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Why Is Zambia So Poor? (psmag.com)
160 points by timw6n on Sept 15, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 149 comments

>I don’t even have a clear narrative for how my own country went from Deadwood to Real Housewives,

Because Zambia is poor.

To become a strong country, find a number of smaller countries and start killing their populations until they let you extract their resources and ship them back to your country. Eventually, leave the responsibility for killing people to local representatives that you give a bunch of guns and a tiny cut of the resource profits to. If the locals rebel, and look like they will be successful, find the strongest rebel and offer him the same deal. If he refuses, kill him, and go to the next strongest rebel.

Leave $1 in the country for every $100 you take out of it, and since you're leaving it with the elites that you created, they're just going to spend it on imports anyway.

Isn't that what the global south is for?

Which countries did, for example, Singapore invade and start slaughtering?

Or South Korea. I know South Korea was invaded, but cannot remember they started slaughtering people before becoming rich.

A lot of SK's economic growth was the result of supplying goods to the US military post-Korean War. And the US military did plenty of slaughtering, such as in Vietnam. The South Korean military also played a not-insignificant role in that clusterfuck.

My favorite example would be Taiwan.

Kicked out of their home country, yet they thrive.

It's the other way around, I believe. Some of the citizens are exiles from China, but as for Taiwan they declared independence. China wants them back, they don't want to go back into the fold.

At least, that's what I've been told.

It's a lot more complex: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_taiwan#Political_st...

Taiwan has very emphatically not declared independance.

You mean that East India Company trading post? It's an ex-colony that has been run by the same dictatorship since independence.

No, I mean the other Singapore.

Of course I fucking mean the former British empire trading post. Do you have a relevant point to make, or are you just desperate to show that you've heard of foreign countries?

None, they followed the Singapore strategy http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/steve-hanke/doing...

> Leave $1 in the country for every $100 you take out of it

Keep in mind that things don't have an intrinsic price. Copper is worth a lot because it can be used for electrical and electronic machinery. If the Europeans had never even visited Zambia, most of that copper would never have been extracted, and the rest might have been used for pots or daggers (hopefully they would also find tin to make bronze). I'd say that Zambia derives more utility from 0.6% of the revenue of copper sold to the developed world than it would from 100% of the copper used with bronze-age technology.

In other words, it's not a case of taking $100 and leaving $1, but of taking $0.1, turning it into $100, and giving back $1.

> Many of the mining companies pay just 0.6 percent royalties to Zambia, far below the already-meager industry standard of three percent.

Is your comment a justification of this disparity?


+1. If you just replace "smaller" with "less armed", you get the history of most Sub-Saharan African countries in a nutshell. Unfortunately the schools there still teach more history about medieval Europe than post-colonial Africa.

Perhaps it's just my ignorance of Africa, but I was recently amazed to learn Zambia had a thriving 1970's rock music scene known as Zamrock. I was even more amazed that it sounded incredible. I can't say it will help you understand Zambia, but "Strange Dream" by Witch is one of the most haunting songs I've ever heard:


Here's an interview with Emmanuel Jagari Chanda, the leader of Witch, which includes an overview of what else was happening musically in Zambia at the time, as well as some perspective on what's changed since:


I guess this is the core reason

"It’s easy to paint all of the problems in Zambia with this brush, to talk about kleptocrats wringing their privilege for as much income, as many perks, as they can squeeze. But even if Zambia was run by a coalition of charitable technocrats and Mormon philanthropists, that wouldn’t solve the most fundamental problem of all: There simply isn’t that much money to go around. In 2011, Zambia spent a total of $4.3 billion running itself. Stretch that to cover every man, woman, and child, and it amounts to just $325 per person per year. That amount—less than a dollar per person per day—has to cover education, health care, infrastructure, law enforcement, foreign debt … everything."

so.... the reason they are poor is that they don't have a lot of money?

The article itself has a very detailed, non-judgemental account explaining why most of the wealth produced in Zambia ends up in the Swiss bank accounts of foreign mining firms that have little incentive to reinvest it in Zambia.

I think the real reason is simply that corruption by multinationals allows them to get far better deal than they should :

"Many of the mining companies pay just 0.6 percent royalties to Zambia, far below the already-meager industry standard of three percent."

I'm not an expert in economics, so maybe someone with a better understanding can weigh in.

But what I think the writer is trying to say here the economy (value of the total goods produced which is reflected in money circulated) is too small to support the population of zambia.

I would say that is not a very interesting answer. When asking why people are poor, the answer, "because the economy is small," makes about as much sense as, "because they are poor." It doesn't add any information.

Why is the economy small? Answers like, "because they are poor," are forbidden.

But it's true. What do the poor typically lack? Financial buffer to afford to take risks, resources to build business and industry, and savvy to trade and compete with wealthier players on a level playing field. It plays out in persistently poor regions of wealthy countries too.

Perhaps the problem is with the question, not the answer. The Zambian economy has been growing fairly nicely recently, according to Google the GDP growth in 2012 was 7.3%.

A more useful question would be: was the growth of Zambian economy slow historically? If yes, why?

Zambia was a relatively wealthy place in Africa around independence, but the economy relied almost exclusively on copper, which is one of the most volatile commodities around. The pseudo-socialist government led by Kaunda helped unify the country but also drove the economy into the ground by providing massive subsidies all around and failing to create institutions to support long-term growth. The economy declined massively through 70s and 80s. Impending bankruptcy and structural adjustment programmes forced the government to pull back support, and then people protested and rioted to bring down the government and introduce multi-party democracy. The rebuilding process has been continuing (the first democratic handover of power happened a few years ago) and copper prices have been great, led by incredible demand from China.

The politics isn't perfect and economic diversification from mining is still only in it's infancy, but the trends are pointing in the right direction.


Maybe, the small amount of money spend per person indicates that the government doesn't have sufficient money to invest in development of the infrastructure and human resources required for creating a developed economy.

If you look at South Africa's public debt, it is 43.3%[1] of their GDP. In contrast, Zambia's is 20%[2]. Maybe, what Zambia needs is to secure more loans from organizations like World Bank and invest

1 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_South_Africa 2 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Zambia

>Why is the economy small? Answers like, "because they are poor," are forbidden.

Most Western economies grew larger by looting (the crusades, the Americas, Africa, Asia, black slaves, etc). Without this huge boost of stolen or acquired for pennies resources, slave labour, stolen land to build on, etc, they would not have funded their industrial revolutions and their subsequent prosperity.

Zambia, being poor and with little might, had nothing to loot. They got looted themselves, first by third party countries directly and then by their companies (and their pals they placed in power).

