Botswana: Africa’s Development Star

From the Globalist, July 2003: Little step by little crisis, Africa is finally back on the global agenda. Questions of aid and of confronting failed states have become key priorities. But contrary to the public perception in much of the world, Africa does have its success stories. The question is: will the developed world reward Africa’s successful states? Quentin Langley explores one possibility.

Botswana: Africa’s Development Star

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 23 July 2003

It is surely time for the first African country to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The message would be a powerful one indeed.

A powerful precedent

The OECD was founded by the United States and Western European countries in 1961, as a successor to OEEC which had administered the Marshall Plan. It has since expanded to Asia, Oceania and Latin America. Its 30 member states are all developed, democratic capitalist societies.

To admit its first African member would be to pass a message to the entire continent that the OECD model of development is appropriate to all people on every continent.

Recipe for success

By almost every measure, tiny, landlocked Botswana is the African country that is the most suitable for membership.

It has been a democracy since independence from Britain in 1966. And for much of that time it has been the only democratic country with broad recognition of human rights anywhere in Africa.

On measures such as the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index and Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index it ranks as the best country in Africa.

Up to the test?

The question most people would ask at this stage is: Does even the best country in Africa meet OECD standards? The perhaps surprising answer is a resounding yes. Globally, Botswana is 35th on the Heritage index and 24th on TI’s.
Botswana outperforms almost every country in Asia. Only Hong Kong and Singapore rank higher than Botswana on both the Heritage and TI indices. Neither city state is an OECD member and neither can match Botswana’s 36 year record of democracy and civil rights.

A model for the world

In Latin America, only Chile has a better record on economic freedom or corruption. Latin America’s patchy commitment to democratic government is shamed by Botswana’s.

Even by European standard’s Botswana has a pretty good record. The former communist countries all have levels of corruption higher than Botswana’s. And, in this group, only the three Baltic states have more economic freedom.
In the west, both Italy and Portugal have more corruption, though they rank higher on economic freedom. Greece and France both trail Botswana on both indices.

GDP power

Even on GDP per head, Botswana would not be bottom of the OECD league table.
The CIA world fact book records its GDP per head as $7,800 by purchasing power parity, ahead of Turkey’s $6,700 — and not far behind Mexico’s $9,000.

The African comparison

Botswana’s giant neighbor, South Africa, has a far larger population and slightly greater GDP per head. But population is hardly the point.

Africa’s most populous country is Nigeria but, despite massive oil reserves, its people are little more than one-tenth as wealthy as Botswana’s. Nigeria ranks 101 out of 102 countries on the TI index and 140 out of 156 according to Heritage.

South Africa trails Botswana on economic freedom — jointly ranking 44th with Madagascar — and on corruption where it is jointly 36th, tying with Tunisia and trailing Namibia. South Africa has a bigger influence in the region, but this is surely outweighed by Botswana’s objectively better performance. It is easy to imagine the South African government being distressed if precedence was given to Botswana, but for similar reasons Poland and the Czech Republic have joined the OECD whereas for Russia it remains an aspiration. Besides, Botswana has a larger population than current OECD members Luxembourg and Iceland.

OECD membership would mark Botswana out as the leading example to Africa, but would it make any practical difference to Botswana itself? The OECD is no longer a distributor of aid and it does not, like the WTO, confer trading advantages. In the past, though, central bankers have used OECD membership as an important indicative factor in establishing credit ratings. Joining the OECD should not cause development agencies to downgrade the importance of helping Botswana confront its still significant problems, including the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Endless possibilities

Botswana’s economic record is so impressive that it is interesting to speculate how an application to NAFTA or the European Union might be received.
While it qualifies for neither in terms of geography — if this is to be regarded as critical — it seems to meet all the other criteria. In NAFTA it would be, by a small margin, the poorest country in terms of GDP per head.
The European African

Poorer than all current EU members, it is nonetheless on a par with soon-to-join Poland — and ahead of candidate countries like Turkey and Romania.
On both economic freedom and corruption, it would rank as the third of four countries in NAFTA. On both measures, it outperforms several existing members of the EU.

But it also has a longer record of democracy than Spain, Greece, Portugal or any of the eight former communist countries about to join the EU.

Deserving of recognition

Even in that most exclusive club, the G8, it is only size that would mark Botswana out. Its per capita GDP is superior to Russia’s. It is less corrupt than Russia, Italy, or France — and freer than Russia, France or Japan. Its democratic history is longer than Russia’s and indeed that of the eastern part of Germany.

So if international bodies like the OECD are to accept members according to objective economic criteria, then Botswana surely qualifies. Such recognition would very effectively reward Africa’s development star.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 23 July 2003

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