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Why are many African nations poor?

Why are many African nations poor?


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Many African countries are currently in the bottom parts of socioeconomic rankings like GDP per capita, life expectancy, literacy, HDI, etc. Some of them possess a decent amount of natural resources and relatively low population burden, so this is disappointing.

Are there historical reasons for this to have happened? And yes, I know there are poor countries everywhere, but there seems to be an unusually high concentration of them especially in the Sub-Saharan region. And before colonization is brought up as a factor, let me remind you the United States is a former British colony.


For a country to be economically prosperous you need a couple of things:

  1. You need the rule of law in the economy. A country where people can steal, cheat or break contracts as they wish makes it very difficult to conduct business.

  2. You need ownership rights. If you do not own the land, factory or house that you are using to make money, you will not invest in it as the investment is likely to be taken away from you.

  3. You need a high life expectancy, and you need inheritances. If you are likely to die soon, you won't try to build a business long term. Instead you will try to steal others money, since making your own fortune will take too long. Similarly you will not try to amass a fortune if you can't pass it on to your offspring.

Some things that therefore prevent prosperity are wars, socialism and diseases. Africa has been quite uniquely ravaged by all three during the 20th century. During the 18th and especially 19th century it was ravaged by the western powers who of course based their whole interest there in stealing.[1]

It is notable that natural resources do not figure in the list. In fact, having plenty of natural resources are often a curse, as it will attract people who aren't interested in keeping 1, 2 and 3 alive and well. The natural resources in Africa are sometimes a cause for war, and almost always a cause for large-scale corruption and a practical collapse of the rule of law.

References:

[1] Kevin Shillington, History of Africa. New York: Macmillian Publishers Limited, 2005 or for that matter any history book about colonization.


An interesting analysis on this question was brought up by Jared Diamond author of "Guns, Germs and Steel" and I believe it is a more accurate answer to the question than that offered by Lennart Regebro (no offense intended to that author!). While Regebro is certainly true in explaining major factors to the continuation of many African nations relative poverty, it ignores the root cause of the initial wealth in-balance between Europe and the U.S. in contrast to many African nations. According to Mr. Diamond's analysis, while Africa in general is rich with many types of natural resources, it was initially poor in the resources most important to early civilization, domesticable plant and animal life.

First, Mr. Diamond identifies 14 major domesticable animal types of which five are most important those being sheep, goats, cows, pigs and horses. The lesser animal types include the Arabian camel, Bactrian camel, Llama and Alpaca, Donkey, Reindeer, Water Buffalo, Yak, Bali cattle, Mitha. It is important to point out that NONE of these animals have ancestors in sub-Saharan Africa; 13 of the 14 DO have ancestors in Eurasia. Most animals in Africa, particularly in the Sahara, are either difficult to domesticate or do not provide sufficient quantities of meat, milk, or labor. Furthermore, four of the five major domesticable plant types: wheat, corn, rice, barley, and sorghum are found in Eurasia. Climate was also a factor as it promoted the diffusion of both domesticable animals and plants throughout Eurasia while hindering their spread through Africa and the Americas.

All this slowed the development of civilization in Africa and subsequent technological advances, while assisting development in Europe and Asia. Hence, while major empires such as the Sassanian, Han Chinese, Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Mongolian etc all derive from Eurasia, Africa has had less success in cultivating sedentary agricultural societies necessary to develop empires and subsequent technological/societal advancement (likewise the environmental devastation caused by many early farming techniques helps in part to explain the decline of the empires of the once-fertile crescent and the now relative poverty of non-oil bearing Arabian states).

Colonialization is a major factor indeed, and while not a symptom of poverty it has greatly exacerbated it. The development of colonies has created a continuing drain on African nation's resources and the destructive political/military intervention of outside powers (note current destabilizing American wars in Yemen and Somalia). However I would note for the asker that the difference between the colonization of America and that of African nations is more profound then the author realizes. In the former Britian sought to develop widespread settlement in North America, whereas in the latter European powers have instead sought widespread control of resources. Thus many of the British settlers in North America grew powerful as a result of owning/working the land and the largely beneficial policies/support of Britian (despite taxation w/out representation, the colonists did receive a great deal of military, technological and financial investment), whereas African nations were subject to massive resource theft and control from a small minority of European colonists. The key point here is that American colonists benefited from the advantages bestowed by their client empire (which in turn was granted them by luck), whereas American natives and Africans have suffered precisely because of said advantages to early Eurasian development.


