In the era following the decolonization of Africa, the economic performance of countries on the continent can be traced across three periods. The early postindependence years reflected moderate growth and policy variation, with occasional distress in some countries. From the 1980s through the late 1990s, the region was gripped by a sweeping crisis of growth and solvency shaped by a steep economic downturn and a slow, stuttering recovery. This was also a period of convergence and restrictions on policy space. By the early 2000s, accelerated growth buoyed most economies in Africa, although commodity price shocks and the global economic slump of 2008–2009 created episodic problems. Different approaches to policy and strategy once again marked the landscape. A number of influences help to explain variations in the occurrence of economic crisis across Africa, and the different responses to economic distress. In addition to structural factors, such as geography, resource wealth, and colonial legacies, middle-range political conditions contributed to these downturns. Key institutions, core constituencies, and fiscal pressures were domestic causes and external factors include donor convergence, access to finance, and policy learning. One framework of analysis centers on three factors: ruling coalitions, the fiscal imperative, and policy space. The ruling coalition refers to the nature of the political regime and core support groups. The fiscal imperative refers to the nature of state finance and access to external resources. And the policy space comprises the range of strategic alternatives and the latitude for governments to make choices among broad policy options. Applying the framework to Africa’s economic performance, the first period was marked by distributional imperatives, a flexible fiscal regime, and considerable space for policy experimentation. During the long crisis, regimes came under pressure from external and domestic influences, and shifted toward a focus on macroeconomic stabilization. This occurred under a tight fiscal imperative and a contraction of policy space under the supervision of multilateral financial institutions. In the 2000s, governments reflected a greater balance between distributional and developmental goals, fiscal constraints were somewhat relaxed, and policy variation reappeared across the region. While the early 21st century has displayed signs of intermittent distress, Africa is not mired in a crisis comparable to those of earlier periods. Developmental imperatives and electoral accountability are increasingly influential in shaping economic strategy across the continent.
Peter M. Lewis
Elissaios Papyrakis and Lorenzo Pellegrini
The resource curse hypothesis suggests that countries that are rich in natural resources are more likely to experience poor economic growth and other developmental problems. Latin American countries show a mixed picture, confirming the idea that the resource curse is not a deterministic phenomenon and that dependence on, rather than abundance of, natural resources is associated with developmental failures. When looking beyond the nation state, local communities may benefit from royalties accruing to regional governments, often, though, at the expense of other socioeconomic liabilities (as in the case of negative environmental externalities). The case of Ecuador is in many ways exemplary of the resource curse in Latin America and the failure of policies to overcome the curse. While the country was always a commodity exporter, the intensification of extractive activities and the expansion of the extractive frontier (over the last five decades) intensified the severity of boom-and-bust cycles and compromised socio-environmental values in the vicinity of extractive activity.
Guillermo Castro H.
The successful negotiation of the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaty inaugurated a new historical era in the Republic of Panama. Politically, the implementation of the Treaty from 1979 to 1999 transformed what, since 1903, had been a protectorate of the United States into a fully sovereign republic. Economically, the integration of the canal into Panama´s internal economy, and that of the country in the global market, created new opportunities for the development of the country. The treaty also put an end to the dispute between Panama and the United States over the control of the rent and revenues produced by the canal, transferring it to the government of the Republic of Panama, and so creating an unprecedented source of resources for investment. More than forty years on, however, Panama faced a combination of sustained (but uncertain) economic growth, persistent social inequity, constant environmental degradation, obsolescence of its institutional system, and increasing internal political tensions, all expressions of the contradiction between the natural organization of the territory of Panama, and the spatial organization of its economy, society and government imposed and maintained since the European conquest of the 16th century. This contradiction is also aggravated by the dispute over control of the canal rent between different sectors of Panamanian society. In short, the country is in a transition stage in its development, which may lead it to overcome the contradiction in developing into a prosperous and equitable republic, or into increasing conflicts that may worsen the contradictions inherent to a centralist and authoritarian tradition of governance.