Democracy in Africa: Try Again


John O. Ifediora.


In African societies, especially those found in West and Central Africa, important personal and collective decisions have perennially been made from the vantage point of clan or group interest. While Western democracies may trace democratic principles to ancient Greece, Africans have known and practiced its essence from time immemorial, for decisions on social matters are seldom made without proper consultations with members of the clan, the elders or ‘titled’ men or women in the community. Depending on the matter to be resolved, deference is usually given to the elders or titled men (Chiefs) during deliberation, but in no instance would the final decision be devoid of controlling traditional and cultural precepts. This has been, and to a very large extent in present day, the primary method of decision-making in traditional African societies; the advent of colonial rule never changed much at this grass-roots level.

Thus, traditional observances and cultural constraints remain very powerful determinants of behavior amongst Africans as manifested in different social arrangements throughout the continent. The Ibos of eastern Nigeria for instance, defer to titled men for final adjudication of social issues; the Yorubas of the same country on the other hand, look to a collectively recognized leader to make important decisions for the social group. In either method, the final decision invariably enjoys near universal acceptance, and almost without exception carries with it severe penalties for dissenters. The reason for this is simple; in traditional African societies, there is a strong need to belong to a social group if only for the fact that an individual is defined by his or her group affiliation. One is first and foremost an Ibo, and secondarily a Nigerian; it is never the other way around.

It is this need for group affiliation that shapes and determines how African societies deal with social and personal matters, and it is within this context that one must seek ways to introduce new ideas of governance and development. This approach is best demonstrated by the successes currently enjoyed by religious groups in the continent. In many parts of Africa today, the Catholic Church, and Protestant Pentecostals have sub-planted domestic governments by providing essential services that are normally within the domain of state and national governments. These de facto religious ‘governments’ are able to collect more than enough financial resources through tithes to build schools, hospitals, fund higher education, provide housing, and train priests for ‘export’ to developed nations. The ability of these churches to collect tithes from their congregation where state and national governments are unable to collect taxes from the public goes to the core of dysfunctional governance, political violence, and deficient development strategies. In colonial times, Irish and Scottish priests dominated the Christianization of Africa; today, the vast majority of priests in Ireland are imports from Nigeria. The point of this is that Africans can be nudged towards different social and political arrangements accommodative of modern democratic principles that serve as the basis for sustained economic development if adopted strategies take advantage of controlling cultural and social sensibilities.

The failure to date of development effort in Africa can be attributed to the perception of government and its agencies as foreign and oppressive entities, a view properly molded and conditioned by colonial experiences. To many Africans, governments are impositions from without, or worse, designed by the national elites to further consolidate their positions of privilege. In this special understanding, governments are viewed as means to personal enrichment, and not instruments for social development; hence the crippling levels of graft amongst civil servants and the inability to sustain projects conducive to development. This perception needs to be changed if governments are to be effective, but in order to effect this change, policy makers must understand how African societies function. This approach worked to the advantage of the early British colonizers when they utilized more of the services of cultural anthropologists than those of economists.

But all is not lost, for culture, religious dogmas, and controlling social practices are not immutable; they change with time, and from pressure from both within and without. Thus, in order for modern democratic principles that respect and protect individual rights and freedom to take hold in Africa (indeed and in fact), certain basic conditions must be met. One is the recognized need for an educated polity. A sound education grounded in the liberal arts, and available to the masses, is indispensible to democracy (being able to conduct elections and cast votes are both a negligible aspect of democracy); it is not enough to have a secondary school certificates or university degree as is commonly the case in many African nations where the diplomas or degrees are not worth as much as the paper they are written on. A noted lawyer in Nigeria once described the degrees now issued by the country’s universities as “venereal degrees” for want of a better adjective to describe the processes by which many students get their university certifications without the disagreeable task of studying or attending lectures. The result is a mass production of graduates who can barely write or sustain a logically consistent articulation of issues.

That unemployment and underemployment in all strata of the labor force in Africa are extremely high feeds back to the absence of sound educational institutions, and limited access to ones that are barely functional. In such dire circumstances, the masses, lacking in marketable skills and chronically unemployed, abandon secular activities and look to the heavens for eternal redemption in life after death. Invariably they become proper objects of indoctrination by religious leaders of various inclinations. What Karl Marx said over a century ago is now completely fulfilled in Africa, “that religion is the opium of the masses.” In Nigeria, next to graft and government contracts, preaching the gospels and careers in pastoral duties now dominate the various professions, the world’s oldest profession notwithstanding. Democracy cannot thrive in the midst of poverty and ignorance. Africans can do better, and should if the continent is to break the vicious cycle of poverty, diseases, violence, debilitating poor educational standards, and better yet, shed the perennial dependence on foreign aid.

Being fat is no longer a symbol of well-being in Africa; worse still, it is no longer fashionable.

As far back as the early 1960s when many African countries were gaining political independence, and the middle class consisted of salaried civil servants, there was a decidedly clear preference for men and women who carried extra fat on their frames. Then, being opulent in body features was indicative of financial well-being and the willingness to put such capacity in full public display. The pejorative term, ‘obesity,’ was inapplicable then, and is indeed of modern origin in application. Thus, it was fashionable to be fat in Africa for it conduced to the prevailing understanding of what it meant to be a member of the moneyed class. Not anymore. Fatness is now synanemous with over-indulgence especially in Western countries, and increasingly so in Africa, and still worse, now indicative of lower social class and symptomatic of health disorders. Africans are gradually coming to terms with this change in social attitude, and the consequent medical effects of obesity but unfortunately many lack the means to take corrective measures without effective intervention by policy makers. The study of obesity in the United States by Christopher Ruhm and his findings are particularly instructive to Africans.

Nearly one in three adults in the U.S were obese in the early 2000s, up from one in seven a quarter-century earlier. If current trends continue, the obesity rate will rise to over 40 percent by 2020. Obesity is linked to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma and to premature mortality - if left unchecked; the rise in obesity threatens to reverse historical gains in life expectancy. The rise in obesity is also an important contributor to the growth of health care costs in the U.S.

To understand the rise in obesity, it is important to understand how individuals make decisions about eating and other behaviors that affect body weight. In Understanding Overeating and Obesity researcher Christopher Ruhm lays out two models of eating and weight regulation and examines empirical evidence to test which model is more consistent with people's behavior.

Ruhm begins with the rational economic model. In this model, individuals trade off the utility (or happiness) from eating food today against the expense and disutility of future weight gain. Individuals make the best decisions they can given the information they have and the constraints on their income and time. Under specified conditions, decisions are optimal (utility-maximizing) at the time they are made, even if the arrival of new information makes the decision look like a mistake in retrospect. In this economic model, factors such as falling food prices are the most likely explanation for the rise in obesity.

Of course, eating decisions may reflect biology as well as economics. Humans have been genetically programmed over millions of years to eat, with the primary goal being to obtain enough calories for survival. In an environment where food is cheap and readily available, biological programming may lead to overeating.

Ruhm formalizes this intuition in a "dual decision" model. The key insight of the model is that eating decisions are influenced by two parts of the brain, the "affective" system and the "deliberative" system. The affective system coordinates sensory inputs to generate emotional states like anger or happiness. This system responds to cues and stimuli - for example, the presence of food may generate endorphin and dopamine responses. The deliberative system incorporates higher cognitive processes, such as abstract thinking and planning, which account for long-term consequences of actions. In the dual decision model, "eating behaviors reflect the combined influence of a utility-maximizing deliberative system and an affective system that responds quickly and impulsively to external stimuli, without accounting for the long-term consequences."

The dual decision model has a number of implications for body weight and eating behavior. First, this model predicts that many people will be heavier than their utility-maximizing weight and will attempt to lose weight. In the rational model, by contrast, weight gain is utility maximizing and will rarely be accompanied by weight loss attempts.

Second, the dual decision model suggests that people with poor self-control or strong affective systems will be particularly susceptible to making eating mistakes. Since these people tend to have high body-mass index (or BMI, a measure of body weight calibrated by height), behaviors such as weight loss attempts will be concentrated among this group. In the rational model, there is no expected correlation with BMI.

Third, in the dual decision model there is more potential for "food engineering" (the strategic manipulation of food characteristics such as fat, sugar, and salt content to increase food consumption) to affect weight. In the rational model, food engineering can change an individual's optimal weight by affecting the pleasure obtained from eating, but in the dual decision model it can activate the affective system as well. Affective system responses will be stronger among those with high BMI, so overeating and the consumption of engineered foods will increase more over time among this group.

Ruhm uses data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to explore which model better explains trends in body weight, weight loss attempts, overeating, and consumption of engineered foods.

He has several key findings. First, body weight has risen rapidly over time, particularly in the right tail of the distribution - the BMI of men at the 90th and 95th percentile rose by 4.5 and 5.5 points over the past 25 years, versus 2.1 points at the median. Explanations related to the rational model, such as falling food prices, appear insufficient to explain these trends, since food prices fell only during the early part of the period while the rise in BMI continued throughout the period.

Second, the desire to lose weight strengthens with BMI, is pervasive among overweight and obese individuals, and has become more common over time. High-BMI individuals also experience greater fluctuations in their weight, which is consistent with their having periods of heavy eating combined with repeated efforts to lose weight.

Third, obese individuals consume disproportionate amounts of salt and fat, and the relationship between BMI and this consumption of salt and fat has strengthened over time. This is consistent with a greater role for food engineering as a cause of obesity over time.

In summary, the available evidence on body weight, weight loss, and food consumption is consistent with eating "mistakes" related to the dual decision model and is hard to reconcile with the standard utility-maximizing model.

These findings have important implications for policy. If the affective system plays an important role in eating decisions, this will tend to reduce the effectiveness of anti-obesity policies that rely on rational decision-making, such as taxing foods with high fat, sugar, or salt content or providing more information on the content of foods. A strong affective system may also point to the usefulness of policies advocated by behavioral economists, such as altering the location of food in a cafeteria line or reducing portion size in order to manipulate food-related stimuli.

Ruhm concludes "mistakes are a central feature of dual decision-making, implying a wider potential role for policy." However, he cautions, "the specific interventions will often be complicated and, if poorly implemented, will reduce rather than increase utility. The general reluctance of economists to engage in policy activism therefore retains merit." But not for policy makers who must advance the social welfare of those whose affairs they govern.

Industrialization And Economic Growth in Africa

*Hinh Dinh, a Chief Economist at the World Bank, makes a compelling argument in this article.

By 2020 we can expect to see another 250 million people living on the African continent.  Most African countries will therefore need to create significant numbers of jobs to provide for their young populations. Yet progress in industrialisation, a vital job creation sector, has so far been slow. Poor infrastructure, a lack of access to land and access to finance continue to hold development back, mitigating the comparative advantages provided by low labour costs.

Indeed, Africa’s share of global light manufacturing stands at less than 1 percent today. Despite preferential access to US and EU markets, manufacturing accounts for only about 9 percent of GDP for Africa as a whole, a smaller share than in any other region. As a result, many workers have remained trapped in low productivity jobs in the informal economy. Without a significant transformation of its industrial structure, Africa is unlikely to catch up with more prosperous regions such as East Asia.

Millions of low-skilled, informal workers in East and South Asia have been lifted out of poverty through light manufacturing.   Labour-intensive manufacturing is even more important for resource-based economies with large amounts of unskilled workers because the exploitation of natural resources tends to discourage development in job-creating sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing.  Beyond its capacity to stimulate job creation, light manufacturing also has the potential to spur trade.

What these economies need is a focused initiative to inject new elements of prosperity and allow for industrialisation that does not rely on slowly developing infrastructure or wider structural reform. The targeted development of light manufacturing represents a good start for accelerating industrialisation and prosperity in low-income countries.

A positive example of this can be seen in Golden Roses, Ethiopia’s first private rose farm. Started in 2000 on 7 hectares of state-owned land, within a decade it had sparked an industry of close to 100 firms exporting flowers worth over $200 million a year.  The success of the rose industry was not due to resolving all the constraints to private sector development in the country. Rather, rose farmers focused on only the most important ones: access to industrial land and finance.

This example from Ethiopia is reminiscent of the Chinese government’s initiative 15 years earlier, when it created four small special economic zones as an experiment in the market economy. These zones benefited from supportive policies that allowed competitive private firms to bypass a host of restrictions and controls, the success of which jump-started China’s wider manufacturing sector. Both initiatives, from China and Ethiopia, illustrate a phenomenon not often discussed: reforms in specific industries and/or locations can create so-called “islands of success” in an otherwise moribund economy.  And with success built upon success, the impact on the general economy can be significant.

This is one of five valuable policy lessons that can be drawn from the East Asian experience in growing light manufacturing, which I discuss in a book recently published by the World Bank. Importantly, none of these policy measures can be initiated and implemented alone by the private sector, hence the need for selective government interventions over and above any economy-wide reforms.

For Africa, the timing of these changes could be critical. Rising labour costs in China mean that China’s comparative advantage in labour-intensive manufacturing will continue to erode, perhaps at an even more rapid rate. These conditions are creating an opening for other low-wage producers if they can learn to compete. Yet these changes have to be done through the establishment of islands of success, one island at a time

*Hinh Dinh, Lead Economist, Operations and Strategy, Office of the Senior Vice-president and Chief Economist, The World Bank (courtesy of the Economist).

Would Higher Salaries For Civil Servants In Developing Countries Serve As Effective Countermeasure To Bureaucratic Corruption?


As a countermeasure, yes; but must be complemented with other relevant policy options, for the simple reason that the motivations for corrupt practices are multifaceted, and reflect the diversity of individual and societal preference functions. Not only do we have anecdotal evidence to support the claim that better pay scales for civil servants conduce to lower levels of corruption, but empirical research also points to this effect, e.g. Rijckeghen /Weder, and Ackerman.

The consensus amongst experts in development economics (Kligaard, Ackerman) is that sustained economic development tends to suppress the incidence of bureaucratic corruption. This implies that as a country becomes economically richer, it acquires the ability to pay its civil servants salaries that are comparable to those in the private sector, and as a consequence the need to seek and accept bribes is minimized. This is the essence of the ‘fair-wage hypothesis’, and is especially relevant to poor countries in the Third World. The primary reason for bribe-seeking amongst low-level public servants in these countries is the inability of governments to pay a ‘living-wage’ to their employees. Take the case of Nigeria.

In the mid 1970s to the present, civil servants in Nigeria have been known to go for months without pay; some lucky enough to retire with benefits have gone without receiving their regular monthly pension payments for up to three years. This is not because the funds to make these payments have not been allocated and disbursed by the federal government, but instead, stems from the inhumane practice by division heads of the various ministries of depositing the funds in special accounts (Certificates of Deposits) in local banks, and when they mature they keep the interest payments for their personal use, and pay the civil servants from the original principal amount deposited. The payoff from this practice is generally in millions of the local currency. Thus, it is not uncommon then for police officers to solicit not only money but also food items from the same motorists they are supposed to regulate. The same observation is equally true for other government officials responsible for crucial social services who would either refuse to go to work during this period or go to work and extort their means of livelihood from members of the public who stood in need of their specialized services. In extreme instances, frustrated police officers would rent out their guns to local gangs who are more than happy to pay the officers much more than their regular pay (when they are paid), and to look the other way as they put their criminal enterprise into full effect.

Now this is the case where civil servants do not get their pay on a regular basis; the consequence on corruption is only a ‘few magnitudes’ removed from instances where, while being paid, the amount is paltry, and several times below comparable job skills in the private sector. In these instances, high pay scales for civil servants would be an efficient way to minimize low-level corrupt activities so rampant in developing countries, and seldom witnessed in advanced economies in the West. Pay reform, however, is not a ‘silver bullet’; other reform mechanisms would have to be implemented either simultaneously or sequentially for the desired effect on corruption to materialize.

The ‘shirking model’ a la Shapiro and Stiglitz supports the theory that higher pay tends to reduce corruption but cautions that in the mix of high bribe levels and low probability of apprehension with marginal punishment schemes, pay reforms for civil servants may not curb the incidence of corruption. Anecdotally, the thrust of this theory is readily observable in African countries; that African heads of states and their ministers now own much of the mansions and apartment buildings in fashionable districts of London, Paris, Miami attests to the fact that while these ministers, state governors and other high ranking officials are well-paid for their public services, they still manage to loot the public treasury.

