countries I feel profoundly lucky.

Posted by: Katy at July 31, 2003 08:48 AM

Recolonize Africa... an interesting idea which begs the question "what's in it for us"?

Since Nixon took the US off the gold standard in 1971 the western countries have had very little interest in Africa or its people. I see no sign of this changing in the near future.

Posted by: DefaultUser at July 31, 2003 09:51 AM

a few points....

i think it simplistic to divide the world between "secural liberal democracies" and "shitholes" so to speak. the arab world is fucked up-but would you rather live in egypt or gabon? there are different grades of hell- parts of latin america & southeast asia are at the highest level of hell, while africa is the lowest level.

also, imagine a thought experiment, northern europe is shorn off from the rest of europe in 500 BCE, and in their new alien context they encounter advanced asiatics (think quasi-chinese) who rule them for 100 years or so. the quasi-chinese impart much of their culture to the various illiterate tribes of europe, whether celtic, germanic or slavic, and leave them to their own devices after a period of colonization. what would happen? the situation is not exactly analogous to africa, but not too far off, as some posters have mentioned. african cultures were simply organized around different principles than nation-states, partially constricted between jared diamond & thomas sowell's geographic parameters, and their genetic profile was optimized for this situation.

the way i see it-if people want civilization as we know it to take root in africa, we need to let them stumble through barbarism and slowly by a process of natural selection on culture & habit evolve toward systems more congenial to liberal democracy-in the west, this was the work of millennia. or, the west can impose its own superstructure on africa until native cultures develop to the point where they can stand on their own.

as for the genetic short-comings, african-americans have a measured IQ of 85 or so, just like afro-british, far higher than the african mean of 70. this indicates to mean that africans are not maximizing their potentional, and surely we can at least aim for jamaica levels of stability as a target, no matter what the ceiling to achievment might be....

Posted by: razib at July 31, 2003 10:03 AM

Not to sound accusing or anything, but has anyone here actually visited any "3rd world" countries? Or is that too "leftist" for y'all?

(mexico/caribbean don't count)

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at July 31, 2003 10:35 AM

Razib was born in Bangladesh, should be third-world enough. Godless is of asian descent, but I don't know if he has any "authentic" third-world experience from the "motherland.

Posted by: Döbeln at July 31, 2003 10:54 AM

Morocco, Egypt, Turkey (combo 3rd/2nd/1st), commie Russia.


Posted by: Diana at July 31, 2003 11:03 AM

Just checking.

Too often I see armchair "solutions" to the world's ills by righties who've yet to go anywhere other than their home state and Florida.

I guess the blogosphere is different. ;)

Diana, when did you visit commie Russia? I was there in '89 I think. Or maybe '90. Freakin' scary-ass place. The guards (who were everywhere) never stopped staring at me. Dunno why, I don't recall wearing my "America r0x!" t-shirt that day...

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at July 31, 2003 11:10 AM

well-my personal take is that we shouldn't interfere in africa TOO much. but, that's what not what the public sentiment is. by that, i mean people will always make noises about "the tragedy in africa," but wait until they can't intervene so that they don't have to (look at clinton in rwanda, they had a good idea something wack was going on, but they pressured the UN not to declare it a genocide so that no one needed to go in-and then stated how SORRY they were that they hadn't intervened). some of the neocons and a few of the liberal internationalists DO WANT TO intervene though, and they have big voices & a lot of motivation....

Posted by: razib at July 31, 2003 12:20 PM

Civilized nations must feed, clothe and educate African elites and erase from their minds a tribal mentality.
The last thing Africans need is loss of their tribal identity. It was very evident when I visited Nigeria and Ghana that the most self-confident (and successful) groups (for instance Yoruba and Ashanti) were the ones who still had a strong tribal identity. Those who had lost that identity (often a result of being heavily Christianized) also lacked a zest for progress. After all, why bother in this life when the afterlife has so much promise - an easy frame of mind to fall into if you're poor.

Some people seem to believe that the solution to the world's problems is for other people to become clones of themselves.

Posted by: fredrik at July 31, 2003 12:21 PM

Ever see "Full Metal Jacket"? "Inside every gook is an American, trying to get out..."

Posted by: jimbo at July 31, 2003 12:44 PM

"Too often I see armchair "solutions" to the world's ills by righties who've yet to go anywhere other than their home state and Florida."

Well, some of us are euros, so you better expand that to "their home country and Spain" or something along those lines. Oh, and thinking up real nifty desk-produced solutions to world problems is hardly the exclusive domain of us righties - I'd even wager the lefties have an edge on us in that department. (Warning: Final sentance blatantly partisan!)

