How did Obama do in Ghana?

Obama in Ghana

Two development economists whose blogs I read regularly graded president Obama’s speech in Ghana. If you’re interested in Africa and development you should read both analyses, but here’s a summary.

Bill Easterly likes some bits and doesn’t like others. Obama gets an A+ for two passages:

Africa’s future is up to Africans.


Yet because of incentives – often provided by donor nations – many African doctors and nurses …work for programs that focus on a single disease. This creates gaps in primary care and basic prevention.

But Easterly gives this passage an F:

Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world.

There’s no overall grade, but I suspect on a weighted average he’d give it a B- (that F really pulls the average down).

Chris Blattman also gives A+ for the phrase “Africa’s future is up to Africans”. He awards A- for a passage in praise of Ghana’s elections last year and this section, promoting export-oriented policies:

From South Korea to Singapore, history shows that countries thrive when they invest in their people and in their infrastructure … when they promote multiple export industries, develop a skilled work force and create space for small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs.

As Africans reach for this promise, America will be more responsible in extending our hand. By cutting costs that go to Western consultants and administration, we want to put more resources in the hands of those who need it, while training people to do more for themselves.

Blattman sinks to a D in response to a passage where Obama decried corruption, and said the State Department will pay more attention to it in human rights reports. Blattman’s response is more interesting than the president’s speech:

At African Independence, nearly every nation’s system was parliamentary. Within a few years, all but four had concentrated tyrannical power in a President. Corruption is a symptom of a that disease. The cure: balance that power. Anything less will fail.

The puritanical quest to fight corruption is not a terrible one. It is merely insufficient. I hate corruption. It makes my blood boil. I want to punch someone if the nose if they ask me for a bribe. And that is why we should mistrust our instincts to make corruption the #1 fight; it is an emotional crusade, not a rational policy.

And anyone who thinks corruption blocks development should study their 19th century US history. Politics in New York, Washington, and Chicago make the Nigerians look like June Cleaver.

Blattman’s overall grade: A-.

It’s still great having a president who says things that are worth grading.

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