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Todd MossMy guest this week is Todd Moss, senior fellow and vice president for programs here at the Center for Global Development. Our topic is the newly updated edition of his popular primer: African Development: Making Sense of the Issues and Actors.

Todd tells me his publisher, Lynne Rienner, urged him to update the book, first published in 2007, because of the rapid pace of change in Africa, and the strong and growing interest in Africa among U.S. college students, a key audience for the book.

The book, he says, is not about grand ideas on how to fix Africa, but rather an overview of the key challenges facing Africans, the key players trying to promote progress, and the big debates that shaping the continent. This updated edition, he says, reflects recent successes and growing divergences among African economies.

I first ask Todd for his reaction to two Liberian women, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace activist Leymah Gbowee, being among the winners of this year’s shared Nobel Peace Prize (the third winner is Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, a journalist and pro-democracy campaigner). This sets the scene for our discussion of my favorite part of his book: Todd’s exposition of the phenomenon of African “big men” and two fascinating lists: “Ten Big Men You Probably Know” and “Ten Big Men You Probably Don’t Know, but Should.” I ask him to tell me about two from the second list (you will need to listen to the Wonkcast to find out who he selected or, better, buy the book and get to know them all).

We conclude with a discussion of the final section of the book, a concise overview of the growing role and recognition of the importance of private investment in Africa, and some of the legacy obstacles—not least being continued skepticism grounded in Africa’s experience of private firms serving as precursors for colonialism and European imperial expansion. Included in this section; topics as diverse as microfinance and Chinese investment in Africa.

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week. My thanks to Will McKitterick for his production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for assistance in drafting this blog post.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.