Posted by: Döbeln at July 31, 2003 01:00 PM

right after the coup; I was lucky, having bought tix about 2 months before the coup. it collapsed quickly so the tix were still good.

people were very giddy. it was a happy time. there were commie things around (like guards) but they had no power anymore, and everyone was relaxed. i've never seen a happier place.

they'd come up to me and speak russian (i am phenotypically correct, unlike patrice lumumba....)

Posted by: Diana at July 31, 2003 02:05 PM


If the problem with africa is largely genetic how do you explain some of the ancient kingdoms of africa that were stable, according to arab historians wealthy, and lasted for hundreds of years, and in the case of ancient Ghana almost a thousand years. If their problems were simply "largely genetic" wouldn't that be the case for many thousands of years? instead of just being "wartorn for decades"?

As you pointed out along with some help from Cavilini Sfoza

"The most important conclusion in this section is that the greatest difference within the human species is between Africans and non-Africans …"

Maybe that is part of the problem, they are trying to adapt in a number of decades to a way of life foreign to the way they have lived and developed for thousands of years. Again, as you pointed out "Africans are genetically different from other groups" if this is the case shouldn't they have big problems adapting and assimilating to a "genetically different" group?

I agree with sliggy, africans were following their own path and are now way off that path with no chance of returning to it. western ways don't suit there culture. Borders left by colonialists with no sensitivity with regard to lumping many different groups together who don't like each other into one country did not help things at all.

Ever watch star trek, "The Prime Directive" (policy of non-interferance with alien cultures) would have been a kindness to africa. Your logic of their problems being largely genetic is flawed.

Posted by: Cisco at July 31, 2003 04:52 PM


I think it's fair to say all subsaharan Africa is farked. Remeber that in the 80's Cameroon, Kenya, and Zaire were success stories. Then in early 1994 they were touting Brukina Faso, Gambia, Hgana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, In 1997 it was Togo, Sosotho and Uganda. So it's 2003, and Botswana looks OK relatively--for now.

In all, I'd say out of 52 countries, there are 52 major basket cases. While individuals can flout the rule with ease, countries are more constrained by the law of large numbers, and the average IQ of is simply too low to create a sufficiently large enough critical mass of founding fathers who can create institutions that will engender a lasting peace, stability, and growth.

If the acquisition of voting rights in the US is any guide, where African descendants dominate cities, even in the US these cities quickly approach levels of development comparable to that of any third-world city (eg, Detroit, East St Louis, or Washington DC). I’m sorry, the evidence is without exception.

Wish it weren’t so.

Posted by: anon at July 31, 2003 07:11 PM

Not all of Africa is a basketcase. Isn't Mauritius the Hong Kong of Africa?

$10,400 GDP per capita ain't bad at all!

Posted by: Sen at July 31, 2003 07:48 PM

"Africa is a waste of time and resources for us at this point. They need to get their own act together."

I completely agree. Solving the massive needs of an entire continent is too great a task for the US. We would see too many of our own die in the futile attempt. Too many natives would (very likely rightfully so) grow restless with our forced occupation. Finally, too many on the left would ceaselessy criticize us without giving us any credit fo whatever good was in our endevour. I wouldn't blame anyone for running off to Canada instead of joing up for a mess like this.

We should worry about our own problems first before trying to involve ourselves in this fiasco. Europe with its ridiculous levels of immigration from Africa has more of an incentive to delve into this cause before us.

Posted by: R at July 31, 2003 08:05 PM

"Not all of Africa is a basketcase. Isn't Mauritius the Hong Kong of Africa?

$10,400 GDP per capita ain't bad at all!"

Here's what 10 seconds of research gave me:

1. It's an island.

2. With a ridiculously small pop. of 1.2M

3. And check out these demographics:

Ethnic groups:
*Indo-Mauritian 68%*, Creole 27%, Sino-Mauritian 3%, Franco-Mauritian 2%

*Hindu 52%*, Christian 28.3% (Roman Catholic 26%, Protestant 2.3%), Muslim 16.6%, other 3.1%


At the risk of sounding unPC, I'd have to say it doesn't sound particularly BLACK.