More than likely the problem is the same as in other poor African countries, as well as the Caribbean: Corruption.

Corruption saps a country of it's wealth, enabling a small minority to enrich themselves. My wife comes from a country that has never had any sort of war, yet is about on par with most west-African countries who have seen decades of war. When there's systemic corruption, encouraging any sort of investment is impossible, and wealth doesn't stay in the country.

That's why they should NOT try to cover everything. Strategic investments. Infrastructure before law enforcement. Education before health care.

Why are people in America so eager to help out other countries?

We have so many people in need here.

Is it just more glamourous to be Leonardo di Caprio in Africa on an zany adventure than help some poor homeless family on the streets of Tagg Flatts Oklahome?


Ah, you know what's interesting about that list? Most of those places have very high proportions of Native American populations.

So we're looking at a different problem here: helping out the Native Americans. If the Europeans hadn't come over and colonized this continent, America would've been yet another "Africa" - so to speak.

Damn, just noticed that now that you mention it.

America just kinda wants that whole 'Native American holocaust' thing to kinda quietly slip under the rug.

Totally agree. Not to mention that most countries like Zambia have severe structural issues in their government, such as the ones this article outlines.

The easiest thing to do (and the thing most charities do) is give money, but money put into a situation like this just ends up split between the extended family/friends of those in power and/or used for infrastructure that benefits foreign corporations. Beyond money, the answer to the problem becomes really tricky. And if we're going to spend time and resources fixing difficult government infrastructure issues, I would much rather they be those within the US government. It's not like there's a shortage to choose from.

I think that giving money to a gigantic charity like red cross or 'the adorable children with cancer foundation' helps, but I feel as if I'm just giving my money to another gigantic beauracracy and I have no idea what they're doing with it. I never read in the news about the 'Red Cross' building a homeless shelter. For a THREE BILLION dollar charity I feel as if the Red Cross is amazingly quiet...

To be genuine about helping people I think you have to do it yourself at a local level. It takes more time but it's actually geninune and sincere. That's what community is all about.

Simple: The absolute poverty is much worse in Africa than it is here, and the marginal suffering per dollar invested is higher in Africa.

The problems that are here should be discounted, mind you, but we're talking orders of magnitude here.

Yeah but what's the return on those dollars. You help people here they have a future, in third wold countries not so much.

The poverty line in the USA is at 87th percentile of world incomes. What is defined here as "poor" looks a lot like "rich" to Zambians.

Replying. First of all I'm going to toss the idea of 'relative poverty' out there.


Second of all. If the people in Africa are so much poorer, it means that helping people in America is a much better investment because their opportunities to improve their lives and have a future (and help our economy) are so much better.

I seriously think at the end of the day it's a self centeredness that motivates people to go to other countries and help. They essentially want a cool story to tell their friends, not so much a genuine need to help others.

Or maybe you can't even blame the individual. Maybe in America we are so far from even knowing what a 'meaningful' life is, so we see people doing cool things on T.V. and say I'll buy that adventure and it will make my life meaningful.

Wealth can't be created by transfer payments, it can only be grown.

Many countries, like Zambia, are really bad at economic growth. The reasons can be kleptocracy, bad legal systems, but also lack of investments in infrastructure.

This is really the major issue. "Growth" in the sense of "increase in actual production" is going terrific (granted, mostly by virtue of "Copper is practically the new oil - reserves, especially easy to access them" matters). What isn't going so great is the second part of "We should be careful with that and funnel it back into the national economy. Pay to play - the copper and other metals are only there once and we know what they are worth".

You can't really grow forever, but you can still grow and they do. But this is sort of like the early oil rush in the midwest. Oh wow, holy crap, people will give us 25 cents a barrel for crude! And we don't even have to dig it up, they'll even come over and do it! How cool is that?!? Uhh, not that cool when you were sitting on top of oil reserves the size of saudi arabia that are now all but bone dry with some entrepreneurial farmers pumping up a few barrels for a slight short term profit.

The main law that seems to be missing everywhere is "X amount stays here. No really. Invest whatever you want, but a certain part of the gained value is stuck in the local economy and another chunk is paid to locals because OUR HOUSE".

True, but pretty much a tautology.

Zambia has been growing at 6+ % for 6-7 years, raised a massively oversubscribed bond issuance to invest in infrastructure, and a Transparency International corruption perception index score just shy of Italy's.

All of the things you mention are relevant, but things are changing more quickly than you would expect.

Zambia's average IQ is 77. Is it possible that an average IQ of 77 isn't conducive to prosperity?

People reject this for various reasons:

1. They firmly believe IQ doesn't means anything.

2. They realize IQ means something but that it is mostly mutable (Flynn effect, etc).

3. They realize it's not especially mutable, but the tests in poor countries are unreliable.

4. They reject such possibilities because they actually believe their lifetime of propaganda that "All men are created equal" etc, etc, and so don't even give IQ much thought.

5. They don't even raise the question because it's politically or socially uncomfortable. For people in academia or in charities, this could extend to losing employment and gaining pariah status.

6. They realize demographics actually do matter but don't want to consider the fact because:

6a. Same reason as #5.

6b. It's hopeless. No one wants to just walk away from a problem.

6c. Sunk-cost fallacy.

6d. "Helping" people or even discussing "helping" people gives a sense of moral purpose, or even moral superiority. (This is Bill Gates' reason, almost assuredly.) By contrast, saying, "Well, forget Zambia, look at the whole damn world: Black people just sort-of breed poverty," is the exact opposite. To say that in polite company is very offensive.

You'd think for people in academia, addressing socially and politically uncomfortable truths would be their du jour. How can the world fix the problem when it won't even look at possible causes?

I think the above poster is getting something wrong. While no one is going to come out and say "IQ is the cause for poverty", they'll happily say that poor education is and aim to fix it.

By providing good nutrition to the young, and good education the IQ 'problem' mostly takes care of itself.

>You'd think for people in academia, addressing socially and politically uncomfortable truths would be their du jour.

Academia is on the vanguard of suppressing uncomfortable truths, particularly when it comes to human biostatistics.

> By contrast, saying, "Well, forget Zambia, look at the whole damn world: Black people just sort-of breed poverty," is the exact opposite. To say that in polite company is very offensive.

Well, it sure sounds like you're saying it anyway. Do you believe it (the claim in quotes) is true?

