Dereliction express

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

In Dereliction express, Roger Sandall looks at why things fall into disrepair in Africa:

Three things are thought to explain much Third World decline and dereliction. In Africa misappropriated funds heads the list — the Big Man at the top plays Winner Takes All — and there’s no question this is fundamental. Others point to the lawlessness of life where nothing gets done because even the smallest investment is always at risk… so, nothing gets done.

A third explanation sees communal claims and the parasitism of extended family, clan, and tribe making individual progress impossible and nepotism inevitable. These reasons for the engulfing mess and hopelessness come variously combined in different places — as we find in the reports of Tim Harford, Paul Theroux, and V. S. Naipaul.

He cites a passage from The Undercover Economist:

There’s no point investing in a business because the government will not protect you against thieves. (So you might as well become a thief yourself.) There’s no point in paying your phone bill because no court can make you pay. (So there’s no point being a phone company.) There’s no point setting up an import business because the customs officers will be the ones to benefit. (So the customs office is under-funded and looks even harder for bribes.) There’s no point getting an education because jobs are not awarded on merit. (And you can’t borrow money for school fees because the bank can’t collect on the loan.)

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