We can make bad news look worse…and for Africa, we can make even good news look bad

Lost in the confusion of the Spring Meetings this weekend in Washington was the release of the IMF/World Bank Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2009, the annual song of woe about lack of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. You would think the current supply of bad news was adequate for our needs, but the GMR has long made a specialty of portraying the poor nations as bleakly as possible and this year’s report was no different. We learn:

  1. We face a “development emergency”, because “The triple jeopardy of the food, fuel, and financial crises is pushing many poor countries into a danger zone, imposing rising human costs and imperiling development prospects.” This statement seems oblivious to the reality that the three nicely alliterated crises have moved in opposite directions – the financial crisis has brought food and fuel prices back down to pre-food and fuel crisis levels, as their own Figure 1.2 on page 26 shows.
  2. The annual GMR ritual requires stating that Africa is worst: “At the regional level, Sub-Saharan Africa lags on all MDGs, including the goal for poverty reduction.” As I previously complained in a now published academic paper, arbitrary choices on how to define the MDGs make Africa look worse than it would look in other equally plausible formulations of progress. In particular, some of Africa’s achievements on health, education, and water are portrayed as “failures”, even when they match or exceed other regions or the historical rate of progress of the rich countries. Lastly, the GMR gives Africa little credit for once again surpassing 5 percent GDP growth in 2008, continuing a growth spurt in the new millennium that just happens to be the highest growth in Africa’s history.

Yes, things are tragically bad for many poor peoples right now. But making them look even worse than they are, although helpful for mobilizing support for aid agencies, is disrespectful towards the real achievements of those same poor.

Originally published at Aid Watch and reproduced here with the author’s permission.