The standard diagnosis of sub-Saharan Africa is that it is suffering from a governance crisis. This is too simplistic. Many parts of Africa are well governed considering the income levels and extent of poverty, yet are caught in a poverty trap, unable to make the investments in human capital and infrastructure that are required to achieve self-sustaining economic growth. Africa's special challenges, which include low productivity agriculture, a high disease burden and high transport costs, render African countries most vulnerable to persistent extreme poverty. The region's development challenges run much deeper than “governance.”
Indeed, many African countries require a “big push” in public investments to overcome these obstacles. One of the Millennium Project's key arguments is that Africa's structural challenges can and must be overcome through an intensive program of public investments in basic infrastructure and social services like ports, roads, generators, malaria bed-nets, health care clinics, and so on.
Since most countries in sub-Saharan Africa do not have the resources required to finance these investments, they will need significantly increased additional official development assistance if they are to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Many well-intentioned governments simply lack the fiscal resources to invest in the infrastructure, social services, and even the public administration necessary to improve governance or to lay the foundations for economic development and private sector-led growth. Without roads, soil nutrients, electricity, safe cooking fuels, clinics, schools, and adequate and affordable shelter, people are chronically hungry, disease-burdened, and unable to save. Without adequate public sector salaries and information technologies, public management will be chronically weak. The poorest countries will remain unable to attract private investment flows or retain their skilled workers.
The Goals provide a solid framework for identifying investments that need to be made to escape the poverty trap. They point to areas of public investment—water, sanitation, slum upgrading, education, health, and basic infrastructure—that reduce income poverty and gender inequalities, improve human capital, and protect the environment. By achieving the Goals, poor countries will establish an adequate base of infrastructure and human capital that will enable them to escape from the poverty trap.