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at July 31, 2003 10:09 PM

please note that there are different kinds of polities. you can not equate ghana/mali/songhai with carolgnian france/germany or tang china. switching geography, look at mughal india. it was for a period the top sunni muslim polity in the world between 1650 and 1700 (ottoman decline + aurangzeb's expansion into southern india). and yet 80-90% of its population was hindu. most of these individuals lived within a village society which gave some taxation to a landlord who in turn yielded their quota to the mughal governor who eventually sent the tax to the emperor. the mughal state was in effect a "camp state"-an alien military aristocracy that basically sucked up rents from an unchanged hindu matrix. contrast this with the chinese dynasties, who have often recruited from the lower gentry to fill their civil service, and imposed a sense of cross-cultural unity and centralization. contrast this with roman empire, where multiple locii of power co-existed at various periods, for instance, latin/roman political culture along with greek/polis culture, and later, pagan & temporal vs. christian & sacral, eventually to give way to the christian empire.

i'm really getting verbose-but my basic point is that a rebuttal to the assertion that africa did not develop complex nation-states with the possible exception of ethiopia prior to the modern age is not achieved by simply by asserting that ghana /mali/songhai are examples of such things-they are not in a sense that is analogous to european nation-states in the least, even the monarchies of the early modern era. rather, they were feudal confenderacies, in the case of mali & songhai strongly influenced by exoganous powers such as the almorivads of north africa, and ultimately not changing the substrate that they exploited greatly. just as india remained a hindu civilization after the decline of the mughal muslim polity-so africa remained african after the decline of muslim songhai. in 1900 90% of senegalese were pagan, where today 90% are muslim. the conversion to islam was a event facilitated partially by the stimuli of jihads by fulani states like the sokoto sultunate but also the communication infrastructure and missionary prodding from the colonial powers. hindu india did not really change much until the british came and established more than a "camp state" that collected rents but also invested in native hindu social capital and to some extent anglicized it and created a hybrid elite (who could exploit the population and more efficiently collect rents) that could serve as a nexus to the modern world while preserving much of what was uniquely hindu. it is the last that africa needs.

Posted by: razib at August 1, 2003 01:44 AM


Sorry, again I beg to differ in that I find fault in most of your fundamental assumptions. Let me explain...

>1) Africa has been wartorn for decades
>(see the map of African wars in this post)

I agree with the map, but I disagree with the
conclusion drawn on the basis of a few decades of history. There were times in history when the whole of europe was torn apart by war, and the mongols at one time had brought most of the world down to its knees. Were the mongols super intelligent beings at that time (and did they become stupid now?)? Were the Europeans mentally deficient at that point in history?

>2) African expatriates have not been
>particularly successful

Judging a people on the basis of no-of-successful-expats is completely flawed. How is that a judge of intelligence? I dont see the relation. But since you bring it up, lets see:
Africa has the maximum number of expatriates, take a look at the black-american population in the US; they were the most successful expats ever, they worked for free, they helped build a new nation and they survived. OK, they didn't build dot-com companies or take out IPOs or earn five figure salaries to start off. To me, they are the most successful expat population -- its just unfortunate history calls them slaves...

>3) There has been little to no
>technological development in Africa

Again, this to me is a problem of western perspective. Intelligence and technology are two different things. I 've met a guy who knows how to hunt a leopard without using firearms; i've met a guy who can survive in a desert for 10 days without a drop of water -- clearly within their contexts they are very intelligent people -- Why is my knowledge of writing computer programs or knowledge of genetics superior to that?

>4) Africans in western societies are not
>very economically/technologically successful

Sorry, I cannot comment on this as I have never lived for long periods of time in a western society.
I live and work in Africa and have done so for many years now...
I can comment on the Africans that I meet at work. I am a software professional and a large part of my work also involves getting different kinds of people to work together -- honestly, thats the most interesting of my work.
I 've met so many successful African entrepeneurs who run everything from hotels to technology companies -- they may not make billions, but they do make millions and drive around in the latest S-Class.
I also have African colleagues in my workplace who I know are smarter than me!

>5) Africans are genetically different from
>other groups - see this paper on the
>haplotype map here. These are
>"race-gene" studies.
>6) It is likely that we will find, using studies
>like this one, that genes & intelligence are

I am not a geneticist, but I do have practical knowledge from working with a lot of different people. I can tell you from personal experience that intelligence is an individual thing... I 've met daft people of all races; I met an american tourist in Kenya (he was a white plastic surgeon with bags of money -- so you would call him intelligent?). He actually beleived that the whole of Africa was one big country with Nelson Mandela as the president, and this was in 2002! I've also met a lot of stupid indians, chinese, africans, europeans. I find your study fatally flawed, because your definition of intelligence is wrong in the first place.

>7) Linking up race-genes with genes-intelligence will
> tell us if Africa's problems are genetic or not. I believe
>they are, but it's an empirical question.

I think you need to understand Africa before you start treating a continent like a lab-rat. Since you seem ignorant of reality on the ground, I would strongly urge you to make a trip and travel through Africa. Dont take the tour-bus(they reek of human-zoos), use the normal bus to see the real Africa. Don't worry its a very safe place, no one will mug you (I might if I met you :) ) and you wont get eaten up by wild animals -- I 've lived and travelled here for a long time, its amazing. The only thing that worries me is, there might be a lot of people who actually beleive what you say...


