Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Africa’s Mobile Explosion, Competing Aid Approaches, and More

by Isobel Coleman
September 24, 2012

Used mobile telephone cards are stringed together at a roadside call centre in the district of Obalende in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, March 8, 2012 (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters).


Charles Landow covers items on Africa, India, foreign aid, and the world’s wealthy in this installment of Missing Pieces. I hope you enjoy the reading.

  • Africa’s Mobile Explosion: “A little over a decade ago,” a CNN piece says, “there were about 100,000 phone lines in Nigeria, mostly landlines.” Today there are almost 100 million mobile lines, a story mirrored across Africa. The article explores several impacts of mobile phones on the continent. Mobile money is a crucial service in a region where “only one in five adults own bank accounts.” Phones are promoting action against autocrats and transparency around elections. In education, phones are “gain[ing] ground as tools for delivering teaching content.” Mobile entertainment, including music, movies, social networking, and more, is booming. In disasters, mobile phones help the displaced find their relatives and bolster “emergency reporting and relief systems.” In agriculture, farmers are getting mobile information about weather, crop prices, insurance, and animal husbandry. And in health, mobile applications are identifying counterfeit medicines and distributing information and tips, among other things. Isobel Coleman has been chronicling mobile technology’s impact on development regularly, most recently last week.
  • Competing Aid Approaches: A provocative paper from the Brooks World Poverty Institute argues that China’s foreign aid approach is better than the West’s at boosting developing economies. While the West imposes conditionality, giving assistance to countries whose governance suggests they can use it well, China “eschews conditionality” and often builds infrastructure itself. The authors contend that Western conditions on governance are misplaced. “The countries needing aid the most are often precisely those that cannot fulfill these conditions, because development and governance are endogenously related,” or linked. Chinese aid, meanwhile, minimizes corruption and incompetence by implementing projects directly, moving less money through “recipient governments and domestic companies.” Even if this generates few jobs for Africans, the paper says, it ultimately helps Africa to develop itself.
  • India’s Poor Governance: A New York Times article tells the story of three Indian orphans. After a previous piece by the author brought attention to their plight, a Los Angeles record producer offered to pay the children’s expenses. Save the Children offered slots in one of its schools. But the children’s relatives declined. The author suggests the real problem is that philanthropy can never accomplish what India’s government should. She says the “current government is making an unprecedented effort to confront poverty,” with guaranteed work, “free midday school meals,” “subsidized food and fuel,” and more. However, thanks to corruption and mismanagement, the benefits rarely reach the intended beneficiaries. Without effective government support, children are forced to work instead of attending school. Girls are vulnerable to traffickers. “Only the Indian government,” the article concludes, can give hope to the country’s millions of poor children.
  • The World’s Wealthy: Wealth-X’s World Ultra Wealth Report 2012-2013 examines the global population of ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs)—those worth at least $30 million. Among developing regions, Asia’s 42,895 ultra-wealthy people far exceed Latin America’s 14,750, the Middle East’s 4,595, and Africa’s 2,535. China hosts 11,245 UHNWIs and India 7,730, both down from last year. In Latin America, Brazil and Mexico lead the way with 4,640 and 3,240 ultra-wealthy citizens, respectively. While Brazil’s total has declined since 2011, Mexico’s has risen substantially, along with Venezuela’s. Saudi Arabia, with 1,265 UHNWIs, and the United Arab Emirates, with 810, top the charts in the Middle East; their totals both rose since last year. Finally, Africa experienced the biggest percentage gain in UHNWIs, with the total jumping 5.1 percent over last year. South Africa leads with 785 ultra-wealthy, followed by Egypt with 490 and Nigeria with 455. The report projects that “Tanzania and Kenya will lead the growth in UHNW population” in the coming years.

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