News / Africa

Poor Countries Denied Chance to Succeed?

Jobless Africa
Jobless Africa


Joe DeCapua
A Harvard professor said developing countries were forced down an economic path in the 20th Century that lacked innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. As a result, he said, they had stunted development, while many other nations prospered.
Professor Calestous Juma tells the story of dueling economic theories. One based on new ideas and risk taking, and the other on pessimism and ignorance. It’s a story of the haves and have nots. Juma is professor of the Practice of International Development and Faculty Chair of the Innovation for Economic Development Executive Program.
“In 1911, an Austrian economist by the name of Joseph Schumpeter published a book called The Theory of Economic Development, which proposed that economies grow over time through innovation. Through new combinations that involved the application of new technologies. And this book became really a standard on how to think about economic transformation through the use of technology and entrepreneurship,” he said.
Juma said Schumpeter took a different view on what was needed for robust economic growth.
“It was new because up to that point people believed that economies grew because of extraction of natural resources – not because of application of technologies. It was also new because he proposed that the use of new technologies resulted in revolutionary changes in economic systems.”
Schumpeter, he said, based his theory on what he saw happening in developed nations.
“He made the observation by looking at the impact of railroads in Europe and America. So, rich nations were already doing it, but it had not been explained in a clear and explicit way, which had to do with this idea of introducing new combinations in the economy, which [are] technological combinations -- but also the recognition that these new technological transformations were being driven by entrepreneurs. So entrepreneurship became a very central part of his thinking.”
Professor Juma said new industries develop through – what’s called – creative destruction.
“His idea was that when you introduce, say, railroads in a community, which didn’t have railroads before, so they’re using stage coaches, railroads will destroy stage coaches. That industry will disappear, but it will create a new industry, which is a faster industry with a greater opportunity for economic expansion. If you think of it in modern times, if we introduce downloading of music, it destroys CDs. So, it’s destructive to the CDs, but it creates new industries, which is downloading of music,” he said.
Such developments are common today. But many economists in the 20th Century thought the developing world was not ready for Schumpeter’s ideas.
Juma said, “So the critics said emerging economies don’t have new technologies. Secondly, he said, the agent of change is [the] entrepreneur. Then they argued that the entrepreneur is not the biggest player in poor economies you need big government. You need bureaucracies. And thirdly, he put a lot of emphasis on industrial production. His critics said what the poor want is not production. They want consumption. So we give them some products that have been developed elsewhere. But it doesn’t make sense to enable them to produce themselves.”
Juma does not think racism was behind their beliefs, but rather pessimism about developing countries.
“Because they looked at them and said – they’re so poor, we cannot possibly give them the latest technologies because they are not even able to absorb them. So let’s find them older technologies. So, I don’t think it was racism. I think it was a mindset that was more colored by pessimism and less by an appreciation that even poor countries are able to solve their own problems when given a chance,” he said.
Instead, they were given – so-called -- appropriate technologies. Juma said instead of a modern water supply with sewers, they were told to dig wells. Instead of building modern electric grids, they were given fuel efficient stoves.
During the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many doubted African nations had the capability to distribute and administer antiretroviral drugs. And as a result, they said the drugs could not be effective. African nations proved them wrong.
“Again that was another example of pessimism. Of saying there’s really very little you can do for these countries because they don’t have the infrastructure. The same infrastructure they had been denied from building in the first place,” said Juma.
In the 20th Century, many had thought Ghana had the potential to become an economic powerhouse – that it would become what South Korea is today.
Juma said, “It’s very interesting you bring up the case of Ghana because Ghana at independence got a foreign economic advisor – a Nobel Laureate in economics – Arthur Lewis. He was one of the critics of Schumpeter, who did not believe that a country like Ghana was capable of transforming itself technologically, whereas South Korea was able to do that. At that time, there wasn’t a big difference between South Korea and Ghana.”
Juma recommends giving priority to innovation, technical and engineering fields, transformative infrastructure and entrepreneurship.
The Harvard professor is working on a new book containing his ideas. It has the tentative title of How Economies Succeed: Innovation and the Wealth of Nations. It’s due out in 2015.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs