Nicolas van de Walle.

Reviewed by Gail Gerhar.

This landmark work presents a searching and persuasive political explanation of Africa’s failure to achieve development despite two decades of externally imposed economic reform. First, Van de Walle draws together the growing body of evidence that Africa’s neopatrimonial systems of rule thwart economic progress, and he provides a comparative overview of critiques of structural adjustment reforms. Then, in a devastating analysis of international aid programs, he demonstrates how Western donors and lenders, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have systematically if unwittingly undermined the institutional capacity of African states to manage reform and growth. Nondevelopmental regimes, he argues, have thoroughly mastered the art of bait and switch, swallowing just enough reform medicine to keep aid flowing but not enough to end the “permanent crisis” of underdevelopment. Entrenched patterns persist even in states that have undergone promising democratic regime change. Genuine economic transformation, Van de Walle hypothesizes, ultimately depends on fundamental political changes that must come from within; meanwhile, the present aid regime remains counterproductive. A major contribution to our understanding of Africa’s political economy.