Is It Africa's Turn?

Progress in the world's poorest region

Things were certainly looking up when I last visited Busia, a small city in Kenya, in mid-2007. Busia, home to about 60,000 residents, spans Kenya’s western border with Uganda: half the town sits on the Kenyan side and half in Uganda. As befits a border town, Busia is well endowed with gas stations, seedy bars, and hotels catering to the truckers who spend the night on the way from Nairobi to Uganda.

When I visited last June, the city was experiencing an economic renaissance. Busia’s first supermarkets, ATMs, Internet cafés, and car rental businesses were all open, and residential suburbs had formed on the edge of town. The small dukas—shops selling home food supplies and airtime for now-omnipresent cell phones—were freshly painted with advertisements for local dairy products. And most importantly, the road from Kisumu, the economic hub of the region and Kenya’s third largest city, to Busia had become a paved, two-lane highway all the way to the border, expediting trade with Uganda’s productive factories and farmers.

Yet, barely a decade ago, poverty and desperation were pervasive there, as in all of western Kenya.

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Africa’s Turn?

Edward Miguel
Cloth / April 2009

“A refreshing take on the fortunes of Africa in the current century and a fascinating compendium of some of the leading theorists of African development.” — Publishers Weekly

By the end of the twentieth century, sub–Saharan Africa had experienced twenty–five years of economic and political disaster. While “economic miracles” in China and India raised hundreds of millions from extreme poverty, Africa seemed to have been overtaken by violent conflict and mass destitution, and ranked lowest in the world in just about every economic and social indicator.

Working in Busia, a small Kenyan border town, economist Edward Miguel began to notice something different starting in 1997: modest but steady economic progress, with new construction projects, flower markets, shops, and ubiquitous cell phones. In Africa’s Turn? Miguel tracks a decade of comparably hopeful economic trends throughout sub–Saharan Africa and suggests that we may be seeing a turnaround.

Responding to Miguel, nine experts gauge his optimism: Olu Ajakaiye, Ken Banks, Robert Bates, Paul Collier, Rachel Glennerster, Rosamond Naylor, Smita Singh, David N. Weil, and Jeremy M. Weinstein.



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About the Author

Edward Miguel is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is co-author of the upcoming Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations.

Rosamond Naylor and Walter Falcon, Our Daily Bread

This is a feature article of a New Democracy Forum.
View responses to this article by:

Robert Bates
Ken Banks
Olu Ajakaiye
Rosamond Naylor
David N. Weil
Jeremy M. Weinstein
Smita Singh
Paul Collier
Rachel Glennerster

Edward Miguel offers his own response to the Forum here.