It was also the average IQ of our grandparents' generation and that of South Koreans in the 1950s


They all got rich and their (our) IQs went up. The question is why hasn't this happened in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"So Zambia is not failed. It is simply very, very poor. Sixty-four percent of the population lives on less than $1 per day"

And that is the key fact. Many of the comments in this thread are not specific to Zambia. There was a time when Zambia looked like a success story among African countries, as the first national leader after independence seemed more democratically minded and less corrupt than many leaders in Africa. The year Zambia became independent, I have read, it was wealthier than Taiwan--where my wife was living at the time. Zambia was neither unusually poor nor unusually badly governed among countries of the world when it gained independence.

So the key question in looking at international examples of national development is to slog through the process of John Stuart Mill's "method of agreement and difference"[1] and figure out what commonalities help countries develop and prosper, and what commonalities drag down the fortunes of the inhabitants of a country. "Ninety-four percent of the land in Zambia is customary or traditional, no one has a title to it. It’s not just sitting there, people are living on it, farming, grazing animals, it’s just technically under the control of a chief." That jumps out at me as a huge difference between Zambia and many countries that have developed more successfully--clear land title that can be readily transferred for money. Taiwan makes better use of its land, and developed better, I hypothesis, in part because it is clear who owns what land and who has rights in land. (There was land reform for poor peasants, making them landowners, in Taiwan in the 1950s. Then the economic development began there.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mill's_Methods#Joint_method_of...

AFTER EDIT: I posted hurriedly at first, having an appointment to get to. One other point, which generalizes to more parts of Africa and more parts of east Asia, is that for a given level of educational spending, many east Asian countries invested mostly in good-quality primary education for the masses, while many African countries set up a national university available only to an elite minority of the population. (And often enough, the national university graduates from African countries became part of the "brain drain" to other countries.) Raising the skill level of the masses diversifies the economy and makes even countries with very limited natural resources--of which Japan and Taiwan are noteworthy examples--able to develop through trade and transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy and then to a postindustrial economy. Few African countries have pursued a national education policy of broad primary education, those that have are among the African countries that are faring best.

If you want to get a feel for what Africa is really like watch the acclaimed documentary Darwin's Nightmare (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424024/). I've knew a couple who slummed it in Tanzania for a few years and there stories are hard to believe but are more or less in line with this movie.

Democracy is a way to guarantee human rights in a developed or semi-developed country, it's not a way to develop your poor country. Installing democracy in a poor country is like installing Windows 7 on a 486: you gain the benefits of the new system, but you have to live with the accompanied slow speed, caused by the fact that the minimum system requirement is not met.

The reason Zambia is poor is the exact same reason other countries are poor: the people of Zambia don't sell enough products to other economies in order to get richer.

Why don't they do that? it's a matter of culture. They don't open up to the possibilities of the economy around and outside their country.

Not sure, but I heard that the book, "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond addresses this question.

Westerners, and Americans in particular, are very bad at understanding nationalism. This prevents them from understanding the failure of post-colonialism.

Throughout Africa and the Middle East we see countries with straight borders that used to be colonies of Western powers. These powers left and left behind democratic governments. These governments are plagued by the fact that the countries they rule over are not nations.

A country is a political entity - a set of borders enforced by an army. A nation is a psycho-social entity. It is a group that people identify with, normally composed based on ethnic, linguistic, or religious similarity. Nationhood marks an in-group. Americans have an anti-nationalist, universalist ideology, so their brains reject this reality to the detriment of the places their armies occupy.

In most post-colonial countries, there are many different nations within an arbitrary border. Democracy does not work because the citizens don't see themselves as the same people. When a person gets power in the government, of course he turns into a "kleptocrat" instead of working for the common good because he doesn't value the "common good". He values the good of his people.

These post-colonial countries are also prone to civil war. If one ethno-religious group gets the majority over another, the losing group doesn't see the government as legitimate. So there is war and genocide. The post-colonial idealists in the West have done more damage to the world than the colonialists ever did through the proxy of civil war.

Democracy in the Congo led to decades of Civil War and now we even see Bantus eating Pygmies[1] - rape, disfigurement, and even cannibalism have become weapons in a brutal civil war. Likewise, if American troops leave Afghanistan, we will see a recap of the 90's civil war between the northern and southern ethnic groups.

There is no "Afghan" people - there are Pashtun and Tajik and Uzbek[2]. And they were on the tail-end of a civil war before the USA invaded, and now the USA wants them to vote together. What insanity. In an ominous sign, no Pashtun will join the "national" Afghan army. Putting people within the same borders and putting a single army in control over them doesn't magically make them care about each other.

This is leaving behind the absurdity of trying to impose Western norms on an African continent lacking thousands of years of western history with literature, law, and democracy. You don't get to Tom Paine without Cato - and there was a 1700 year process connecting the two. Western thinking about the rest of the world is full of unicorns and pixie dust.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/09/congo.jamesasti...

[2] http://origins.osu.edu/sites/default/files/2-12-map586.jpg

I lived in Zambia for a year around 2005, and my impression was that this 'nation-building' is one thing that Kaunda did really quite well. There is a strong sense of identity of being Zambian in parallel to the tribal identity. One way of achieving this was stationing secondary school students(almost all secondary schools are boarding schools) and young public employees (and in 70s quasi-socialist Zambia almost everyone with a job was a public employee) in regions other that their original tribal region. As a result, very many people married into different tribes, and very many people now have several tribal identites, which as a result aren't very strong.

Also they are indoctrinated that 'tribalism' is a bad thing, and they learn a lot about Bismarck in school. There is also a bantu language that isn't really associated with one of the major tribes but is a kind of lingua franca beside english in the urban centres.

Seems similar to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brotherhood_and_unity, of course that didn't end too well.

Why Bismarck?

Because http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_von_Bismarck unified Germany (I guess).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qin%27s_wars_of_unification of China was more significant, I think, but via war.

Counterexample: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balkanization

Yes I believe that is the reason. Not a perfect analogy but I guess the point is that a nation can be united from what used to be a collection of fiefdoms.

I guess Italy would be a better comparison, because that didn't used to be a nation. Germany was united by culture and language for a while. (Only 1 in 40 people spoke what later became standard Italian upon unification.)

But I guess Germany is the more aspiring role model.

Yes, I know about Bismarck. I was curious about the background behind choosing him.

The issue of diversity is overblown. The most failed state in Africa is the most homegenous one: Somalia. But then again, Botswana is very homogenous and does pretty well.

Rwanda, Lesotho, Burundi and Swaziland are countries that actually fit precolonial states. You got civil wars and coups and a crazy monarch out of this but also some nice stories later.


The part that should be discussed more often is neither democracy nor nation part of the nation-state but the state part.

