What is the legacy of colonialism in Africa?

William Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University, joint with Africa House, and Co-Director of the NYU Development Research Institute. He is also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. Easterly received his Ph.D. in Economics at MIT and spent sixteen years as a Research Economist at the World Bank. He is the author of The White Mans Burden: How the Wests Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Penguin, 2006), The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (MIT, 2001) and over 50 published articles. Easterly's areas of expertise include the determinants of long-run economic growth and the effectiveness of foreign aid. He has worked in most areas of the developing world, but most notably in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. Easterly is an associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Growth, and of the Journal of Development Economics.

  • Transcript


Well there’s a lot of complicated limiting factors that Africans have had to struggle with since independence. Now the colonial . . . The legacy of the slave trade and the colonial error was very bad for Africa. There’s a lot of violence involved in that by Europeans not by Africans. At independence these artificial states were created out of no where that did not have any previous sort of national identification, national identity. And so Africa has done not so bad for a continent that was created under such inauspicious circumstances. Some economic historians have compared them recently to Latin America which was created under similar conditions early in the 19th century, early in the 1800s. Also rather artificial nations at first, and Latin America. And Latin America also had a half century of war, and poverty, and not much growth. And then eventually it got it’s act together, and now has had much more growth and much more escape from poverty where now only 10 percent of the population of Latin America is in poverty, whereas 50 percent of the population in Africa is in poverty. So homegrown economic development does happen. It does happen everywhere sooner or later. Some countries are unlucky; but the answers have to be homegrown. They cannot be parachuted in by experts. Success in escaping poverty everywhere always has been homegrown, not driven by expert advice by outsiders.

Recorded On: 7/6/07