Most African nations became independent around 1950-1965. That is almost 70 years ago. Blaming all problems on colonial powers who left them to fence for themselves is a pretty weak argument by now. At the same time Asian countries became independent and they've done a whole lot better. Add to that the almost limitless development aid western nations supply. Thailand, for example has never received anything, and they do pretty well.

So, what reasons can I give?

  • Rampant corruption. Thailand rates high on the corruption index, but Africa trumps the list. With (dis)honors. Leaders enrich themselves and their entourage, nobody else.

  • Tribalism. You can only partly blame this on colonial powers. As far as I know very few African nations are a real nation. People feel first member of tribe X and only then citizen of state Y. After 50 years of independence you might expect to see less tribalism.

  • Very poor education. A few lucky ones can study in Europe or America. Upon graduation, they more often than not decide to stay where they are. That way they make a lot more money. Their countries don't benefit from their knowledge.

  • Western (and Chinese) exploitation. Development aid almost always comes with strings attached. Usually the wrong ones: "we only give you xxx million if you buy our products". Or "If you invest in growing more whatevers (which we don't want) we cut your aid."

There are plenty more reasons, but these I see as the main ones.


An influential up-to-date source on this topic is "Why nations fail" by Acemoglu and Robinson. Their basic argument is that institutions are the factor most responsible of the prosperity. They largely divide political institutions into extractive and inclusive. The former are oriented towards enabling a small portions to extract and manage profits from economy, while the latter allow the majority to invest and innovate to generate wealth, and participate in decision-making.

The further argue that while both type of institutions can generate growth, only in the inclusive case can the growth be sustained in the long run. The prerequisites for both types of growth is a strong state; in the extractive case, the elites may then feel secure enough to invest in the hope to later extract more. Of course, if the country is failed, this will not happen, whoever is lucky to have control more arm will try and extract as much as possible.

Both cases are normally stable equlibria; the inclusive institutions induces political pluralism, which in its turn prevents small groups from grabbing power and creating extractive institutions. If the institutions are extractive, the powers is also controlled by the rich, enabling more extractive institutions. Of course there are exceptions, e. g. when more inclusiveness has to be allowed to avert revolution/fight external threats. Or when extractors manage to subdue political pluralism.

Africa, in the era of the slave trade and colonial empires was of course an epitome of extractive institutions. Upon de-colonization, in the best case, these same institutions were taken over by new elites, and in the worst case, no-one was able to take over, leading to violence and chaos continuing to this day like in DRK. In most cases, the extractive nature of institutions remains, and politically, the institutions are unstable enough to discourage the elites from investment.

All in all the book is long, I would recommend to read it in its entirety; one more point about modern US's colonial past. From the get-go, these colonies were very different from African or e. g. Mesoamerican. When Columbus/Cortes/etc. arrived, they created or taken over extremely extractive institutions, basically just enslaving the population to mine for gold or silver etc. People who arrived to New England hoped to do the same, but were quickly disappointed - there were no existing extractive institutions easy to take over, nor were there anything to extract. They needed hard work and every member of colony to survive, and that lead to creation of inclusive institutions from get-go.


Briefly, Sub-Saharan Africa had low population density- which meant low specialization, high transport costs, and low wealth concentration- because

  1. Coevolution of pathogens, parasites & predators. Since our species originated there, things which prey upon us or which compete with us have had more time to 'coevolve'. This also impacted domestication of animals though importation- e.g. of cattle- could enable pastoral wealth to greatly increase. This should have led to a population explosion and may in fact be associated with the rapid spread of certain language families. However overall population density was still handicapped by endemic diseases which only began to yield to modern medicine in the late nineteenth century
  2. The Slave Trade enabled a particular type of patrimonial social order to emerge which reduced incentives for 'class formation' and retarded the development of high value to weight adding industries. It is not that entrepreneurial drive was lacking or that the people weren't innovative and quick to learn- rather, it was a case of quick profits from selling people rather than building up capital by exploiting their labor power in situ. On the other hand, the Slave Trade enabled Potentates to preserve independence and even build Empires. But once the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was halted a power vacuum was created. King Leopold's Congo showed that this could make Africans much worse off.

