Is It Africa’s Turn?

Edward Miguel in the Boston Review:

ScreenHunter_11 Dec. 14 21.27 I have visited Busia every year since 1997 to help local development-oriented nonprofit organizations design and evaluate their rural programs. In so doing, I have been exposed to impressive changes that are mirrored throughout the country. Kenyan economic growth rates surged between 2002 and 2007, achieving levels not seen since the 1970s. Last summer Nairobi’s never-ending traffic jams of imported Japanese cars were but one tangible indication that Kenyans were suddenly on the move. Construction projects were everywhere, as developers took advantage of the unexpected spike in land values. New productive sectors, like same-day cut flower exports to Europe, employed tens of thousands of workers. Like a fever that had suddenly broken, the resignation and fear of the 1990s were replaced by energy, optimism, and a feeling that there was no time to lose.

But that feeling dissipated quickly in the weeks following Kenya’s disputed December 27, 2007 presidential election. The incumbent president Mwai Kibaki was reelected, allegedly through heavy ballot-box rigging. The results, and subsequent violent opposition protests and ethnic clashes, surprised many Kenyans and most observers, who thought that the elections would be free and fair and that they would help Kenya turn the corner on its autocratic past. The government power-sharing deal that Kofi Annan negotiated between the government and opposition, after two months of bloodshed, has instilled tentative hope.

The recent violence in Kenya is a heartbreaking disappointment, but the Lazarus story I witnessed in Busia—though it may have been temporary—is being repeated in hundreds of cities, towns, and villages, not just in Kenya, but all over Africa. Economic growth rates are at historic highs and democratization appears finally to be taking root. The question emerges: Will Africa be the world’s next development miracle?

More here.