The Becker-Stigler model of the effects of wages on corruption was applied by Tella and Schargrodsky in their study of the role of wages and auditing in Buenos Aires’ public hospitals. Their study showed that when the intensity of audits is high, wages have no noticeable effects on corruption, but such effect increases (negatively) in the relative absence of heightened scrutiny. Their study thus comports well with the Becker-Stigler hypothesis. Anecdotal evidence from Nigeria in 1975 also lends credence to this theory. Soon after General Murtala Mohammed took power in a coup in 1975, he embarked on a mission of zero tolerance for corruption. But to show his seriousness in this regard, he sold more than fifty rental properties he owned in his home state (Kano)when he was a general in the army. Once done, he ordered all civil servants to be on duty at exactly 8 A.M. every work day, required that salaries be paid promptly on the last day of each month, and retired those 55 years and older. Any civil servant caught taking bribe was subject to immediate dismissal, prosecution, and loss of illegally acquired wealth. The program worked, and was hailed by everyone but the civil servants as a success ---- perceived and actual bribery dropped remarkably (police officers became afraid to ask for or accept bribes when offered), civil servants were in their offices ready to serve at exactly 8 A.M. everyday. But it did not last, for as soon as he was assassinated two years later, civil servants returned to business as usual, and tried to re-coup all they lost in the last two years. So there is strong evidence that the threat of punishment or the implementation of programs that crack down on corrupt practices have real effects on the incidence of corruption. But such programs work only temporarily, for with time, even the program becomes the vehicle for corruption as those charged with its execution become corrupted in the process. As one politician once observed in Nigeria, “If Jesus Christ had lived and preached in Nigeria, he would have been corrupted.”

So it may be concluded from the literature on bureaucratic corruption, and anecdotal evidence that pay reforms that increase compensations for civil servants tend to minimize corrupt practices amongst low level government employees, but such reforms may be ineffective at the upper ranks of civil servants unless when implemented in conjunction with high scrutiny; it may also be ineffective in countries with advanced economies since wages and salaries in the public sector are almost on par with those in the private sector for similar skills.

Judaism and economic performance: Can Africans benefit from the lessons of Jewish exceptionalism in secular existence?

 John O. Ifediora. 

From antiquity to the present, Jews have lived in a wide assortment of societies in which they account for a very insignificant percentage of the population but almost invariably achieve higher educational and professional accomplishments than typically obtains in those societies that afford them minimal autonomy (Goldstein, 2012). Even in societies that are decidedly hostile to them, Jews continue to be better educated, more charitable to one another, and live a more stable family life than their non-Jewish counterparts (Prager and Telushkin, 2003). The singularity of this observation is more obvious in Western democracies; this is especially the case in the United States where American Jews account for approximately 2 percent of the population but hold a third of the Nobel Laureates in the sciences, and evince superior presence in medicine, law, economics, and mathematics by a ratio that is three times their proportion to the general population (Prager and Telushkin, 2003). In psychiatry and dentistry, the ratio is five and four respectively. A National Jewish Population Survey showed that American Jewish males are twice as likely than non-Jewish males to complete a university degree program, and Jewish females are three times more likely to complete a degree program than non-Jewish females (Greely, 1977). The United States Bureau of census consistently shows that Jews have the highest income level than any other group in America (Sowell, 1981). Even Jews that are pecuniarily poor are generally better off than non-Jews similarly situated; on this account economist Thomas Sowell ventured this far:

“…when the Jews lived in slums, they were slums with a difference –lower alcoholism, homicide, accidental death rates than other slums, or even the city as a whole. Their children had lower truancy rates, lower juvenile delinquency rates, and by the 1930s higher IQs than other children…..despite a voluminous literature claiming that slums shape people’s values, the Jews had their own values, and they took those values into and out of the slums.” (Sowell, 1981).

But why this near universal observation? What is it that explains this exceptional performance by a collectivity that accounts for barely 13.5 million of the World’s population of over six Billion?

I posit here that the superlative performance of Jews in secular activities is immediately traceable to the fundamental tenets of Judaism as advanced by the Torah, and Talmudic instructions. Judaism, as practiced for thousands of years, is comprised of four supportive pillars: One God, Torah, Israel, and Chosenness; to the practicing Jew these principal elements and the laws and instructions contained in the Talmud, define his faith and commitment. It is this commitment that helps explain, to a large extent, Jewish exceptionalism in secular activities. In this piece I intend to deconstruct this commitment, and identify a principal component – the requirement to study – as a powerful and explanatory vector of Judaism’s influence on Jewish work ethic and its successful application to secular affairs.

Study of the Torah and learning are essential religious obligations in Judaism; thus amongst adherents of the faith, study is not merely a commandment but a supreme one as evinced by the biblical imperative “you shall teach your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). The Jews, as a matter of commitment, have incorporated the particularities of this injunction into a system of universal education (Talmud Bava Bathra, 21a). In contradistinction to other faiths, no such requirement can be found in Christianity and only until the Protestant Reformation was study required of its clergy (Goldstein, 2012). While the object of study and education under Judaism was the Torah, and proper understanding of God’s requirements, and not as means to professional success, it nonetheless happened to be the case that such acquired habit proved useful and necessary for professional and economic success in contemporary secular existence.

In all human societies, social institutions matter. By social institutions I mean what Bromley (2005) envisaged as the “rules whereby going concerns – families, clans, villages, firms, nation-states – regularize and channel individual action and interaction.’ In this regard, rules of interaction, religious observances, laws, and traditions constitute social institutions that give meaning, and guide individual and collective behavior. It is in this sense that the nature of social institutions adopted by a collectivity is relevant to the social and economic well being of its members. Moses Maimonides, in his code of law sanctioned this rule:

“Every Jew is under an obligation to study Torah, whether he is poor or rich, in sound health or ailing, in the vigor of youth or very old and feeble. Even a man so poor that he is maintained by charity or goes begging from door to door, also a man with a wife and children to support, are under the obligation to set aside a definite period during the day and night for the study of the Torah…..Until what period in life ought one to study Torah? Until the day of one’s death.”(Maimonides, Laws of Torah Study I:I – 10).

This admonition is an essential component of Jewish social institutions, and instrumental to Jewish exceptionalism in matters of professional and economic accomplishments. The important question here is whether such attributes are readily transferable without the trappings of religion? Although to many practicing Jews, Judaism is more than religion – it is a way of life; perhaps so, and just perhaps, such way of life is worth looking into.



Bromley, Daniel, W. “Development reconsidered: The African challenge.” Food Policy, Vol. 20, No.5 (1995): 425-438.

Goldstein, Phyllis. A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism. Brookline, MA: Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation, 2012.

Greely, Andrew. The American Catholic: A Social Portrait. New York: Basic Books, 1977.

Maimonides, Mosses. The laws of Torah Study I:I – 10; cited in Prager, Dennis, and Joseph Telushkin. Why The Jews? New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

Prager, Deninis, and Joseph Telushkin. Why The Jews? New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

Sowell, Thomas. Ethnic America: A history. New York: Basic Books, 1981.

Talmud Bava Bathra, 21a; cited in Prager, Deninis, and Joseph Telushkin. Why The Jews? New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

U.S. Bureau of Census Data; cited in Sowell, Thomas. Ethnic America: A history. New York: Basic Books, 1981.


Adam’s Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost


Reviewed by Jake Okechukwu Effoduh (Assistant Director, CASADE).


King Leopold's Ghost (1998) is a best-selling popular history book by Adam Hochschild that explores the exploitation of the Congo Free State by King Leopold II of Belgium between 1885 and 1908, as well as the atrocities that were committed during that period. The book aims to increase public awareness of crimes committed by European colonial rulers in Africa. It was refused by nine of the ten U.S. publishing houses to which an outline was submitted, but became an unexpected bestseller and won the prestigious Mark Lynton History Prize for literary style. It also won the 1999 Duff Cooper Prize. By 2013, more than 600,000 copies were in print in a dozen languages.

 There is a common Congolese proverb that “Talks that are considered to be important must be made to drag on for so long so as to make even the deaf begin to hear it”. Colonialism is part and parcel of our history and should continually be made reference to in order to appreciate the past, understand the present day and plan towards the future. Adam Hochschild in the book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa retrieved the buried past of European colonialism but unlike other accounts, his work is unaffected by bias.

One man’s quest for riches and glory erased over ten million Africans from the face of the earth. This should bring one to imagine what other colonial masters would have scored in the different regions of Africa during the colonial era - reported or unreported, especially seeing that Leopold had to learn from his other colonial counterparts. This also shows that the concept of majority and superiority do not have to represent itself in numbers but in other means like political power, brutal exploitation, bargaining power, use of force, arms etc.

If Hochschild’s objective for writing the book was to show how profoundly European colonialism has shaped the world we live in, then I would agree that he has successfully achieved his goal because he gave an objective account revealing how colonialism developed Europe and underdeveloped Africa making same irreparable. Hochschild gives an exceptional account of 23 years in the colonial history of suffering and retrogression of the Congo Free State driven by accounts of individuals viz – King Leopold II, Roger Casement and Edmund Morel. Hochschild describes the richness of Africa and its resources before it became disvirgined by colonization under the disguise of humanitarianism by Leopold. The book is detailed and chronological, giving raw history and a human rights account of early African existence and European colonialism. Despite his praiseworthy illumination, the question is: has this changed the world today?

King Leopold II is still celebrated with monuments and effigies standing tall in today’s Belgium. Even after colonialism, Africa is still like it was just like Congo under Leopold - a continent where forced labour and neo-colonialism is guised with the sheepskin of foreign investment and aid; a continent where the western demand for chocolates, diamond, gold, rubber and ivory are still paid for with black blood. With globalization, Europeans may not see Africa as empty anymore or like ‘the place where people turn black in face as a mark of God’s vengeance’ but a perusal of my twitter timeline today shows me some mistaken belief by Europeans about Africans even in this 21st century. Some people believe that Europe is helping Africa “civilize” (even when history shows that civilization started in Egypt, Africa) and a university lecturer in Scotland tweeted that “it seems Africans have hard labour in their DNA” connoting that Africans are used to suffering.

While I praise Hochschild for bringing the truth to the fore, I humbly make three reservations:

First is the impression that slavery in the Congo was not relative to race but mostly to power. Europeans feel the pains of the victims of Hitler and Stalin because they were mostly European but in the case of Congo, Hochschild had to discover it in a footnote. Inasmuch as power was a chief wheel in the vehicle for Leopold quest for world domination and the expansion of his estate, race is key in the killings, mutilations and the ‘sacrifices’ of millions of Africans. Amongst others, it took two black men, George Washington Williams and Williams Sheppard to expose Leopold’s atrocities to the outside world because they understood discrimination and racial inequality first hand.

Second is the use of the Hollywood style of telling us this story: - no matter how evil a person is, he is portrayed in a light that will make people ‘understand’ the reason for his evil. Hochschild gives an account of Leopold’s challenging childhood;, the 17th and 18thcentury style of leadership and royalty at that time and the standard want of subjugating the world - making Leopold’s quest for world domination seem aspiring, even citing instances about his love life and the fact that he didn’t receive the love of his father. These excuses tend to give room for reasoning with Leopold on his countless records of cruel and inhuman treatments.

Third is the insufficient Congolese representation in the story, which Hochschild admitted as a flaw. Therefore, despite the shocking facts and estimated statistics we see in the book, this brings an indication that it may even be worse. In a rape case for example, of what estimation is a testimony from only the accused person? The colonizer?

King Leopold’s Ghost gives an appreciable view of European Colonialism and the state of Africa as it was then and shows the reason why Africa is the way it is today. Congo and my country Nigeria share similarities in their colonial antecedents: Both countries went through European colonialism, both countries lost millions of its indigenes to forced labour, slavery and unwarranted deaths, and both countries won independence in the year 1960 almost in the same manner. These facts cannot be overlooked especially as both states still share similarities in their present socio-political and developmental challenges directly linked to the effect of colonialism. He however stated that it is wrong to blame the problems of today’s Africa solely on colonialism. While that is arguable, there are indeed other factors to consider, but with only very little space left to make such considerations. However, I acknowledge the greatness of Hochschild’s effort - by saving a relevant gamut of African history from being swept under the carpet.

This has definitely shaped the world of today, dividing it into two. In order to help make some amends, we need to find that ‘Ghost’ evidenced to be lurking around in different aspects of human existence and exorcize it.


Conference on Global Warming in Lima a Disappointment

Environmentalists have lampooned the outcomes of the recently-concluded Conference of Parties (COP) Climate Talks in Lima, Peru and described the failure of developed nations to cede ground on contentious issues beneficial to poor countries as a reminder of “missteps” of previous talks. At the United Nations annual confab tagged COP 20 in Lima, 196 nations agreed that each should present a plan in 2015 for individually reducing greenhouse gas pollution. Demands from poorer countries received little attention at the talks, including a proposal that nations like the United States be more explicit on how billions of dollars will be channeled to developing nations to cope with increasing temperatures, storms and rising seas, among other impacts. Foremost global environmental group, Friends of the Earth International and other rights groups fumed that the US and other developed nations have not done enough to avert environmental disasters in the less endowed countries of the world.

In his assessment, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Dr. Godwin Ojo said: “The climate talks turned out to be the relay of previous meetings where the same issues were tabled and yet no concrete concessions made by the polluting nations. It’s a shame that the meeting was driven by behind the scene deals and negotiations which were not transparent.” Ojo explained that the polluting countries that drove the process as was the case in the past talks still rejected issues of adaptation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity building which are key to mitigation of the impacts of their appetite for fossil fuels. “Evidently the talks were built on quick sand with no concrete proposal for Paris COP 21 next year. We have said it time and again that the historical responsibility for the payment of climate debt by developed countries in the provision of finance, technology transfer, and capacity building have been grossly sidestepped and on a wrong footing,” he stated.

He added that, “With the impacts of climate change already being felt in vulnerable communities around the world, the need for immediate action is now, even as the US and other wealthy nations still foot drag on finance to emissions and other critical issues that poor nations have raised.”

Poor countries urged the U.S. and nations in Europe to consider strengthening the targets they’ve already announced for cutting greenhouse gases before and after 2020. They argued that the Lima agreement should require wealthy countries to broaden the scope of their carbon-reduction plans by including measures detailing their financial commitments to helping poor countries and their efforts to assist nations in adapting to the effects of climate change. Instead, the final text “invites” countries to consider including adaptation measures in their plans.

The talks have shown that social movements can instigate processes of change that the climate talks failed to address. The outcome of the COP undermines historical responsibility putting pressure on developing countries without adequate support in financing and technology transfer. The urgent obligation of developed countries to provide climate finance is glaringly missing.

In a related development, there are concerns over rising global coal consumption. Global coal consumption rose three percent from 2012 to 2013, reaching over 3,800 million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe) in 2013. While the pace of growth is down from 7.1 percent in 2010, the continued increase in coal consumption and related carbon emissions is a cause for substantial concern among climate scientists. If this trend continues, attempts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius will likely fail according to Christoph von Friedeburg, a research fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.

Not so bright for the future

Looking at recent developments by region, energy-hungry emerging economies, such as China and India, have been driving the expansion in coal use since the beginning of this century. In contrast, coal consumption in the United States and the European Union (EU) is declining. These countries have been replacing part of their coal consumption with natural gas and renewable energy, although China is taking steps in the same direction. Coal demand in China has almost tripled since 2000, rising from 683.5 mtoe to 1,933.1 mtoe in 2013-more than half of the global figure. To meet coal demand, the nation so far has been relying on its domestic production. But analysts doubt that this is sustainable for another decade or longer. As imported coal has become competitive, China’s imports have outweighed its exports since 2009. To diversify its energy sources, the Chinese government increased its capacity, investments, and exports in renewable energy technology, making the nation a new world leader in renewable energy. Furthermore, China is looking into increased imports and domestic extraction of natural gas, all while reducing the nation´s energy intensity.

