Whenever Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the well known development economist, speaks on poverty, especially as it affects the global economic south, which includes Africa, he deserves to be listened to. Perhaps more than any other scholar from the advanced world, Sachs has demonstrated not only an unusual interest in the eradication of poverty in the developing world but also an uncanny ability to proffer practical solution to the problem.
Over the years, this American scholar has done much to draw the attention of the world to the debilitating effects of poverty in Africa and other developing countries of the world. His seminal book, ‘The End of Poverty’ is remarkable for its pragmatism and down-to-earth prescriptions on how to make the eradication of poverty happen in our time. Sachs challenges both Africans and their western trade partners to rise to the challenge of tackling poverty which, in his view, is the main cause of under- development in the continent.
As Sachs has often noted and as most African leaders know, despite the fact that Africa is endowed with immense natural and human resources as well as great cultural, ecological and economic diversity, the continent remains grossly underdeveloped. Indeed most of the countries classified by the United Nations (UN) as the least developed in the world (LCs) are in Africa. A vast majority of Africa’s population lives in abject poverty and squalor as a result of a combination of factors, not the least poor governance, systemic corruption and endemic diseases. These are challenges that Sachs has constantly addressed in his treatises and lectures on this important subject.
However, to him that is not all there is to the search for solution to the problem. Recently in Addis Ababa, Sachs returned rather appropriately to the need for greater investments in Africa by the developed nations, and for African governments to invest more on infrastructure. While Africa certainly needs some forms of development aid, it needs even more favourable terms of engagement in trade and commerce with Europe and America and indeed all its trading partners. At present Western investment in the continent is rather measly; and for poverty to be really tackled the volume of such investment must rise far beyond where it is at present. Also outflow from the continent needs to be checked, while domestic markets widened. These are all in the mix in Sachs recipe for addressing the crisis of poverty in the continent.
Sachs thinks that poverty is a real cog in Africa’s wheel of development. But unlike some development scholars he does not believe that the continent is doomed to perpetual poverty. What is required is concerted effort by African leaders to improve infrastructure, eliminate corruption and increase inter-Africa trade. To help the continent, the more advanced countries should weigh in with increased development aids and better terms of trade in order to reduce outflows from the continent.
Sachs who has travelled extensively in Africa should know what he is talking about. Drawing from historical realities he urges world leaders to rise to the urgent need of tackling poverty every where it exists in the world. Poverty, no doubt, is the greatest time-bomb threatening the peace of the universe. If the poor cannot eat, as the saying goes, the rich may not be able to sleep. Sachs believes that Africa has been a victim of prejudices and misconceptions in the advanced world which has left millions of Africans impoverished and stranded in unnecessary suffering. Things cannot remain that way if the continent is to experience real development.
While it cannot be denied that donor countries can help Africa significantly in addressing poverty and its development challenges generally, much of the work has to be done by Africans themselves. Africa’s political and economic managers must truly lead and be purpose-driven. Our natural resources need to be more profitably utilised for the benefit of the people. Time has come for African people to hold their leaders more rigorously responsible for their actions and inactions. As Prof. Sachs argues, there is need for more investment by African governments in infrastructure in order to attract more investments to the continent which in turn will lead to more jobs and the reduction of poverty. We can’t agree more with him.