Review of Sten Rylander's book "Africa turns - A continent in change"

Sten Rylander's many years of unique experience as an ambassador in African countries do not come to fruition in the book "Africa is turning - A continent in change". That is the opinion of Tom Alberts, an economist, who highlights some parts of the book here.

Sten Rylander has extensive experience of Africa and has been Ambassador / Page Manager in several African countries for many years. It was therefore with excitement that I read his book “Africa is turning - A continent in change” (Historical Media 2014). The book is built around 12 different themes. There is a lot to be said about the different areas he writes about, but I intend to address some overarching issues.

For me as an economist, with long experience from both South America and Africa, the book feels quite thin and Rylander's unique experiences do not come into their own. Let me take an example. Sales of JAS planes to South Africa have been marred by huge bribery scandals. He mentions the scandal but does not develop the issue. The references do not even include Nils Resare's book “Bribes, power and aid. JAS and the South African business ”mentioned. On the cover of Resare's book are a few words by Desmund Tutu from 2009: “Sweden supported us in our freedom struggle. You would have continued to be our friends and helped us become a viable economy instead of forcing us to buy weapons and aircraft that we did not really need. ”

There are several books I think he should have read. In addition to the one mentioned above, I miss e.g. Bengt Nilsson's book "Sweden's African War" which was published in 2008.

Rylander addresses the issue of corruption, but among the links is not a link to Transparency International. ( With his long experience from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sida, I had expected more about the JAS scandal and a discussion about the extent to which Swedish companies have bribed contracts. And I question his positive interpretation: "A collective visit to Africa in May 2013 by five Swedish ministers… sent a strong signal that cooperation with the new emerging Africa is given high priority". (p. 143) Swedish companies have extensive experience of bribing contracts. How should we handle the difficult question is not mentioned?

Certainly, Africa has experienced very rapid economic growth in recent years. But this has happened all over the world after Globalization, which gained momentum after the collapse of the socialist countries. A large part of Africa's growth consists of a gigantic looting of non-renewable natural resources. The rapidly growing exports have often led to an overvaluation of the domestic currency and thus difficulties for farmers and to the development of a domestic industry, the so-called Dutch disease - And the rapid urbanization is a result of the peasants fleeing poverty. As early as 1977, Michael Lipton wrote about this problem: “Why Poor People Stay Poor. Urban Bias in World Development ”.

Professor Hans Rosling, who is also not mentioned among the references, has in a pedagogical way demonstrated the positive connection between economic growth and key social variables such as child mortality and life expectancy. In recent years, he has paid increasing attention to distribution issues. On the positive side, Rylander addresses the distribution problems in Africa.

Repeatedly, there are interesting facts. For example. on page 138 the discussion of China's investment and trade with Africa. Unfortunately, there are usually no references.

In The Epilogue, p. 153, Rylander writes: “(We) who care about Africa and believe in the future of the continent. We want to see the positive and preferably not take into account negative factors that interfere with the prepared image. ” One thought, are it continents and countries that we should focus the analysis on? Is it not human welfare that should be at the center? The USA has a high income, but if you analyze the social variables, the picture becomes very negative, e.g. in comparison with Sweden.

Globalization, and with it rapid economic growth, has led to a radical reduction in global poverty. But there are still a billion people living in extreme poverty. They are not only found in poor countries. And their future prospects are poor.

That in 2014 about 80 people have more income than the poor in the world feels highly unethical. And how can one be positive about Africa's growth: "In many African countries, the benefits of growth reach only the 1 or 2 percent of the population that makes up the ruling elite."? (p. 151)

Tom Alberts


Tom Alberts has been working on development issues for decades, both as a researcher and as a "practitioner". Here is Tom's article in GP (Göteborgsposten) from October 6, 2013. As early as 1982, Tom wrote a debate article in DN "Our development assistance lacks knowledge and long-term perspective".

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