What strikes the outside observer when contemplating Africa’s recent economic past is the constant relative decline in relation to that of advanced industrial economies. A random sample of five former British colonies testifies to this negative trend. Interestingly, their economies in relative terms to that of their imperial master were not in a dire shape in the 1960s – early 70s.
Taking Rhodesia/Zimbabwe as an example, the Rhodesian GDP per Capita remained steady at the interval 15-20% of the UK equivalent despite sanctions from the mid-60s due to their unilateral declaration of independence. The insurgency clearly took it’s toll from the mid-70s and upon transition to Mugabe’s ZANU PF’s rule from 1980 saw a brief comeback due to international aid. However from the mid-80s until today the economy is in complete shambles, with the average Zimbabwean being 100 times poorer in GDP per Capita terms to that of the average UK citizen. This compares with the 1960-70s when the average Rhodesian only was five times poorer, comparable to that of the average Mexican vs Briton today.
The chart illustrates that economic conditions were on average, in relative terms, better prior to independence for these African countries. There are complex reasons for how this has come about, but misgovernment resulting in the weakening of institutions and instability has been leading proximate causes in both Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone. Another has been the reliance on a poorly diversified portfolio of export commodities in tandem with falling international demand.