In 1990, the UN made a commitment to reduce global poverty by 50% within 25 years. That this ambitious goal has been achieved is largely due to China’s success. Within the same period, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line decreased from 56.8% to 42.7% across the continent of Africa. However, with 20% of Africans living under the specter of starvation—a higher percentage than anywhere else in the world—there is still a long way to go.
And the situation has not improved in recent years. In fact, it has deteriorated—especially in Africa. “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” report for 2019 was jointly published by several UN organizations and confirms a rise in world hunger for the third year in a row. It is now estimated that there are 821 million chronically undernourished people in the world. In the period up to 2015, this number had been in decline. It has now climbed back to levels last seen in 2011.
Compared to 2017, the proportion of malnourished people (20%) has increased in almost all regions of Africa. The worst-hit regions are East Africa, where almost 31% of the population suffer from malnutrition, and Central Africa, where the figure is 26.5%.
Does Development Aid Really Help?
As soon as the above figures were published, demands for increased development aid for Africa followed reflexively. Development aid has a nice moral ring to it, and in some people’s view, it constitutes a kind of quasi-religious atonement for the sins of colonialism and the “exploitation of the Third World” by capitalist countries. But does it really achieve what its proponents hope it will? In 2002, the then Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said:
I’ve never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit. Countries that have developed—in Europe, America, Japan, Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore—have all believed in free markets. There is no mystery there. Africa took the wrong road after independence.
In Asia, the fight against poverty and hunger has been so effective because so many Asian countries have implemented capitalist reforms. In China alone—thanks to the partial introduction of private property rights and free-market economics—the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 88% in 1981 to below 1% today.