Africa's population started to grow rapidly only relatively recently. Still, most visitors didn't feel Africans were poor in the way that the Indians were poor. Africans were well built, handsome and had sufficient leisure to pursue sophisticated cultural and religious activities. Thus a 'hut tax' was needed to force Africans to take up laboring jobs. But wages were low and traditional African mores re. sharing, bride-price, gift giving etc were a hindrance in the emergence of a class of entrepreneurs. Yet among some communities, there can be no doubt that there were prosperous men who were shrewd businessmen and who found no difficulty entering into profitable relationships with diverse ethnic trading networks. However, inheritance customs, whether traditional or Islamic militated against the continuity of the enterprise on the death of the principal.

By the time of Independence, there had been and was a rapid breakdown of traditional 'risk pooling' and sharing strategies without its replacement by 'modern' cash economy based schemes. Sometimes leaders were out of touch with the ground reality. In other case, idealistic Socialism or grandiose plans based on borrowed money hindered the development of 'civil society'. There were also one or two utterly paranoid leaders- just as on other continents.

What this meant was that poverty, as a social condition of a relatively novel sort, started reproducing itself rapidly under conditions of 'involution', agricultural and otherwise. This means falling marginal product- i.e. lower real wages.

Another factor, much highlighted in the Seventies was the fall in the terms of trade for primary producers which reduced real income for much of Sub Saharan Africa. What is amazing is the resilience and dynamism of the population. Africa, like Europe and more recently the East Asian countries, is using mass poverty to bring itself to the point of economic 'take-off'. Thankfully, plenty of International NGOs are working very hard to ensure that Africa remains poor. Sadly, this may not be enough. Unless we learn to think globally and embrace a sustainable life-style for the sake of our planet, Sub-Saharan Africa may grow rich.


African Nations are poor for several reasons, Here is a list I made.

1) Conflict & Wars

An example of war and conflicts decimating an African's country economy is the east African TPLF-Ethiopian government conflict, a recent missile attack that damaged an airport and there are Eritrean Mercenary-Like troops in Ethiopia starting massacres.

2) Disease

In the past, there were many diseases such as Malaria and Ebola that especially hit African country's hard. An example of this is the DRC where throughout the start of the 21st century HIV and other diseases sprang up.

3) Climate & Weather

Cyclones are devastating events in Africa that can tear down businesses and devastate villages. Many Cyclones that hit east and central-east Africa come from the Indian ocean while other Cyclones can form in the Atlantic near the coast of north and central Africa.

4) Colonialism

Although there are almost no colonies today, in the past many European countries pushed out Cushite & Indigenous people out of Africa. Arabians (Such as Yemen) also invaded Africa and exploited its items and abused indigenous people and cultures. This can have a lasting impact.

Africa is a hard place to establish a developed nation or even impossible without the help of other developed nations outside of the continent (Take, for example, Ethiopian Cities which were built by the Chinese). Simply because of the environment, Deforestation could backfire. Wars can damage infrastructure. Africa won't be developing forever though.


This Article by "Compassion.com emphasizes child malnourishment and poverty as well as rampant government corruption. When I observe the situation in African nations it almost resembles a neverending quiet revolution. There are many wars/conflicts in east/central Africa as I write and even if Africa has many Natural resources it still is considered "Developing". here is a piece of the article that came out to me the most:

"Poor people often lack hope for the future because they live in a lie. The lie of poverty, that is reinforced day-in and day-out is, “You don't matter. You're worthless.”

Whether in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda or Zambia, the poor in the world's poorest countries live in hopelessness… every day, in multiple ways.

Imagine not being able to provide enough food for your children or pay for a hospital visit when a child is sick or injured. Imagine the guilt, grief, and despair.

The poor are helpless in the face of war and natural disasters. When natural disasters and conflict occur, the poor suffer the most. They are unprotected, uncared for, and unnoticed.

Overcrowded urban areas where millions of the poor live in slum conditions increase the risk of disease and increase the death toll when conflict and war erupt or an environmental disaster hits.

Poverty often causes the poor to put pressure on their environment, and in turn the environment contributes to the suffering the poor endure.

