Growing caution against economic optimism

Newsletter Editorial, December 2011 by Carin Norberg

A few days ago I came back from an interesting week in Rabat. The reason for my visit was the 13th General Assembly of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). With my colleagues from the institute I also met with Moroccan researchers from the university in Rabat (Mohammed V University) and the Institute of African Studies (co-organisers of the CODESRIA event) and paid a visit to the new and impressive National Library.

Important to note from the plenary and round tables are the somewhat more pessimistic outlook among African scholars on the development in Africa. References were at various times made to the December 3rd issue of the Economist with the cover page titled Africa rising. Having labeled Africa “the hopeless continent” ten years ago the magazine now finds that Africa’s growth is underpinned by a permanent shift in expectations. It is true that there are many “that said, but…” and warnings about remaining obstacles and shortcomings, but the overall picture is painted in very bright colors.

In a lecture by the economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) on African development prospects in light of recent developments, he warned that African countries continue to face enormous challenges. “Africa’s share of world trade has declined and trade continues to be highly dependent on primary resources,” he said.

Professor Thandika Mkandawire also warned that because of previous ill advice from the international financial institutions, the African economies do not respond as expected. There is, according to him, too little investment in infrastructure, in manufacturing and, most important of all, in higher education and research. With a reference to the present problematic situation in Europe he stressed that Europe is now experiencing problems that Africa had in the 1980s and 1990s.

Finally, allow me to congratulate Professor Fatima Harrak from Morocco (previous Director of the Institute of African Studies in Rabat), who was elected new President of the CODESRIA Executive Committee for the period 2011-2014.

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