Why Is Africa So Poor Essays

Why are Poor Countries Poor?

© 2013 Fabian M. Suchanek

Why are poor countries poor? There is probably no simple answer to that question. Most likely, there are numerous factors that play a role. This essay is an attempt to enumerate and discuss these factors. It covers both views that are critical of the West and views that are critical of the concerned countries.

I will be discussing some quite controversial theories. By reading this text, you accept that I do not assume responsibility for incorrect or incomplete information, for statements that could be perceived by some as insults, for personal unease or for any other claim formed on the basis of the present text. Even though I did my best to reproduce third party studies and their results truthfully, I cannot guarantee that the data presented here is correct. Notably, third parties cited here do not necessarily agree with the conclusions I draw. Should you partially or fully disagree with these conditions, please abstain from reading this text! If you have suggestions, corrections, or feedback, please send me a mail!

This text is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License. Images are taken from the sources cited. Images marked with the words "compiled from" are my own, derived from the data sources I cited. Images without references are my own. References are listed at the end of this document. References refer to Wikipedia, unless otherwise noted.

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The Problem

A number of countries in this world are economically less developed. Traditionally, these countries are known as the "Third World" or the "Developing World". This implies that life is hard for a large number of people. So the question arises why this is the case.

These countries are not only less economically developed, but they often also

The present text aims to share some thoughts on poverty and its correlated factors.

Terminology and Scope

There is no clear definition of what a "poor country" is. The common understanding is that a country is poor if the majority of its people do not have a certain minimum living standard. Wikipedia lists a number of more quantitative criteria, ranging from low average income, or a low Gross National Income per capita, to a low Human-Development-Index [44]. This is not to say that material wealth would be the most important or the only factor to optimize. Yet, it constitutes a rough approximation for the well-being of the people. Poverty is usually also not distributed equally in the country: Certain ethnic, religious, or social groups might be particularly advantaged or disadvantaged. As Hans Rosling points out in an informative and entertaining talk about country statistics [130], the population in poor countries is usually affected very unequally by poverty.

The common assumption under any definition of "poor country" is that Japan, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe, and Israel are considered "not poor". This essay will refer to these countries as "rich". It will refer to Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand as "the West". African countries and South-Asian countries are usually considered "poor". This text, in particular, is inspired by my trips to Senegal, Morocco, and India. Therefore, it mainly focuses on these regions as "poor". I do not know in how far my thoughts transfer to other countries. Also, not all countries are equally poor. Some developing countries have a higher GDP than developed countries. Furthermore, some countries are behind on some accounts, but way ahead on others. Cuba, e.g., has a lower child mortality rate than the US [130]. Therefore, this text will discuss potential reasons for poverty without claiming that they would apply equally to all poor countries.

There is considerable dispute about the right term for "poor countries". The word "poor" has a very negative connotation. Furthermore, "poor countries" are not necessarily poor: They often have vast natural resources. On the other hand, terms such as "developing" or "industrializing" are very positive. These terms imply that the country would actually be moving out of poverty. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I have therefore opted for the term "less economically developed country", LED country for short [44]. It implies that the country has a low income, and I think the term is neither euphemistic nor overly negative.

The Methodology

To make this very clear: I do not know why exactly LED countries are poor. I have no education in political, economic, or social sciences. And I do not have a solution for the problem of poverty. I just spent some time in LED countries and I would like to share my thoughts. I have been to Senegal, India, and to Morocco, for two months in total. I have been there for tourism, for traveling, and for work. I have talked to different people — to professors, to taxi drivers, to people on the street, to students, to tax inspectors, and to hotel staff. This yielded a potpourri of factors that could contribute to the problems of LED countries. This text is essentially a list of such factors. For every factor, I will give
  1. A hypothesis of what could be a source of poverty.
  2. Reasons that make me bring forward this hypothesis.
  3. An elaboration of the effects if this hypothesis is true.
  4. A discussion of controversies and possible solutions.

Thus, this text is essentially an exploration of the possible factors that could play a role. This text does not say that these factors would definitively be the reasons for the poverty. Nor does it differentiate between important and negligible factors. It does not even say that these factors would be the only reasons for the poverty. Rather, this text is a call for these factors to be analyzed and taken into account when thinking about LED countries.


This text consists of two parts. The first part treats the possible problems in the political structure of these countries — notably foreign influence. In the second part, it treats possible problems in the societies of these countries.

Naturally, Western readers tend to emphasize the second part and disregard the first part. I therefore encourage Western readers explicitly to read also the hypotheses in the first part.

Many people from LED countries I talked to, in contrast, took delight in emphasizing the first part (the foreign influence). I therefore ask them to read also the second part very carefully and see whether there is some truth in it.

If the reader hails from one of the countries discussed here, she or he is kindly reminded that not all factors discussed here apply uniformly to all countries. For any corrections or additional (referenced) information, please send me a mail!

Possible Reasons at the Top

Land Grabbing

The Hypothesis
LED countries and foreign countries maintain vivid trade relationships. One source of trade is the exploitation of natural resources and agriculture in the LED country. The hypothesis is that the land is often used mainly to the advantage of foreign companies.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
Foreign investors own large parts of the lands in LED countries. The World Bank notes "significant levels of activity" in large land deals (those over 1,000 hectars) in LED countries. It has conducted detailed studies in 5 LED countries. It finds that non-trivial portions of the land suitable for rainfed crops have been allocated this way: 1.39% of the land in Ethopia, 2.12% of the land in Ghana, 2.29% of the land in Madagascar, and 0.46% of the land in Sudan [55]. Half of that area in Madagascar is owned by a single investor [55]. The International Land Coalition (ILC), a non-governmental organization that comprises 116 organizations, tries to monitor large land deals globally. It focuses on deals that imply a conversion from land used by smallholders to large-scale commercial use, and that are 200 hectars or larger. The ILC has confirmed and cross-checked evidence for land deals of 71 million hectares in the period from the year 2000 to the year 2010 [59]. That is roughly the size of Turkey. Half of that area is in Africa, amounting to the size of Germany. In total, the size of large scale land deals (including those that still need to be cross-checked) is 203 million hectars globally. That is roughly the size of Saudi Arabia or Mexico. The organization maintains the Land Matrix, a project that aims to document large land deals [60]. The project shows that large land deals can make up considerable portions of the country surface (see table).

The use of the land is diverse. The land is used to produce crops for export, for biofuel production, for large-scale infrastructure projects, for carbon-credit mechanisms, or simply for speculation. The ILC estimates that 78% of the land deals are for agricultural production, of which three-quarters are for biofuels. The remainder is allocated for mineral extraction, industry, tourism, timber, and forest conversions [59]. Investor countries are Western countries, but also China, and Arab countries that aim to produce food for their populations.

