There is a comforting mainstream narrative which tells us that African nations, like the rest of the developing world, are doing just fine. Look past the terrorist incidents, the latest Ebola outbreak and areas of drought, and you will find that poverty is being alleviated and diseases confined to isolated pockets. A combination of western aid, Chinese investment and the rejuvenating application of neoliberal economic medicine in the guise of free trade has come to the rescue, this narrative runs, improving matters by measurable degrees.
This draws on figures from the World Bank showing that in 1981 around 42% of the world’s population was extremely poor, using $1.90 a day in 2011 prices as a yardstick. By 2013, that figure had fallen to 10.7%. An estimate by the bank suggests it fell further, to 9.1%, in 2016. Likewise, polio and other major diseases are in full retreat.