JOQ with Brian

JOQ with Brian

Today, Mezimbite Magazine begins a new interview format series known as “JOQ with …” (also known as “Just One Question”)

The format is simple enough: one question and one answer. That is it.

We start with Brian Dowd-Uribe, who wrote to us today from Burkina Faso where he is doing development research. Brian’s a post-doctoral research scientist at Columbia University.

He is also the co-founder of The New Roots Institute for the Study of Food Systems.

Brian received his PhD in Environmental Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His areas of focus were: International Development, Agro-ecology, Political Ecology, Environmental Governance, Water Policy. His regional research includes Sub Saharan Africa.

Just like Judy (Niger), Dan (Ghana) and Peter (Mozambique), all of whom have also contributed writings to this magazine, Brian served in the Peace Corps in Africa:

He was in Togo with the corps from 1999 to 2001, working primarily on agro-forestry projects.

Brian is also a member of our Mezimbite Magazine Editorial Advisory Panel. The other six members can be seen on the right of this page.

Just One Question

Nicholas Kristof said this recently in the New York Times:
“Africa is becoming economically more dynamic, with economic growth that has nothing to do with foreign aid. And ultimately it’s business, industry, agriculture and investment that transform countries, not handouts. Africa is now the fastest growing part of the world, and some countries are real standouts and serve as models for their neighbors. I think we’re close to a time when the world will envy Africa its economic dynamism, not pity its stagnation.”

What are your thoughts on Kristof’s view of Africa’s future?

Response from Brian


Brian Dowd-Uribe

I too am positive about Africa’s future. There are many things to be positive about – declining malaria rates, HIV education and programs, a global awareness that suffering in Africa should be addressed. And Kristof is right to point out that a sizable part of economic growth in Africa has to do with rising domestic consumption.
But as a researcher, I am a bit wary to talk about economic dynamism without pointing out that this view is based on a narrow set of metrics – mostly growth in GDP – which is a very crude measure for the welfare of people. Rising GDP in Africa is closely linked with increasing natural resource extraction, primarily in precious metals and fossil fuels.
This type of economic growth does not help most Africans.

I think it is important to ask two interrelated questions:

  1. How is Africa’s economic growth being shared across ethnic, gender, and socio-economic groups?
  2. What kind of development or growth is occurring?
The current mainstream development models primarily favor certain social class – mostly the relatively wealthy, and mostly men, and in some countries, certain ethnic groups.

So when talking about Africa, economic dynamism and development, I think it is good to look at the winners and losers with growth, and what is being done to address the concerns of the ‘losers’. This is why democratization is so important. This is also why close scrutiny of development intervention is needed to ensure that the largest number of Africans benefit.


Harvesting Cotton in Burkina Faso

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