The Effect
Large land deals are connected to hopes for benefits for both the investor and the host country. The investor expects productivity and fertility of the land, and a rich source of income. The host country expects fees for land use, income from taxes or customs, job creation for the local population, and the attraction of further foreign investment. In reality, neither the hopes of the investor nor the hopes of the host country always materialize. We focus here on the effect on the host country. The ILC has done a review of studies on the benefits of land deals for the host countries, and found that many governments allocate land for little or no rent, so that income from "lease fees are negligible" [59]. In return, the host countries often require the investor to develop infrastructure such as irrigation systems, roads, and social facilities for affected communities. However, such commitments may be too unspecific to be enforceable, and monitoring and sanctioning compliance involves an unknown cost for the host state. Thus, in the end, the deal often does not benefit the host country [59]. Job creation estimates are often exaggerated, at least in the early stages. Jobs that do materialise are often low-paid and insecure, and sometimes linked only to an initial construction phase [59].

The land deals may also have devastating effects on the local population. The ILC explains that virtually all valuable land is used or at least claimed by local people in one way or another: the land provides a range of forest products, areas for grazing and transhumance, and for hunting and fishing. They are also often used for shifting cultivation (bush farming or forest farming) or held to be the reserve areas for generational expansion of cultivation [59]. In summary, even though the land is registered nowhere as officially owned, it still forms the basis of the livelihoods of the local communities. If this land is sold or leased, the basis of their subsistence is in danger. The ILC also records cases where people have been forcefully evicted from their habitual homes due to large scale land deals [59]. Such dislocations do not just deprive people of their land and housing, but also disrupt historical methods of farming, and social ties. Compensation is often inadequate, if not outright inexistent. Dislocated people find themselves pushed to areas of the country that are disadvantaged in terms of infrastructure, ground fertility, access to water, and access to the market. Large numbers of people are pushed to live in slums.

Large scale land deals also have a negative effect on the environment. As the ILC summarizes, these include land degradation, water pollution, excessive use of fresh water, biodiversity loss, degradation, diversion of water from environmental flows, and loss of ecosystem services such as the maintenance of soil and water quality, as well as carbon sequestration [59]. In general, agriculture for export means that the food prices in the producer country rise. This threatens the food security in the local country, and inflicts additional hardship on the population.

Wikipedia also provides a good overview of the scope and effect of land deals [57]. Mint Press News also provides an interesting source of references [58].
Technically, all land is initially owned by the government. The government can dictate the terms under which the land can be used. It has the right to lease or to sell the land to companies, local or foreign. It can decree that the land shall be used only for a certain period of time; it can tax the produce of the land; it can impose restrictions on the exploitation; it can impose customs on the export; it can give the land to local companies only; it can demand that whoever exploits the resources has to make contributions to the surrounding infrastructure; it can establish quotas for local employees; and it can impose that if foreign companies get a permit to use the resources, they have to contribute to long-term sustainable projects for the local economy. Through these measures, the government can make sure that the exploitation of the resources generates advantages for the country. Should the company not agree to these conditions, the contract can be given to another company. Should the company agree, but not fulfill these requirements, the contract can be canceled, and the company can be fined.

In reality, things do not work as outlined here. First, land ownership is not always officially regulated. There are no official land titles, or a land register, which would allow people to prove that they own the land. Local farmers may simply rely on customary right as proof of their ownership. Land may also be distributed without formal procedures or written proof by the heads of tribes. Land may also be used temporarily by nomad people, or collectively owned by communities. The World Bank estimates that "in Africa, for example, formal tenure covers only between 2 and 10 percent of the land" [56]. Under these conditions, it is practically impossible to make proper deals for land.

As the ILC observes, land deals are made behind closed doors, and local land holders have usually no say in the deals [59]. The World Bank adds that, even if local land rights are taken into account, "communities were rarely aware of their rights and, even in cases where they were, lacked the ability to interact with investors or to explore ways to use their land more productively" [55]. Contracts are often vague, and do not adequately take into account environmental and social consequences.

Furthermore, the LED countries often do not have the administrational infrastructure to sign and document land deals. The World Bank says that the process to acquire land is usually complicated and often unclear to those involved [55] (RedTape). Approval processes for land deals are often ill-defined, centralized, and discretionary, with different parts of the same government often at odds with each other [55]. There may be significant problems in identifying the multiple land claims at stake, even where the land is classified as privately held and land certificate documents are produced [55]. The World Bank itself has severe difficulties estimating what proportion of the land is owned, because "even in countries where there are official 'land banks' available for investment, records may be incomplete, contradictory or not communicated to the relevant district administrations themselves" [55]. Under these conditions, land ownership seems mainly a question of money and influence. Indeed, the World Bank finds that "lower recognition of land rights increases a country's attractiveness for land acquisition", implying that investors would actively seek countries where the land rights are soft [55].

Furthermore, the LED countries often have no stable governmental structure. Enforcing contracts is not as straightforward as one might think, due to excessive red tape (RedTape) and an often dysfunctional administration (Elite). Beyond that, corruption may play a large part in such contracts (MultiCorr, Corruption). Even in democratic or pseudo-democratic countries, the interests of politicians and senior officials are often commercial, because these individuals are often both public officers and businessmen, as the ILC explains [59]. All in all, the World Bank concludes that "in some cases investors can benefit more from trying to navigate the system than from trying to design investments that generate jobs and increase productivity" [55].

Hence, if land possessions are to be distributed more equitably, then this has to happen on a global scale, supported both by local governments and by foreign governments. As a first step in this direction, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed guidelines for the allocation of land [54]. These guidelines are voluntary, but they have been approved unanimously by all countries — including the top investor countries.

Foreign Corruption

Most LED countries have close economic relationships with Western countries. This may not always be to the advantage of the LED country. On the contrary, the hypothesis is that foreign companies bribe government officials in LED countries, thus gaining state contracts and other advantages.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
When I talked to people in LED countries, they mentioned corruption by foreigners as one of the more frequent complaints. For Morocco, this complaint is supported by Transparency International, an NGO that fights against corruption. Their report of 2009 states that "large numbers of multinational corporations from the richest nations are pursuing a criminal course to win contracts" [4]. One recent example was the case of Siemens, which bribed several governments around the world, as reported by the New York Times [52]. Siemens "used bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials to secure government contracts for projects like a national identity card project in Argentina, mass transit work in Venezuela, a nationwide cellphone network in Bangladesh and a United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq under Saddam Hussein". In total "the company paid an estimated 1.4 billion [US dollars] in bribes to government officials in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America". Most Western countries had no law against giving bribes to foreign officials. The OECD convention that pushes countries to punish bribery abroad came into effect only in 1997 [26]. Until recently, corruption was tax-deductible in many Western countries. As the OECD notes, Germany abolished tax-deductible bribes in 1999, the Netherlands 2006, and Switzerland in 2011 [25]. As of September 2012, Germany has not yet ratified the UN convention against corruption. This suggests that bribery by foreigners was common-place. Indeed, an OECD report from 2014 notes that in 41% of the 400 cases under investigation, corruption by companies is sanctioned by higher ranking company officials. The average sum per case is 14m USD. Most cases target industrial nations, but some do target LEDs [169].
A state contract obtained by corruption always indicates that the contract went to a company that offers a suboptimal cost/benefit ratio. Thus, the LED country suffers an economic disadvantage by making a contract based on a bribe. It can also happen that the state contract would not have been made at all, if it were not for the bribe. In these cases, the bribe wastes public money and makes things happen that are not in the interest of the country. It may, e.g., lead to the destruction of historical city centers due to a large-scale building contract, or give permission to build a factory that causes heavy environmental impact.