Post colonialism failed because it is colonialism with different rulers and may be more confusion.

The needs for a state, an army, a capitol and a bureaucracy was taken for granted and never actually discussed. So is the role of the traditional chiefs (in some places they're on goverment payroll).

At the same time, expectations have always been high for what the government is supposed to provide. Places that never had an industrial revolution are trying to somehow do it with generous pension funds and environmental rules. That's way more nuts than the idea of having elections or whatever people think about when they say democracy.

Rwanda, Lesotho, Burundi and Swaziland are also four of the five smallest countries in Africa (excluding the little island nations). It's a whole lot easier to get 30,000 km^2 to agree (Burundi) than 75,000,000 km^2 (DR Congo).

Daron Acemoğlu explains the difference between Somalia and Botswana in his book "Why Nations Fail".

Differences in traditional institutions ?

While it makes sense NOW, nobody would have had predicted that outcome in 1964. And those institutions dont exist in a vacum either.

The importance of clanic indentity has increased in Somalia because of the civil war and the statelessness.

So please, enlighten us, what should we be telling poor nations in Africa or the Middle East to be striving towards, if not economic growth, democracy and respect for human rights?

It also may appear to some, that those people lacking a 5000 year old written history seem to be increasingly intolerant towards dictators...

My favourite of lighbulb jokes goes like this:

  -How many shrinks does it take to change a lightbulb?
  -One. But the lightbulb must want to be changed.
That's the problem with most of efforts to imporve the world—people get told, or pushed, or forced to accept the change they do not understand. I doubt anyone argues that the change is needed, but I am not sure that active involvment does much good. I am also not sure what the right path would be. Show by example? Don't "accept at the table" until the are "mature enough to behave"?

Culture is fractal. For the first division, Northern Africa and subsaharan Africa are very different entities with very different histories. Northern Africa has been part of the great Roman and Muslim empires and has long traditions of law, trade, and government on a large scale. This does not mean it is necessarily western or compatible with westernism. But the first step to wisdom is to recognize the quality of the clay we work with (perhaps the second step is to leave the goddamn clay alone).

If the Western powers wanted to make a difference in many of these countries, they could try to broker deals to decentralize the governments and give ethnic regions large amounts of autonomy, much like the Americans have done for the Kurds in Iraq. Afghanistan should be at least two states, not one, and Americans might have to recognize that the Taliban is the popular representative of the national will of the Pashtun people in the south. The problem with SS Africa vs. the Middle East is that the African countries, having no history of large-scale states before the Europeans came, have so many national divisions that it becomes impractical. So I don't have answers to everything. Perhaps city-states?

I would note that the popular revolutions in North Africa don't appear to be doing so good by the welfare of the people. I enjoyed this article in the Telegraph - "The Arab Spring has failed because constitutional democracy needs nation-states"[1]

> "what should we be telling poor nations in Africa or the Middle East to be striving towards, if not economic growth, democracy and respect for human rights?"

Yes you are a good American that believes in the American ideals. So much destruction is done trying to impose them on others, though. At some point we need to make peace with the fact that not every country can become an America within a decade. And what happens when the people we are trying to bring to the American way of life don't want to be American?

[1] http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100232225/her...

What shines through is that you believe in segregating ethnicities because they just can't live peacefully together.

Which is bullshit, looking at almost any country that is not currently embroiled in a civil war. Many of them combine tons of ethnicities... USA, Canada, Australia, India, even countries like Germany just aren't that "ethnically pure" as they are sometimes stylized...

>What shines through is that you believe in segregating ethnicities because they just can't live peacefully together.

And what also shines through, is that from an ivory tower of ignorance some people advocate forcing people to "live peacefully together" through their social engineering, enforced borders and when that doesn't work violence.

Because, those outsiders know what is proper for those "savages" that "can't live peacefully together" better than they do themselves, right?

>Which is bullshit, looking at almost any country that is not currently embroiled in a civil war. Many of them combine tons of ethnicities... USA, Canada, Australia, India, even countries like Germany just aren't that "ethnically pure" as they are sometimes stylized...

USA decimated and confined the natives into "reservations", then had the blacks as slaves or second rate citizens up until the sixties. Oh, and they had a big nasty civil war, because two groups had different views on such issues. Blacks still have a huge over-representation in prison sentenses and poverty and still live pretty much seggregated. As for the rest: Australia killed the natives and closed them in concentration camps and has had rampant racism against non-anglosaxon immigrants. In Canada there is the francophone and anglophone divide and tension, which is even worse for Belgium and it's two national cultures. The same goes for Catalonia and Basque country in Spain. USSR and Yugoslavia, examples of getting "different nations to live peacefully" all blew up in consisting nations after 1989, with civil wars and tension. Same for Chechoslovakia. Heck, even Italy has tension between the North and South parts.

As for Germany, it might not be ethnically pure, but it's not all fun and games either. Germans are still quite racist with immigrants, even those that live there for many decades (tons of hate crimes, neo-nazi groups, casual racism and such). Oh, and they have eliminated some million jews back in the 40s.

But it's putting up India as an example that really shows up the total lack of understanding of the issues and a bad command of history. India, if anything is the perfect counter-example: national, ethnic and religious tensions there broke the country into Bagladesh and Pakistan, and they still ran rampant in each of the new countries between sub-groups.

I agree with some of what you're saying but some parts seem to contradict with others.

On the one hand, you say 'Americans have an anti-nationalist, universalist ideology, so their brains reject this reality to the detriment of the places their armies occupy' (an opinion) and on the other hand 'USA decimated and confined the natives into "reservations", then had the blacks as slaves or second rate citizens up until the sixties' (a fact). How do you reconcile these two?

Apart from that, you have the "buy American" movement, and you have this situation where US Americans identify themselves with (often fictitious) ethnic identities: Irish American, Italian American, African American, etc. Why call them "fictitious"? People say Barack Obama is African American!

> Germans are still quite racist with immigrants

Though I have come across cases where Arab immigrants were given nasty stares by old people when they moved to villages, I'd say that Germany is not at all racist with immigrants. I have many colleagues who have Slavic-sounding surnames, whose parents moved to Germany before my colleagues were born. Socially, they're treated as proper Germans. After WW2, Germans were largely disillusioned by nationalism, and now look upon it with disdain. Now, Spaniards and Greeks are moving into Germany by the thousands. Have you come across news reports of any ethnic clashes? It's all fun and games. The Neo-Nazis are a problem, but they are a small minority. When they break the law, they are dealt with properly.

> India, if anything is the perfect counter-example: national ... still ran rampant in each of the new countries between sub-groups.