Damage to the natural environment in which the poor live increases the impact floods and other natural disasters have. But "natural disasters" are as much a result of poor government, bad infrastructure, population density, rampant population growth and unequal living conditions as anything else. Extreme poverty helps create the disaster.

Limited access to sanitation and clean water lead to poor hygiene practices and more disease, which hinder the ability of the poor to work or attend school. And when someone more powerful takes advantage of them, from withholding wages or payments to trafficking a child, the poor are unable to pursue justice, for they lack the money and connections to do so."

Meaning of "Developing"

Many people say the word "Developing" to refer to mostly African/Latin American Nations. Developing is better than using the term "Third World" which is disrespectful. Developing is when a country doesn't have enough resources to be successful but has those resources getting increased when that resource (And Health Generally) is many, it thus will be a "Developed nation".

Here is another piece that explains why Africa lives in poverty:

"One in three Africans live below the global poverty line.2 They make up 70 percent of the global poor, and their numbers are rising.2 Despite the overwhelming number of extremely poor people in Africa, the causes of poverty on the continent are no different than the causes of poverty around the world. They can be grouped into two primary categories-external or cultural factors and internal elements.

External factors include, but are not limited to:

Lack of shelter Limited access to clean water resources Food insecurity Lack of access to health care Government corruption Poor infrastructure Limited or dwindling natural resources The internal elements that contribute to poverty are intangible and can include, >among many possibilities, deficiencies in:

Knowledge Aspiration Diligence Values Self-confidence Self-esteem When you've never seen someone escape a life of poverty, you have no reason to believe that escape is possible. Poverty becomes your lot in life and part of your identity.

You can't imagine a better future because you've never seen one, or if you have, it's a future for other people, not a future for someone like you.

This lack of hope keeps people in poverty even when an opportunity that could change their lives presents itself.

What Causes Poverty in Sub-saharan Africa? While the root causes of poverty in Sub-saharan Africa are not different from the causes of poverty anywhere else, poverty has been growing in Sub-saharan Africa due to the long-term impacts of external factors like war, genocide, famine, and land availability. Unless all the factors are addressed, the cycle of poverty in Sub-saharan Africa will gain momentum and continue grow, as each component of poverty reinforces the others."

As you pointed out in your question, you are right the US is a former colony but the US was not the "Victim" of the colonization, Indigenous Americans were the victims. Mussolini's Italy attempted to colonize Ethiopia only to meet a gradual failure. The way the Italians met the Ethiopian's with such hostility and toxicity certainly did affect their economy. Colonization does qualify as a factor.


The Poorest Countries In Africa

Many countries, such as the Central African Republic, remain poor despite their wealth of natural resources.

Despite being rich in natural resources, the economies of some African countries are negatively impacted by high rates of corruption, lack of proper medical and education facilities, underdeveloped infrastructure, civil wars, political unrest and other such problems. Many of the poorest countries in Africa are also among the poorest countries in the world. Here we discuss some of these nations, their economies, and the factors impeding economic progress.


1) Civil Wars and Terrorism

The argument that civil wars, like terrorism, contribute to poverty is a no-brainer. Wars disorient people and leave them destitute. They also disconnect businesses from their clients. Moreover, roads and communication networks are destroyed or barred which further cripples these businesses. Industries collapse, people loose jobs and investors lose confidence in the affected country thus pushing the affected region down the economic slopes.

Then, of course, there is the trail of deaths and scores of people left injured not to mention the loss of property which adds to the increase in poverty levels in areas marred by wars and terrorism.

According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, the cost of terrorism to the world was $52.9 billion in 2014. This is the highest number since 2011. 32,000 people died due to terrorism acts in the same year.

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In Nigeria, the Boko Haram insurgency has led to over 100,000 deaths since it started its brutal operation six years ago.the Boko Haram insurgency has led to over 100,000 deaths since it started

These terrorist acts have not only resulted in deaths and injuries but have also affected the socio-economic divisions in the country.

Reports from the oil producing country say that business activity in regions like Kano had dropped by 80% by 2015. Apart from business disruption, the revolt has caused sporadic migration, abandonment of professions and jobs, discouraged foreign investment, food scarcity and dehumanized people. All these factors put together will attract poverty in the region.