Posted by: Ashok at August 1, 2003 03:01 AM


I've to disagree with this again, today seems
to be my day of disagreements !

>Of course, the most heavily colonized parts
>of Africa--Rhodesia & the RSA--were/are the
>most prosperous & developed.

Here we have a couple of countries one which didn't become independent until 1980 and one which became independent in 1994. What you call prosperity probably stands for the towering office buildings in downtown Sandton in Jo'burg.

I once went to SA on a business visit, and also to attend TechEd-2001 Africa (its a technical conference). 90% of the participants in the conference were from south africa and the remaining 10% from other african countries.

Unbelievably I saw maybe 2 black faces among all the south-africans (there were close to a 1000 people taking part).

I spoke to one of them, he was 45 years old and had finished university when he was 38 years old (not because he was stupid, he just wasn't allow to go to univeristy during the time of segregation).

Now he suffers the ignominy of a workplace where he is the only black person out of 25 employees -- and he still has to answer questions that he got the job because he was black!

Rightly, he certainly wasnt cheery about what had happened...Hes not the only one, theres generations of people like that there. Its tragic, you wonder if such a country has hope?

The signs might be off, but the country is still suspiciously like a pint of guinness -- white-only and black-only bars are still the norm in many places...


Posted by: Ashok at August 1, 2003 03:26 AM


The level of sophistication is unimportant, why do they need a great wall or a Taj Mahal?

I thought this was a discussion about the poor state or africa and why it is so. If their problems are largely genetic it would have always been that way, but history does not support that.

Implying that they have never shown that they were on a level with nation states and cultures on other continents is also not the point.

The point is there ways of developing culture and communities were working for them! Whatever there level of "sophistication" there way of governing there groups back then was more stable and had better results than they do at present

If u don't know anything about Sub-saharan kingdoms and cultures there are many sources that are not afrocentric, try Basil Davidson a British Historian who has written many books on africa past and present. If u have not done the legwork how can make such a sweeping generalization?

Who was equating west african kingdoms with nation states on other continents?? I certainly was not, and they should not be, let them stand for what they were, which is ways of living and governing themselves that worked for them.

Again, I think we are missing the point. Their own naturally developed kingdoms and empires worked for them for hundreds of years in several cases. Which seems to me to be something they cannot do effectively right now. Goverments they are so unstable they are swept away there every other year it seems. Adaptation to western ways of govt has not worked there.

If science proves they are a less intelligent group then the high IQ people got it wrong by try ing to have them live and govern themselves in way that a population of there IQ level could not reach naturally or maintain.

Posted by: Cisco at August 1, 2003 03:32 AM

>The level of sophistication is unimportant,
>why do they need a great wall or a Taj Mahal?

Oh, this godlesscapt@*@&#^ guy again...;)

Somehow i missed this part of the thread. Let me clarify on this.
I dont think building permanent monuments relate in any way to intelligence (going by that yardstick all eskimos were probably stoneage idiots because they didnt use cement or rocks!), but since you seem to be using that as a basis, I can tell you about a country I've been too.

Ethiopia -- theres a place called Lalibela, completely off the tourist map (so is the whole of ethiopia). It has these unbelievably large and beautifully constructed underground rock churches from the 13th century (some say if Ethiopia had ever been colonized , this would've been the 8th wonder of the world).

I've heard that places like Aksum and Gondor have impressive architecture, haven't been there though.

All these places are very badly documented, i am sure even on the internet you wont find much about them. But they do exist!


Posted by: Ashok at August 1, 2003 05:25 AM

Don't know if anyone is still reading this thread or not, but there's an interesting article on the subject in the WSJ today here.

In part:

"A major reason for the failure of reform is that the market-based policies that underpinned the African experiments--the so-called Washington consensus--had a fatal flaw: They assumed that economic reforms can create efficient markets without simultaneous reform of the political institutions. Without a limit on government and a guarantee of property rights and individual liberty, "efficient markets" cannot exist. Economists have made an impressive start on the types of economic institutions needed to support efficient markets, but have not made equal strides in devising political institutions that will accomplish that objective. It took a Sekou Toure, or a Hastings Banda, five minutes of despotism to undo the finest economic theory."

Posted by: Katy at August 2, 2003 04:16 PM

Godless Wrote:

"2) African expatriates have not been particularly successful."

Yeah? Where did you get your data? African immigrants in the US (for example) have the highest mean income than any other group. If you do a quick search, you will find a paper Borjas wrote ("economics of immigration").

Posted by: An-African at August 2, 2003 05:49 PM