India has a law and order problem. The constitution was written by a man who probably understood human rights, but this concept has not sunk into the heads of either the masses or the well-educated. There are separatist movements in Kashmir, and the Northeast, and there was one in Punjab. If you think the people in the rest of India have doubts about the integrity of the concept of India, you're dead wrong. Yes, I include SIMI sympathizers too.

As an American, I can tell you for a fact Americans are not very nationalistic.

At the same time, America did used to enslave people and confine the natives.

But those were two different time periods... Then and now, so they don't contradict.

I agree with Ma8ee. In North-western Europe, flags mostly come out for whatever sports the people are interested in.

As for USA, "buy american" movements come up every once in a while. Apple and Motorola's new ads display "Made in USA" as if it's a feature. "Freedom fries", happened recently, though it seems to be dead now. You have Fox News that's always clamouring about American this or American that. I don't believe that Fox News represents general American beliefs (though I don't rule it out), but the chunk of Americans that Fox News represents is too huge to sweep under the rug.

One thing that hit me when I moved to the US was the amount of _huge_ American flags everywhere. Outside buildings and on cars and on pins. That is a bit surprising for a not particularly nationalistic nation.

the guy is called bayesianhorse. you shouldn't waste so much breath on him.

It's easier to live peacefully with people who are different than you when you are all relatively prosperous. Look at the rioting in France a couple years ago, or the rise of far-right politicians in many European countries that have become more ethnically diverse in recent decades. Additionally, race and ethnicity are still strong factors in the US. People don't kill one another as often in wealthy countries because the rule of law is stronger and there is more to lose, but the divisions exist.

Regarding India, my understanding is that Indian states have a great deal of autonomy, but I'm certainly no expert.

> Regarding India, my understanding is that Indian states have a great deal of autonomy, but I'm certainly no expert.

So by and large Indian states have lesser autonomy than US states. Central govt. controls large chunk of Income Tax and redistributes it. Unlike US, State govts can't enact their own laws and all of India is ruled by one law.

"Unlike US, State govts can't enact their own laws and all of India is ruled by one law"

Mmmm... what? States may have less powers in India than in the US but they do have their own legislature and do have their own legal system. Here's an example (state of Maharashtra):


India's bureaucracy is dysfunctional for many of the many of the same reasons as the author mentioned. Everybody wants part of the pie so the bureaucratic overlap is total.

The issue of ethnicity will still rear its ugly head from time to time. Take Mali as the latest example. The Tuareg rebellion didn't come from nowhere.

The US went through some real nasty war to live together. Regarding India, check out Pakistan. Australia has some really dark history. For Germany, check out the holocaust.

Holocaust? That almost sounds as if it was the jews' fault for living in a country where they weren't the ethnic majority. Otherwise "ethnic tensions" had nothing to do with it. The tension if at all was pretty one-sided, and the genocide on this scale and sophistication can't easily be compared to multi-ethnic nation-states.

Segregation makes problems worse, not better.

I am just pointing out your great examples of ethnic harmony went through some terrible stuff. To discount the effect of ethnic tension in the holocaust is disingenuous. Antisemitism is largely ethnic based hatred.

My point is simply the issue ethnicity is a complex one. There are societies where largely mono culture works quite well and it is not a deficiency. My country, Indonesia, is pretty diverse (300 ethnics plus) but it had to go to some fire as well to get some resemblance of harmony.

Well to be honest I think that the jury is still kind of out in that regard, at least somewhat. I mean in the case of 3 of the countries that you listed, Canada, the US, and Australia, are still very much majority European descent white. And even with this majority you can still see what happens when other ethnic groups become large enough. In Canada, the francophone minority has repeatedly tried to separate and form their own nation, and in the 70s created disruption to such a degree that the government declared essentially martial law in the province of Quebec. In the US the treatment of the African-American ethnic group has been terrible to say the least. And we'll see what happens as the latino ethnic group continues to increase in size, there is already some reactionism in the form of laws passed in Arizona, etc. The fourth nation you listed, India, had to separate into two separate nations that have been repeatedly on the brink of war on basis of religious groups!

So I think it is easy to say that western nations have been able to work and experience peace, but in most cases there is either one ethnic group that is a clear majority and all other groups bend to its will, or there actually is a bunch of friction and conflict when those minorities become sizable enough. Obviously not to the point of civil war, but I don't think we can say that things are just "working" elsewhere.

> "What shines through is that you believe in segregating ethnicities because they just can't live peacefully together."

Some can, some can't. I do think that Democracy is more sensitive to national separatism than other forms of government. The great multiethnic empires of history weren't democratic. The Chinese have held together a multiethnic society for 3,000 years without holding a vote.

The Northern coalition in the Afghanistan civil war was composed of many ethnic groups fighting together against the Pashtun south. There is enough common ground between the groups of the north that a two state solution may suffice.

Nationalism is a powerful force that has great appeal to human psychology. Every successful multi-ethnic, multi-religious, or multi-lingual empire has to address it. Even the Canadians have struck an uneasy balance between the French speaking Quebecois and the rest of the country. Separation was a close thing.

And nationalism doesn't skip Europe. Try to find Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia on a map. And soon Spain might be joining them in the historical deadpool if the Catalan independence movement gets its way.

Well, look at the centuries of violent war that preceded most modern, stable nation-states. Europe was pretty much in a constant state of conflict from the fall of the Roman Empire until WWI.

Nationalism is also an interesting phenomenon, in that over time it tends to transcend ethnic groups, but only once the thread of common identity has established itself. Take a look, for instance, at the post WWI Middle East, where the imposition of arbitrary zones of influence (the origins of many modern states) disrupted a budding pan-Arab nationalism in favor of keeping a balance of influence between the colonial powers.

The United States is a completely different case in that the nationalism that took root here was based on a shared identity among immigrants of (relatively speaking) diverse ethnic groups-- but even so, our early history had no shortage of atrocities committed agains native populations, as well as conflict among the constituent religious and ethnic groups that comprised the nation.

That being said, nation states seem to be a very stable and agreeable governance paradigm once they become established, but a shared identity amongst diverse groups (ethnic or otherwise) takes time to develop, and as history has demonstrated, it certainly can't be imposed from the outside.

This is not really true btw:

>The problem with SS Africa vs. the Middle East is that the African countries, having no history of large-scale states before the Europeans came, have so many national divisions that it becomes impractical

Large scale political entities have existed in SS Africa. And in large scale states are quite recent in the Middle East.


Turkey and Afghanistan do not come close to sharing a border.