Nigeria, which became Africa’s largest economy in 2014 is experiencing economic challenges with World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2016 predicting that the country’s economy will continue to slow down.

With such high economic impacts and deaths, poverty is inevitable.


Why Is Africa Poor?

Black Africa is the poorest part of the world by far. It is in Africa that we find countries like Zaire, Ethiopia, Chad, and the Sudan, where gross national product per person is less than $200 a year. The 41 nations of sub-Saharan Africa produce no more wealth than the tiny country of Belgium, which has only one forty-fifth as many people. Of all of the region’s economic production, white-run South Africa accounts for three quarters.

Numbers like these mean that Africans live in misery so desperate that Americans can scarcely imagine it. Every year, thousands of Africans die of starvation. In bad years, hundreds of thousands starve. Even in tropical parts of Africa untouched by famine, as many as one third of all children die before the age of five. One in a hundred births kills the mother. Malaria, sleeping sickness, hepatitis, leprosy, and AIDS are rampant.

Nevertheless, the population of Africa grows faster than that of any other region of the world. The total number of children, grand children, and great-grand children that the average American woman will have is 14. The equivalent figure for the average African woman is 258! Despite the ravages of disease, starvation, and inter-tribal warfare, Africa’s population increases by more than three percent a year. At that rate, populations can double in 20 years.

Standard Explanations

Why is Africa poor? The standard explanations blame anyone but the Africans. Colonization by whites, it is said, kept Africa poor. The slave trade depleted the continent and impoverished it. Multinational corporations plundered it.

Just as blacks in America seek to explain their own failings by blaming them on whites, Africans explain their own poverty by blaming Europe. Recently, this is how a broadcast on Somalia’s state-owned radio attacked the BBC for reporting uncomplimentary facts:

The BBC’s day dream . . . was to succeed once again in looting at will the abundant natural resources both on land and at sea in the third world, particularly in Africa.

The colonial bogeyman still lives.

The argument that colonization accounts for Africa’s poverty is so easily refuted that it should have gone out of currency long ago. That it has not can be attributed only to the apparently endless capacity of whites to accept arguments that paint them as villain.

The British Empire in 1897.

To believe that colonization thwarted the economic development of Africa is to believe that indigenous societies were on their way towards prosperity but were brutally shoved off course by Europeans. In fact, African societies south of the Sahara that had not had contact either with Europeans or with Middle Eastern traders showed no signs of modern development. No pre-contact African society had devised a written language or had discovered the wheel. None had a calendar, or built multi-story buildings. No African had learned how to domesticate animals. The smelting of iron was widespread, as was fire-hardened pottery, but the continent did not produce anything that could be called a mechanical device.

Africans had no concept of the biological origins of disease, and attributed personal misfortunes to the work of evil spirits. Slavery was widely practiced, and deeply rooted in Africa long before the arrival of Europeans. There is no reason to think that, left to themselves, Africans would have risen from the primitive conditions in which Europeans found them.

The European slave trade, though unquestionably harmful to Africa, was hardly the depopulating scourge it is often made out to be. When the 15th century Portuguese began sailing down the coast, they met long-established slave traders keen to sell off surpluses. Europeans almost never went on slaving expeditions into the interior. They bought slaves from dealers, which means that slaves taken from Africa were first enslaved by other Africans.

At the same time, Europeans introduced two New World staples that could be stored — cassava and corn — revolutionizing the African food supply. The sudden increase in population more than made up for losses to the European slave trade which, in any case, ended by the middle of the 19th century.

It was trade with Europeans that introduced modernity to iron-age Africa. Far from hobbling and holding the continent back, colonization laid the foundations for whatever evidence of economic progress can now be found in Africa. It was Europeans who built roads and rail lines, introduced piped water, schools and telecommunications, and built national administrations. Nothing suggests that Africans would have achieved any of this on their own.

There is no question but that life for Africans improved steadily under colonization. By the 1960s, when most of Africa became independent, the region exported food. Now, it devours more than $1 billion a year in Western food aid, and thousands still starve.

It is possible to argue that Africans might have been better off if they had been left entirely alone. This is to take a romantic view of the disease, tribal warfare, slavery, and ignorance that were widespread on the continent. Moreover, no African group that has glimpsed the possibilities of Western progress has opted to return to purely African primitivism. This suggests that Africans themselves would rather have the benefits of Western technology than do without them. Given that people naturally yearn for medical advance and material progress, colonization was an obvious and striking benefit to Africa.