In the United States, coal consumption has been in retreat since the start of the domestic shale gas boom. These trends could change in coming years if, as some analysts predict, many of the wells for hydraulic fracturing run dry and natural gas prices rise again, or if substantial exports of liquefied natural gas begin. Coal consumption in the EU has been on a marked downward trend since 1990.This trend is mostly attributable to the EU´s flat overall energy consumption since 1990 and to coal’s falling share in EU primary energy consumption. Policies and financial incentives that raised the share provided by renewables contribute to this shift.

The coal supply is getting “dirtier” as strong demand and lower prices create markets for coal with lower energy content. In 2012, for instance, the average heat content of coal produced in the United States was about 23.4 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg), down from 29.17 MJ/kg in 2005. This means that more and more coal needs to be burned to generate the same amount of heat for a desired electricity output. If coal consumption continues to increase and no meaningful binding multilateral agreements on climate change are made, attempts to combat global climate change will likely fail. One source of hope is that the combination of decreasing energy intensity and declining costs of renewables will cause coal´s share to keep shrinking and stop the global rise in the use of the dirtiest energy source.


An African Success Story: Botswana

Daron Acemoglu2              Simon Johnson3              James A. Robinson4

Abstract: Botswana has had the highest rate of per-capita growth of any country in the world in the last 35 years. This occurred despite many adverse initial conditions including minimal investment during the colonial period, and high inequality. Botswana achieved this rapid development by choosing orthodox economic policies. Although the situation in Botswana is not without serious problems (for example with respect to the incidence of AIDS and the persistence of inequality), how Botswana managed to implement these policies is a puzzle because typically in Africa, “good economics” is bad politics. In this paper we suggest that good policies were chosen in Botswana because good institutions, which we refer to as institutions of private property, were in place. Why did institutions of private property arise in Botswana, but not other African nations? We conjecture that the following factors were important. First, Botswana possessed relatively inclusive pre-colonial institutions, placing constraints on political elites. Second, the effect of British colonialism on Botswana was minimal, and did not destroy these institutions. Third, following independence, maintaining and strengthening institutions of private property were in the economic interests of the elite. Fourth, Botswana is very rich in diamonds, which created enough rents that no group wanted to challenge the status quo at the expense of "rocking the boat". Finally, we emphasize that this situation was reinforced by a number of critical decisions made by the post-independence leaders, particularly Presidents Khama and Masire.

*We are indebted to many people who gave generously of their time and expert knowledge to help us undertake this project. Our greatest debt is to Clark Leith who helped open many doors in Gaborone and who provided many helpful suggestions. We also learned from discussions with Chris Adam, Michael Kevane, René Lemarchand, David Leonard, Steven Lewis Jr., Robert Price. In Gaborone we would like to thank Ken Good, Charles Harvey, Keith Jefferis, Zibani Maundeni, Mpho Molomo, Clara Olson, Neil Parsons, and Thomas Tlou for their patient and expert advice.

2 Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge MA02139, USA. e-mail:

3 Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge MA02139, USA. e-mail:

4 Department of Political Science and Department of Economics, University of California at Berkeley, 210

Barrows Hall, Berkeley CA94720, USA. e-mail:


I.       Introduction

Despite some success stories in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Africa is poor and getting poorer. 1 There is also an almost universal pessimistic consensus about its economic prospects. This consensus emerged at the start of the recent empirical work on the determinants of growth with Barro’s (1991) discovery of a negative “African Dummy” and was summed up by Easterly and Levine’s (1997) title, “Africa’s Growth Tragedy.” Table 1 collects some familiar comparative evidence on Africa’s economic performance. The average

sub-Saharan African country is poorer than the average low-income country and getting poorer. Indeed, the average growth rate has been negative since 1965 and there is approximately a 35-fold difference between the per-capita income level of such a country and the U.S.

Against this background of poor performance, there is one African country that has performed not only well, but also better than any other country in the world in the last 35 years – Botswana. In Table 2 we examine the facts about Botswana in both an African and more general context. Botswana had a PPP-adjusted income per capita of $5,796 in 1998, almost four times the African average, and between 1965 and 1998, it grew at an annual rate of 7.7 percent.

Why has Botswana been so successful? Botswana did not start out with favorable initial conditions at independence. When the British left, there were 12 kilometers of paved road, 22 Batswana who had graduated from University and 100 from secondary school.2 Botswana is a predominantly tropical, landlocked country (which many economists see as a disadvantage, e.g., Bloom and Sachs, 1998). It is true that diamonds have been important for growth in Botswana, and currently account for around 40 percent of the country's output.

Yet, in many other countries, natural resource abundance appears to be a curse rather than a blessing (e.g., Sachs and Warner, 1995). So how did Botswana do it?

There is almost complete agreement that Botswana achieved this spectacular growth performance because it managed to adopt good policies.3 The basic system of law and contract worked reasonably well. State and private predation have been quite limited. Despite the large revenues from diamonds, this has not induced domestic political instability or conflict for control of this resource. The government sustained the minimal public service structure that it inherited from the British and developed it into a meritocratic, relatively non- corrupt and efficient bureaucracy. The parastatal sector has never been large and to the extent it has existed, it has faced hard budget constraints. Although there was a government marketing board, usually an institution employed by the urban interests to exploit farmers (e.g., Bates, 1981), in Botswana the board was not used to extract resources from the rural sector. Moreover, the government invested heavily in infrastructure, education and health.

Fiscal policy has been prudent in the extreme and the exchange rate has remained closely tied to fundamentals.Not everything in Botswana is rosy. Though the statistics are not fully reliable, Botswana has one of the highest adult incidences of AIDS in the world with perhaps 25%- 30% of adults being HIV positive.4 This probably represents, above else, a serious public policy failure. Although growth has been rapid, inequality is remarkably high and has been practically unchanged, and the unemployment rate, especially of migrant workers from rural areas, is very high. Moreover, while Botswana has had freely contested democratic elections since independence, one party has always won and there has never been a credible opposition. There is also evidence that the government has treated minorities such as the San quite ruthlessly and has what some describe as ‘soft authoritarian’ tendencies (for example, Good, 1997). It therefore remains to be seen whether Botswana's institutions will continue to be effective in fostering future economic growth, as well as deal with the unemployment and persistent inequality problems, and most importantly, with the demographic crisis created by the AIDS epidemic. Nevertheless, despite these important caveats, the evidence suggests that there is something distinctly successful about Botswana's economic policy.

In this paper, we argue that Botswana's good economic policies, and therefore its economic success, reflect its institutions, or what we call institutions of private property in Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2001). Such institutions protect the property rights of actual and potential investors, provide political stability, and ensure that the political elites are constrained by the political system and the participation of a broad cross-section of the society.

1 Henceforth “Africa” always refers to Sub-Saharan Africa.

2 There was no university in Botswana at independence and most of those who acquired even a secondary education were the children of chiefs who attended schools for Africans in South Africa such as the famous Fort Hare College where Nelson Mandela also studied.

3 See the comprehensive survey of the evidence in Harvey and Lewis (1990), Good (1992) and Leith (2000), or in the earlier book by Colclough and McCarthy (1980).

4 See, for example, the WHO’s assessment:

The puzzle is why Botswana ended up with such good institutions, especially when compared with other African countries. There is relatively little research on this topic, and a satisfactory answer requires a detailed analysis of Botswana's history and comparison with other African experiences. Although we are not Africanists, we undertake a preliminary attempt at such a study to generate some conjectures about the relative success of Botswana in building institutions of private property.

Our conjecture is that Botswana’s institutions reflect a combination of factors. These include tribal institutions that encouraged broad based participation and constraints on political leaders during the pre-colonial period; only limited effect of British colonization on these pre-colonial institutions because of the peripheral nature of Botswana to the British Empire; the fact that upon independence, the most important rural interests, chiefs and cattle owners, were politically powerful; the income from diamonds, which generated enough rents for the main political actors that it increased the opportunity cost of further rent seeking; and finally, a number of important and farsighted decisions by the post-independence political leaders, in particular Seretse Khama and Quett Masire.

Because many of these factors are difficult to measure, and even more difficult to compare across countries, we are unable to test our conjecture using statistical methods. Nevertheless, both our reading of Botswana's history and our comparison of Botswana with a number of other African countries are consistent with this conjecture.

The paper proceeds as follows. In the next section, we outline what we mean by good institutions, and provide statistical evidence that the relative success of Botswana appears to be related to its institutions. We also undertake a brief analysis of the statistical determinants of these institutions, which reiterates the conclusion that the standard structural features do not account well for why Botswana ended up with relatively good institutions. This motivates our more detailed look at Botswana’s political history. In section III, we provide an outline of Botswana’s political and economic history, showing how the current state emerged out of the experiences of both its pre-colonial past and British colonialism. In the light of this history,  in section IV we provide an analysis of the exceptionality of Botswana. It is difficult to assess this explanation without putting it into a comparative context, and we attempt to do this in Section V, where we compare the hypotheses about Botswana with the experiences of some other African countries. Section VI concludes.

II. Botswana’s Economic Success and Institutions

There is almost complete consensus that Botswana achieved rapid growth because it managed to adopt good policies. The diamonds no doubt helped in the rapid growth. Yet, it is striking that, contrary to other African countries with abundant natural resources such as Angola, Zaire (Congo), Sierra Leone or Nigeria, there were no civil wars or intense  infighting to control the revenues from diamonds in Botswana.

What explains the good economic policies pursued in Botswana? After all, in the rest of Africa, good economics is often bad politics – i.e., good economic policies often do not generate enough rents for politicians, or they make it more likely that the government will be overthrown. In contrast, in Botswana, the government appears to have pursued relatively sound economic policies, and there is little evidence of infighting across different tribes or groups for control of the state apparatus.

Therefore, in Botswana good economics appears to have been good politics. Why? It is useful to first consider a number of explanations that do not appear to explain why good policies were chosen in Botswana.

First, perhaps policies have been better in Botswana because it is more “equal” (e.g.

Alesina and Rodrik, 1994, Persson and Tabellini, 1994, Benabou, 2000)? However, inequality, both of assets (primarily cattle) and income, is extremely high in Botswana, indeed as high as in South Africa and on a par with Latin American countries such as Brazil

and Colombia. Comprehensive data on inequality in Botswana was collected in 1985/86 and 1993/1994 and these suggest a Gini coefficient of 0.56 and 0.54 for the two periods.5

Second, perhaps good economic policies are just a reflection of the fact that government intervention in Botswana was limited (e.g., Krueger, 1993)? Yet in Botswana, there has been massive government intervention in the economy, detailed planning, and central government expenditure is now around 40% of GDP that is well above average for Africa.

II.1.  Institutions

The most plausible cause of the choice of relatively good economic policies therefore appears to be that the underlying institutions in Botswana, both political and economic, are “good”. What do we mean by good institutions? Here we follow our earlier paper, Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2001), and define “good” institutions as corresponding to a social organization which ensures that a broad cross-section of the society have effective property rights.6 We refer to this cluster as institutions of private property. Such institutions contrast with extractive institutions, where the majority of the population faces a high risk of expropriation by the government, the ruling elite or other agents.

Two requirements are implicit in our definition of institutions of private property. First, institutions should provide secure property rights, so that those with productive opportunities expect to receive returns from their investments. The second requirement is embedded in our emphasis on "a broad cross-section of the society" having the opportunity to invest. A society in which a very small fraction of the population, for example a class of landowners, holds all the wealth and political power may not be the ideal environment for investment, even if the property rights of this elite are secure. In such a society, many of the agents with investment opportunities and the entrepreneurial human capital may be those without the effective property rights protection. In particular, the concentration of political and social power in the hands of a small elite implies that the majority of the population does not have secure property rights, and probably risks being held up by the powerful elite.

Institutions of private property, therefore, require effective property rights for a large segment of the society, both against state expropriation and predation by private agents, relative political stability to ensure continuity in these property rights, and effective constraints on rulers and political elites to limit arbitrary and extractive behavior.

5 This inequality of income appears to stem importantly from the severe inequality in the ownership of cattle – see Leith (2000, p. 29-30 Table 7).

II.2.  Institutions and Economic Performance

 Do institutions of private property matter for economic performance? Although it is difficult to map our notions of institutions of private property to empirical measures, in Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2000, 2001), we used two plausible ones: protection against expropriation risk between 1985 and 1995 from Political and Risk Services, which approximates how secure property rights are, and constraints on the executive from Gurr's Polity IV data set, which can be thought of as a proxy for how concentrated power is in the hands of ruling groups. We documented that both of these measures are strongly correlated with economic performance, in particular, with income per capita today.

But such correlation is difficult to interpret. It is quite likely that rich economies choose or can afford better institutions. Economies that are different for a variety of reasons will also differ both in their institutions and in their income per capita. Therefore, to demonstrate that institutions are a first-order determinant of economic performance, we need a source of exogenous variation in institutions.

In Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2000), we exploited differences in the mortality rates faced by European colonialists to estimate the effect of institutions on economic performance. We documented that Europeans adopted very different colonization policies in different colonies, with different associated institutions. The choice of colonization strategy was in turn, at least partly determined by whether Europeans could settle in the colony. In places where Europeans faced high mortality rates, they could not settle and they were more likely to set up extractive institutions. These early institutions have persisted to the present.

Exploiting differences in mortality rates faced by soldiers, bishops and sailors in the colonies as an instrument for current institutions, we estimated large effects of institutions on income per capita. It is especially noteworthy that our estimates imply changes in institutions can close as much as ¾ of the income gap between the nations with the best institutions and worst institutions. Moreover, we found that once we control for the effect of institutions, countries in Africa do not have lower incomes. Therefore, our institutional hypothesis could account both for a large fraction of the income differences across countries and for why most African nations are so poor relative to the rest of the world.

6 Clearly enforcement of property rights may be viewed as yet another policy rather than a measure of underlying institutions. By institutions of private property, we do not simply mean the policy of enforcing property rights, but a set (cluster) of institutions that will support and ensure the enforcement of property rights. Can this institutional hypothesis also explain the success of Botswana? Although we did not have data for settler mortality for Botswana in Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2000), we believe the answer is yes. To show this, note the baseline Instrumental Variables (IV) estimate in that paper implies that LogGDP1995= 1.91+0.94

*Protection Against Expropriation Risk

We can then investigate whether, given this predicted relationship between property rights enforcement and income, Botswana is an outlier. It turns out that the answer is no.

Botswana is rich because it has good institutions. Figure 1 shows a scatter plot of income per capita in 1995 among former European colonies against the protection against expropriation risk measure, with the above empirical relationship plotted as a solid line. Botswana is very close to the predicted relationship, showing that its economic success largely reflects its good institutions (and by extension, this success is not an immediate consequence of its natural resource wealth).

Similarly, the IV estimate of the relationship between income and institutions using the constraints of the executive measure for 1990 is:

LogGDP1995= 5.76+0.56* Constraints on the Executive 1990.

Figure 2 shows this predicted relationship and Botswana's position. Botswana is now not on the regression line, but also not too far from it.

The cross-country evidence is therefore consistent with the idea that Botswana was successful because it has good institutions. But, at some level, this is only a proximate answer to the question of why Botswana is so successful. The underlying, deeper question is why Botswana has such good institutions, especially compared to other countries in Africa?

II.3.  Explaining Botswana’s Institutions

Why does Botswana have such good institutions? In Table 3, we make a first attempt to answer this question by looking at whether standard structural variables could account for why Botswana has good institutions.

Following the hypothesis in Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2000), we look at whether colonial origins, in particular, patterns of European settlements, account for good institutions in Botswana (the comparison group being all countries colonized by European powers).7 We also follow Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2001) and look at the effect of population density. The argument advanced in that paper is that a large population made it profitable for the Europeans to set up extractive institutions, with political power concentrated in the hands of a small elite. High population density, for example, meant a large supply of labor that the Europeans could force to work in mines or plantations, or tax heavily by taking over existing tribute systems. Furthermore, high population density made it less attractive for Europeans to settle and because, as argued above, Europeans were more likely to set up extractive institutions in places they did not settle, high population density also made the development of institutions of private property less likely.