> Turkey and Afghanistan share a border

At this point, I'm pretty certain you've confused Afghanistan with Iraq, which also has a pretty important Kurdish minority.

It's a nice theory if this was the way nationalism functions, but nationalism is exclusive. It excludes all other identities for One True Idenitity. And as for the politicants, they will use nationalism to pull people by the nose whether they are in multi-ethnic or single ethnic surrounding. Only thing that nationalism will change will be the rhetoric.

- "We don't have money... It's not because we embezzled it, it is the Other nation, we must expel them from the country.",

- "Our roads are bad, it's not because we did something wrong, those pesky foreigners are destroying them with their cars"

Nationalism is like opium for the masses, it's very effective, but highly addictive, so I'd be careful to recommend it. Asking for nationalism in time of crisis is akin to waving the Black Sun flag (not the Nazi one, but mirror one). Nationalism + crisis often leads to horrific solutions. See Greece for example of such problems.

He's not asking for nationalism - he's pointing out that it is still present, but it does not coincide with the borders of the countries. Consider e.g. Nigeria. It is "somewhat functioning" but there are still major tensions between the various regions along tribal and religious lines.

E.g. my ex is from Nigera, and her dad was from the Igbo tribe. One of the thing she saw all around was her family, and her Igbo friends families, who were fairly successful and many of whom worked well paid jobs in Abuja (the capital) or Lagos, who would opt to rent in Abuja and Lagos while funnelling all their money into building houses in their birth villages that they rarely used.

It took her a while to understand why: Her parents generation all remember the Biafra war all to well, either from direct experience, or from growing up in the aftermath with parents who instilled the ghost of Biafra in them very effectively. Biafra was largely Igbo, and the war saw large amounts of Igbo have properties elsewhere in Nigeria confiscated, and many Igbos were deported from places like Lagos.

Many Igbo as a result to this day consider themselves outsiders, or see it as unsafe to put down ties elsewhere in Nigeria. This includes even people like my ex's dad, who was a high ranking lawyer, who e.g. counted the previous president - Obasanjo - (who was one of the military commanders on the Nigerian side against the secessionist Biafra) as a friend, and the then Vice President as his lawyer, and who split most of his time between Abuja, Lagos and London and certainly had all the connections to be in a position where he should be able to feel safe outside of the Igbo core areas.

You will find other groups who similarly see their primary identity as separate from the country of Nigeria. And that is a story that is repeated in a large number of the African countries.

I agree with you that nationalism can be a terrifying force. But in many cases it will fester even more when it divides countries into groups that see themselves as competing for power of a single country.

I'm not sure what the point of separating alongside nationalistic lines would achieve? Nationalism isn't an objective quality, but a quality that's perceived subjectively by number of people.

You'll never be able to divide on nationalistic lines because they aren't real lines, people can always fall into either a no true Scotsman fallacy, and even if that is settled you'll probably have outliers that might have a mother of nationality A and father of nationality B. Which nation does the child go? Not to mention two nations will probably want to contest same resources, so that leads to further strife.

The issue facing this society is lack of social cohesion, not the issue of nation.

>Americans have an anti-nationalist, universalist ideology

American isn't ethno-nationalist, but is strongly nationalist. And it certainly isn't universalist:


The American ideology sees itself as a template for how the rest of the world should be, so in that respect it is universalist. It contrasts with philosophies like Hinduism or Confuscianism, which are specific creeds for a specific people. In its quest for world domination, American liberal universalism is similar to its chief 20th century rival, international communism.

Communism was also a universalist faith, one that believed it was right for everyone. We note that both creeds are recklessly imperial.

The nation-state is just as much a failure.

South Ossetia or Kashmir or the Basque region might claim independence, then small pockets within those might want independence in turn.

You can't draw a border distinctly around every unified group of people, certainly not to demand it permanently reflect those people forever. Both the natural movement of people and the tendency of groups towards cultural change (both fracturing and collusion) over time slowly erode our best efforts to put everyone in separate pens and label them as distinct groups.

Pan-nationalism doesn't magically solve these issues, but a rigid adherence to self-determination isn't the panacea it's sometimes made out to be either.

Patriotism is a force that opposes fragmentation. A wise governor carefully considers his people's self-identity. Self-identity can be managed. Do they view themselves as Americans first, and Irish second? That is good. It is a recipe for stability. The opposite is not.

The balance of these forces is tricky to get right. I believe the Western democratic model may turn out to be the creed of a short-lived, highly chaotic period of history.

The countries that were decolonialized in the postwar period were, ipso facto, decolonialized at a time when communism was a popular political ideology. Not Nordic model welfare states, not Keynesian countercyclic fiscal policy, but hard-line dictatorship-of-the-proletariat communism, the ideal of East Germany and North Korea. Zambia was a one-party state that reinvested copper profits through the disastrous program of import substitution:


ISI is literally anti-economics. Rather than maximizing differential value (the production possibility frontier), ISI discourages trade and in doing so discourages exploiting the production possibility frontier. The standard example in economics of import substitution is Latin America from 1930 to 1980. The standard example in economics of failed policy is Latin America from 1930 to 1980.

The IMF's response was the horrible despotic policy of structural adjustment. Structural adjustment only ever works if the country itself is already fed up with protectionism and wants to abandon it:


This is why, after the end of the Cold War, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America have been growing, becoming more developed and less poor, and the past 20 years have been less tumultuous than the previous 40. Here's Hans Rosling with the data:


Look at Zambia. From 1950 to 1999 it wanders around in the left-bottom of the chart like a drunk fly. In 1999, the blue dot zooms up and to the right. When does this happen? Just eight years after Zambia's first free and fair presidential election:


The Western model works. It worked in East Asia, it's working in Latin America, and humanity willing it will work in sub-Saharan Africa. And it doesn't follow copper prices:


From 2002 to 2005, copper prices quadrupled, but there is no corresponding jump in Zambian fortunes. Rather, the Zambian economy developed at a steady pace, beginning before the rise in copper prices, influenced mainly by an improving political climate at home. Before that, Zambia hit a high-water mark in the 1960s, during the presidency of Kaunda, who began to implement socialism. It stagnated during the beginning of one-party rule and declined during (because of) the oil crisis. But mostly it was an inefficient planned economy and exhibited typical communist failure to thrive. Liberal and democratic reforms in the 90s were met with growth.

So democracy in Africa is just fine, thanks. Communism, however, sucks.

EDIT: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/copper/2407...

