Why are Burkinabè not democrats? Because of the IMF and World Bank, of course!

Vincent Bonnecase at CNRS reflects on the upcoming elections and transition to democracy in Burkina Faso.  Lots of interesting thoughts, but at the end I find a kind of reflexive “blame it all on structural adjustment” at the heart of his analysis.

There is some non-believable counterfactual that circulates that thinks that if only the United States had *not* given Burkina Faso $400+ million through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and if only the World Bank had *not* continued to loan $300+ millions to Burkina Faso each year, then somehow poor people in Burkina Faso would have been much wealthier.  There just is nothing to the argument that somehow “neoliberalism” applied in Burkina Faso is at the heart of the crisis, because the fact is that aside from a very brief Sankara period of widespread nationalizations (which probably were going to go nowhere, just look around at every other African country with a charismatic left-leaning leader), Burkina Faso’s economic policies have been pretty typical for the continent, and typical for Burkina Faso in the pre-Sankara years.  And some of the bad policies (like the cereal marketing board OFNACER) were precisely the reason why there had to be structural adjustment in the first place!

Also, there is little evidence to say that the “democratization period” which for Burkina Faso clearly goes from 1991-2011 (twenty years of progressive political liberalization, with some well-known stops-starts) was associated with clear declines in standards of living.  Burkina grew at about 3% per capita over the 2000-15 period, and fast-non-oil growing countries grew at 5% at most… and the fast-growing ones were just as neoliberal as Burkina Faso.  By any standard, Burkina Faso on a per capita basis was better off in 2005 than 1975, except maybe for people who really dislike mobile phones, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, paved roads, living in cities, educated children, and retinal scan election registration.

Don’t misinterpret me. I am not saying Burkina Faso could not have done better, and that corruption in government and autocracy were not the key factors in constraining pro-poor economic growth (they were in my opinion).  But neoliberalism?  If by that you mean corruption and autocracy, then the word is pretty meaningless and you are not saying much.  But if by neoliberal you mean market-friendly policies, then if you want to know why the transition in Burkina Faso is tough, you have to look further in the shadows and not under the bright neoliberal light, because you won’t find it there.

Mais outre que les raisons de la colère sont souvent plus hétérogènes que ne le laisse supposer l’énoncé des causes les plus attendues telles que l’alternance politique, il est également important d’avoir à l’esprit que l’instauration du pluripartisme dans les années 1990 a été suivie, au Burkina Faso comme dans les pays voisins, par le démantèlement d’un certain nombre d’institutions régulatrices et de services sociaux, conformément aux dispositions prévues par les programmes d’ajustement structurel : aujourd’hui, beaucoup se rappellent cette période comme une phase de détérioration de leurs conditions de vie.

via Ce que l’insurrection burkinabé nous apprend sur la violence politique.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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