Writing in the 1990’s, William Easterly and Ross Levine famously labeled Africa a “growth tragedy”.1 Less than twenty years later, Alwyn Young noted Africa’s “growth miracle”2, while Steven Radelet less effusively pointed to an Africa that was “emerging” and noted its rising rate of economic growth, improving levels of education and health care, and increasing levels of investment in basic infrastructure: roads, ports, and transport3. In this paper, we address Africa’s economic revival. In doing so, we also stress the political changes that have taken place on the continent. Once notorious for its tyrants – Jean-‐Bedel Bokassa, Idi Amin, and Mobutu Sese Seko, to name but three – in the 1990s, Africa joined the last wave of democratization; self-‐appointed heads of state were replaced by rulers chosen in competitive elections. In this paper, we assert that the two sets of changes – the one economic and the other political – go together, and that, indeed, changes in Africa’s political institutions lent significant impetus to its economic revival.
People speak of an “African renaissance.” We report and explore data that suggest that the continent’s return to positive growth can near entirely be explained by changes in total factor productivity growth. We find as well that changes in Africa’s political institutions played a major role in this transition and that the channel linking institutional change to changes in economic performance runs in significant part through changes in policy choices. We conclude with reasons to be cautious in assessments of the depth and durability of the changes in Africa’s economies.
Africa is largely agrarian and the performance of agriculture shapes the performance of its economies. It has long been argued that economic development in Africa is strongly conditioned by politics. Recent changes in Africa’s political systems enables us to test this argument and, by extension, broader claims about the impact of political institutions on economic development. Building on a recent analysis of total factor productivity growth in African agriculture, we find that the introduction of competitive presidential elections in the last decades of the 20th Century appears to have altered political incentives, resulting in policy reforms that have enhanced the performance of farmers.
In this chapter, we explore patterns of variation in the content of agricultural policies in Africa. We look at the impact of the government’s need for revenues, the incentives for farmers to lobby, and their capacity to affect electoral outcomes. We also explore the political impact of regional inequality, especially insofar as it is generated by cash crop production. These factors operate in ways that deepen our appreciation of the impact of politics on the making of agricultural policies.