In this table, we also control for potential determinants of institutional differences that other authors have emphasized, including geographic characteristics of Botswana (as implied by the emphasis in Bloom and Sachs, 1998), ethno-linguistic fragmentation (as emphasized by Easterly and Levine, 1997) and an Africa dummy which is often found to be significant in this type of regression.

We use four different measures of institutions: protection against expropriation risk from Political and Risk Services and constraints on the executive in 1990, 1970, and in the first year of independence, from Gurr's Polity IV data set. In all specifications, we report the Botswana dummy. If this dummy is significant, it implies that Botswana is an outlier in this relationship. In different columns, we control for a variety of factors that could, directly or indirectly, influence institutions. In all specifications, the Botswana dummy is economically large, and in most of them it is statistically significant. For example, the coefficient of 4.85 on the Botswana dummy in column 1 of panel A is highly significant, and corresponds to a difference in protection against expropriation risk greater than the difference between the U.S. and Ethiopia or Sierra Leone.

This result implies that aggregate cross-country variables do not adequately explain why Botswana has relatively good institutions. We therefore need a more detailed analysis of the case of Botswana to develop different conjectures or explanations.

7 We cannot look at settler mortality directly since, as we noted above, we do not have data for settler mortality for Botswana.

III.        A Brief Political History of Botswana

Botswana is a landlocked country surrounded to the south by the Republic of South Africa, to the west and north by Namibia, and to the east by Zimbabwe. It borders Zambia at  a single point (Kazungula on the Zambezi river) in the northeast. It comprises 220,000 square miles (570,000 square kilometers) about the size of France, Kenya or Texas. The  environment is mostly arid and 84% of the country is Kalahari sand, supporting thornbush savanna vegetation. 80% of the population lives in a long strip in the east of the country  along the line of rail which links South Africa with Zimbabwe and was originally built by Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC). This is where most of the usable arable land is. About 4% of all the land can be easily cultivated; the bulk of land, including the desert areas, is rangeland only suitable for seasonal grazing (see Parson, 1984, p. 4).

The ancestors of the modern Tswana tribes migrated into the area of modern day Botswana in the eighteenth century from the south-east (modern South Africa) and are closely related to the Basotho of modern day Lesotho (anthropologists refer to Tswana-Sotho language and culture).10 They conquered the indigenous San and other tribes who were basically amalgamated into the Tswana. By 1800 several related Tswana societies were established and over time new ones were created as groups broke away from the existing ones. For instance, the Bangwato resulted from a split in the Bakwena and the Batawana was created as a result of a split in the Bangwato. Several features of Tswana political and economic organization stand out. The chief was the central political figure in these societies with power to allocate land for grazing crops and residences. His authority was exercised through a hierarchy of relatives and officials and ward headmen. A special type of ward was for outsiders who the Tswana amalgamated into their tribal structures. Alongside this hierarchy was a series of public forums. The kgotla was an assembly of adult males in which issues of public interest were discussed. Both wards and the whole society itself had kgotlas. Even though they were supposed to be advisory they seem to have been an effective way for commoners to criticize the king. They also were the venue where the king heard court cases and law was dispensed.

Although one might imagine that these features were characteristic of all pre-colonial African societies, this is not the case. Schapera (1956, p. 64) noted that “the governmental system also provides for consultation between the chief and some form of popular assembly; this feature is far more characteristic of Sotho, and especially Tswana, than any other Bantu.” Earlier, he shows that (p. 43-44) “among the Sotho, and especially Tswana, almost all  matters of public concern are discussed finally at a popular assembly..which ordinary tribesmen are also expected to attend…Tribal assemblies are also known among Nguni and Tsonga…but they are usually held only on great ceremonial occasions. Consequently they  are not nearly as important in the system of government, there is seldom any public discussion of policy.

While land was collectively owned, cattle were privately owned and the chief and aristocracy were large owners. “Herds were divided up among a large number of clients who had the use of the cattle (as well as some of the meat and milk). In return for the use of the cattle, non-cattleowners were expected to provide political support for the officials,” (Parsons, 1984, p. 16-17).

The relatively integrative nature of Tswana institutions and the lack of colonialism seems to account for the current relative homogeneity of Botswana. Scholarly literature tends to emphasize the endogeneity of ethnic identities, and particularly how they were formed by the colonial state. Lonsdale (1981, p. 151) notes, “it is difficult to imagine an aroused ethnicity prior to the state. It is a response to state power, even a condition for its successful exercise, in providing the categories between which men divide in order to rule.” This literature emphasizes not just divide and rule, but also how ethnic groups come into being to exploit the existing structure of institutions and incentives within the colonial period.13 Despite appearances, as the research of Schapera (1952) and Parsons (1999) shows, probably no more than 50% of Batswana are actually real Tswana. Although 85% of the population speak Setswana (the only language taught in public schools along with English), there is rather a large amount of underlying ethnic if not linguistic diversity. The Tswana tribes did traditionally attempt to integrate other groups into their institutional structure (though there were often tributary elements in this) and even after independence, this promotion of homogeneity continued in Botswana. Unlike the Ga or Ewe in Ghana, the San or Kagatla in Botswana do not have a separate historiography and experience of “stateness” but were  rather integrated into Tswana society.

The early nineteenth century was tumultuous for the Tswana tribes. Starting in 1818 and lasting into the 1830’s is the period known as the difaqane where widespread migrations and conflicts occurred as a result of the expansion of the Zulu kingdom under Shaka. The Batswana had to fight to protect their lands, and consolidate their hold on Botswana. As this period of fighting subsided than they began to interact with the spread of colonialism.

Clashes with Afrikaaners began from the 1830’s onwards (the Boer “Great Trek” occurred in 1835) and even before that the effects of the European occupation of South Africa began to be felt. The movement of the Boers into their territory was halted however by the success of the Tswana at the battle of Dimawe in 1852. An interesting feature of these wars is the extent of cooperation between the tribes in the face of a common enemy. Tlou and Campbell (1997,

  1. 170) note “perhaps the most important result of the wars was the uniting of the Batswana against a common This was to lay the foundations for a future Republic of Botswana, in which merafe recognize a common unity.”

Even before these wars and as early as 1805 the Bangwaketse were trading ivory as far as the Orange River in South Africa and European traders ventured into Botswana after 1810. These seem to have been welcomed by the Tswana chiefs who saw trade as a way to acquire important goods, particularly guns. The London Missionary Society (LMS) founded its first mission in Botswana in 181714 and David Livingstone traveled widely there in the 1840’s. Khama III, chief of the Bangwato, converted to Christianity in 1860.

Just as there seems to have been a somewhat unique structure of cooperation within the Tswana states, there was also to be a unique interaction between the states and the British. As early as 1853, long before the ‘scramble for Africa’ started, Sechele chief of the Bakwena, had traveled to Capetown to persuade the British to offer the Batswana protection from the Boers. The British basically ignored such pleas, including those from the LMS on behalf of the Batswana until 1885. Gradually, the views of the British about the importance of Botswana changed. Diamonds were discovered in Kimberly in 1867 and gold on the Witwatersrand in 1884-1885. In 1884 Germany annexed South West Africa (now Nambia), the Berlin Conference that formalized the scramble for Africa took place in 1885 and the British began to look inwards from the Cape Colony towards central Africa. Suddenly Botswana occupied an important strategic position blocking Germany Southwest Africa on one side and the Boer states on the other. Britain declared the creation of a crown colony in British Bechuanaland15 in 1885 and creation of the Bechuanaland Protectorate in 1885.

Both were to be administered from Vryburg and then Mafeking in British Bechuanaland. British Bechuanaland become part of the Cape Colony in 1895 and is now part of Cape Province in the Republic of South Africa and the Bechuanaland Protectorate, now Botswana, was administered from South Africa until the hasty transfer to Gaborone in 1962 in the transition to independence. The Tswana tribes were amalgamated into the British Empire mostly because of the strategic location of their territory, not because the territory was thought to be particularly valuable or attractive in itself. The protectorate served both to contain German and Boer expansionism and guarantee Britain and later Cecil Rhodes’ BSAC – (founded in 1889) a route into the interior. Right from the beginning, the idea was that the protectorate would be relatively quickly amalgamated with South Africa. This seems to have been an important factor that accounts for the failure of the British to impose indirect rule. The Act of Union of 1910 that created South Africa included for the amalgamation of the three British Protectorates---Bechuanaland, Basutholand, which is modern Lesotho, and Swaziland--- into South Africa.

As a result of the way in which Botswana entered the Empire, and because of the putative amalgamation with South Africa, colonialism was very light. In 1885 the high commissioner defined the role of the British government as follows (quoted in Picard, 1987, p. 36):

“We have no interest in the country to the north of the Molope [the Bechuanaland Protectorate], except as a road to the interior; we might therefore confine ourselves for the present to preventing that part of the Protectorate being occupied by either filibusters or foreign powers doing as little in the way of administration or settlement as possible.”

During the colonial period 75% of the expenditures of the administration went on “administrative costs” (Parson, 1984, p. 22). Little was spent for investment or development of any kind.

Almost immediately after the creation of the Protectorate, Rhodes and the BSAC lobbied intensively to take control of it. In 1895 three Tswana chiefs, Khama III of the Bangwato, Batheon of the Bangwaketse, and Sebele of the Bakwena went to Britain to see Queen Victoria and pled with her for Britain and not Rhodes to control the Protectorate (see Parsons, 1998, for a brilliant reconstruction of this visit). They succeeded, helped by the fiasco of the Jameson Raid.17 In the face of external threats, and in contrast to many other pre-colonial African states, the Tswana states again showed an amazing ability to cooperate. Colonialism had important effects on the structure of the economy. In 1899 a hut tax of one pound payable in money was introduced and this was increased by the addition of a three shillings “native tax” in 1919. The effect of this, as in many places in colonial Africa, was to force Africans into the labor market to earn money to pay taxes (see Arrighi, 1973). In the case of the Batswana, the relevant labor market was that of the Witwatersrand.

After neglecting the Protectorate for nearly 50 years, the British policy changed from 1934 onwards and there was a more sustained attempt by the British administration to “once and for all establish its authority over the chiefs in the tribal territories” (Parson, 1984, p. 27). However, these measures were challenged in the courts by two chiefs Tshekedi Khama (of the Bangwato), one of the sons of Khama III acting as regent for the young chief Seretse Khama, and Bathoen (of the Bangwaketse).19 Though they lost the formal case the united opposition of the chiefs and the Second World War essentially blocked the imposition of the new policies.

Following the War, and particularly the rise of National Party in South Africa after 1948, the amalgamation of the Protectorate into South Africa seemed less and less feasible to the British, though it was only formally abandoned as a goal in 1961. In 1948 Seretse  Khama, who had been studying in Britain and married a white Englishwoman Ruth Williams, was banned by the British from returning to the Protectorate to take up his chieftanship.20 The ban was to placate enraged South African reaction to the inter-racial marriage. He remained in exile until 1956 when both he and his uncle, Tshekedi, renounced their claims to the chieftanship. Seretse returned to the Protectorate and began to take an active part in the Joint Advisory Council that the British had formed in 1951 by amalgamating formerly separate European and African councils. In 1960 the British announced the creation of a Legislative Council and at the same time the first political party, the Bechuanaland People’s Party (later the Botswana People’s Party - BPP) was founded.

The BPP adopted a radical anti-colonial stance and took inspiration from the anti- apartheid struggle in South Africa.21 In response to this Seretse Khama and others founded the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (later the Botswana Democratic Party - BDP). While the BPP initially appealed to urban groups and workers, this was a very narrow political base in the early 1960’s. In contrast the BDP integrated within it not only an emerging educated elite of teachers and civil servants, and also the traditional chiefs.22 Seretse Khama bridged this gap, being both the hereditary leader of the largest Tswana state, but also European educated. The particular political strength of the BDP coalition was that they could integrate within the party the traditional rural structures of loyalty between commoners and chiefs. This structure of traditional loyalty was cemented by the continuation of clientelistic practices such as the lending of cattle, the mafisa system noted above (Parson, 1986, p. 85).

As a result, the BDP easily won the first elections held in 1965. As Tables 4 and 5 show, the BDP has won every election ever since and has always maintained a commanding majority in the National Assembly.23 Seretse Khama maintained the Presidency until his death in 1980 after which it fell to Quett Masire, who had been his deputy from 1966 on.

Masire retired in 1998 and was succeeded by Festus Mogae. During this period there is no evidence of electoral fraud.

While the only daily newspaper is government run, there are several weekly papers that freely criticize the government and any instances of mismanagement. Though the BPP was initially the strongest opposition party, by the 1969 election the Botswana National Front (BNF), founded by Kenneth Koma had become the strongest opposition. Their electoral success in 1969, where they won 3 seats in the National Assembly, was primarily due to an unlikely coalition between Koma, a radical, and Batheon, former chief of the Bangwaketse who resigned his chieftancy and ran for the Assembly. In doing so, he defeated Masire in the 1969 election.24 By siding with the BNF Batheon switched the voters in his tribal area to the BNF. His main motivation was to try to build a coalition to restore power to the chiefs (a completely different agenda to that of Koma). This outcome clearly indicates the strength of tribal affiliations.

Even though the BDP has ruled continuously, there is evidence that they have been responsive to the threat of losing power. For instance, before the 1974 election and after the shock of 1969, the Accelerated Rural Development Programme, which involved extensive investment in infrastructure in the rural areas, was launched. The primary aim of this program was to show to its supporters that the BDP was doing its job. It is notable however that even if politically motivated, this redistribution took a basically efficient form. Another example of political responsiveness is that after losing ground in the 1994 election the BDP responded by introducing popular reforms such as reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 and allowing Batswana outside the country to vote (particularly important given the large number still employed in South Africa).

Although the composition of the BDP goes a long way to explain its electoral success, there is a crucial tension between the nature of the party and the political strategy of Seretse Khama in the period leading up to independence.25 In particular, despite being  himself a traditional chief, Khama seems to have been intent on constructing a strong central state that would not be impeded by the powers of traditional rulers. To achieve this, he successfully controlled the constitutional negotiations with the British. The National Assembly that emerged from the constitutional negotiations initially consisted of the speaker, the attorney general (who has no voting rights), thirty-one elected members, and four specially appointed members chosen by the President. Executive power resides with the President who is chosen by the vote in the National Assembly. Assembly constituencies are British style “first-past-the-post” constituencies and candidates must declare which presidential candidate they support during the elections. After 1970 the president no longer had to run for the Assembly.

In addition to the Assembly, the constitutions created a House of Chiefs that consists of the eight chiefs of the eight Tswana tribes, four representatives of other sub-chiefs (from minor ethnic groups), and three members selected by the House of Chiefs. Members of the House of Chiefs cannot sit in the Assembly. Seretse Khama ensured that the House of Chiefs became a talking shop that gave the chiefs no real power over legislation. Once in power the BDP passed legislation that progressively stripped the chiefs of their residual powers, for example over the allocation of lands. Particularly important were the Chieftancy Act of 1965 and the Chieftancy Amendment Act of 1970.26 These essentially gave the President the ability to remove a chief. These steps were crucial in the construction of the state.

One of the most crucial decisions was the passing in 1967 of the Mines and Minerals Act that vested sub-soil mineral rights in the national government. Before this the rights accrued to the tribes. This decision is particularly interesting given that the main diamond mines were under the lands of the Bangwato, of whom Seretse Khama was the chief. It is now likely (Parsons, Henderson and Tlou, 1997, p. 255) that De Beers and Seretse knew of the likelihood of diamonds and their location even before independence.

