Justin Sandefur over at the Center or Global Development shed light on what seems to be a very interesting pattern in development economics/African development. He looked at the papers from the recent Center for Study of African Economies conference (presentations – first graph and submissions -2nd graph). He rightly points out than African are disproportionately interested in jobs while Non-Africans are most interested in institutions. My inclination would be to believe that this finding is not non-trivial. That was my exact thinking when I posted this. What I wonder though is why? Why is it that Africans seems to be focused on labor, agriculture, poverty while Non-Africans are focused on political economy and institutional factors? I don’t really have an answer to this but I would like to think that logically African researchers are likely to be closer to local issues (whether physically when they are studying the issues from Africa or mentally because they grew up close to the issues at hand).
It’s really great that an army of devout development economists and policymakers are dedicating their life’s work to the cause of the well-being of Africans, but the implications red flags such as the one Sandefur is raising in these graphs are important to discuss. I would be thrilled to listen to a debate about African development between experts who work in Africa for Africa (regardless of origin) and those who work outside of Africa for Africa (regardless of origin). And no, flying over for a couple of days or weeks of fieldwork does not count as working in Africa. It belongs to the latter category.