To make this point clear, I want to give more context on the price of copper and the effect it has on the Zambian economy. Zambia's economy does not move to the right any more after 1965. But copper prices increased for eleven years after 1965, until 1976, and Zambia was unable to exploit this in a way that led to national progress. The crash around 1976-1981 clearly hurt, but not taking advantage of favorable situations hurt more.

"Americans have an anti-nationalist, universalist ideology"

Come on. You're just trolling.

No, he is right.

They don't believe in nations, they believe strongly in their own country as a "nation", but not in the common meaning of a nation which is ethinically based.

If they believed in nations (in the way other countries believe), irish-americans would identify more with being irish than with being americans for example (and the same for other ethnicities).

The colonial borders in Africa and Asia are not an accident. The political elite of US, UK, France, etc. understands all too well nationalism. You are very bad at understanding Divide and conquer ;-).

The Western powers have left behind chaotic anarchy over much of two continents. I don't think it is due to some sinister purpose. Rather, I see it as a side effect of naive do-gooderism.

Seriously? You are way too naive.

So how do you think that compares to the situation in Balkans. In there Yugoslavia was similarly failed attempt to merge all sorts of ethnic groups under a single country. Now they are more split up, and the situation seems finally to be somewhat stable and palatable to the people living there. Or at least they aren't in the headlines anymore like they used to be.

I've long said, about areas of the world having certain kinds of problems like you describe is that those people don't have the 1-2 punch advantages of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. If you wonder at why some group of people are behaving in a way you don't understand, see if the way you understand is rooted in those two movements.

Your answers raises the question that how does a country with people from different ethnic background become a nation ?

So, can the Afghan issue be resolved by splitting the country ? And if yes, do the people of Afghanistan want that.

I do not believe Afghanistan can remain one country unless outsiders keep the balance of power through direct intervention or heavy arms subsidies. My reasoning is that they were still fighting a civil war when the USA invaded.

They were actually fairly stable when the US invaded

For such a multicultural country as the United States, we're really just a salad bowl of cultural insensitivity.

> The post-colonial idealists in the West

Who are you actually referring to ?

"These powers left and left behind democratic governments."


> These powers set up democratic governments, then departed.

Counterexample: India.

That's because multicultural nature of India is not a recent phenomenon but has been a way of life since thousands of years.

In fact we take pride in having so many cultures. The situation else where is different.

Zambia is poor because it never had an Ice Age.

What an extraordinarily unbacked statement.


Perhaps referring to a theory about glaciers over a continent melting and essentially "raking" the soil to create a relatively robust and even quality, which didn't happen so much in Africa as other places.

Observation is prior to explanation. Compile a list of countries good at wealth-creation. Then make another list of the ones where people went through Ice Age conditions. Now compare them.

Correlation does not equal causation.

Anyone care for a little tdlr; ?

It's a little long for a TLDR, but:

> The only thing I’m able to conclude after my trip here is that it’s incredibly difficult for a poor country to go about getting un-poor. Just when you think you’ve got the right narrative, another one comes bursting out of the footnotes. It’s the informality. No, it’s the taxes. No, it’s the mining companies. No, it’s the regulators.

> And that’s what makes fixing it so difficult. Does Zambia need better schools? Debt relief? Microfinance? Nicer mining companies? Better laws? Stronger enforcement? Yes. All of them. And all at the same time.

> You can’t fix the land issues without tackling the corruption. You can’t fix the corruption without tackling the politics. You can’t fix the politics without addressing the culture. Thomas’ family told him his nephews didn’t need to be in school. From their perspective, that’s not totally irrational. In a country with so few formal jobs and so much competition for getting them, I can see how spending hundreds of hours, thousands of kwachas, on education would seem superfluous. Thomas’ daughter wants to become a lawyer. You could almost forgive Thomas if he told her that the bar exam failure rate is more than 90 percent, so what’s the use?

Shortly thereafter, the author also writes:

> A week after I leave Lusaka, I meet a Zambian expat in Zimbabwe. She left Lusaka four years ago, and she says every time she returns, there are more cars, more roads, more restaurants, bars, gyms, decent cappuccinos.

> I tell her that in Lusaka I saw construction cranes on the horizon in every direction.

> “It’s all malls,” she says. “Zambians love to go to the goddamn mall.”

> That’s not the only reason for optimism. Inflation is down to seven percent from 20 percent last decade. International investors pledged $750 million last year to build infrastructure. The new draft of the constitution limits presidential powers and confronts the MP-hopping problem. Fundamentally, Zambia is a stable country sitting on top of an El Dorado of fertile land and lucrative minerals. In the long run, things will probably get better.

I've been to Zambia and the short answer is basically they have 1) government corruption 2) and don't have anything else besides copper. So even though you have a participatory political system the copper companies get insanely good deals and nothing is spent on education for example.

Besides Botswana they are actually doing really well for a sub-saharan African country. The politics have been a mess for a long time, basically two parties have dominated politics for the past forty years(one after the other) so you had a quasi single party state but a reasonable rule of law to keep things from getting out of hand and a fair electoral system for the past twenty years or so.

I'm not sure I buy the claim that the government doesn't do anything. Basically, it was explained to me that no one wants to upset the factions with political influence. Paradoxically, Botswana has a much more closed political system yet doesn't seem to have the problems with corruption Zambia has.

"basically two parties have dominated politics for the past forty years(one after the other) so you had a quasi single party state"

AKA the USA model.

If you swap/replace "auto companies" with "copper" its basically Detroit with a slightly healthier economy and political system.

Not quite: the US auto industry is around 5% of US GDP, tops. Depending on how you count, copper is around 80-95% of the Zambian economy.

VLM compared it to the situation in Detroit not the US. Thus the relevant statistic would be the share of auto industry to Detroit's GDP (which my google-fu failed to find)


The British created the place to exploit copper mines, but the Belgians were able to get control of the copper.

Zambia wouldn't necessarily be a better place if colonialism never happened.

Colonialism destroyed all structure that was before in Africa. They had prosperous kingdoms that was destroyed. Then the colonialists left very suddenly and there were only chaos left.

It's not more than about 50 years since Africa was left to fend for itself after the European powers left. Considering that it took hundreds of years with more wars than anyone care to count before Europe became the peaceful and prosperous place it is today I don't think Africa is doing that badly.

Eastern Europe has been changing hands between various empires for the last 300 years and was razed at least twice in the last century alone. That was followed by Soviet occupation and communism it entailed.

Poland lost 17% of its population in WWII. Local elites and leaders who didn't end in mass graves or concentration camps during the war, were imprisoned or murdered by post-war collaborators. The Red Army left in '93 and 20 years later it's a perfectly fine place to live.