At independence in 1966, Botswana was a very poor country with few assets and little infrastructure. Though in 1954 an abattoir had been opened in Lobatse, enabling beef to be sold beyond the region for the first time, this was about the only industry in the country. Harvey and Lewis (1999, Chapter 2) survey the dreadful initial conditions. In 1966 there were only two secondary schools in the country that offered full five-year courses and only 80 Batswana in the final year. In contrast, Zambia had 10 times as many secondary school graduates, and Uganda 70 times! The quality of education was uniformly poor with large class sizes and a high failure rate. The lack of education was reflected in the make-up of the civil service with only a quarter of 1,023 civil servants in 1965 being Batswana (Harvey and Lewis, 1990, Table 2.4, p. 21). Given the poor agricultural conditions in the country imports of food were also large (about 10% of GDP in 1965) and most analysts wrote Botswana off as a dependent underdeveloped labor reserve for South Africa. Indeed, it was regarded as little different from the Bantustans such as the Transkei and Bophutatswana which the Apartheid regime were then constructing. In addition, 50% of government expenditures upon independence had to be financed by transfers from Britain. Like Lesotho and Swaziland, Botswana was also part of the South African Customs Union and used the South African Rand as its currency. As Harvey and Lewis (1990, p. 25) put it “it was about as bad a start as could be imagined.”

To solve this problem the BDP adopted several highly successful strategies. First, they renegotiated the Customs Union with South Africa in 1969, securing for themselves a greater share of the revenues. They also encouraged mining companies to explore the country. As a result, copper and nickel deposits were quickly found at Selebi-Phikwe and  coal at Marupule. Most crucially kimberlite diamond pipes containing diamonds of industrial and gem quality were discovered at Orapa and Letlhakane and later at Jwaneng. Moreover, in 1975, once it became clear how productive these mines were the government invoked a clause in the original mining agreement with DeBeers and renegotiated the diamond mining agreement. As a result the government received a 50% share of diamond profits.

From independence the BDP adopted and implemented a consistent series of development plans emphasizing investment in infrastructure, health and education. These plans have been run from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (see Samatar, 1999, Chapter 3). In stark contrast to most other African countries after independence, the BDP resisted all calls to ‘indigenize’ the bureaucracy until suitably qualified Batswana were available. Thus they kept in place expatriate workers and freely used international advisers and consultants. The initial development plan of 1966 conservatively imagined phasing out all expatriate staff by 1991 (Samatar, 1999, p. 64) a target that has not been achieved. As Parson (1984, p. 10) put in, in the Botswanan bureaucracy “probity, relative autonomy and competency have been nurtured and sustained.” This was clearly a conscious choice by the BDP. In his first speech as President Seretse Khama announced that “My Government is deeply conscious of the dangers inherent in localizing the public service too quickly. Precipitate or reckless action in this field could have disastrous effects on the whole programme of services and development of the Government,” quoted in Parsons, Henderson and Tlou (1995, p. 253).

In the absence of any other sector to develop the early development plans focused on the rural sector – basically cattle ranching. Building infrastructure and developing this sector was entirely in the interests of the BDP political elites. Good (1992, p. 73) notes “a rising rural capitalist class ….made a successful transition from political power in pre-colonial societies to the new nation state….such direct engagement in agricultural production is similar to that of the settler political elites in Rhodesia, where government by farmer- politicians was something of a norm. But it is quite unlike the common situation in contemporary Africa.” Samatar (1999, p. 69-70) shows that as many as 2/3 of members of the National Assembly in the early years were “large or medium size cattle owners.”

Immediately upon independence the abattoir at Lobatse was nationalized (the government ultimately built two more, one at Maun and one at Francistown) and the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) was founded (Samatar, 1999 Chapter 4). The BMC is a traditional type of marketing board that is a monopsony purchaser of cattle from ranchers. It sets the prices and sells the beef on regional and world markets. The BMC has been largely controlled by cattle interests and aided the development of the industry. Indeed, the government has heavily subsidized veterinary services, the distribution of vaccines and extension services and built over 5,000 km of cattle fences to maintain the health of the stock. Under the auspices of the Lome convention, the BMC (with the direct intervention of Seretse Khama) also negotiated access to the lucrative EEC market gaining prices far above world levels.

By the mid-1970’s the government budget was in surplus and the diamond income began to accrue. Right from the beginning the income was managed in an intertemporally efficient manner with the rents being allocated to investment in the government budget (Jefferis, 1998, for an excellent discussion of all aspects of the diamond economy). The best evidence of this is in the early 1980’s, when in an attempt to maintain the market price for diamonds Botswana was unable to sell any diamonds for six months. This led to no cuts in expenditure, as the government was able to optimally smooth expenditures relative to income. Botswana diamonds now represent about 1/3 of the diamonds sold by the De Beers cartel and Botswana has benefited enormously from this successful attempt to maintain high diamond prices. While the government stayed within the South African Customs Union, in 1976 they introduced their own currency, the Pula27 (they had previously used the South African Rand) which has been essentially pegged against the Rand.

To stimulate industry, the government introduced in 1970 the Botswana Development Corporation and in 1982 they created the Financial Assistance Policy to subsidize industrial ventures. Though these have not led to large-scale industrialization it is significant that manufacturing has stayed at around 5% of GDP, which is quite an achievement given the dominance of resources in the economy. As Leith (2000, p. 4) notes “the growth of the Botswana economy is not simply a story of a mineral enclave with an ever growing Government, attached to a stagnating traditional economy.”

In general nearly every aspect of Botswana economic performance is spectacular. Inflation has rarely been above 10%, investment has been between 20% and 30% of GDP, and there has been significant investment in human capital. The balance of payments has typically been in surplus and there are large accumulated reserves. The government has not needed the services of the IMF or World Bank. Although diamonds have clearly fueled Botswana’s growth path, these resources rents have been invested rather than squandered.

The Political Economy of Botswana: The Hypotheses

We can draw the following conclusions from the last section: the economic success of Botswana since independence has been due to sound economic policy. While diamonds have played the driving role, the government maximized the benefits from the gems in its negotiations with De Beers and exploited the resource in a socially efficient way by investing the rents. It also ensured that the set of institutional restrictions on different tribes and interest groups made it unattractive for these actors to fight for the control of the resources rents.

Although one can certainly point to instances of corruption in Botswana (Good, 1993), the bureaucracy has been on the whole meritocratic and non-corrupt. Despite the mineral wealth, the exchange rate has not become overvalued, while monetary and fiscal policy has been prudent, and the government invested heavily in public goods, such as infrastructure, health and education.

We now attempt to use the evidence presented so far to build a story that can help to explain Botswana. We see the above discussion of good policies and institutions as outcomes, not causes, and seek the fundamental determinants of these good policies and institutions.

There are a number of (structural) features that appear potentially relevant to understanding its institutional and economic performance:

  1. Botswana is very rich in natural resource
  2. It had unusual pre-colonial political institutions allowing commoners to make suggestions and criticize The institutions therefore enabled an unusual degree of participation in the political process, and placed restrictions on the political power of the elites.
  3. British colonial rule in Botswana was This allowed the pre-colonial institutions to survive to the independence era.
  4. Exploiting the comparative advantage of the nation after 1966 directly increased the incomes of the members of the
  5. The political leadership of the BDP, and particularly of Seretse Khama, inherited the legitimacy of these institutions, and this gave them a broad political


How did these various features of Botswana’s history and political situation affect the design of its institutions? To answer this question, we first have to note that institutions are ultimately the endogenous creation of individuals. Institution building, therefore, has to be analyzed within the context of the interests of the actors and the constraints facing them. In particular, here we emphasize three factors:

  • Economic Interests: Whether a good institutional setup will lead to outcomes that are in interests of the politically powerful For example, institutions that restrict state predation will not be in the interest of a ruler who wants to appropriate assets in the future. Yet this strategy may be in interest of a ruler who recognizes that only such guarantees will encourage citizens to undertake substantial investments, or will protect his own rents. They will also be in the interest of the major groups that can undertake investment in production activities in the future.
  • Political Losers: Whether institutional development will destabilize the system, making it less likely that elites will remain in power after reforms (see Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000). An institutional setup encouraging investment and adoption of new technologies may be blocked by elites when they fear that this process of growth and social change will make it more likely that they will be replaced by other interests--- that they will be "political losers". Elites that are relatively secure in their position will be less afraid of change, and may therefore be less likely to block such Similarly, a stable political system where the elites are not threatened is less likely to encourage inefficient methods of redistribution as a way of maintaining power.
  • Constraints: When institutions limit the powers of rulers and the range of distortionary policies that they can pursue, good policies are more likely to arise (see Acemoglu and Robinson, 1999). Constraints on political elites are also useful through two indirect channels: first, they reduce the political stakes, and contribute to political stability, since, with such constraints in place, it becomes less attractive to fight to take control of the state apparatus; second, these constraints also imply that other groups have less reason to fear expropriation by the elites.

In light of this simple framework, we can discuss how the particular features of the Botswana case might have contributed to the development of institutions of private property in this country. The first point to note is that in the aftermath of independence, well-enforced property rights were, to a large extent, in the interests of Botswana's political elites, making the first factor, economic interests, stack the cards in favor of good institutions. After independence, cattle owners were the most important economic interest group, and they were politically influential. As many scholars have recognized, the close connection between the cattle owners and the BDP has played a key role in Botswana’s development. Harvey and Lewis (1990, p. 9) echo the majority opinion when they argue “Botswana’s government was largely a government of cattlemen.” At independence the only real prospect for a sector of the economy to develop was ranching and this was done successfully by exploiting the EEC market and a great deal of the infrastructure development had the effect of increasing ranching incomes. Moreover, the fact that the elite was invested in the main export sector explains why the marketing board (the BMC) gave the ranchers a good deal and also why the exchange rate was not overvalued, which contrasts with the experiences of many African countries. The political elites were therefore enriched by the developmental policies that were adopted from 1966. They benefited from membership of the Custom Union with South Africa, and they also benefited from the heavy investment in infrastructure throughout the country. Picard (1987, p. 264) argues that “the primary beneficiaries of government policy in the areas of economic and rural development have been the organizational elites, bureaucratic, professional, and political, who dominate the system.”

The economic interest of the elites in development appears to be only part of the story, however. As discussed in more detail in the next section, this is true in a number of other countries in Africa, yet there is only one Botswana. Moreover, by the mid 1970’s the income from diamonds swamped the income from ranching, so one needs to account for why this did not induce the political elite to change its strategy and expropriate the revenues from diamonds. To build a convincing account of Botswana’s development we therefore need to appeal to the other two factors we emphasized.

First, it was important that political elites did not oppose or feel threatened by the process of growth--- they did not fear becoming political losers. The political security of the elites was to some degree an outcome of the relatively developed institutions that Botswana inherited from its pre-colonial period, which ensured some degree of political stability. It was also an outcome of Seretse Khama’s legitimacy as a leader, which resulted both from his position as the hereditary chief of the Bangwato, and from the relatively broad coalition he formed within the BDP, including the tribal chiefs and cattle owners. In this context, the limited impact of colonial rule in Botswana, as compared to the experiences of many other nations in Africa, South America or the Caribbean, may have been quite important yet.

Limited colonial rule allowed the continuity of the pre-colonial institutions, which provided the legitimacy to Sertese Khama and enabled him to form a broad-based coalition. The relative security of elites in Botswana contrasts with the situation in many post-independence African countries where developmental policies appear to undermine the power base of traditional political institutions such as chiefs, destabilizing the power of existing elites.

Second, the underlying structure of institutions may have also been important in restricting the range of options, in particular distortionary policies, available to the political leadership--- that is, political elites faced effective constraints. For example, political institutions such as the kgotla, which ensured a certain degree of accountability of political elites.28 The constraints placed by these institutions may help to explain why, while the cattle owners clearly preferred their own property rights to be enforced, they did not use their political power in order to expropriate the revenue from diamonds starting in the 1970’s.29 The indirect benefits from the presence of these political constraints may have also been quite important: there was no political instability in Botswana, and Sertese Khama could build a relatively effective bureaucracy without the majority of economic groups fearing future expropriation.30 Here again, the limited nature of colonial rule may have been important. Contrary to many other countries in Africa, colonial rule did not strengthen Botswana’s chiefs and did not destroy the kgotla and other related institutions, nor did it introduce indirect rule with substantial power delegated to the political elites representing the British Empire (see for example, Ashton, 1947, and Migdal, 1988).

Finally, it is important to recognize the contribution of diamonds to the consolidation of the institutions of private property in Botswana. Botswana got off onto the right track at independence and by the time the diamonds came on stream, the country had already started to build a relatively democratic polity and efficient institutions. The surge of wealth likely reinforced this. Because of the breadth of the BDP coalition, diamond rents were widely distributed and the extent of this wealth increased the opportunity cost of undermining the good institutional path--- no group wanted to fight to expand its rents at the expense of "rocking the boat".

Our reading of the evidence is that none of these key factors, by itself, appears to explain Botswana’s institutions. So what explains Botswana's success? Our conjecture is that it is not any of these key factors by itself, but the juxtaposition of them that has been important in Botswana. We believe that Botswana was able to adopt good policies and institutions because they were in the interests of the political elites, which included the cattle owners and powerful tribal actors. But it wasn't simply that cattle owners were politically powerful. Instead, they inherited a set of institutional prerequisites that ensured that they would keep their political power by pursuing good policies and placed restrictions on infighting among themselves over political rents.

It is noteworthy that our account de-emphasizes the fact that Botswana is homogeneous from an ethno-linguistic point of view. As we show below, to the extent that this is true, it appears to be more of an outcome of Botswana’s political institutions than an independent cause. Moreover, it is clear that political elites have studiously avoided exacerbating any underlying ethnic tensions in Botswana.

Our hypotheses stress structural factors, which we believe to have been important. But we do not rule out that ‘agency’ may have been significant. Key decisions made by Batswana leaders, particularly Seretse Khama and Quett Masire, appear to have been crucial. Although these individuals operated in a relatively helpful institutional environment, they probably also made a big difference. Seretse Khama’s handling of the independence negotiations and constitutional convention, minerals policy, and generally political issues ensured that political stakes remained low, contributing to political stability and an environment with secure property rights. For example, it appears plausible that had Seretse Khama not transferred the property rights over sub-soil diamonds away from his own tribe the Bangwato to the government, there could have been much greater conflict among tribes over the control of the wealth from diamonds. Or had he not reduced the political powers of tribal chiefs shortly after independence, tribal cleavages may have been more important.

It is also significant that when the BDP’s political power was threatened, for example in the early 1970’s and late 1990’s, their response was to change their policies to make themselves more popular. Contrast this with the response of the Basutoland National Party in Lesotho led by Chief Lebua Jonathan who mounted a coup after losing an election. Although we argue in the next section that one reason for this may have been the greater political stakes and relative lack of constraints in Lesotho, at some level a decision to mount a coup or respond democratically must be taken by individuals. In Botswana, Seretse Khama and subsequent leaders consistently chose to take the democratic path.

V.      A Comparative Perspective

The arguments we have presented in the last section provide a possible explanation for the success of Botswana. They explain why it managed to sustain a political equilibrium of a nature that no other African country could. To check the plausibility of these different arguments it is important to evaluate them in comparison with the experience of other countries. We do this not by estimating regressions but rather by undertaking case studies to help to evaluate the casual connections we have stressed. This is motivated by the fact that many of the factors that appear important in the success of Botswana are hard to measure or understand without a detailed investigation, making a comparative analysis of a few cases more fruitful. Our focus is selective – we concentrate for the most part on comparing Botswana to four other countries; Somalia, Lesotho, Ghana, and the Côte d’Ivoire. We argue that this comparative evidence shows that it is the juxtaposition (or perhaps even the interaction) of these factors we have stressed that is important.

We argued that Botswana had a state that benefited from a pre-colonial institutional inheritance that was not perverted by colonialism. Somalia suggests the importance of Tswana state institutions. Despite being a relatively homogeneous nation, Somalia suffers from its inheritance of highly dysfunctional pre-colonial political institutions.

Lesotho, on the other, hand is culturally identical to Botswana, and had the same pre- colonial institutions. Yet these institutions were affected differently by warfare in the 19th century and colonialism. In particular, the powers of chiefs were strengthened and a single paramount chief emerged with far fewer constraints than in Botswana. This resulted in a greater vested interest in the status quo, higher political stakes and greater political instability.

The evidence from Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire supports our emphasis on the crucial nature of the political coalition integrated into the BDP and institutional constraints on post- independence political power. The fact that the BDP represented the majority of the traditional political elites in Botswana gave them a broad and stable coalition with little to fear from abandoning the status quo and promoting development. Moreover, the relatively limited nature of political power meant that the BDP was not too threatening to potential opponents. This reduced political instability.

