The new conventional wisdom about Africa is rather welcome: not only is Africa not poor, but the most glaring economic problem in the sub-Saharan region is inequality of wealth, not poverty as such.
I’ve been banging away at this key concept for some time because understanding wealth inequality in Africa has the potential to transform public policies in the region. These policies — whether at a national or international level — have long been predicated on a stubborn belief in the pervasiveness of African poverty, and the inevitability of African poverty. In the space of the past decade, African political economy has become normalized. As everywhere else in the world, the problem is wealth — and who gets it, why and what should they do with it — rather than absolute poverty and its specter.
The Economist is the latest discerning chronicler of African affairs to realize that a full-throated espousal of market capitalism means that the problem of wealth will be as much as an existential problem in Africa as in the U.S., Brazil or France. And the inevitable concern — moral, political, cultural — is that Africa’s poor “deserve so much better” than the results unbridled market forces will deliver.
To be sure, the critical issue now is what Africans, from elites to ordinary people, do with their wealth. What ends do they pursue? And will one of these ends be, spreading the wealth? And if so, how, in a world where growing inequality seems an unstoppable trend.