The benefits are particularly clear in any comparison of those parts of Africa that were colonized with those that were not. Ethiopia remained independent except for a brief occupation by Italy during the 1930s. It is the poorest country on the continent, with an annual per capita gross national product (GNP) of $130. Eritrea, which was absorbed by Ethiopia after the Second World War, had been an Italian colony for 50 years. It is more advanced in every way. Though it has only three percent of Ethiopia’s population, it has 30 percent of its industry. It recently won a decades-old war of independence against Ethiopia.

An equally stark contrast can be found in West Africa. Ivory Coast, heavily colonized by the French, is much better developed than neighboring Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves in 1822. Liberians, apparently unaware of the political heresy they are uttering, freely attribute the miserable state of their country to its having gone without “the benefits of colonization.”

The Decline Since Independence

What about Africa since independence? During the first few years, while some European procedures were still being followed, the standard of living in Africa continued to improve. It is in the last 20 years, during which Africans themselves have shaped their own nations, that conditions have deteriorated spectacularly. Virtually without exception, Africans have failed to build modern economies.

In the last dozen years, per capita GNP has fallen every year in Africa. By 1989, per capita food production in Africa was only three quarters what it had been in 1970. In 1985, an estimated 25 percent of African pre-school children suffered from acute protein deficiency. Only five years later, an estimated 40 percent did.

It is not as though Africa has been neglected by white countries. Since the 1960s, they have poured more than $300 billion in aid into the continent. Tanzania, a favorite target for Scandinavian largess, received $8.6 billion between 1970 and 1988 — more than four times its 1988 GNP. By that year, Tanzania’s annual per capita GNP was a pitiful $160, lower than at independence in 1961.

Obviously, it is much easier for undeveloped nations to copy the tried and tested technology of nations that have gone before. They need not invent telephones or electric power generators. They need only install and maintain what Europeans have invented. Africans cannot or will not.

Often African “leaders” are outright pirates whose only interest is in enriching themselves and their cronies. Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko is perhaps the worst. He has been in power since 1965, and has looted the country of an amount estimated to be between two and ten billion dollars. Either figure would make him one of the richest men in the world. He owns chateaus or estates in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Ivory Coast. He has 11 palaces in Zaire itself, including one in his home village of Gbadolite that is so lavish it is known as the Versailles of the Jungle. Mr. Mobutu likes to be called “Messiah,” and has worked up a personality cult for his hotel-maid mother that rivals that of the Virgin Mary.

Mobutu Sese and Richard Nixon

Zaire, which is blessed with diamonds, gold, silver, copper, and uranium, should be one of the richest countries in the world. Today it has a per capita annual GNP of $180. The World Bank has calculated that from 1973 to 1985, per capita income fell by 3.9 percent every year, and is now one tenth what it was in 1960 when the country became independent of Belgium.

Zaire has not built a hospital in 20 years. In the ones that still remain, nurses and doctors must be bribed to do their work. Road maintenance is so primitive that the 1,100-mile drive from the Atlantic to Zaire’s eastern border that used to take two days now takes three weeks. In the rainy season, the trip may be impossible. Reliable electricity and plumbing are hazy memories from the colonial past.

Rarely do African leaders show the slightest evidence that they have any concern for their people. Consider Madagascar. When the French controlled the island, they nearly succeeded in wiping out the malaria mosquito. When the Malagasies were given independence, they let public health programs fall into decay. By 1988, when 100,000 people had died of the disease in just six months, the national malaria-control laboratory owned one Bunsen burner and two old microscopes. The Swiss government, under World Bank auspices, has offered to donate 300 million tablets of anti-malarial drugs — enough to treat the entire population for two years — but the Madagascar government insists on selling them rather than handing them out free. This ensures that most people won’t get them and that a few government officials will get even richer than they already are.

In the Sudan, where starving people are so desperate that they sell their children into slavery, government authorities refuse to let western relief agencies operate unless they pay fat bribes. Even then, aid convoys are often attacked and pillaged by government soldiers who then sell relief supplies for their own profit.

