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Last Updated: Monday, 4 July, 2005, 00:59 GMT 01:59 UK
Colonial legacy still weighs on Africa
Professor Sir Nicholas Stern, former director of policy and research at the Commission for Africa, speaks about why Africa's colonial past remains a burden, and about what should be done to secure a prosperous future for this poverty struck continent.

Sir Nicholas Stern talking
Sir Nicholas: Africa's colonial legacy differs from that of India

Let's recognise that there is corruption in most countries, but let's also recognise the degree of corruption varies across countries and it has been quite severe in Africa.

The really terrible 20 years or so in Africa was the mid-70s to mid-90s and since then you have started to see Africa itself change by getting to grips with some of the government's problems.

Bad governance in Africa has been partly to blame for not building up the infrastructure and transport links which are essential for a dynamic economy.

But the biggest reason is the colonial legacy

Colonial past

It is a very different colonial legacy in Africa than it is in India.

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In India something like 40% of the agricultural land being irrigated and you see a much better system of railways.

In Africa, it's fair to say the colonial system was particularly focused on exploiting and extracting the continent's natural resources - and infrastructure was built to export the copper, timber, oil, gold or whatever.

So part of the infrastructure story is historical legacy, part is lack of investment, part is the fragmentation of the countries.

Whereas India is one country, there are 48 sub-Saharan countries in Africa and political frontiers become economic barriers.

Logistical problems

Africa is still reliant to a large degree on mining, whereas China has grown because it has invested in manufacturing - especially for exports.

It costs about twice as much to take goods out of Africa relative to other countries - that means taking goods from village to town, town to capital city, capital city to port, and port to ultimate destination.

Sir Nicholas Stern
Sir Nicholas: Africa would benefit from fewer barriers to trade

It's much more costly in Africa for reasons of the weakness of infrastructure and the weakness of the governance, so these basic problems of actually getting business done are much more severe.

That's why the Commission for Africa is so strong in its recommendations on investing in its capacity to trade.

Africa's biggest challenge is its capacity to trade and enabling it to produce the kind of goods that can break into markets.

It has many natural resources and if would benefit by selling its agricultural products into fairer markets in richer counties with fewer barriers, which is another recommendation of the Commission.

Sir Nicholas Stern was talking to James Whittington, BBC World Service business reporter


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"Political frontiers become economic barriers"



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