Paul Collier in his manuscript “The Bottom Billion” discusses several factors that cause chronic poverty in developing countries. He states that even though Western countries have developed tremendously and improved in their economies over time, many countries have not been able to catch up with the trend. These countries commonly attributed to in the book as the bottom billion have either stagnated in growth or achieved negative growth making them worse of economically. Essentially, the bottom billion nations have diverged from the other parts of the world and the gap between the developed, and underdeveloped countries continue to widen at approximately 1-5% per annum. 70% of the countries in the bottom billion are found in Africa, and Collier is quite particular about four traps that seem to ensure that these countries retain their impoverished statuses (Collier 4). The four factors that are highlighted as being the impediments to growth within these nations are war, natural resources, being landlocked, and autocracy.
The first trap that the bottom billion countries find themselves in is the constant conflicts and feuds that often face their countries. In these countries, it is established that there are always civil wars, coup d’états, and violence that are consistently rife. At one point, Collier establishes that these countries are shifting from dictatorship to democracy. However, the transition has not been quite smooth, and it has tended to escalate political violence rather than promote peaceful coexistence. The underdeveloped countries are constantly engaging in inter-ethnic violence and apparently the poorer a country is then, the more prospective it is in a cycle of insurgences and conflicts. Collier explains that this is the case because young men within these nations are unemployed and desperate to earn an income. Rebel groups utilize this opportunity to recruit these individuals into their armies. Furthermore, the government is never quite efficient in providing security to its citizenry and are never resourced effectively to maintain law and order. In an attempt to retain their rule, governments will tend to repress such rebellion rather unsuccessfully. Such an action often fuels frustrations within the public, and the cycle continues at the expense of the economy. When there is conflict within a nation, the economy is often destroyed, and there is a high risk of it returning to conflict. Investors are risk averse and are keen not to invest in risky ventures with low returns thus an economic trap (Collier 6).
The second trap is natural resources whereby the countries with the most abundant amounts of natural resources seem to not put them into proper use that guarantees growth and development. Instead of natural resources being an opportunity, it ends up being a source of corruption and creation of dysfunctional policies. When there are many resources found within a country and such a country does not have systems in place to effectively manage the resource then it is never utilized fully for development. Collier notes that diamond and oil are doing quite okay in Botswana and Norway respectively. He wonders why the same cannot be replicated in Central African Republic. He establishes that there is neither the personnel nor the expertise to handle production of resources in Central African Republic. In the end, leaders utilize dictatorial tendencies to control these resources and fund their armies to perpetuate violence. Revenues from natural resources in the bottom billion have had an adverse impact on democracies where leaders with lots of cash engage in patronage, corruption, and violence just to maintain power. Such economies can never develop and remain perpetually in poverty.
The third trap that countries in the bottom billion find themselves in is the aspect of being landlocked. A country is said to be landlocked when it does not have any coastline or seaport. Such a country is only surrounded by a land mass and is deemed not to be easily accessible. Collier recognizes that a country with resources that is landlocked has a far better chance at development than one that does not have any resources. Botswana, for example, is noncoastal but has means that are sort out by investors (Collier 8). However, most countries, especially in Africa that are landlocked, do not have resources hence become very impoverished due to their natural inability to attract investors. Such countries remain poor because they do not have resources to offer to the world and are rendered inaccessible due to their border lines.
The fourth trap that is highlighted on as a contributing factor to chronic poverty in world’s poorest countries is bad governance. The main problem that is being faced by the poverty-stricken countries is a lack of goodwill of leaders to contribute effectively towards positive growth and development. Often time’s leaders seek out leadership positions so that they can benefit themselves at the expense of the populace. Such leaders end up being corrupt and do not develop effective policies that can add value to the citizenry. Furthermore, the low education levels within these nations play a huge factor in contributing to persistent poverty. This is because the less educated leaders end up making poor policies that do not necessarily lead to positive growth and development. Reform can only be accelerated when there is a critical mass of educated individuals who can contribute comprehensively towards development. Most of those educated in the poverty-stricken countries end up leaving to get better jobs in other countries. When they do so, the developed countries get to benefit at the expense of the bottom billion which is quite detrimental.
Most of the countries that are impoverished feel behind and apart from the development that has taken place over the past 40 years. When the West achieved yearly growth levels of 2 to 5% per annum, as time proceeded, these countries stagnated in growth. The poverty stricken countries were on average growing at around 0.5% per year or even lower with some countries even recording negative growth rates (Collier 2). These are the main reason these countries are still poor despite the world economies improving on a yearly basis. However, things might just turn around for these countries if developed countries can support these nations to set credible goals of growth and development. Change has to originate from countries within the bottom billion but developed countries can provide policies that will ensure the efforts of developing countries pay off. The inability to produce capital within these nations has to be thoroughly addressed by ensuring that citizens of these nations can engage in the process of representation of property thus creation of capital. The bottom billion have a huge potential to overcome the barriers they face currently and develop into credible economic houses.
Collier, Paul. The bottom billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.