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  • The Political Economy of Economic Growth in Africa 1960–2000, Volume 1, and: The Political Economy of Economic Growth in Africa 1960–2000, Volume 2
  • Caryn Abrahams
Benno J. Ndulu, Stephen A. O’connell, Robert H. Bates, Paul Collier and Chukwuma C. Soludo, The Political Economy of Economic Growth in Africa 1960–2000, Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (hb £60 – 978 0 52187 848 7). 2008, xix+452 pp.
Benno J. Ndulo, Stephen A. O’connell, Jean-Paul Azam, Robert H. Bates, Augustin K. Fosu, Jan W. Gunning and Dominique Nijinkeu, The Political Economy of Economic Growth in Africa 1960–2000, Volume 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (hb £95 – 978 0 52187 849 4). 2008, xl+1028 pp.

This monumental two-volume book on Africa’s economic growth is an incredible resource both for social science and development economics. Very rarely does a publication achieve the balance of presenting hard econometric data and empirically rich case study. This publication undertakes this task, and its central conceptual structure is based on bridging a long-standing dichotomy in research on Africa between the social science and economics literature. Part one of Volume 1 rationalizes, justifies and focuses on the theoretical approach used in the analysis in the rest of the volume, and is written retrospectively based on extensive case studies of 26 African countries. The extensive research, based on work done by the African Economic Research Consortium, focuses on African economic growth, the syndromes resulting in economic decline, and the impacts of political-economy shifts in various contexts over a 40-year post-independence period. The rationale of the book is to draw out the patterns of growth or decline in African economies in this period, based on the countries’ geopolitics and a classification of the syndromes that have caused decline. The diagnostic evaluation need not deter Africanist social scientists [End Page 616] who may initially suspect that here is another imagined Africa in need of a prognosis. Instead, the keen blend of a longitudinal base of growth data and historically rich political economy adds to a tempered, accurate picture of African economic growth.

Volume 1 begins by establishing the approach and then presents a classification of anti-growth syndromes that have had and continue to have a negative impact on the economic performance of African countries. The syndromes are state control (regulation), redistribution, inter-temporal strategies (political or policy decisions that have had adverse effects over time) and state breakdown. The four syndromes, together with ‘syndrome free status’ are mapped onto a timeline of African economic growth post-independence. In general, most countries were syndrome free, followed by a period of intense state control, and a protracted period of state breakdown. While the political economy case studies could relay this narrative convincingly enough, it seems that finding methodologically sound growth econometric indexes for the syndromes is the overarching aim of the first part of Volume 1. The second part matches the syndromes with the geographical status of countries (resource rich or poor, coastal and landlocked) relating these countries’ economic growth to their propensity to overcome decline through their geopolitics. Nonetheless, the unanswered, though highlighted questions relate to the topic of state elites, patronage and endemic corruption, which surprisingly is not dealt with despite its prominence in the African political economy literature. One particularly interesting solution relates to the need for African economies to follow the common development path of Asia through labour-intensive manufacturing, an opportunity that many African countries missed out on.

Despite the successful overall achievement of the book, there are a few crucial oversights. South Africa, as the exceptional case in Africa because of its three-decade lag in independence, is not included in the case study section, despite examples of economic growth and development in South Africa used on various occasions throughout the book to justify particular claims about institutional governance and policy changes in other countries. Related to this is the glaring oversight regarding regional (economic) communities and the role of regional growth. Only cursory mention is made of the role of South Africa in Botswana (the golden example in African economic growth). The out-migration of Malawi’s economic labour base is...


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pp. 616-618
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