In Ghana, Nkrumah and this Convention People’s Party (CPP) both lacked such a coalition and in the absence of institutional limits, posed a threat to other groups. The CPP therefore quickly became locked into an antagonistic relationship with other tribes, particularly the Ashanti and the resulting political instability led to the collapse of democracy and highly inefficient income redistribution. Our reading of this suggests that the lack of economic interest of Nkrumah and the CPP in promoting development (as emphasized by Bates, 1981) was less crucial than this political instability which was exacerbated by the long divisive impact of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism on indigenous political institutions.

In line with this, in the Côte d’Ivoire, post-independence political elites did have strong interests in coffee and cocoa production but, as with the CPP, had a narrow political base. This narrow base of support is likely to have made political elites feel threatened by economic and social change (i.e., they feared becoming "political losers"), and the absence of effective constraints on political elites enabled them to pursue distortionary policies and inefficient redistribution to maintain power. As a result, despite the alignment of the economic interests of the governing elite with development in the Côte d’Ivoire, many distortionary policies were adopted and economic performance has been poor.

We now briefly discuss the experiences of Somalia, Lesotho, Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire in more detail to substantiate these points.


The continuity of institutions from pre-colonial times to independence appears to be important in understanding Botswana’s success. In this context, the comparison with Somalia is interesting. Of all the countries in Africa, Somalia was not just a state, it was a nation.

Clapham (1986, p. 255) states “The dynamic of Somali nationhood differs from…the inherited colonial statism of most of the rest of Africa. Alone among African states, the Somali republic is derived from the sense of self-identity of a single people who possess a common history, culture, religion, and language (but who have never been governed by common political institutions).”

Moreover, British colonial rule had minimal effect on the structure of Somali society. As in Botswana, the motivation for the creation of a British colony in the Horn of Africa was strategic since Somalia commanded the sea-lanes between the Suez Canal and the Red Sea and India and the Far East. Lewis (1980, p. 104-105) notes that nothing happened in the colonial period to the basic political institutions of the clans because the British “administration’s aims were extremely modest, and restricted in fact to little more than the maintenance of effective law and order….[since] there was no pervasive system of indigenous chiefs and consequently no basis for a true system of indirect rule.”

Despite these similarities with Botswana, Somalia has had a dismal economic record, was unable to sustain democratic politics, and suffered a high degree of political instability. An investigation of the nature of post-independence politics in Somalia suggests that the pre-colonial institutions may have contributed to political instability rather than help the creation of institutions of private property. Clapham (1986 p. 273) argues that “these peculiarities [of the Somali case] reside in the structure of a nomadic society, in which shared identities of culture, language, and religion nevertheless coexist with intense factional conflict resulting from the perennial competition over very scarce resources. This dichotomy is symbolized in the Somali national genealogy, which, on the one hand, traces the descent of all Somalis from a common ancestor (Somal) and on the other, divides them into clans that provide a natural base for political factions.”

What explains the difference between Botswana and Somalia? We conjecture that this difference reflects the importance of the form of political institutions that the Tswana tribes developed. These not only integrated disparate ethnic groups, thus creating the homogeneity we observe today, but they also allowed the Tswana to create a political culture of inter-tribe cooperation very different from the Somali experience. In contrast, despite ethnic, cultural  and linguistic homogeneity, the political structure of the Somali clans was therefore highly divisive, and institutions in placing constraints on political elites were absent. This increased the stakes in controlling the state apparatus, and encouraged political elites to fight each  other, forming coalitions along clan lines. In fact, after independence in 1960, and the unification of British Somaliland and (former) Italian Somaliland into the state of Somalia, clan loyalty dominated politics, even after the military takeover in October 1969. Parties formed along clan lines or were subject to complex internal battles along clan lines. Laitin and Samatar conclude that (1987, p.155) “one can scarcely think of a significant domestic or foreign development in Somali politics since independence that was not influenced to a large degree by an underlying clan consideration.”

The Somali example therefore suggests that it is not the limited effect of colonialism itself that promotes the building of good institutions, but the interaction of this limited colonial rule with pre-colonial institutions placing effective constraints on political elites.


Lesotho is a small country, about the size of the state of Maryland, completely surrounded by South Africa. The Sotho are culturally and linguistically very closely related to the Tswana, and Sotho speaking tribes were established in the area of modern Lesotho at the start of the difaqane. 34 As for the Tswana, the 1820s were a period of endless conflict and, most importantly, several of the Sotho tribes united under the chieftainship of Moshoeshoe to protect themselves.35 “By the mid-1830’s… Mosheoshoe’s small and insignificant …. chiefdom had been transformed into a kingdom, the largest and most powerful in the region. His own preeminence was increasingly recognized through the title by which he was commonly addressed: Chief of the Basotho.” Despite Moshoeshoe’s role, the political institutions of the Basotho resembled those of the Tswana right down to the role of the kgotla. Moreover, they adopted similar strategies of incorporating strangers into their tribal structures and attempting to use foreign missionaries to stave off the threat of the approaching Boers.

So why did the political experiences of Botswana and Lesotho diverge? We conjecture that this divergence reflects the effects of a series of war as with the Boers and British colonialism on the political institutions in Lesotho. Both of these experiences contributed to the centralization of political power in the hands of the elites and undermined the institutions, such as the kgotla, placing constraints on political leaders. Relative to Botswana, this increased the value of controlling political power and led to greater political instability.

A brief look at Leostho’s political history explains how this centralization of political power took place. As early as 1841 Moshoeshoe appealed to the British for help against the Boers (Bardill and Cobbe, 1985, p. 12) and in 1843 signed a treaty with Sir George Napier, the governor of the Cape, which recognized a significant proportion of his claim to territory. Unfortunately for the Basotho, the British reneged on their treaty in 1849 and tensions finally increases in real wages of migrant workers in South Africa (classed as resident in Lesotho). The government has done little to aid this. Bardill and Cobbe (1985, p. 150) note “although having identified the broad objectives of development….the government has failed to provide a comprehensive and systematic strategy through which these might be realized,” and (p. 152) “perhaps the worst obstacle to the effective utilization of personnel, however, has been the government’s tendency to subordinate professionalism to political loyalty.” Thus in Lesotho, political competition survived for only 5 years and the country has also experienced severe violence and attempted coups.

Finally, reacting to the Boer expansionism, the British decided to annex Basotho in 1868 under the name of Basutoland. In 1871 the Cape Colony took over direct responsibility for running Basutoland and there followed 13 chaotic years of inconsistent policies and conflict leading to the Gun War of 1880-1881 and the Crown taking direct control in 1884. It appears that this series of wars with the Boers is important in understanding why institutions that gave greater powers to the chiefs in general, and to the paramount chief in particular, emerged in Lesotho, but not in Botswana.

As with Botswana the British invested practically nothing Lesotho. However, the British did make a concerted attempt to foster the power of the paramount chief. To this end they created the Basutoland Council in 1910 which was dominated by the paramount and other chiefs as well as the members appointed by the British. This policy seems to have undercut significantly the role of institutions such as the kgotla, further contributing to divergence in political institutions between Lesotho and Botswana.

This difference in political institutions between the two countries appears to explain why the stakes in politics were higher and there were no effective constraints on political elites in Lesotho. As a result, unlike in Botswana, in the post-independence era, the chiefs had important legislative powers. More importantly, Chief Lebua Jonathan, after narrowly winning the first election with the traditionally based Basutoland National Party (BNP), mounted a coup following his defeat in the 1970 election.

Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire

After independence had been secured from the British the anti-colonial coalition in Ghana crumbled. Chazan and Pellow note (1986. p. 30) “by 1951, with the British agreement in principle to grant independence to the colony, this stage of decolonization gave way to a period of domestic struggles for power on the eve of independence. At this junction, the internal tensions that had been somewhat in check erupted into an open clash over the control of the colonial state.”

Kwame Nkrumah (who was from a minor Akan ethnic group – the Nzima) and his Convention People’s Party (CPP) were left with a very precarious political base. To compensate for this Nkrumah engaged in a “divide and rule” strategy with respect to the Ashanti (whose chiefs were one of his strongest opponents) by attempting to set different factions of commoners against the chiefs. The chiefs and their National Liberation  Movement (NLM) “met the nationalist appeal of the CPP with a rival nationalism of its own, through an impassionate demand for recognition of the traditional unity of the Ashanti nation,” Austin (1964, p. 250).37

This political strategy ensured Nkrumah's power at independence in 1958. After the departure of the British, he moved to suppress the opposition and ultimately to declare a one- party state. Despite the announced objectives of modernization, the need to stabilize political power seems to be the key determinant of economic policies.38 Chazan and Pellar (1986) argue that by 1964 the CPP had “reduced the role of the state to that of a dispenser of patronage. By advocating the construction of a ramified bureaucracy, Nkrumah established a new social stratum directly dependent on the state. By curtailing the freedom of movement of these state functionaries through the diversion of administrative tasks to political ends, the regime contributed directly to undermining their effective performance.” The disastrous economic impact of the CPP’s policies have been well analyzed by Bates (1981).

In contrast to Ghana, the ability of political elites in Botswana to build institutions and to refrain from politically motivated redistribution was important. This ability in turn appears to have stemmed from the fact that the BDP enjoyed a large and stable majority in the National Assembly, so did not fear losing its position as a result of social and economic change, and operated within a set of institutions which constrained the range of distortionary policies the leaders could pursue. This difference in institutions led to less underlying political instability and distortionary policies in Botswana than in Ghana.

The experience of Ghana is interesting because it is the archetype of a state where decisive political elites had little direct interest in export agriculture (Bates, 1981). So it also emphasizes the importance of economic interests. Yet we believe that it is not only economic interests, but also the constraints placed by the institutions that are important. This is illustrated by the experience of the Côte d’Ivoire, where, as in Botswana, political elites were invested in the productive sectors of the economy. Widner (1994, p. 137), for example, argues that in the Côte d’Ivoire “the ability of senior decision makers to capture some of the benefits that flow from improved agricultural performance provides an inducement to them to support pro-farmer policies” (see also Widner, 1993, Boone, 1998, and Lofchie, 1989).

Yet economic interests of the political elites were not sufficient to ensure development in the Côte d’Ivoire. Why? It appears that this was due, as in Ghana, primarily to the precarious positions of political elites who feared that promoting development would mobilize political opposition against them, and functioned in environment without effective constraints on their behavior (see Zolberg, 1966, and Cohen, 1973, on the Côte d’Ivoire, and van der Walle, 1993 for a related argument about the Cameroon).

VI.       Concluding Remarks

The success of Botswana is most plausibly due to its adoption of good policies. These have promoted rapid accumulation, investment and the socially efficient exploitation of resource rents. Consistent with our previous cross-country empirical work (Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, 2000, 2001), these policies resulted from an underlying set of institutions--- institutions of private property--- that encouraged investment and economic development.

We discussed the factors that could account for the distinct institutional equilibrium that emerged in Botswana after 1966. We conjectured that Botswana’s institutions of private property reflect a combination of factors:


  1. Botswana possessed pre-colonial tribal institutions that encouraged broad based participation and placed constraints on political
  2. British colonization only had a limited effect on these pre-colonial institutions because of the peripheral nature of Botswana to the British
  1. Upon independence, the most important rural interests, chiefs and cattle owners, were politically powerful, and it was in their economic interest to enforce property
  2. The revenues from diamonds generated enough rents for the main political actors, increasing the opportunity cost of, and discouraging, further rent seeking
  3. Finally, the post-independence political leaders, in particular Seretse Khama and Quett Masire, took a number of sensible

We suggest Botswana as an optimistic example of what can be done with the appropriate actions towards institutional design, even starting with unfavorable initial economic conditions. Many, if not most, African countries are well endowed with natural resources and mineral wealth. Botswana was able to grow rapidly because it possessed the right institutions and policies in place. Despite being a small, agriculturally marginal, predominantly tropical, landlocked nation, in a very precarious geo-political situation, Botswana experienced rapid development. We think this shows what can be done with the right institutions. In Botswana's case, these institutions emerged in part as a result of a unique juxtaposition of a historical conditions and political factors, which obviously cannot be duplicated. However, to the extent that individual actions have been important, similar institution-building may be helpful in other African nations.

We end with a note of caution. While the economic achievements of Botswana have been impressive, there remain serious problems, particularly with respect to the incidence of AIDS, the persistence of inequality, and high urban unemployment. It remains to be seen if Botswana’s institutions will be strong enough to address these issues and sustain growth.



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Table 1: Comparative Development – Some Facts


GDPper- capita 1998US $ GDPper- capita 1998 PPP $ Avg. Growth rate GDP per-capita 1965-98 %Labor Force in Agri 1990 % Total Pop. Urban 1998 Primary Enroll. Rate 1997 Secondary Enrollment Rate1997 Life Expectancy at Birth 1997
World 4,890 6,300 1.4 49 46 87.6 65.4 66.7
 Sub-Saharan AfricaLow Income  510  520  1,440  2,170  -0.3  3.7  68  68  33  30  56.2  60.4  41.4  31.2  48.9  51.7
CountriesEast Asia and  990  3,280  5.7  68  34  97.8  58.3  70.0
PacificLatin America  3,860  6,340  1.3  25  75  93.3  65.3  69.5
and Caribbean

Source: Columns 1-5 World Development Indicators 2000, Columns 6-8 Human Development

Report 1999, in this case Low Income is the LDCs, East Asia and Pacific is South-East Asia and Pacific.

Table 2: Botswana in Comparative Perspective

GDPper- capita 1998US $ GDPper- capita 1998 PPP $ Avg. growth rate of GDP per- capita 65-98 % Labor Force in Agri.1990 %Total Pop. Urban 1970 %Total Pop. Urban 1998 Prim. Enroll Rate 1997 Second Enroll Rate 1997 Life Expectancy at Birth 1997
Botswana 3,070 5,796 7.7 46 8 49 80 89 47
Zaire 110 733 -3.8 68 30 30 58 37 51
Côte d’Ivoire 700 1,484 -0.8 60 27 45 58 34 47
Ethiopia 100 566 -0.5 86 9 17 35 25 43
Ghana 390 1,735 -0.8 59 29 37 43 - 60
Lesotho 570 2,194 3.1 40 9 26 68 73 56
Zambia 330 678 -2.0 75 30 39 72 42 40
South Korea 8,600 13,286 6.6 18 41 80 99 99 72
Mauritius 3,730 8,236 3.8 17 42 41 96 68 71
Singapore 30,170 25,295 6.4 0 100 100 91 75 77

Source: Columns 1-6 World Development Indicators 2000, Columns 7-9 Human Development

Report 1999.

Table 4. Percent of Popular vote by Party, 1965-1999.

1965 1969 1974 1979 1984 1989 1994 1999
BDP 80.4 68.4 76.6 75.2 67.9 64.7 54.5 54.2
BNF - 13.5 11.5 12.9 20.5 26.9 37.3 24.6
BPP 14.2 12.1 6.6 7.4 6.6 4.5 4.1
BIP/IFP 4.6 6.0 4.8 4.3 3.0 2.4 3.6
OthersBCP in 0.8 0.0 0.5 0.2 2.0 1.5 0.5 11.3

Table 5. Number of National Assembly seats held by each party, 1965-1999.

1965 1969 1974 1979 1984 1989 1994 1999
BDP 28 24 27 29 28 31 31 33
BNF - 3 2 2 5 3 13 6
BPP 3 3 2 1 1 0 0
BIP/IFP 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1
BCP in 1999

Source Molutsi (1998). The National Assembly had 31 seats in 1965 and 1969, 32 in 1974 and 1979,

34 in 1984 and 1989, and 44 in 1994 and 47 in 1999.










President Obasanjo makes his case on Nigerian Security, Politics, and Development

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, in a speech given in Abuja on November 26, 2014, once again reasserts his firm grasp of matters that face Nigerians. We find his incisive presentation compelling and persuasive enough to make a vast portion of it available to our audience. Here is an excerpt of his speech entitled “The Story of My Two Worlds: Challenges, Experiences and Achievements.”