Furthermore, state contracts usually come with large amounts of money. They also often come with long-lasting follow-up engagements. Thus, the state contract would secure long-lasting employment for locals, if it went to a local company. It would also help build up local know-how and create a sustainable local industry. If the contract goes to a foreign company instead, these advantages are sacrificed. This does not mean that local companies should be favored on principle over foreign companies. It just means that an illegal bias towards foreign companies through corruption will hurt the local economy. Last, corruption at the highest level gives a bad example for fighting the corruption at the local level (Corruption).

Companies that try to do business in LED countries may get so frustrated with excessive red tape (RedTape), dysfunctional administrational structures (Elite) and the general prevalence of corruption in the country (Corruption) that they see bribes as the only viable solution. Yet, that does not make bribing any less immoral. I have argued that, in general, the fault with corruption lies with the person who accepts the bribe [5]. Seen this way, the main fault with corruption would lie with the local government, as a receiver of the bribes. The local government is also responsible for prosecuting offenders. Yet, there is also a considerable amount of fault with the companies that engage in such endeavors [5]. Corruption is universally accepted as illegal or immoral, and companies that bribe officials (no matter whether in poor or in rich countries) act in an irresponsible and reproachable way.

One may argue that it is the responsibility of the people to elect governments that cannot be bribed. If there is no party that promises freedom from corruption, people should form parties. Yet, democracy does not always work as intended in LED countries, for a wide number of reasons (Dictatorship, Activism, Elite, Democracy, Education, Poverty).

The most obvious countermeasure against corruption seems a more rigorous application of the rule of law in the recipient country. Yet, institutions in the LED countries are typically weak (Elite). Furthermore, the corruption effectively prevents its own extinction. It bribes the politicians who want to fight it, the judges who want to try it, and the people who want to uncover it. Therefore, it is difficult for a corrupt country to eradicate its own corruption. This is especially true if the money comes from countries and companies whose financial power exceeds that of the local population by several orders of magnitude.

Therefore, one way to fight against foreign corruption is to prosecute and penalize corruption more consistently in the foreign countries. Foreign companies are still subject to the foreign country's jurisdiction, which gives these some leverage. Therefore, the OECD countries have agreed to fight corruption by legal means also if it takes place abraod. This is what the OECD convention of 1997 establishes [26].

Foreign Meddling

The Hypothesis
LED countries have not just economic relationships with Western countries, but also political relationships. The hypothesis is that this relationship is asymmetric. Foreign countries, notably the US and Europe, or companies from these countries, influence politics in LED countries by
  • financing election campaigns
  • buying certain political choices from politicians with money
  • sponsoring coup-d'états in case of an undesired government
  • going to war to remove undesired governments
(The political use of aid money is discussed in Donor, and trade regulations in Trade).
Reasons for this Hypothesis
The concern that foreign countries influence local politics is the most frequent response I got when I asked people about the reasons for their country's poverty. For some cases of foreign influence, there is concrete evidence. For example, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) complains that France supported Yssoufou Mahamadou, the candidate of the PNDS party in Nigeria [6]. (He was also said to enjoy the backing of the rulers of Algeria, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Libya.) France first backed the dictator of Central Africa, then ousted him in 1979, and then granted him asylum in France [24]. The United States helped topple the governments of Cuba (1952), Iran (1953), Brazil (1955), and Pakistan (1977) and helped establish the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973) [24]. It obtained sovereignty of the Panama Canal, and invaded the country in 1988 [66]. Several foreign nations took sides in the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 [65]. The US even involved the CIA in gas attacks, as Le Monde reports [166] The West also toppled Muhammad Ghaddafi, the leader of Libya, in 2011. The people in Senegal to whom I talked see this war as an act of foreign meddling in local politics. The most blatant example of foreign meddling is probably the assassination of Thomas Sankara. Sankara was a hugely popular president of Burkina Faso, who aimed to reduce foreign influence in the country. He was assassinated in 1987 in a coup d'état supported by France [7].
The Effect
If the West does indeed influence local politics in LED countries in an undue way, then this will have two main adverse effects: First, the meddling will influence politics in a way that is beneficial to the foreign country, but not necessarily to the LED country. The intervention may impose foreign values or policies, force a dependency upon the LED country, or force an opening of the local market. Notably, foreign countries and companies want mainly their own products sold in the LED country. This, however, suffocates the local economy (see Economy).

Second, the meddling of foreign countries gives people in the LED country the impression that they have no power over their own country. This endangers the concepts of self-responsibility and democracy (Dictatorship). It also gives people an easy excuse to blame foreign powers (Scapegoating) and abandon any personal engagement for their country (Activism). It may also encourage them to wait until a foreign power sorts out the country's problems.

The West says it is in a dilemma that goes beyond economic interests: On the one hand, it does not want to be seen as meddling in the affairs of other countries. On the other hand, it says it feels a moral obligation to counteract dictatorships. This is maybe best illustrated by an example: When the civil war in Libya started in 2011, some people criticized the US for being so reluctant to go to war on the side of the rebels. They told me that the US had limited commercial interest there, and hence would not step in. When the US did step in, people in Senegal told me that Western powers overthrew the Libyan government because of their commercial interests. This shows that the opinion concerning foreign meddling and its motivation is highly subjective. What is foreign meddling to some is too reluctant an intervention for others.

People in Senegal criticized Western governments for not stepping in for Syria during the civil war in 2011. At the same time, no non-Western government stepped in either. The West proposed a UN Security Council resolution that would have enabled sanctions against the Syrian regime, but Russia and China vetoed it. The people in Senegal whom I talked to did not want to believe that this was true, and did not wish to check the UN Security Council protocols to verify it [164]. No country, neither Western nor regional, stepped in in Syria in 2011, in Libya during 40 years of dictatorship, in Algeria during the dictatorship, or in Zimbabwe. Iran, Russia, China, the Arab League, Turkey, and the African Union are all reluctant to go to war — even though some of these countries have large armies and military (War). Many people just point to the West. This means that in some cases, people desire Western intervention.

People also criticize Western powers for shaping the countries they overthrew (Afghanistan and Iraq in the early years of the 21st century, Libya in 2011). Yet, Western domination is not always harmful. Germany, for example, was defeated by the Western and Soviet allies after the Second World War in 1945. In the following years, Western powers shaped the Western part of Germany. They controlled the constitution, the political structure, and the economy of the country. This involved not only some early shaping, but continued influence over 40 years. Germany did not gain formal independence until 1990. Foreign military units remained in the country until 1995. Yet, this time brought Germany prosperity, a vivid democracy, and a high standard of living. In some respects, the country is doing better now than its former tutors. In particular, Germany has a lively democratic system, which it had never before in its history. This is a case where Western influence was good for a country.

