The counterattack, when it came, failed to live up to our expectations.
As the authors of a book that challenges so much of what passes for conventional wisdom about Africa in financial, academic, and NGO circles, we thought long and hard about the vulnerabilities of our argument.
In The Fastest Billion: The Story Behind Africa's Economic Revolution, we and our co-authors endeavor to show that sub-Saharan Africa -- or at least a great many of its 48 countries -- will make impressive advances in living standards, economic performance, health, education, and governance over the next thirty years.
Like a growing number of economists, development specialists, health, and agricultural scientists, we have watched as the gap between popular depictions and reality on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa has widened. We set out, with detailed sectoral, geopolitical and econometric analysis, to lay out what we feel is a more accurate picture of sub-Saharan Africa today -- and the dramatic changes we expect to see in the coming decades.
More from Democracy Lab
For years, whenever economic or financial news from Africa managed to wangle its way through the tales of genocide, famine, and catastrophe spun by western correspondents, the response of pessimists has been to write off all growth on the continent as a crude commodity play.
In a piece that makes this point aggressively, JNU doctoral candidate Rick Rowden returns to this narrative, one which, we believe, reflects an outdated mentality and rests on several misconceptions about sub-Saharan Africa and economic development generally. Indeed, to write off, as Rowden does, a decade and a half of GDP growth at rates of 7 percent or more -- performance a dozen sub-Saharan African countries have achieved -- is as outdated as the Cold War mentality that views China's massive investment as a threat or dismisses the startling improvements in health, education, per capita income, and retail activity as just some kind of anomaly.
Rowden, we believe, makes three critical miscalculations in discounting sub-Saharan Africa's prospects as "a myth," as the headline put it.
First, he makes the common mistake of comparing Africa today with East Asia today. It's like comparing Germany in 1840 with Victorian England at its height and saying Germany will never amount to anything. In our analysis, we choose instead to compare Africa today with East Asia in the 1970s, when South Korea, to name just one subsequent "tiger," was still a poor, largely agricultural cub. Our confidence in forecasting robust future growth -- growth that lifts not only GDP but also the well-being and prosperity of these societies generally -- is based on the similarly of policy shifts, growth patterns and improvements in health, welfare and governance measurements that echo the events that preceded East Asia's takeoff.