29 December 2017

Africa Books

Africa in Transition: A New Way of Looking at Progress in the Region

In his book Africa in Transition: A New Way of Looking at Progress in the Region, Ejeviome Eloho Otobo presents an original paradigm for measuring development on an evolving continent.

The author finds fault with the approach of measuring Africa's development by considering either economic or political trends. Instead he proposes considering both.

Commenters tend to focus on socio-economic and political indicators of progress, such as gross national product, trade deficit or surplus and literacy levels, but the book proposes including technology as a development yardstick. The continent's development, powered in part by technology, supports the author's suggestion.

To avoid the "wild swings between 'Hopeless Africa,' 'Africa Rising' and 'Africa Reeling'" narratives, the author endorses the integration of "stability, organizational, scientific and technological perspectives."

African countries are in the midst of a variety of transitions, he writes, including democratic transition, from one-party or military regimes to multiparty democracies; economic transition, from state-controlled to market-oriented economies; and peace transition, from civil wars to durable peace.

Mr. Otobo, who is an expert in peacebuilding and global economic policy, pinpoints Africa's development challenges. First, he argues, conflicts, coups, and the absence of the rule of law are symptoms of a "stability deficit" that can lead to fragile states.

Second, a lack of institutional infrastructure, such as governance structures, norms, and work ethic, is a symptom of organizational deficit, which can result in a serious lack of capacity and in corruption.

Lastly, a scientific and technological deficit makes it difficult for countries to add value to their commodities.

Overlapping deficits make it difficult to distinguish between problems caused by a stability deficit, for example, and those caused by an organizational deficit.

In sum, the author, who once acted as a UN assistant secretary-general, provides a rich history of the continent's economic evolution, and by identifying the root causes of development challenges, he identifies solutions. The book reads like a call to action.

While at times overfreighted with policy analyses, the 358-page book is readable. Development experts and students of Africa will find it a useful resource.

-- Pavithra Rao

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