The situation of LED countries and post-war Germany is not directly comparable. Germany was already economically developed before the intervention. LED countries were not economically developed. So every country remained roughly in its state of development despite the destruction. Germany also received large amounts of money through the Marshall plan — roughly 1% of the US GDP each year for 7 years. On the other hand, Germany also had to pay reparations for the war. These exceeded the aid received under the Marshall plan. Thus, it is difficult to draw a concrete conclusion. We can just note that there exists a case of positive Western intervention.

In any case, foreign influence has to be administered with approval of the international community. It is unacceptable that Western powers overthrow governments without international agreement. It is also unacceptable that Western governments interfere with local politics. Financing electoral campaigns constitutes electoral fraud. Such practices have to be outlawed. They have to be outlawed in the Western countries, because the institutions in the LED countries are often too weak to protect against such meddling (Elite).

The UN has an important role in such decisions. Military action by the UN is controlled by the UN Security Council. The five permanent members of the Security Council can veto resolutions — and have done so frequently in the past. If we take a proposed resolution as an approximation of the will of the international community, then a veto represents a split with the will of the majority. It is odd that one country can single-handedly prevent the will of the majority to come into force. This is not to say that the will of the majority would be necessarily the objectively best thing to do. It is just odd that the veto-yielding members seem to be an arbitrary choice: No African country, no Southern American country, and only few of the world's most populous countries are represented there.

Trade Regulations

The Hypothesis
Trade between rich and poor countries is regulated through international treaties. The hypothesis is that these treaties give a disadvantage to the poor countries.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
The Roca-Runciman Treaty, e.g., was a trade agreement between Argentina and the British Empire that severely disadvantaged Argentina. As Roca summarized, it made Argentina "an integral economic part of the British Empire" [67]. Other influence happens through international organizations: the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The WTO, in particular, has been criticized for representing mainly the interests of the rich countries. The main asymmetry is as follows:
  1. Rich countries subsidize their agriculture. This means that their agricultural exports are cheap. This means that consumers (in rich and poor countries alike) buy rich countries' products. These give a disadvantage to the poor countries, where a large part of the population depends on agriculture [69].
  2. Rich countries want to tear down customs and trade restrictions to poor countries. This allows the rich countries to export into the poor countries. The poor countries do not yet have the economic infrastructure to compete with the rich countries' products. Hence, people buy the rich countries' products, and the industry of the poor country cannot develop.
  3. At the same time, rich countries do their best to protect their own market from the products from poor countries, as the Economist explains [167]. This makes it difficult for poor countries to export to the rich ones.
Finally, rich countries insist on protecting their patents, which leads to high prices for technology and medicine for poor countries.
If rich countries force open the markets of poor countries, but subsidize their own agriculture at the same time, then the markets of poor countries are flooded with cheap food. This may help reduce hunger in the poor countries on the short run, but ultimately takes away the main economic activity of large parts of the population. This pushes these people into poverty — and ultimately increases hunger and misery. As Global Exchange, an activist group, summarizes, "WTO policies have allowed dumping of heavily subsidized industrially produced food into poor countries, undermining local production and increasing hunger" [64].

The Economist further argues that trade obstacles for export from poor countries to rich countries severely hamper progress in the LEDs. With reference to the constant influx of immigrants to Europe, the paper quips that as long as Europe does not want to import African tomatoes, it will have to import African refugees [167].

Officially, WTO decisions are taken in consensus. The decisions are ratified by local governments. Thus, they should reflect a compromise that is supported by each member state. In reality, Global Exchange complains that poor countries would often not have enough personnel or enough negotiation power to defend their interests [64].

The current WTO trade round is stalled mainly because the US refuse to give up their agricultural subsidies, if the other countries keep trade tariffs on other products ([69], as of 2012).

Donor Dependencies

LED countries receive a substantial amount of foreign aid. The hypothesis is that this aid is not always given with good intention. Foreign countries that donate money do so in order to influence the LED country in their interest.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
Foreign countries use the dependency on donor aid in several ways. One standard method is "tied aid", i.e., money that is given under the condition that it be spent on products from the donor country [8]. Another one is an indirect political pressure on the LED country to make political decisions in the interest of the donor country. Finally, the money is not always donated in a way that supports sustainable progress in the recipient country. It is often donated to causes that harm the environment, to military equipment, or to counter-effective subsidies [9].
By influencing the LED country, the donor country advances its own interests, and disregards the interests of the recipient country. If, e.g., all aid money has to be spent on products or services from the donor country, then the recipient country can suffocate its own local competitors. As Thomas Sankara remarked, "he who feeds you, controls you".
We may argue that the donor country has the right to decide what shall happen with its money. If the LED country does not accept the conditions imposed by the donor country, it can always decide to walk off. Then, however, it will most likely remain poor, and need foreign aid even more ardently.

Recipient countries do not always support the donor country politically as one might think (and some might wish). The conservative Heritage Foundation laments that 95% of US aid recipient countries voted against the US in UNO decisions in the years 2000-2010 [10].

Development aid by itself is also a controversial issue. In addition to its potentially harmful influence, there is always the danger that it mainly enriches the governing class, and fuels corruption. There is always the danger that the largest portion of the money goes where it is not intended to go (Elite).

The OECD reckons that LED countries received a total of 120 billion US dollars in 2009 [15]. To assess that quantity, let us conduct a thought experiment. Let us assume that this money were handed out directly to the population. Statistically speaking, 120 billion US dollars is roughly 25 dollars per LED country inhabitant per year. The poorest people in these countries have to live on less than 2 dollars a day. If we triple that to 6 dollars a day, then the aid money could nourish roughly 1 in 100 poor people for a year. Yet, this would mainly maintain the status quo without helping the country to fight its poverty on long-term. Furthermore, as of now, only a tiny percentage of the money reaches the people at all (Elite).


African countries

Democracy is one of the cornerstones of Western political philosophy. The hypothesis is that democracy is not so well established in LED countries, and that many countries are run in an authoritarian style.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
Some LED countries are not democracies. Morocco, e.g., is a monarchy that gives only a limited role to the parliament, despite a constitutional reform in 2011. Those countries that are democracies often allow only one single party. As the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) notes, competitive elections, allowing for more than one party, were held in only 10 of Africa's 53 countries in the period 1985-1989 [16]. As Freedom House counts, the situation is not much different in 2012, with elections either rigged or restricted de facto to a single party [17].

If countries do hold real elections, the legal or customary system often gives the president king-like power. In Senegal, e.g., the president is the head of the army (Article 45 of the constitution [18]), he can declare an emergency state (Art. 52), he has the power to name ministers (Art. 49), to name the judges in the Constitutional Council (Art. 89), to submit any law to a referendum (Art. 51), to demand changes of a law (Art. 74), and to dissolve Parliament (Art. 87). This gives the president strategic influence on the executive, the judiciary, and the legislation. (The presidents of France and the US have similar powers, but only under conditions. In parliamentary democracies, such as Germany, India, and Portugal, the presidents or prime ministers have no such powers.)

