In Steven Radelet’s Emerging Africa, he argues that the negative stereotypes that plagued African countries for decades, no longer applies to a number of African countries that have made leaps and bounds in the last fifteen years and it is important to recognize this progress. Firstly, Radelet talks about the rise of more democratic governments. From 1989 to 2008, the number of democratic governments jumped from 3 to 23. This has allowed for better implementation of basic human rights and laws.
With an increased number of democracies, better economic policies were able to put an end to the major debt crisis, which in turn strengthened Africa’s relationship with other countries around the world. With reputable leaders like Nelson Mandela, who was elected as president of South Africa in 1994, confidence in economic policy began to grew and African countries were able to regain economic control. In the 1980s, the debt crisis in Africa ravished many countries and the IMF and World Bank began to play a large role in trying to pick these countries out of poverty. The relationship between donor countries and African receiving countries was quite adversarial in that priorities and goals of each were not in sync. Today, the relationship is a lot healthier and a larger effort is put on allowing these countries to rely on future development rather than donors.
Radelet also touches on new technologies and the new generation that will lead Africa into the future. Like in other countries around the world, cellphones and internet access are becoming commonplace in Africa and this has lead to new opportunities in the workforce as well as increased efficiency in already existing jobs. Although Africa is not completely caught up compared to western nations, the growth of new technologies will only increase in the years to come. Radelet believes deeply in the future of this new generation of African people to lead the charge when it comes to propelling Africa into the 21st century in order to catch up with the rest of the world.
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The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) has one major goal and that is to be the generation that eradicates extreme poverty. This project aims to attack poverty at its root causes in order to ensure sustainable development. The project’s official website estimates that 925 million people will go to bed hungry. In order to properly address this issue, the project’s strategy involves increasing sustainable crop production as well as focusing on food security measures, farm diversification and natural resource conservation. Food is just one pillar in the fight to end poverty.
The other pillars consist of: Water & Energy, Environment, Tech & Innovation, Gender Equality, Mother & Child Health, Education, and Business Entrepreneurship. While each region and village faces varying challenges, all benefit from the achievements of the other. The region that I will focus on is Pampaida, Nigeria. This is just one of the 15 villages that are involved in MVP.
The village of Pampaida is economically based on small-scale agriculture. The population of the region is 27,000 with 5,000 households. The GDP for Nigeria as a whole per capita is $2,640 as of 2015 up from $1,010 in 2006. This increase in GDP per capita goes along with Radelet’s view on the process African countries have made in the last 15 years. However, we can only assume that the MVP took this region on because it was struggling more so than other parts of the country, so the GDP per capita is probably lower than the national average in Pampaida. The issues that this region faces include mass desertification, predisposition to droughts, and widespread poverty. There are also food shortages and no source of electricity for most homes. The nearest clinic is 10 km away from the region as well.
According the the MVP website, there are a number of improvements that have been made since the project began in 2006. These include: increased corn yields, which have lead to a 35% decrease in malnutrition for children under the age of two, the creation of 10 satellite schools with an increase in attendance in elementary schools up by 20%, the creation of 12 km of tarred roads, improved access to drinking water and sanitation, as well as increased mobile coverage in the area, with 35% of households owning a phone.
While many of these improvements sound remarkable, it doesn’t seem like they addressed some of the main concerns of the region such as the electricity shortage and the unavailability of a close medical center. It was difficult to find any information on the villages achievements outside of the MVP website, so I was also unable to double check one of the data. However, something that was addressed was the low crop yields, specifically corn. The data says that corn yields increased from 0.8 to 3.5 tons per hectare, which is very significant. Rachel Bezner Kerr, a researcher at the Cornell, disagreed with many of the methods that MVP used in achieving these higher crop yields.
She said, “It’s getting farmers to rely on expensive inputs produced from afar that are making money for big companies rather than on agroecological methods for using local resources and skills. I don’t think that’s the solution.”
Other more sustainable ways of producing these crop yields, like crop diversity are something Kerr as well as many other critics of MVP argue. I agree with this sentiment because we should not be profiting off of Africa’s attempt at self-improvement even if we are donating money to support the cause.
Other criticism was aimed at the lack of hard data when it comes to evaluating the villages because of the system itself. How exactly do you collect data that is so spread out among a variety of causes spread among numerous villages all over Africa? The lack of hard data makes it difficult to make a claim that these villages have been effective. Lastly, the largest bit of criticism was aimed at the main developer of the villages, Jeffrey Sachs. While there were improvements being made throughout each village, sustainability seemed impossible without the millions of dollars that were being poured in by private donors as well as the UN and Columbia University. Sachs kept asking for additional funding rather than admitting that the project ultimately had holes.
To me, MVP sounds like a money pit and while it has a main goal, it seems like there are too many separate side goals in each region. I think that the project had sound principles and ideas, but they were just unable to execute these ideas in a timely and economical fashion. I think the problem is that these types of projects are always started by outsiders that impose certain expectations on African people. I think a large project like this needs to start from within in order to truly succeed.