James Traub on Africa’s Mixed Hopes

James Traub is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, where he has worked since 1998. From 1994 to 1997, he was a staff writer for The New Yorker. He has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and elsewhere. His articles have been widely reprinted and anthologized. He has written extensively about international affairs and especially the United Nations.

In recent years, he has reported from Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Vietnam, India, Kosovo and Haiti. He has also written often about national politics and urban affairs, including education, immigration, race, poverty and crime.

His books include, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power; The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square; City On A Hill, a book on open admissions at City College; and The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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TRANSCRIPT

 

James Traub:  The glimmer of hope for Africa is sort of like the good things and the bad things are racing each other to see which gets the upper hand.  The good thing is that you have more countries that have a decent sustained growth rate 4, 5, 6, 7% and I think that’s actually connected to democracy.  Most of those countries are countries that have democratized.  The really high growth countries there are the autocracies that have oil like Angola which grows at like 20% a year.  So that’s the positive stuff.  At the same time, these are really weak states.  And so, when they face a crisis like AIDS, they don’t have the public health structure to do anything about it more effectively.  The landlocked countries in Africa almost never have an internal transportation system that allows them to bring goods to market at affordable prices.  So these infrastructure problems that almost all African countries have are just, they are huge and they can wind up being powerful enough to counteract all those positive forces, so there are some reasons for optimism but really tempered optimism.


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