In African countries, electoral politics is often highly opaque, allowing the ruling party to use its power to maintain its position. As IDEA notes, "Fewer than one in five African states has comprehensive laws to govern the raising of revenue, detail permitted sources of revenue, prohibit others (such as foreign and corporate donations), or impose ceilings and specify sanctions. Laws demanding the disclosure of sources of party funds and audited accounts - the minimum regulation required to grapple with issues associated with the difficult relationship between political financing and liberal democratic governance - exist only in a tiny minority of African states. Even in those states, implementation is usually a problem." [16].

An authoritarian government can use its power to consolidate its power. People who criticize the government or ruler risk sanctions: They will risk losing their job, they will be denied permits or services, or, in extreme cases, even put in prison. The press is not free to criticize the government [51]. Demonstrations are prohibited or dissolved. Opposition figures disappear. Gatherings of people wo are critical to the government will be surveyed or dissolved. This makes it hard, if not impossible, for the ordinary citizen to oppose the government. These countries are democracies just for those who vote for the state party.

The powers that the ruler enjoys allow him to stay in power for a long time. In Senegal, the legislative period was reduced from 7 years to 5 only in 2011. In 2012, the president got permission from the Constitutional Council (whose members he appoints) to run a third term, even though the new constitution permits only two terms. It did not work out for him in the end, but in general, presidents of such countries remain in power for impressive times, ranging up to several decades [19].

In general, African countries have a holey tradition of democracy. Since the Second World War, the region has had a disproportionate share of coups d'état [24]. Africa and Latin America are the only two regions with statistically more than one coup per country. Basically every history of an African country includes one or more violent transitions of power after its independence. In such circumstances, democracy is feeble.

The Effect
If a ruler has the power to name all important people in the country, then he can abolish or control all institutions in the country that check his ruling. If he controls these institutions, then they cannot control him. In particular, if he abolishes or obstructs opposition parties, then there is no threat for him to be called to account for his actions. This means that he can do what pleases him, and this is not necessarily what benefits the country.

There are some prominent examples. The Forbes Magazine tells us that Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, owns some 600 million USD [20]. This is five times the amount of foreign aid the country receives [23]. It is equal to half of the public debt of his country (as by the CIA factbook [21]). The Herald Daily also maintains a list of dictators and their fortunes [22]. Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, is said to own a 40 million USD house in China — possibly to relax from the inflation of 11,200,000% that his country saw during his reign.

The king of Morocco, Mohammed 6, does active business in his own country, as reported by Le Monde [53]. He owns the majority of the SNI group, which, in turn, owns the largest private bank of Morocco, the largest mine operator, and the largest distribution chain in the country. This group is lead by Mounir Majidi, who is at the same time the special secretary of Mohammed 6. This entanglement of political power and business allows the king to control 8% of the GDP of Morocco.

It may be surprising for a Western reader to hear that the separation of powers is not as universally accepted as it appears in the West. Some people I talked to can live with a strongman at the top. They might even argue that it is in the best interest of the country, because it avoids conflict and instability (see Responsibility). Some people also told me that it's OK that the ruler uses his power to increase his own wealth — after all he is the boss and deserves it. A dictatorship (or an authoritarian system) may also be the only way to run a country that has a poor record of democracy, in particular in the presence of ethnic strife and war (War). This is a hypothesis I discuss in Democracy.

Yet, in general, the population is almost entirely in favor of democracy (Activism). This may be because what a dictator does is almost certainly against the interest of the people. This is because if it were in the interest of the people, then the ruler would not have to abolish the checks and balances. If the ruler would truly act for the best of his country, then he could have his power checked with no fear in the frame of a democratic system. Yet, the fact that rulers typically abolish such checks indicates that they do not act for the best of their country.

During my visits, people told me that political leaders tend to "buy" votes by promising development in particular villages, by handing out goods such as shoes, or by simply handing out cash. The Economist says the ANC party of South Africa hands out food parcels before elections [133]. Naturally, poorer people are more susceptible to such bribery. This may explain why certain political leaders have no interest in really abolishing poverty in their country: Poor people can be bribed more easily into voting for them (Activism, Poverty). The behavior of the ruler seems to be part of a more general problem with the ruling elite of the country (Elite).

People are also more susceptible to the ruler if they are illiterate. Illiterate people are more easily influenced by populism or demagogy, because they cannot collect information from different written sources. The ruler may tell people that they have to be thankful because the ruling party freed the country from colonialism. As the Economist notes, the ANC party of South Africa still takes credit for having liberated the country from Apartheid [133]. People may not dare challenge this position, because they they may not be knowledgeable or informed enough about the performance of the government. They may know only the government's view of the opposition parties. A lack of education, illiteracy, and a general focus on day-to-day business does not allow them to challenge official positions (Education). Sadly, this may even give the ruler an incentive to keep people illiterate.

A change in this seems extremely hard to achieve. This is because the ruling party or the ruler benefits from the status quo and has no interest in changing it. They can use their power to consolidate the current state and bolster it against change. Yet, pressure from inside and outside the country has recently led to some changes: In 2011, Morocco has given more power to the parliament and Senegal has reduced its legislative period from 7 to 5 years. The Arab spring, in particular, has given the idea of democracy new energy. Maybe there is hope.

War and Civil War

When watching the news, it seems that most military conflicts happen in poor countries. Thus, the hypothesis is that LED countries are plagued more than average by war, civil war, and ethnic strife.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
A look at the list of current military conflicts shows that most of them are happening in the poor world (as of 2012, [27]). There are some notable exceptions, such as the war in Chechenia and the ongoing conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. There are also some foreign-induced military conflicts, such as the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and part of the conflicts in the Arab world. Yet, the majority of wars and conflicts do not fall in these categories.

The same holds for terrorism attacks. As recorded by the Economist [153], most terrorism attacks take place in LED countries (see figure). While this may be to counter foreign influence in Afghanistan, terrorism harms the country's own people in India, Iraq, the Philippines, and Algeria.

Wars and conflicts severely hamper the progress of a country. Wars kill people, induce human suffering, destroy homes, and damage infrastructure and equipment. They also bind resources that might find better uses elsewhere.
Many poor nations have a high military spending. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute regularly estimates the amount of money that countries invest in military equipment [28]. Among the top 40 spenders by percentage of their GDP, only 3 are high-income nations (the US, Israel, and Greece). The remainder is roughly equally split between the Middle East, Africa, and the remainder of Asia. In particular, the list contains some of the poorest nations of the world. These numbers indicate that these countries attach a larger relative importance to the military than the rest of the world. This is surprising, since one would expect that these countries would need as many resources as possible to fight poverty, to build up education, and to support their economy.

Many conflicts in the world are due to ethnic differences, religious differences, or in general the desire of one region to be independent from a country. This applies, e.g., to the conflict in Sudan, in Senegal, in Kosovo, and in a certain sense also to the Palestine/Israel conflict. Some of these conflicts were induced by the colonisation (Colonisation): The foreign powers had little concern for existing boundaries of tribes or land when they scrambled for Africa. Thus, their boundaries, which gave rise to the boundaries of today, may cut ethnically homogeneous groups and force together heterogeneous groups.