President Olusegun Obasanjo

“Let me start with the issue of security. Boko Haram is not simply a menace based on religion or one directed to frustrate anybody’s political ambition. It is essentially a socio-economic problem that is tainted with religion. It is a gargantuan danger to the nation and to all Nigerians. Initially, President Jonathan’s understanding of Boko Haram phenomenon suffered from wrong reading and wrong imputation. That is what led us to where we are today. It took even the President more than three years to appreciate and understand that it is a terrible mix of poor education or lack of education, misinterpretation of what Islam and the Quran teach and stand for, poverty, unemployment, injustice, drug, gun trafficking, human trafficking, fallout from Libya, revenge, frustration, struggle against inequality, imitation of international terrorism leading to training and part absorption by international terrorist group or groups and general poor governance including corruption. I have always maintained that solution to Boko Haram or any organisation like it lies in application of stick and carrot. We must remember that there is nexus between security and development. Without security, you cannot have development and without development, your security is seriously impaired. Prolonged lack of development is a fertile breeding ground for insecurity.

At this juncture, let me give some telling statistics to underpin part of what I have just said:


  1. Literary level of males is:

South-West: 77%

South East: 66.1%

North East: 18.1%


  1. Literary level of females is:

South-West: 79.9%

South-East: 69.9%

North-East: 15.4%[1]


Infant Mortality

  1. Infant Mortality Rate per 1000 live births is:

South-West: 59

South-East: 95

North-East: 109 (Highest in the country)


  1. About 78% of children born in North-East are from mothers without formal education while the South-West, it is 20.9%


  • Percentage delivered by a skilled provider is:

South-West: 82.5%

South-East: 82.3%

North-East: 19.9%


  1. Percentage delivered in a health facility is:

South-West: 75.6%

South-East: 78.1%

North-East: 19.5%[2]


Maternal Mortality

  1. Maternal mortality as per 100,000 is:

South-West: 165

South-East: 286

North-East: 1549 (The highest maternal mortality rate in the country)[3]

  1. Distribution of health personnel among the zones is:

South-West: 26.9%

South-East: 16.1%

North-East: 9.5% (Least number of health personnel across the country)



  1. Incidences of poverty are:

South-West: 59.1%

South-East: 67.0%

North-East: 76.3% (Highest rate of poverty in the country and only region above the national average of 69.0%)[4]

It is glaring from these figures that there is marked disparity or gaps between the situations in the South-West or South-East and North-East. Those who say that Boko Haram is a menace waiting to happen are evidently correct. Some people have blamed the governments of the zone at the State and Local Government levels for the unacceptable socio-economic situation in the North-East. Of course, they must accept part of the responsibility. But, I would rather say it is a collective responsibility and, collectively, the situation must be addressed and redressed.

The beginning of redressing the situation is education. I appreciated the importance of education in human development, state- and nation-building, national development, employment generation, wealth creation, national unity, security and stability. When I had the opportunity as both military Head of State and elected President, I paid particular attention to education nationally through Universal Primary Education (UPE) as military Head of State, and Universal Basic Education (UBE) as President. In the first case, it was abandoned by the successor regime and in the second case, some States went to the Supreme Court to secure order for the Federal Government not to participate in basic education. It was claimed that constitutionally, it is the preserve of States and Local Governments and some of them did not live up to their responsibility. If we do not collectively invest in primary education, how can we address the situation? The counterpart funding instituted as a legitimate means of intervening by the Federal Government in basic education turned out not to be adequately supervised by the successor regime and became a veritable source of corruption at the State level and between the Federal and the State officials. And yet, the cost of primary education to the States has gone up with the policy of Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) as minimum qualification for teachers in primary schools. With that policy and closure of Teacher Training Colleges not certified for NCE, there is great shortage of primary school teachers in many parts of the country but particularly in the North. This is a situation that cannot be rectified by States and Local Governments alone.

I have never been against application of force in dealing with insecurity situation, but we must understand the genesis, the content and the context of each situation to determine when, where, how and what quantum of force to apply and what amount and type of carrot to feed in. Let me make bold to say that if we continue to apply force alone, since Boko Haram has become an industry within the government circle and within the Boko Haram itself, it may be suppressed for a while but it will not be eliminated. To deal with the menace root, stem and branches requires effective development programme for the zone of incubation and existence of the menace. If not, that zone or any other zone like it will be a fertile breeding ground for a similar menace in future or a rich harvesting ground for recruiting candidates for mischief and perpetration of insecurity internally and externally. Carrot must involve not excluding negotiation at the appropriate time for ceasefire, laying down of arms and peace-making terms and intervention with positive socio-economic measures to deal with apparent root-causes of the conflict and violence. It would appear that this understanding is beginning to be appreciated within the right circles. Better late than never! We must bear in mind that prolonged effect of Boko Haram activities will have a bearing on agricultural and food production in the North-East zone in particular and in the country in general.

Let me conclude this section of my address by repudiating what we are defined as and which we are not. Religion is a very serious issue in this country but we are not eating ourselves on religious ground and nobody should push us to do so. There are socio-economic tensions and fault lines but they are not necessarily meant to erupt like volcanos. Just as no country is guaranteed to be permanently at peace, no country is destined to be permanently in conflict, chaos and violence because of its societal divisions. It is all a matter of how it is managed by governments and the institutions put in place to reduce, placate, address and redress tensions and divisions and the flows from them. Timely intervention in addition to early warning is both cost-effective and life-saving. We must not define ourselves in simple stereotype of Western media and so-called experts, who see us only through religious prisms. Those who do so, whether they are politicians or religious leaders, are the enemies of this country. Boko Haram is a menace and a dangerous one at that, but why must it be emphasized as an Islamic jihadist? Both words are unhelpful in the context of our own situation which requires bi-partisan and collective national understanding of the issues at stake and action to be taken. When they are described in such a way, it heightens the division and tension within our own society. A menace is a menace, a thief is a thief, a terrorist is a terrorist; not a Christian thief or an Islamic thief. Within our society, what is wrong is wrong. Boko Haram is dangerously wrong and we should all stand firmly against it while doing what is right to deal with it. Where there is need for advice, let us offer it; if the need is for correction, let us make it, where there is need for socio-economic intervention, let it be applied; if it is sanction, let it be given unstintingly. My learned Moslem friends tell me that jihad means “struggle, inner struggle”. And I say if that is the true meaning, who then is not a jihadist? I don’t know about you but I am perpetually struggling to achieve one thing or the other. I always have inner struggle to make choices and take decisions. Let us define ourselves as committed Nigerians who have challenges to overcome in our common interest and in the interest of our country. Let us all understand and appreciate the religions we practise and their tenets, roles and place in our lives and relationships. Those who emphasise and politicise religious division cannot be right. God does not create religion to destroy but to build nor to divide but to unite. Anything contrary to the desire of God in religious practice will amount to sin.

Let me deal with another issue that has adverse effect on development and it is what some people in some circles neither want to hear about nor talk about and will take or do anything to defend shamelessly because it is their bread and butter. Here, I am talking of corruption. Whether you call it stealing, dishonesty, fraud, pilfering or corruption, we all know it when we see it no matter whether we are honest enough to admit it and courageous and sincere enough to attempt to prevent and fight it or utterly dishonest and disingenuous to play the ostrich. We all know that corruption is committed when you use public office or official position for private gain. And this is very rife and pervasive in Nigeria today.

Like prostitution, corruption is almost as old as man on the surface of the earth. But in this day and age, where petty corruption is mixed with grand corruption, it can be said that there is no country absolutely devoid of corruption. But there are many countries where corruption is not condoned and it is not a way of life. To successfully fight corruption, it must start from the top. The old saying goes that fish starts to rot from the head. If the head is rotten, there is nothing left of the body.

In our traditional life, there is hospitality and appreciation. These are distinguished, distinct and different from corruption in three significant ways. One, they are neither solicited for nor demanded. Two, they are not covert, they are open and transparent. Three, they are token items and not in terms of huge amount of money or obscenely in kind. With advent of colonial administration, petty corruption set in among low level officials such as native court officials who were employed on full-time and were poorly remunerated. There were such low level officials in all sectors of the administration. But even then, these were exceptions rather than the rule. There were reports of intensely honest, dutiful, non-corruptible officials. For me, then and now, what was bad and still very bad is the connivance of the public, if not encouragement. The Yorubas justify it with the saying that he who works at the altar must eat at the altar.

Grand corruption set in with the advent of politics. The politicians justified it in terms of looking for money to run their political parties. But gradually, it went beyond looking after the interest of the party to looking after personal interest, family interest, clan interest, etc. But even then, it was essentially limited to the executive cadre of governments not the legislature, not the judiciary and not the civil service. I wonder what Justice Akanbi will say about the judiciary today with Salamigate and other sordid revelations in the judiciary in recent years.

The coup that swept aside the politicians brought about the rule of military men with senior civil servants. Corruption must have the giver and the taker. If the takers have changed, the givers have not, and it was not long before the givers polluted the new executives to become takers. No matter what is done to the takers, if the givers remain unchanged, unreformed and unpunished, it is a losing battle.

This realization led to my being one of the initiators of Transparency International (TI) with Peter Eigen, a German former World Bank official, inviting me to join hand with him. We went to places in Africa, Latin America, Europe and the US soliciting for understanding and support of the new organisation. I was appointed the Chairperson of the Advisory Council of the organisation. Some people believed that we were idealistic and non-realists as they took the position that the corruption we stood to fight was the oil of international trade and economic transaction. But we were undaunted and relentless. That was one of the international assignments I had before I was arrested and sent to jail by Abacha.

When I came out of prison and I was persuaded to run as President of Nigeria, corruption was one of the priority items I chose to confront. I got advice and help from TI and the first draft of the first bill to be put before the National Assembly within the first fortnight of my assumption of office as President of Nigeria was prepared. Kanu Agabi, an incorruptible lawyer, who later became a member of my Cabinet, worked on the first draft and the process of seeing the bill through the National Assembly. It took almost eighteen months for the bill to be passed into law. And it came out watered down from what I proposed to the National Assembly. Some members of the National Assembly commented that if they passed the bill as I forwarded it to the Assembly, most of them would end up in jail. If I sent the bill back to straighten its cutting edge, it would be killed completely. I decided to work with what I had. It was no use to have the law without the fearless and scrupulous implementation and application of it. I started to shop round for the right person to help me to head the new organisation called for short ICPC (Independent Commission against Public Corruption). Out of ten people I consulted, seven advised me to go for nobody for the job except retired Justice Mustapha Akanbi. With such clear and overwhelming recommendation, I thought that the way was clear. It was only left for me to invite Justice Akanbi and give the job to him. Then, I met a fresh obstacle. Justice Akanbi would not want to take the job. Not out of fear but because of the plan he had made for himself on retiring from the bench. I used all the power of persuasion at my disposal but the man was adamant. However, I learned a lesson early in my life that good things don’t come to you easily. You have to persist to break the resistance. I put my lesson to work and Justice Akanbi then gave me two conditions which I immediately accepted. One, he would not go beyond one term of five years and two, I would have to grant him time to go to Mecca for prayer and back before taking up the assignment.

It is needless to say that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the combined and complementary efforts of ICPC and EFCC made Nigerians and non-Nigerians to know that corruption can be put in check and put to flight. But because of the deeply entrenched interest of perpetrators in terms of givers and takers, the fight must be pursued relentlessly and sustainably beyond the life of one regime or one administration. If you relent, it comes back with vengeance and like a plague. And the perpetrators will look for anything to discredit the efforts of the fight against corruption. At the height of the fight during my administration, they designed and decided to discredit the efforts by claiming that the exercise was focused against my enemies.   But I have no enemies, rather we have people who did wrong and who must be stopped from doing wrong and be punished for wrong-doing. Such was an Inspector-General of Police, a Minister who was my senior in school and other Ministers including a Minister of Education, Governors within my party including other officials like heads of parastatals and Permanent Secretaries. It even included a Senate President who was a member of my party. I completely disregarded the campaign of calumny and fought on with my supporting field generals like Justice Akanbi, followed by Justice Ayoola in the ICPC and Nuhu Ribadu in the EFCC. It is worth being mentioned here that suggesting that I used these supporting generals to witch-hunt my enemies of which I have none, is to insult them and cast aspersion on their character and integrity. Of course, those who did so are men without character. Our efforts and achievements have gone into history and people can see that the difference is clear. Let me, once again, at this juncture thank you, Justice Akanbi, for being consistent and for being one of the foot-soldiers who raised the hope of Nigerians that this country can get to where and be what God has created it to be if the leadership is right and the will with commitment is there. I pray that God may give us leaders at all levels that time like this demands. I believe in prayer and work or work and prayer if you like, and I will appeal that we should never stop praying and working earnestly, diligently and honestly for Nigeria. We have shown that corruption can be successfully fought, if, therefore, it is not, it is the fault and responsibility of those who should have led the fight and who, consciously or unconsciously, wittingly or unwittingly, become accomplices in the act and consequently promoters of corruption. Today, every aspect of our national life is riven and riddled with corruption – the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the military, the civil service, the media and the private sector. I must hasten to say that there are a few exceptions who stand out and would not succumb. They are unsung heroes. The legislature which shrouded its corruption in the opaque nature of its budget has been encouraged through direct payment of money to the legislature to cover up wrongs done by the executive thereby making the legislature fail in its oversight responsibility. Apart from shrouding the remunerations of the National Assembly in opaqueness and without transparency, they indulge in extorting money from departments, contractors and ministries in two ways, on the so-called oversight responsibility. They do so on visits to their projects and programmes and in the process of budget approval when they build up budgets for departments and ministries for those who agree to give it back to them in contracts that they do not execute. They do similar things in their so-called inquiries. But the executive make it worse when they pay members of the National Assembly hush money not to investigate or to cover up misdeeds of corruption and misconduct. It would appear that for the executive, stealing and corruption don’t really matter. Truth must be told, though it hurts at times but it eventually edifies and uplifts unlike lie and deceit which is dishonest and which eventually brings down and destroys.

Corruption in the National Assembly also includes what they call constituency projects which they give to their agents to execute but invariably, full payment is made with little or no job done. In all these, if the executive is not absolutely above board, the offending members of the National Assembly resort to subtle or open threat, intimidation and blackmail of the executive. When the executive pay the hush money, normally in millions of dollars, all is quiet in form of white-washed report and reports that fail to deal effectively with the issue. All these years, the National Assembly has never singled out offending member except where the executive led such as in the case of Buhari, the first Speaker, and Wabara, the then Senate President. Most of the members of the National Assembly live above the law in their misconduct and corruption. They cannot, in true conscience, oversight anybody or any section of government in these areas. I must say again that there are still honourable and distinguished men and women in the National Assembly who will do nothing to soil their hands.

When the guard is the thief, only God can keep the house safe and secure. But I am optimistic that sooner than later, we will overcome. God will give us guards of integrity and honesty with the fear of God and genuine love of their people and their country. Today, there is no institution of government that is not riven with corruption, not even the military. As people cry out, where then is the salvation?

Let me now touch on a third point which has been of great concern to me in recent years. It is unemployment particularly youth unemployment. People have talked of youth bulge as if it is a problem. Youth bulge, by itself, is not the problem. The problem is what we do or fail to do for and with the youth that is the problem. In Africa, as far as I know of our culture, the prayer and hope of every family is to be blessed with the fruit of the womb. Why should what we pray and hope for be a problem? It is the way we handle it that can turn it to a problem or even worse than a problem, a disaster.

Let us consider some figures that point at the impending danger of the youth hulge for Nigeria and, indeed, for Africa. Out of total Nigerian population of 178.5million[5], 70% are below the age of 30[6] with 54% of the total population accounting for unemployed youth.[7] Of 1.099 billion of African population[8] with 70% below the age of 30[9], 60% of the youth are unemployed[10].

I have no doubt in my mind that youth unemployment, youth dissatisfaction and youth frustration were part of the causes of the so-called Arab Spring from which Libya and Egypt have not yet fully come out and which had caused insecurity and instability in the whole of the Arab world. We must learn the right lessons and put in place programmes that will address youth empowerment and youth employment, youth discontent and youth dissatisfaction, and youth frustration to avoid youth anger and explosion generated therefrom. There is insecurity, impunity and growing inequality that can fuel youth anger and frustration in their state of joblessness and poverty in the midst of apparent plenty.

Is there a way out? I believe there is. Job creation with wealth generation is the way out. I believe that employment has become a human right issue. Everybody is entitled to employment as a means of livelihood. Denial of it or lack of provision may be treated as human right violation. It then becomes imperative that government must consciously embark on policy of massive encouragement of job creation, turning youth bulge to a formidable asset for innovation and creativity with good prospects of reaping a demographic dividend.

It is imperative to take action to provide our young men and women with competence-based, skill-relevant and scientific knowledge education to make them hotly demanded in the job market at home and abroad and to be employment creators thereby taking advantage of opportunities created by globalization, regional integration and national economic transformation. With this achieved, there will be closer partnership between Education and Industry and fill some gap between the products of Education and the requirements of Industry.

Government itself cannot create jobs. If you put two clerks in a government office where you need only one, one will be redundant. What government must do is to provide conducive and favourable environment for massive local and foreign investment in the economy. The capital is there but it will only go to where it is wanted in terms of very favourable conditions including rule of law. For instance, a situation where we ask investors wanting to visit Nigeria to deposit repatriation fees before they are issued visas in our embassies abroad cannot be seen as encouraging foreign investors. And yet, an investor has a choice and if one country does not encourage him, he will go to another that offers more conducive and favourable environment and conditions.

As a matter of policy, all government capital expenditure other than recurrent expenditure on salaries and allowances must give indication of jobs that will be created. The budget must declare the number of jobs to be created by the expenditure and review must indicate clearly and in ways that can be verified in term of how much was achieved. The private sector must be requested, as a policy, to do the same. If the government sincerely and honestly gives the lead, the private sector will follow. Attention must be paid to those sectors that can create jobs fast and in large numbers such as tourism and hospitality, agribusiness, textile, retail and manufacturing especially household goods and domestic appliances.

There are many graduates that are not easily employable. There may be established six to nine month skill-acquisition schools that will be manned by different sectors of the economy to equip such graduates with relevant skills particular to the sector for employability capacity or capability for employability. They will have skills that the market desires and wants.

Our universities and colleges must reexamine their curricula to ensure that more emphasis will be paid to job creators rather than job seekers. Entrepreneurship training must be part of basic and compulsory course in all universities and colleges. There is need to train more teachers to meet the new standard of NCE qualification in primary schools. University graduates can be put through a nine-month concentrated teachers’ training to make them qualified as teachers which will be higher qualification than NCE and basic graduate and they can begin on Level 9 salary scale.

If the issue of youth empowerment and employment is not adequately addressed and redressed, it may come to hunt and consume us. I believe that it is yet not too late to act.

The fourth issue I will briefly like to comment on is the economy. What the public know or see of the economy is not what the economy truly is. For quite some time, the covered and the hushed up corruption has had its toll on the economy. The non-investment and disinvestment in the oil and gas sector by the major international oil companies has added its own deleterious impact. Our continued heavy dependence on one commodity had not adequately prepared us against any shock in that one commodity on the international plane. With the figure of $78 per barrel as benchmark, we will be in a bind if oil price falls to $75 per barrel. I am made to understand that Saudi Arabia used $68 as benchmark for its 2015 budget. Our inadequate protection of almost all local industries with heavy cost of energy has dealt a hard blow on most indigenous industries. The economy is in the doldrums if not in reverse. The often-quoted GDP growth neither reflects on the living condition of most of our people nor on most of the indigenous industries and services where capacity utilization is about 50%. We had not adequately prepared for the rainy days in the management of proceeds from oil and gas resources. And with crude oil purchase by the US from Nigeria going down by some 30% in the last three years as a result of shale revolution, things are not looking up in the oil and gas sector and hence, in the economy. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that the price of oil has not bottomed yet and that the price will continue to go down through the first half of 2015 if not for the whole year. With shale revolution and America’s self-sufficiency in energy and possibly becoming a net exporter as well as with the prediction of IEA, we must re-strategise.

The position may be that, in future, we will have a budget that cannot be funded. We may have to borrow to pay salaries and allowances. Revenue allocation to States and Local Governments has already drastically reduced. Capital projects at all levels of government may have to be drastically cut or stopped. Sooner or later, the naira will have to be drastically devalued without any advantage to our one commodity economy but with horrendous disadvantage to already impoverished Nigerians. We will all sink deeper in poverty except for those who have corruptly stashed money abroad and who will start to bring such illegal and illegitimate funds back home to harvest more naira. All the economic gains of recent years and the rebuild of the middle class may be lost.

The political will, the discipline, the ability to take the hard measures to reverse the trend will appear not to be there at the leadership level, if the understanding is not there. In the end, more businesses will close down, business men and women, entrepreneurs and investors will incur more debts. Foreign investors may temporarily stop investing in a downturn economy. Because of the naira depreciation, workers, particularly in the public sector, will ask for pay increase which may be justified but will sink us deeper in the swamp. The scenario which may sound alarmist is hard to imagine but the signs are there and it would appear that those who should act are dancing slow foxtrot while their trousers are catching fire.

I have taken up four and only four of the pressing issues of our times. They are not by any means exhaustive. For an occasion like this, these four will suffice. But there are two factors that tie these four and others not mentioned here together for solution – Leadership and Management. Without these two factors, not much can be achieved. Leadership and management deficit are the greatest bane of performance by any human institution or organisation. I will put the major qualities of leadership into three concise compartments. They are character, value and the fear of God. Most of the qualities of leadership will be subsumed in character and value. Qualities like being trustworthy, disciplined, a person of his or her word, courageous, honest and full of confidence, integrity and truth are embedded in character. If you are a person of character, you will have all these and more. If we have all these attributes, success will follow. I focus on integrity and Nigerianness and it is for me black and white; my standard does not admit of any shade of grey. How many people are VIPs and yet without character? And qualities of honour, morality, self-respect, human dignity, patriotism, knowledge and transparency are essentially matters of value. Without a sense of value and enduring value for that matter, leadership wallows in valuelessness, inability to impact for good and, indeed, in hopelessness.

The nation is on a moral abyss. It is the responsibility of all, especially the leadership in government by their words and actions, to put the country on a high pedestal of integrity, truth, dignity, and on a high ground of honour and morality. I have always seen success in the service of the nation to involve burning passion for positive, indeed aggressive action at the expense of self. It is then that government can engender trust, confidence and obedience. If truth is sacrificed, trust, integrity, honour and morality become victims and hope gives way to despair. I have been watching with some concern the verbal violence that has been emanating from both sides of the political aisle.   Verbal violence may not physically hurt but it has a way of degenerating into, and encouraging, physical violence. Let me reiterate for emphasis. I believe that we cannot continue to indulge in disdain of truth, elevation of corruption and incompetence, reinforcement of failure, condonation of heinous crimes and celebration of mediocrity, tribal bigotry, fomenting violence and anti-democratic practices in States and National Assembly, poor leadership and characterlessness and expect the grace to continue to abound. Democracy, without peace, development and equity is at best a cripple if not a dying phenomenon. Democracy, therefore, must be like love to be regularly massaged, otherwise it would go stale, tasteless and unappealing. On no account should democracy be allowed to degenerate to self-serving, destabilising and destructive conflict and violence within the nation or, as being rumoured in some circles, to degenerate to working for substitution of non-democracy for democracy. The greatest indictment against any administration is to be the destroyer of our fledgling democracy. To try to crush opposition, even within the same party let alone within the national political system, is to destroy democracy. For democracy to endure, it needs certain dexterity and subtlety to handle differences of opinions and views including those that are hostile. Management of democracy, without resorting to brute force, dictatorial, violent and unilateral tendencies, must be cultivated.

Above all, there must be the fear of God. If you fear God, you will not, as a person let alone as a leader, deliberately do evil, condone evil or excuse evil. You will be a person of sterling character and espouse great values. You will realize that you have to give account, not only here on earth which, of course, you can attempt to cover up, deny, purchase people to bury it or keep them silent but before God, there is no hiding place or cover-up in any way and everything will be brought to judgement. Justice may or may not begin here but it ends in the great beyond. And nobody can evade or avoid the day of judgement.”


[1] .                  Nigeria Education Data Survey 2010

[2] .                  National Demographic and Health Survey (2008)

[3] .                  SOGON Report on Status of Emergency Obstetrics Services in Nigeria 2004

[4] .                  Central Bank of Nigeria and National Bureau of Statistics 2010

[5] .

[6] .  ‑class‑africa‑avoid‑pitfalls

[7] .        ‑nigerian‑youths‑unemployed‑2012/

[8] .        

[9] .        ‑class‑africa‑avoid‑pitfalls

[10].         ‑2013/africa%E2%80%99s‑


‘Why Nations Fail,’ by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

Reviewed by Warren Bass. Bass is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a former adviser to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

“Why Nations Fail” is a sweeping attempt to explain the gut-wrenching poverty that leaves 1.29 billion people in the developing world struggling to live on less than $1.25 a day. You might expect it to be a bleak, numbing read. It’s not. It’s bracing, garrulous, wildly ambitious and ultimately hopeful. It may, in fact, be a bit of a masterpiece.

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, two energetic, widely respected development scholars, start with a bit of perspective: Even in today’s glum economic climate, the average American is seven times as prosperous as the average Mexican, 10 times as prosperous as the average Peruvian, about 20 times as prosperous as the average inhabitant of sub-Saharan Africa and about 40 times as prosperous as the average citizen of such particularly desperate African countries as Mali, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. What explains such stupefying disparities?

The authors’ answer is simple: “institutions, institutions, institutions.” They are impatient with traditional social-science arguments for the persistence of poverty, which variously chalk it up to bad geographic luck, hobbling cultural patterns, or ignorant leaders and technocrats. Instead, “Why Nations Fail” focuses on the historical currents and critical junctures that mold modern polities: the processes of institutional drift that produce political and economic institutions that can be either inclusive — focused on power-sharing, productivity, education, technological advances and the well-being of the nation as a whole; or extractive — bent on grabbing wealth and resources away from one part of society to benefit another.

To understand what extractive institutions look like, consider les Grosses Legumes (the Big Vegetables), the sardonic Congolese nickname for the obscenely pampered clique around Mobutu Sese Seko, the strongman who ruled what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1965 to 1997. When Mobutu decreed that he wanted a palace built for himself at his birthplace, the authors note, he made sure that the airport had a landing strip big enough to accommodate the Concordes he liked to rent from Air France. Mobutu and the Big Vegetables weren’t interested in developing Congo. They were interested in strip-mining it, sucking out its vast mineral wealth for themselves. They were, at best, vampire capitalists.

But the roots of Congo’s nightmarish poverty and strife go back centuries. Before the arrival of European imperialists, what was then known as the Kingdom of Kongo was ruled by the oligarchic forerunners of the Big Vegetables, who drew their staggering wealth from arbitrary taxation and a busy slave trade. And when the European colonists showed up, they made a dreadful situation even worse — especially under the rapacious rule of King Leopold II of Belgium.

When Congo finally won its independence in 1960, it was a feeble, decentralized state burdened with a predatory political class and exploitative economic institutions — too weak to deliver basic services but just strong enough to keep Mobutu and his cronies on top; too poor to provide for its citizenry but just wealthy enough to give elites something to fight over.

Acemoglu and Robinson argue that when you combine rotten regimes, exploitative elites and self-serving institutions with frail, decentralized states, you have something close to a prescription for poverty, conflict and even outright failure. “Nations fail,” the authors write, “when they have extractive economic institutions, supported by extractive political institutions that impede and even block economic growth.”

But even as vicious cycles such as Congo’s can churn out poverty, virtuous cycles can help bend the long arc of history toward growth and prosperity. Contrast the conflict and misery in Congo with Botswana — which, when it won its independence in 1966, had just 22 university graduates, seven miles of paved roads and glowering white-supremacist regimes on most of its borders. But Botswana today has “the highest per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa” — around the level of such success stories as Hungary and Costa Rica.

How did Botswana pull it off? “By quickly developing inclusive economic and political institutions after independence,” the authors write. Botswana holds regular elections, has never had a civil war and enforces property rights. It benefited, the authors argue, from modest centralization of the state and a tradition of limiting the power of tribal chiefs that had survived colonial rule. When diamonds were discovered, a far-sighted law ensured that the newfound riches were shared for the national good, not elite gain. At the critical juncture of independence, wise Botswanan leaders such as its first president, Seretse Khama, and his Botswana Democratic Party chose democracy over dictatorship and the public interest over private greed.

In other words: It’s the politics, stupid. Khama’s Botswana succeeded at building institutions that could produce prosperity. Mobutu’s Congo and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe didn’t even try. Acemoglu and Robinson argue that the protesters in Egypt’s Tahrir Square had it right: They were being held back by a feckless, corrupt state and a society that wouldn’t let them fully use their talents. Egypt was poor “precisely because it has been ruled by a narrow elite that has organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people.”

Such unhappy nations as North Korea, Sierra Leone, Haiti and Somalia have all left authority concentrated in a few grasping hands, which use whatever resources they can grab to tighten their hold on power. The formula is stark: Inclusive governments and institutions mean prosperity, growth and sustained development; extractive governments and institutions mean poverty, privation and stagnation — even over the centuries. The depressing cycle in which one oligarchy often replaces another has meant that “the lands where the Industrial Revolution originally did not spread remain relatively poor.” Nothing succeeds like success, Acemoglu and Robinson argue, and nothing fails like failure.

So what about China, which is increasingly cited as a new model of “authoritarian growth”? The authors are respectful but ultimately unimpressed. They readily admit that extractive regimes can produce temporary economic growth so long as they’re politically centralized — just consider the pre-Brezhnev Soviet Union, whose economic system once had its own Western admirers. But while “Chinese economic institutions are incomparably more inclusive today than three decades ago,”China is still fundamentally saddled with an extractive regime.

In fairly short order, such authoritarian economies start to wheeze: By throttling the incentives for technological progress, creativity and innovation, they choke off sustained, long-term growth and prosperity. (“You cannot force people to think and have good ideas by threatening to shoot them,” the authors note dryly.) Chinese growth, they argue, “is based on the adoption of existing technologies and rapid investment,” not the anxiety-inducing process of creative destruction that produces lasting innovation and growth. By importing foreign technologies and exporting low-end products, China is playing a spirited game of catch-up — but that’s not how races are won.

So how can the United States help the developing world? Certainly not by cutting foreign aid or conditioning it; as the authors note, you’d hardly expect someone like Mobutu to suddenly chuck out the exploitative institutions that underpin his power “just for a little more foreign aid,” and even a bit of relief for the truly desperate, even if inefficiently administered, is a lot better than nothing. But ultimately, instead of trying to cajole leaders opposed to their people’s interests, the authors suggest we’d be better off structuring foreign aid so that it seeks to bring in marginalized and excluded groups and leaders, and empowers broader sections of the population. For Acemoglu and Robinson, it is not enough to simply swap one set of oligarchs for another.

Why Nations Fail” isn’t perfect. The basic taxonomy of inclusive vs. extractive starts to get repetitive. After chapters of brio, the authors seem almost sheepish about the vagueness of their concluding policy advice. And their scope and enthusiasm engender both chuckles of admiration — one fairly representative chapter whizzes from Soviet five-year plans to the Neolithic Revolution and the ancient Mayan city states — and the occasional cluck of caution.

It would take several battalions of regional specialists to double-check their history and analysis, and while the overall picture is detailed and convincing, the authors would have to have a truly superhuman batting average to get every nuance right. Their treatment of the Middle East, for instance, is largely persuasive, but they are a little harsh on the Ottoman Empire, which they basically write off as “highly absolutist” without noting its striking diversity and relatively inclusive sociopolitical arrangements, which often gave minority communities considerably more running room (and space for entrepreneurship) than their European co-religionists.

Acemoglu and Robinson have run the risks of ambition, and cheerfully so. For a book about the dismal science and some dismal plights, “Why Nations Fail” is a surprisingly captivating read. This is, in every sense, a big book. Readers will hope that it makes a big difference.