Why Africa’s development model puzzles economists

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IT IS easy to buy a rolex in Uganda—albeit not one that will tell the time. Sold at ubiquitous roadside stalls, the Ugandan rolex is a greasy snack, made from an omelette wrapped in a chapati (“roll eggs”). Sellers compete side-by-side for the same custom. So do the motorcycle-taxi drivers, hustling for rides; or the countless small shopkeepers, stocking near-identical goods. In Uganda, as in much of Africa, the informal service economy is a crowded place to be. But it is hard to find work anywhere else.

Last year GDP in sub-Saharan Africa grew by just 1.4%. Income per person fell. But growth in itself is not the issue that troubles policymakers and intrigues academics: for most of this century, after all, African economies have been among the fastest-growing in the world. What has flummoxed observers is where that growth comes from. In 1954 Arthur Lewis, a Nobel prize-winning economist, argued that development occurs as labour shifts from an unproductive “…

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