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Economist Editor Sees New Optimism For Africa

The London-based Economist magazine described Africa as a “hopeless continent” on its cover four years ago. But the magazine’s Africa editor, Robert Guest, believes Africa has reason for optimism.

“We’ve seen in African countries that have been reasonably well governed that the natural creative entrepreneurial spirit of the African people has enabled them to prosper,” said Mr. Guest, author of “The Shackled Continent.” Mr. Guest said although some African countries are prospering, “vampire states”,” a term he notes was originally coined by Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, are making it impossible for other Africans to rise above abject poverty. “It basically means a state, instead of trying to create a framework of laws under which people can pursue happiness in any way they like, it just tries to suck the blood out of the population, just tries to rob them,” he said. He advocated a change of leadership in countries such as Angola and Zimbabwe. Africans, he said, are beginning to take control of their own countries, but change is in the early stages. Mr. Guest said no African leader was peacefully voted out of office in the 1960s and 1970s, but at least a dozen were replaced through peaceful elections in the 1990s. He stressed the importance of property rights to help the continent prosper. “If people are going to want to work hard, save and invest, they’ll have to know with reasonable security that they’re not going to suddenly have what they’ve earned taken away from them,” he said. “That’s the foundation on which all rich countries have been built. So that’s the first thing that you’ve got to get right, the basic thing that you’ve got to get right, if you want to have prosperity.” Mr. Guest spoke with VOA Africa Division reporter Cindy Shiner.