The first article of the Charter of the United Nations introduces the principle of self-determination as a primary goal of the organization [29]. This principle is commonly interpreted as the right of nations to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status [30]. If we take "nation" to mean "a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory", as the Oxford Dictionary suggests [31], then this would mean that every group of people who qualifies as a nation has the right to decide to which country they would like to belong — or to form a new country. This interpretation is highly disputed. However, it goes well with the intuition that no group should be forced to be part of a country that it does not want to belong to.

To implement this principle, the most straightforward way seems

  1. to determine the regions and sub-regions that voice discontent.
  2. to have the UN organize an election, where participants can choose which country their sub-region should belong to.
  3. to respect the outcome of that vote.
  4. to submit any disputed border claims to the International Court of Justice to resolve.
In practice, this proposal does not work. Some of the reasons are as follows:
  • The country that controls the region does not wish to lose the region.
  • Other countries that have break-away regions fear that they might lose these regions, too. Therefore, they oppose the very idea of self-determination by vote. Countries with such regions are, among others, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, and China.
  • The mainland country has introduced a large number of people into the break-away region, thus tipping the scale in its favor. Worse, it may have started to "ethnically clean" the region, by violently removing people of other ethnicity. This may be a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention [32]. It should be dealt with separately, by financial compensation, or land swaps.
People also argue that the principle of territorial integrity should not be violated. This principle, however, has no direct justification in the well-being of the people concerned. It is an abstract concept that does not have an intrinsic value per se. People argue that historical boundaries should be kept. Yet, the benefit of keeping historical boundaries is not clear, in particular if populations have changed since the borders have been defined, or if the historical boundaries do not correspond to ethnic boundaries. It is people who define boundaries, not boundaries that define people. People often fear for the rights of the minorities in the break-away regions. These rights would have to be protected as a pre-condition to the break-away. Yet, in the end, the total number of people who are a minority in a country decreases if the region breaks away. The same argument applies to mixed regions and mixed cities: The number of people living in conflict-loaded areas decreases if the country splits up and the mixed area is put, e.g., under UN control. We may say that people should live together in peace and therefore not split into different countries. Yet, if for decades, people do not want to live in peace together in the same country, then there is no reason to think that this will change. People also argue that when a small region becomes a country, this country will be too small and weak. This may be true, but is ultimately the responsibility of the people themselves. Small countries realize automatically that they need to team up with other countries. If break-away regions were let go, large amounts of resources could be used for more constructive purposes.

The principle of self-determination may look like a highly optimistic, even insanely idealistic proposal. Yet, there are some positive examples for countries that implement this principle. In Canada, e.g., the region of Quebec has repeatedly staged referendums to decide whether the region should stay with the main land or not. So far, the official result is that the majority has voted to stay with Canada. In the United Kingdom, Scotland is debating an exit from the country. The region intends to hold a referendum on this matter in 2014. In both cases, it is out of question that the mainland invades the region with military force to prevent secession. Most likely, a wish to secede will just be respected. Northern Ireland seems a violent exception to this rule. Yet, it is not. The current status in Northern Ireland is based on an 1998 agreement between the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. The agreement states that Northern Ireland shall belong to whatever country the majority of its population prefers. So far, the majority of people in Northern Ireland is in favor of staying in the UK. It remains to hope that other countries handle the question of separation as democratically and peacefully as these countries.

In many of the world's conflicts, external powers also play a role — with financial, military, and political support for one group or the other or both. In particular, the US is involved in quite a number of conflicts (see table). In many cases, wars may be due to conflicts of interest of different leaders. These may be business interests, interests of power, or criminal interests. The army of a country, e.g., can have an interest in an ongoing conflict to justify its existence. The political rulers of the country can have an interest in the army and thus in the conflict. They may also use the conflict to withdraw attention from other problems, or to justify harsher laws.

In many conflicts, the opponents are divided by religious interpretation. In half of the ongoing military conflicts with more than 1000 deaths per year, the factions coincide with religious boundaries. The conflicts in Israel, in ex-Yugoslavia, in North Ireland, and in Sudan all have a religious component. This may be because religion is being misused to stimulate conflict, because some religious interpretations fuel intolerance, because religious fanatism and claims of absolute truth facilitate conflict, or because religious boundaries happen to coincide with other factors. Whatever the reasons, I invite people to think carefully about the role that religious beliefs play (Religion).

Corrupt Elite

A country is governed mostly by its elite: politicians, businessmen, and leaders. The hypothesis is that, in LED countries, this elite does not always act responsibly. The government does not function the way it should function, it does not provide a reliable law and a reliable implementation of it, and the administration and judiciary do not work the way they should.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
LED countries consistently figure at the bottom of rankings on good governance [11]. As an example, take the use of money for the poor. As the Economist noted in 2010, "70% of the money allocated for drugs and supplies by the Ugandan government in 2000 was lost to 'leakage'; in Ghana, 80% was siphoned off. Montek Ahluwalia, of India's Planning Commission, said last year that he reckoned only 16% of the resources earmarked for the poor under the country's subsidized food distribution scheme ever reached them." [1].

Another, more general, reason for this hypothesis is that some of the LED countries hold some of the world's largest reserves in natural resources. Among the top 15 diamond producing countries, e.g., are 10 African countries. Still, these countries are among the poorest on Earth. This raises the suspicion that some of the money from natural resources is misappropriated.

If the government cannot or does not guarantee the rule of law, then the very basics of trade, economy, and justice are under threat. If a merchant cannot trust that a business partner who does not fulfill his obligations will be put to justice, then he has to take potential losses into account when making business. If a company cannot trust on laws and their implementation, then it cannot make long-term investments. If people see that those who do not follow the law prosper, they will themselves start deviating from the law.

If the ruling elite uses its power mainly to reinforce its own position, then the country cannot progress. Since it is the elite who makes and implements laws, it is difficult make and implement laws that fight against a corrupt elite.

Bad governance is an umbrella term that encompasses and induces other problems such as corruption, nepotism and lack of democracy (Corruption, Trust, Dictatorship). The fault with bad governance lies with the people who work in the government. We might argue that, at least in democracies, the people are themselves responsible for their government. They have the choice to vote for a different party, and if no party appears good to them, they have the choice of creating a new party. In this view, a democracy makes sure that every people has the government it deserves.

In reality, however, things are different. People in power cling to their power. They have an interest in the status quo, however bad it might be for the rest of the population. People at the bottom are too poor or too uneducated to engage in politics (Education, Activism, Poverty). People in the middle layer are happy to get a job with the government, whatever wicked the job might be. There is often no de-facto democracy (Dictatorship). Organized crime may play its part (see table at AIDS), benefiting from the weakness of the institutions.


