A recent blog post by Grieve Chelwa claiming “Economics has an Africa problem?” has been getting some attention.
Here’s Justin Sandefur commenting and here’s Morten Jerven’s post on the issue.
To summarize Chelwa, None of the main African development conferences are held in Africa, The main African development journal and the main overall development journal have no editorial board members who are based in Africa, so Africa is being left out of the debate.
He concludes eloquently, “By physically locating these meetings in places far away and disproportionately underrepresenting African-based scholars on journals’ editorial staff, the view is affirmed that the answers to Africa’s problems and the storylines of Africa’s past can only be weaved elsewhere under the leadership of western scholars. Economics as a discipline is sending a clear message: Africa cannot be a leading participant in the debates that ultimately shape its destiny. Is there any other interpretation that one can give to this?”
First, let me say that we are all lucky that articles in development journals do NOT “ultimately shape” the destiny of any continent.
Second, what I think many African nations have is a higher ed competitiveness problem, in that on average, salaries and benefits for productive scholars are notably higher in the US and Europe than in most, if not all, developing countries. One could make a good argument for boosting the endowments/funding for institutions of higher education in the developing world, but one could also make a good argument that other priorities are more important and that given path dependence and local agglomeration effects, it’s unlikely that the dominance of the top western universities would be reversed. Thus top scholars from many African nations end up working in Universities outside the African continent. In my opinion, that does not make them non-African.
Third, I do think economics has an Africa problem in that we have little to say to African nations about how they can reliably create sustained economic growth. Morten’s post is good on this issue.
Fourth, is it tone-deaf and unfortunate that the Journal of African Economies does not have any editorial board members from universities located in the African continent? Oh hell yes. It’s ridiculous. But I don’t see how one can then leap to where Chelwa leaps.
Finally, I don’t think a geographic quota for editorial boards or journal pages is a very good idea. I should emphasize that Chelwa does NOT call for this, but quotas are the only obvious remedy that I can see for his complaint and they would have to extend beyond African countries to other developing areas of the world as well.