In this book, Nicolas van de Walle identifies 26 countries that are extremely poor and grew little if at all in the 1990s. His sample excludes North Korea and countries where civil war explains some of their failure to grow (Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tajikistan and others). The 26 countries have limited infrastructure and human capital and the small size of their markets deter private savings and investment. Aid was meant to help overcome these problems, and these countries received a lot. Yet they have failed to grow. What is wrong? Is foreign aid a solution or part of the problem? What changes might make aid more effective? Given these countries require the financial and technical resources of the West, why haven’t aid programs made a difference?
Traditional economic theory predicts that capital mobility and international trade will push the world's national economies to one income level. As poorer nations race ahead, richer ones should slow down. Eventually, theory says, national economies would reach equilibrium. The reality of the last few decades, however, defies this notion; most of the poorest economies continue to lag far behind. For 50 years, foreign aid has been the main way the international community has promoted economic development. Yet it has not proven to be a silver bullet.
Although nearly all poor countries are classified by the World Bank as IDA-only, Nigeria stands out as a notable exception. Indeed, Africa’s most populous country is the poorest country in the world that is not classified as IDA-only. Under the World Bank’s own criteria, however, Nigeria has a strong case for reclassification. IDA-only status would have two potential benefits for Nigeria. First, it would expand Nigeria’s access to IDA resources and make the country eligible for grants. Second, it would strengthen Nigeria’s case for debt reduction. With a renewed economic reform effort getting under way and the emerging use of debt reduction as a tool for assisting economic and political transitions, the UK, the US, and other official creditors should support such a move as part of a broader strategy for encouraging progress in one of Africa’s most important countries.