Many LED countries have been colonized for centuries. The hypothesis is that this has given them a disadvantage from which they still suffer.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
The colonization is a reproach that still looms in the countries I have visited.
The Effect
Colonization has given the colonizer decisive political and material advantages, which allowed it to widen the gap with the LED country. From inferior preconditions, the LED country has a much harder time catching up.
The colonizing countries typically point out that they provided a large part of the infrastructure for the country, from which the country still benefits. This includes the administrative system, which is almost entirely French-style in Senegal and British-style in India. It also includes the transport infrastructure, roads and trains. 55,000 kilometers of the 65,000 kilometers of rail lines in India were first built by the British [50]. The French built a train line in Senegal, which has since been abandoned, and no other train line has been built since then. Universities have often been founded by the invaders. Both cities of importance in Senegal have been created by the French. The foreign language is one of the components that unite India and Senegal, which are otherwise countries of diverse ethnicities and cultures. The common language also simplifies the administration and economic exchange with other countries.

On the flip side, colonization has unjustly exploited a large number of countries and caused great human suffering. European colonial powers have killed millions of people — in efforts to subdue populations, or through slavery and insane working conditions. The German-driven Herero Genocide alone killed dozens of thousands of people in Namibia. The Belgian-operated Congo Free State imposed a terror regime on Congo, killing 8 million people. Around a dozen million African people were captured and sold as slaves. Illnesses such as smallpox, measles, malaria, and yellow fever were carried to populations that had no natural defense against them, killing millions of people in the Americas.

In addition to the human suffering, the colonization also had considerable social and economic effects. Notably, they allowed European nations to enrich themselves with natural resources and cheap labor from the colonized peoples. The African countries, in particular, remained under foreign control well into the second half of the 20th century. Colonization has favored certain ethnic groups over others, distributed wealth and power unequally, and grouped unrelated ethnic groups together, thus laying the foundation for long-lasting social and military conflicts. This leaves us with colonization as a crime that has given the occupied countries a substantially worse starting position — both economically and politically.

While colonization has disadvantaged the LED countries, it cannot be the only reason for the problems of LED countries. A few countries resisted colonization or liberated themselves early. Ethiopia, e.g., was never colonized. Liberia became an independent country in 1820. Yet, these countries fare as badly on socio-economic measures as most other African countries.

It is interesting to see colonization in the perspective of time. Colonization happened until the 1960's. The majority of people in the colonized countries was born after independence from the colonizer. To see what can happen in 50 years of time, we can look at Europe. In Europe, the two World Wars have devastated the continent around the same time as colonization had its grip on the LED countries. Germany initiated the two most fatal wars of human history. The country killed one quarter of the Russian population (24 million people). In total, 60 million people lost their lives. In return, the Russians established a dictatorship in the eastern part of Germany. The dictatorship lasted 40 years and shot dead its own citizens at the border. Twenty years after the abolishment of this regime, the eastern part of Germany is still underdeveloped in comparison to the western part. Yet, nobody in Germany blames Russia for these problems. Likewise, it seems rare to hear Russians complain about the harm that Germany inflicted on them during the World Wars. The two countries get along no better or worse than other countries in the world. Likewise, Germany invaded France three times in recent history. Alsace, a region that has been German-speaking for centuries, is now French. Saarland, a region which France had an interest in, is now German. The region switched sides as late as 1957. Yet, nowadays, very few people in France blame the Germans for the ills their country suffered. On the contrary, France and Germany style themselves as the brotherly motor of European integration. The end of the Second World War also saw the expulsion of 12 million Germans from regions that are today in Poland and the Czech Republic, but that have been in Prussia from the 18th century on. The expelled people were integrated into the core part of Germany. Any claim to return was abandoned. Today, very few Germans blame the Poles or the Czechs for these expulsions. In return, very few Poles and Czechs blame Germany for her invasions. On the contrary, all countries co-operate in the European Union. As of 2012, they will soon share the same currency. The Czechs benefit happily from German tourism. All of this is not to say that the sins of the past should be forgotten. It is also not to say that the distress of Africa under colonization and the distress of Europe in the World Wars would be comparable. It is to say that people can overcome the cruelties of the past and build prosperity even if their coutries suffered injustice and devastation.

Since other countries have successfully recovered from devastation, and since the vast majority of people in the LED countries was born after the colonial powers left, it seems that the effects of colonization are mostly now the other ills discussed in this section: The foreign meddling in politics (Meddling), land grabbing (LandGrabbing), and the corruption by foreign companies (Multicorr).

Red Tape

Everybody hates complicated bureaucratic procedures. The hypothesis is that bureaucracy is even more cumbersome in LED countries. LED countries would burden themselves with unnecessary red tape.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
The World Bank regularly rates the ease of doing business in countries across the world [43]. Factors include, e.g., the number of days needed to start a business, to obtain a construction permit, to employ a worker, to register property, to get credit, and to enforce a contract. LED countries consistently figure at the bottom of these rankings. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, it takes a company twice as many hours to prepare a tax return document as it takes a company in the rich countries. It takes 4 times longer to open a business in Latin America than to open one in the rich countries. The procedure is more expensive and takes more separate bureaucratic steps. It takes twice as long, and is twice as expensive, to register land in Sub-Saharan Africa as it is in the rich countries. (The data provided by the World Bank is publicly available, easy to download, easy to browse, and explained in a very detailed manner [43])
Inefficient or excessive bureaucracy can hamper business severely. It not only costs time and money, but it also prolongs the state of legal insecurity between a decision and the completion of an act. This invites bribes and fuels corruption (Corruption). Finally, red tape discourages business initiative, foreign investment, and the creation of employment.
Most people, most governments, and most businesses are against excessive bureaucracy. Given that red tape is universally complained about, that less red tape would reduce the burden on the economy, and that it would actually mean less expenses, it is surprising to see that excessive bureaucracy is still so widespread. Still, red tape prevails. This seems to indicate that there are people who have an interest in red tape. These can be the bureaucrats themselves, who see red tape as a way to secure their jobs and bribes (Corruption, Multicorr). It can also be government officials, who have an interest in giving advantages to some companies at the expense of others (Elite).

It may also be that the bureaucracy in LED countries is not excessive, but just inefficient. Reasons can be lack of money, of skilled personnel, and of resources plus poor infrastructure. Other inefficiencies may arise when regulations are poorly documented, when it takes months to find a skilled lawyer or inspector, when it takes weeks to find records kept in some archive instead of in digital form, or when it takes weeks instead of seconds for such records to be delivered from one authority to another. A chat with my Namibian friend indicated that one reason for the slow pace of bureaucracy may also be a demoralized workforce. People would simply take longer to perform their duties. Absenteeism may also play a role (Absenteeism).


We tend to think of the LED countries as places that are (or should be) on their way to a Western style economy. Maybe this is a wrong way to see it.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
People have been living in the LED countries happily for millennia without things such as health care or mobile phones. Maybe they have a better life without them. In particular
  • Modern products may be good for a country that builds its economy on industry and services. In contrast, they may not be good for a country in which the society is agricultural, in which all products (biological or not) end up lying around in the environment, or in which most products are imported from foreign countries anyway.
  • Human rights may be good for a society of individuals. They may be less good for societies that are plagued by ethnic strives, and in which anything else than strong domination will lead to chaos.
  • Modern health care is great to save lives. It has notably brought down infant mortality by a great deal, and increased life expectancy — also in the LED countries. Yet, LED countries have a high fertility rate even if, biologically speaking, this is no longer necessary to counter infant mortality.
It may be that the Western model of economy and society just does not work for these countries.
If the Western socio-economic model did not apply to the societies of LED countries, then the basic Western hypothesis of how to help LED countries would be wrong. All reasoning would be based on a faulty idea. Benevolent Western countries would impose structures on LED countries that are simply not good for them.
It is certainly an outrageous idea to consider whether modern life is good for everybody. Yet, I believe that even outrageous ideas deserve being thought through [36]. We need to ask ourselves whether the basic assumption that we are all making is correct.

