Two good books in hand is better than… (part 2)

It’s abysmal being sick during Chinese New Year.

It’s the biggest day for us chinese people and yet I’m largely confined to me bed feeling all sorry for myself.

Boyfriend J is also not here to comfort me since he’s in Asia eating too much food and making merry…

The only good thing about staying in bed sans boyfriend is that I have alot of time to read. I managed to finish reading the second book:

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, Paul Collier


Yes, the title is a mouthful and somewhat intimidating but the book’s alot better than the title.

I have always had a fascination with why some countries succeed and why others don’t. Coming from Singapore, I have always believed that a country’s destiny can be changed by willpower, talent and determination. Afterall, a tiny tiny country without natural resources surrounded by hostile neighbors made it, what’s your excuse?

So African countries has always been a mystery to me – not only is it a continent collectively, it has an abundance of natural resources and manpower that many other countries don’t. Yet the situation in Africa is dire and getting worse day by day. Collier argues that while Asia’s emerging economies improved by leaps and bounds within the past 30 years, Africa’s economy has actually declined in absolute terms.

He outlines 4 traps most African countries have fallen into:

1. The conflict trap (most African countries)

2. The natural resource trap (Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Angola etc)

3. Landlocked with bad neighbors (Uganda, Malawai etc)
4. Bad governance in a small country (Zimbawe, Uganda etc)

Most of these african countries are affected by conflict and he argues that poverty create the ideal impetus for conflict. It becomes a vicious cycle where conflict leads to more poverty and in turn leading to more conflict.

Collier also makes the point that some african countries shouldn’t have been countries in the first place. For example, smaller landlocked countries should never have been made into countries in the first place, it would have been better for them to have merged with their neighbors to create a bigger market and gain access to the sea.

While I see his logic (and he’s certainly right about some countries, not just in Africa but in the middle east and central asia), his assertion brings up the question of what is a country?

Is it a shared identity? Geography? Homogeneity? A unified market?

Would these African countries choose to be countries if they knew that they would be better off joining their neighbors?

Another interesting assertion that while celebrity attention on Africa is well and good, it does little for these countries’ well being. Foreign aid often act as disincentives for governments to truly bite the bullet and be disciplined about their spending.

Bono might like us to think that we can help Africa solve its problems by buying a T shirt from Gap but Collier makes a compelling case that real progress has to come from within.


One response to “Two good books in hand is better than… (part 2)

  1. I have a specific interest in Africa because my wife was born there in Angola.

    I was a tour guide for 10 years and fell in love with Portugal and while in Portugal learned very quickly about the plight of those who had lived in the past Portuguese colonies which were now independant countries such as Angola and Mozambique. Most of the Africans I met in Portugal in the areas that I stayed were either from Angola or Mozambique and predominantly Angolan.

    I’m now reading daily about the activities in Angola and understand your puzzlement with regards to Africa’s poverty especially Angola which is soon to surpass Nigeria in terms of oil output.

    The biggest obstacles up until now for Angola has been twofold:

    1) The dictator/president wheels and deals and puts all kinds of money in his pocket while the resident population continues to suffer. If I’m not mistaken the president of Angola is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    2) Outside financial backing and arms support (thanks to the U.S.A., Russia, Cuba and China and I’m sure plenty of others) have fueled internal conflicts. Imagine civil war for about 27 years.

    Your comment in your essay about why or how could a country as small as Singapore do so well without any natural resources while being surrounded by hostile neighbours is exactly the point. If Singapore had had natural resources foreign interest would have been very different and probably would have been more troublesome but to my understanding Singapore was an excellent port and connection point to Asia and financial trade was it’s main enterprise.
    A very differnt scenario than that of Africa which is all about natural resources and the race between foreign countries who are in desperate need of those natural resources in order to fuel their own economies.

    So why does Africa still have so much poverty?

    I’m afraid it simply boils down to a very old concept:


    I have hope for Africa and it looks like Angola is actually going to have free elections this year and next for both choosing a political party and a president.

    Hope with a capital H.


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