Take private schooling. In Lagos, Nigeria’s richest city, most government-run schools are dilapidated and staffed by teachers who often show up drunk, if they show up at all. In 2012, when researchers calculated that almost 60% of children weren’t attending school, the state government was flummoxed: tens of thousands of kids could be seen on the streets going to and coming home from schools. A survey of households found that almost all of these children were attending (mostly unlicensed) private schools, many of which charged less than 25,000 naira ($125) a year. This has nudged the government into improving state-funded schools by, among other things, looking at bringing in private-sector operators such as Bridge International Academies, a business that provides schools to about 100,000 Kenyan children at a cost of $70 a year.
In health care, street-side clinics offer many of the services that the state has failed to provide. Cheap equipment (much of it bought second-hand from the rich world) is allowing private doctors in Ibadan, Nigeria’s third-largest city, to offer scans and x-rays that the local hospital does not. Mobile phones have moved from the hands of bankers on Wall Street into those of most African adults, helping provide access to financial services.