While not all achievements of Western culture are to be welcomed, some are undisputedly so. It is almost universally agreed that every baby that is in danger of death has to be saved. Therefore, most ethics will dictate that we have to use modern medicine to save lives wherever possible (e.g. [46]). Yet, if we combine modern medicine with the high fertility rate of LED countries, the result is a population explosion. The population of Africa has quadrupled from 221 million people in 1950 to 1 billion people in 2009 (Fertility). It seems as if society had not adapted to the medical progress.

Modern products, likewise, are almost universally accepted eagerly. A large proportion of people in LED countries nowadays own a mobile phone. Virtually everybody uses plastic bags. So many people own cars that roads are traffic jammed. This indicates that people desire modern products. It seems unjust to deny people modern products if people want them. Yet, then the society has to adapt and handle these products responsibly (Garbage).

In any case, there is no way back. It seems that modernity is on the march in the LED countries — pushed by Western powers, but also in large parts welcomed by the LED countries. If the societies of the LED countries want the advantages of Western style life and economy, they have to adapt to them. Otherwise, things might go wrong.


People in the West tend to think that democracy is the best model for a government. Maybe that is wrong.
Reasons for this Hypothesis
Democracy may be good for a country where people want a say in politics. It may be not the right system, in contrast, for a country where the majority of people is illiterate, where people identify more with ethnic or family ties than with the country, or where democracy just does not take off even after 5 decades.
If democracy were the wrong model for a country, then all pushing for democracy would simply go in the wrong direction.
In the ideal case, a democracy works as follows: There are a number of parties that represent particular political strategies. In regular time intervals (typically 4 years), there are elections, and people vote for their favorite party. The parties then form the parliament, where their number of seats is proportional to the number of votes they received. This way, the parliament mirrors the political preferences of the people. The parliament makes laws and guides politics. At the next election, the process is repeated. This way, people have the opportunity to either reinforce the current politics, or to punish politicians and choose a different politics.

If people cannot find a party that suits their interests, they can found a new party. If this party gathers enough votes, it enters parliament at the next election and then represents that particular interest. This way, every citizen participates in the politics of their country: either by delegating responsibility (by electing a party, or by not voting), or by taking over responsibility (by founding a party). Thus, if someone does not like what the government does, there can be 5 reasons for it: (1) If your party is in government and does not do what you want, then you voted for the wrong party. (2) If your party is in government and does not do what it promised, then you will not vote for it again, and most other people won't either. The damage is limited to the coming 4 years. (3) If your party does not have a majority in parliament, then the majority of people in the country want something else than you. You have to accept it. (4) If you did not vote for any party because you do not care, then there is no problem. You should not complain. (5) If you did not vote for any party because no party represents your interests, then you should found your own party. If you did not, then apparently your interest is not strong enough.
In other words, the advantage of a democracy is that people are themselves responsible for their country. There is no one they can blame except themselves. Seen this way, a (working) democracy ensures that every people has the government it deserves.

There are some caveats to this. Even if a country has a truly democratic system, the system does not necessarily guarantee that the government represents the will of the majority of the people. If, for example, the president is voted by majority of voting districts (as it is the case in the US), then a person can become president even if the majority of people voted for someone else. To see this, consider 3 districts, each with 1000 inhabitants (see figure). In the first district and in the second district, 501 people vote for the blue candidate, and 499 people vote for the red candidate. In the third district, all 1000 people vote for the red candidate. Thus, 501+501=1002 people voted for the blue candidate, and nearly twice as many people (499+499+1000=1998) voted for the red candidate. Yet, the blue candidate has a majority in the first and in the second district. Thus, he wins 2 out of 3 districts for himself — and hence becomes president. In such a system, the presidency depends on how the country is partitioned into voting districts. Furthermore, usually only two parties can survive in such a system, because it favors parties that can win an entire district.

However, if the political system allows for a true proportional representation of parties, then democracy can work very well. As an example, take Germany. The country has 5 parties in its parliament. In the last decades, the majority in parliament has sometimes stayed with the same party, and sometimes shifted. This indicates that people are either happy with the government (and thus confirm it), or unhappy (and thus abandon it). The last decades have also seen the birth of new parties, which have succeeded in entering parliaments (the Green party in the 1980's, the Leftist party in the 1990's, and the Pirate party in the 2010's). This indicates that people are ready to take over responsibility if politics does not go the way they want.

Now, we have to address the question whether such a system is the right thing for every country. I can only talk from my experience with people. Most people I talked to in Senegal had an opinion on politics. People said that foreign influence should be reduced (Meddling) or that more should be done to foster the local economy (Economy). The fact that people express desires for what their government should do means that they want a say in politics. If they did not want a say, they should just stay silent and do whatever their ruler wants them to do. Yet, people have very concrete ideas of what their ruler should do. This means that people want a democracy. One cannot sensibly want the ruler to do what the people want without calling it a democracy. Thus, people want a democracy. In fact, polls suggest that over 90% of the population of LED countries agree that democracy is good to have (Activism).

Essay Underdevelopment of Africa

635 Words3 Pages

Underdevelopment of Africa Underdevelopment in Africa is a problem that has been plaguing the countries all over the continent for a very long time. It has so many negative effects on Africans. It has brought about so many consequences, but of all, the economy is the most affected sector because the economic sector controls all other aspect of the society. Underdevelopment in Africa is as a result of many contributing factors which include poverty, illiteracy, very large extended families, corruption and lack of accountability.
Poverty is one of the causes of underdevelopment in Africa. Unfortunate events such as slave trade, wars and other bad incidents. After wars people lose their belongings, properties and even family members.…show more content…

The upper class consists of rich people in the society who can afford to take care of their families, send them to schools to acquire knowledge and education. They live a life of luxury and they are more or less, the ones that control the society because they are on top. The middle class consist of those in the society who have little money and can use it to at least take care of their family but cannot afford the other necessities of life. The lower class on the other hand consists of those individuals in the society who are poor i.e they have no source of income and cannot take care of their family. These are the ones whose children suffer the consequences of iiliteracy. In some cases, people actually choose not to be educated as a result of ignorance. They dont see the importance of it and feel that it does not make a difference whether you are educated or not.

Illiteracy is the backbone of most of the problems Africans face. It also explains the problem of too large family (lack of family planning). Family planning is all about considering your income and using that as a yardstick to know how many children you can conviniently afford to take care of. African families are characterized by very large families. People just keep giving birth without taking into consideration if they can handle large families. At the end of the day, they make their children suffer the consequences of their parents’ actions. Since there are many children in the house, the parents

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