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We often hear people talk about developed and developing countries. Developed nations are rich countries that have achieved a high standard of living for their populations. Developing nations are… well… all the rest that have yet to achieve prosperity. However, the term ‘developing country’ implies that these nations are on their way to becoming advanced economies. So why, over so many decades and with so much assistance, are some countries still developing?
A first reason why some countries are still developing, whilst others are fully developed, is because of the legacy of colonialism.
Between the 1500s and the mid to late 20th Century, European countries essentially controlled every other nation – bar a very few exemptions. Empires are inherently extractive and the Europeans used theirs to extract material and human resources from the areas they conquered. European colonialism stunted the development of many nations as the colonial powers failed to invest in creating robust political systems and coherent nation states.
…as a result, when many developing countries gained their independence, they lacked the structures needed to catch up with the developed nations of Europe and North America. This is a key reason why some countries are still developing.
Colonialism held back the development of a huge number of nations. Although a few have raced to catch-up, the majority are still developing even decades after colonialism ended. Colonialism is not the only reason countries are still developing, but it is one of the main ones.
A second reason why some countries are still developing is because of their poor geography.
A nations geography can be vital to its success. Geographical features such a mountains, rivers, forests and jungles can create natural defensive barriers. Arable land is key for farming and feeding a population. Rivers and access to the sea can make transporting and importing goods much easier and cheaper.
Many developing countries have poor geography. They lack the natural features that would help them to develop more easily. As a result, many poorer countries have struggled to become wealthy and this is why we have nations that are still developing.
Few countries have been able to overcome bad geography in order to develop. The ones that have required significant economic growth, entrepreneurship and strong leadership. Many poorer countries lack these and as a result are still developing.
A third reason why countries are still developing is because of chronic mismanagement.
For a nation to succeed it needs competent leaders. It also needs a system of government that is effective enough to deliver services, operate the mechanisms of the state and provide a degree of accountability to those in charge. Across the developing world many countries have had decades of mismanagement. This is why they are still developing.
Long lasting mismanagement keeps a nation poor. Countries that lack effective leadership fail to create economies where people can utilize their resources and skills to create businesses and enterprises. They also fail to attract investment. Without these, a nation’s people cannot effectively create wealth, and dynamism and entrepreneurship struggle to materialize.
Many countries are still developing because they have been unable to install leaders who are able to manage the country well. This has meant they remained behind developed countries are still struggling to create widespread wealth.
Another reason why some countries are still developing is because they are recovering from the impact of conflicts.
Wars cause immense damage to a nation. Large numbers of people are killed and injured. Houses, businesses and infrastructure is also damaged. Countries at war dedicate an enormous amount of resources to fighting, meaning money, material and people are directed away from productive economic activities.
Countries that have experienced war often fail to develop. Even more advanced nations that see conflicts often fall backwards in their development. As war is widespread around the world, this is major reason why some countries are still developing.
It can take decades for countries to recover from wars. The deep economic, as well as human, scars make rebuilding after conflicts difficult. Modern wars also create huge numbers of refugees who are often reluctant to return. This can mean nations that have experienced wars can lose much of their best talent. This is a further key reason why some nations have not been able to catch-up with developed countries.
International Development Online Courses
If you want to know more about why there are still developing countries, we highly recommend the online short course Sustainable Development in the 21st Century by Yonsei University. Delivered by former UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, the course is a great introduction to the issues developing countries face. The link is to the course’s page.
We also think the online course Management of International Development: Towards Agenda 2030 is great. It looks at the current international development model as well as the trends that will be key to global development in the near future. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.
If you are interested in the practical methods used on international development programmes, we recommend the online course How To Design & Fund International Development NGO Projects. The course teaches students the tools needed to establish and run impactful development projects. Click the link to visit the course’s page for more information.
One reason why countries are still developing is because of their weak economies.
For a country to transition from developing to fully developed it needs to grow its economy. Having a stronger economy not only means a nation’s population is richer, but also that the state can raise more revenue. This allows the government to deliver public services such as education and healthcare, as well as develop key infrastructure such as road and rail networks, utilities and tele-communication networks.
Many nations are still developing because they have failed to expand their economies. Wages are low, there is a lack of quality jobs. People also struggle to set-up, run and grow quality businesses. Many developing countries economies also rely too heavily on resource extraction and agriculture – economic areas that have limited value add. As a result, these economies remain at the development stage.
Although efforts have been made to improve the economies of many poorer countries, unless significant economic growth can be achieved, there will still be many developing countries in the world.
A further reason why there are still developing countries is because many poorer nations face major internal divisions.
If a country is going to develop, it must become a coherent nation. Countries that are racked with major ethnic, religious, linguistic and economic divisions often struggle to develop. Although there are nations that have divisions such as these that have been able to become wealthy, most nations fail to overcome major intrenched internal divides.
For a country to become fully developed, the whole nation must see the benefit of improved economic growth and better living standards. Many countries that are divided either see no significant development, or only see development within a certain area of the country. This lop-sided and uneven development still holds a nation back, as it can fuel political divisions, raise tensions and ultimately lead to conflict.
That fact that many poorer nations struggle to overcome their internal divisions is a major reason why there are still developing countries.
A final reason why there are still developing countries is because many poorer nations have inefficient institutions.
A nations intuitions include its political, economic and legal systems, as well as the protections citizens enjoy such as the rule of law, a free press and property rights. The effective implementation of these is vital for a country to succeed. Countries that have weak, of inefficient, institutions, not only fail to grow economically, but also often face political crises and instability. These factors are key to why some countries are still developing.
Another factor of weak institutions that holds countries back is widespread corruption. Well ran and strong institutions are one of the key barriers against corruption. As many poorer countries have inefficient institutions, it means corruption often takes hold and becomes imbedded in the country’s economic and political systems. Corruption is proven to be a major factor in keeping countries poor and so is one reason why some nations are still developing.