Director, Human Development Report, UNDP, New York, NY 10017, US
Joseph Siegle (June 27) cautions Group of Eight countries against the urge to help Africa. His analysis and conclusions are dangerously simplistic. Democracy should be promoted for its own sake and for its own virtues and does not need to be justified as a means to economic growth. And to withhold aid to African people until their countries are fully democratic will undermine the very cause of democratisation and poverty eradication. It is naive to assume away the real difficulties newly democratic states face in building democratic institutions and practice.
Democracy has real benefits in promoting social and economic development but it is dangerous to simplify it as a panacea. The claim that democracy produces economic growth and poverty reduction is not substantiated by more careful statistical studies of worldwide experience. In Africa over the last 20 years most countries have shifted regimes, and today most are neither authoritarian nor fully democratic but somewhere in between. Apply the same analysis to east Asia and the conclusions may be the reverse. China, Singapore and Indonesia have had marked success in economic growth and poverty reduction by any international standard. Some African democracies, such as Botswana and Mauritius, have been very successful, but more democratic Russia and its neighbours have seen the economy plummet, unemployment explode and inequalities soar.
Waiting for fully functioning democracies before giving aid would only perpetuate the vicious circle of poverty and fragile democracies. People in Africa need all the help they can get to build democracy to promote economic growth and social progress.
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