I don't buy colonialism as the explanation.

The Soviet occupation or the colonization in itself wasn't that made the mess. Poland had the Soviet occupiers and Africa had various European powers organizing the countries. None of the places was good places to live during the occupation (even though I think most people very much prefer Brezhnev and maybe even Stalin to King Leopold of Belgium), but there was at least some kind of organized society.

The difference between the colonial powers leaving Africa and the Soviet Union leaving Eastern Europe was that the Soviet Union didn't take with them everyone that worked in any kind of administration and most people who could read when they left. In Poland the guys that was in charge of the central mail administration didn't flee the country. The Department of Transportation didn't burn all their archives and jumped on the first ship out of the country. That was what happened in most of Africa. Almost all the people who had been in charge and had any knowledge fled. That didn't happen in Eastern Europe in nearly the same degree.

But wasn't that the result of the transition _from_ colonialism rather than _of_ colonialism?

In my previous comment I mentioned that the colonizers first destroyed the existing structures, so if the Europeans first hadn't colonized the continent, then there couldn't have existed any bad transition _from_ colonialism either.

In other words, the first sin was to colonize the continent in the first place, destroy existing civil structures, and exploit the land and the population as they did. The second sin was to very abruptly abandon them and leave them without even the structures that had replace the original ones.

In current Iraq and Afghanistan the US at least try to make sure that there is some kind of stable regime before they leave. Of course it might have been better to not invade in the first place, but since they did, it is their responsibility to try to make sure that some kind of civilian society have a chance when they leave.

> That was followed by Soviet occupation and communism it entailed.

It could be a matter of degree. It might sound radical but what if I told you that Soviet occupation wasn't as brutal as British occupation. Soviets didn't tolerate political dissent. But they did give everyone an apartment, free (including higher) education, healthcare.

Did the British empire have those programs. Free healthcare, education, and minimum living space? I kind of doubt it.

So gave them all the base necessities, yet took away any hope of actually having a say in how they live their lives. I would say the Soviets were far more brutal. Being hungry or homeless is one thing, not even the master of your own lofe is another.

I would have agreed with you some years back. But now I am not sure anymore. Promises of freedom and democracy and having a say are well good, but they are rather abstract when someone is about to go bankrupt because they found out they have cancer and they have been laid off. Or they are hungry.

I think over and over there are examples (China, ex Soviet Union, various other dictatorships) where people would accept a warm bed, safety, being able to work, get healthcare with sever restrictions to speech and travel vs having the freedom for speech, travel, but not having the minimum basic necessities.

There aren't too many recent cases were people oppressed politically were able to win the majority and overthrow the government and turn it into a democracy when there is otherwise enough stability economic, social to start with.

Americans I feel (and I would know, I live here too now) have swallowed quite a bit of propaganda and they will tell you long stories about how Democracy is just the best, capitalism is the best etc etc. I used to think that too, but I am not so sure anymore. Maybe that is why a lot of wars are sold to the American people "we are bringing Democracy" and "Freedom". That has a good local appeal. Internationally maybe others read that in the same category as North Korea telling its people they live on Paradise on Earth.

Ok a couple thoughts to chew on:

1. I don't disagree about the Maslow's heirachy thing. If i was near starvation i wouldn't turn away bread from a dictator.

2. Two examples of countries who have recently won democracy: South Korea and Taiwan. Both made the trnasition with minimal violence.

3. I talk to older friends who came from Eastern Block countries and they describe their respective systems (before democracy) as completely and utterly demoralizing. You have no hope of anything better. Your lot in life will also be at the will of someone else.

2. Good point and good examples. But compared to the number of dictatorships and other totalitarian regimes, unless people start to go hungry, there is violence in most cases they wouldn't rise up and choose to die on the streets for freedom. Sure some do, but and there are protests but that is not enough to overthrow the regime.

3. You also have to keep in mind that people you talk to here from EB countries are probably well above average. They probably had enough smarts and drive to get out. They are also more likely to not like their old countries. (Well I don't like it either but I am trying to take a more objective approach). Notice how we also carefully transitioned to comparing Soviet occupation to living in US probably working in the tech sector (and I am certainly guilty of it as well). Remember we should have been comparing the post Soviet period in EB countries to African post-colonial countries.

Depens on what you think about when you think about colonialism.

If you're thinking about the period when Africa was ruled by European power, I'd say it didnt help (mostly because of the deeply authoritarian aspect of that rule) but there wasnt much to destroy at that point.

Then there is the period Right before which has some deeper effect on trust, corruption, institutions, stability, trade, population movements: the transatlantic slave trade.

Edit: and the eastern one too.

I highly recommend this book The Fate of Africa http://www.amazon.com/The-Fate-Africa-Continent-Independence...

Their "prosperous kingdoms" didn't have written language or the wheel. There wasn't that much pre-existing structure to destroy.

I used to think the lack of the wheel was a valid argument against the prosperity of Africa, but then I saw how wheels performed in such arid conditions.

The soil is so volatile that wheels end up being dragged in the dirt, hence camels. It would have been cool if they had invented primitive AT STs though!

> There wasn't that much pre-existing structure to destroy.

That is a myth that the colonizers were very happy to bolster, for obvious reasons.

Don't even bother with the user "newnewnew". Look through a few pages of his comment history. He makes condescending remarks about liberals & keeps trying to prove Africa(and African-americans) are the cause of their own problems. And if you read a couple of pages of his comment history, it's not clear if he sees women as equal to men and/or doesn't understand how strong gender-discrimination is. But don't take my word for it. Seriously, look at his comment history. Here's just one, of many examples, of his mind set: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6360762

If you can't counter the argument attack the person.

"Don't even bother with the user "newnewnew"" - Ignore and ostracise those with opposing views. How open minded of you.

That "wheel" remark was quite poignant, though :)

Like how the Inca or the Maya never were any real civilizations because they didn't use wheels?

Well, they were real civilizations, bu I doubt anyone would dare to equate their achievements and influence with the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese or Egyptians. Especially for the Incas, it's hard for me to be impressed by their achievements around the year 1400 AD considering what the Egyptians already had achieved by the year 2000BC...

The point is that they were organized societies, not the utter chaos that was left behind when the European powers left Africa.

It was a trade-off but those kingdoms weren't the ones making the choice. It was made for them by the occupiers.

They had perhaps some authority structures, some nation and ethnicity based borders, perhaps less civil war type conflicts. At least that was taken away. Whether it would have been better for British and others to stay away is hard to say.

Say that to the American Indians or Australian Aborigines (just a few example)

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