In Zambia, the percentage of government spending that goes to education dropped from 19 percent in 1972 to 8 percent in 1987, even though the number of students doubled. Zambia’s president, Kenneth Kaunda, has stolen so much of the state budget that he is estimated to be worth as much as $6 billion. In the capital, Lusaka, only an estimated one half of city employees actually work.

Ivory Coast is putting the finishing touches on a $280 million Catholic cathedral made of marble, ivory, and gold. By papal request, the cupola will stand a few feet lower than that of St. Peter’s in Rome, but Our Lady of Peace will still be able to accommodate 300,000 worshipers at a time. The cathedral is located, not in the capital, but 130 miles inland in the home village of former president Houphouet-Boigny. By strange coincidence, the nation’s only divided highway also runs to the same village, though it has little commerce with the capital. Upon his death, Mr. Houphouet-Boigny intends to be laid to rest, amid much pomp and official mourning, beneath Our Lady’s dome.

Ivory Coast, on which France has lavished not only a great deal of aid but thousands of technical advisors, is, relatively speaking, an African success story. Nevertheless, its merchant class is almost exclusively Lebanese, and extravagances like the cathedral have forced the government to default on its international obligations.

National Incompetence

When African governments are not openly plundering their people, they are simply incompetent. Sierra Leone, which should be rich from its gold, diamonds, and fertile farm land, is nearly as much of a disaster as deserts like Chad or the Central African Republic. The currency, the leone, has been so unstable that farmers smuggle their produce out for sale in Ivory Coast. In 1987, diamond traders found they had to pay so many near-worthless leones for diamonds that they began to withdraw currency from banks by the truckload. When this happens, most governments simply print more banknotes. Sierra Leone, which has its currency printed in England, didn’t even have enough money to pay for paper and ink. Currency disappeared, and the economy temporarily reverted to barter.

In Africa, natural wealth seems only to increase the scale of national follies. Nigeria, an oil producer and member of OPEC, is wasting a fortune trying to build a steel industry. The site the Nigerians have chosen is far away from iron ore, coking coal, or transport routes.

At the same time, government-subsidized gasoline sells for about 40 cents a gallon — the cheapest price in the world — so Nigerians waste fuel and import more cars than the economy can afford. Tanker loads of artificially cheap gasoline are smuggled out for sale in neighboring countries. Waste in the oil industry is so great, that Nigeria cannot meet its OPEC export quota. Twenty years from now, when Nigeria has pumped its oil wells dry, it will have little to show for them.

One disservice that many African governments do their people is to deny that AIDS is ravaging their countries. Zimbabwe’s is one of the worst. Though no one knows for sure, a quarter of the adult population — millions of people — may be infected, but the government officially reported only 499 cases of AIDS in 1989. At the central hospital of Harare, the capital, AIDS kills more children than any other disease. Still, government authorities refuse to recognize the problem or disseminate public health information. When criticized for its silence, the state-controlled press complained about “the slurs on Africans brought about by the West’s obsessive determination to blame AIDS on Africa.”

In the mean time, Africans continue to infect each other at a great rate. For reasons that are not entirely understood, many Africans seem to get AIDS through heterosexual intercourse. Rich Africans are often very promiscuous, so the millions who will be dying over the next decade will be from the upper classes. One doctor estimates that 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s best-paid men are infected. AIDS could put an end to Africa’s rocketing population growth and even cause a serious decline, beginning around the year 2010.

Just as Western governments and aid agencies refuse to criticize African dictators for fear of being called “racist,” the Western press is squeamish about reporting African savagery. In April 1991, Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria started a small war against each other that may have left as many as one thousand dead. The streets of the town of Bauchi were littered with decapitated corpses, but few Americans ever heard about it.

In the summer of 1988, the majority Tutsis of Burundi sent in the army to slaughter some 5,000 minority Hutu tribesmen. This was a repetition of a similar exercise in 1972, when Tutsi soldiers killed an estimated 100,000 unarmed Hutu. Neither event got much attention. In 1991, when Liberian rebel leaders captured the former president, Samuel K. Doe, they first tortured him to death. Then they carved off his lips, ears, and genitals and put his body on public display.

The press prefers to skip lightly over news of this kind, to avoid complaints from American blacks about “negative stereotypes.” Of course, if white South African police shoot into a menacing crowd of blacks, it is front-page news.

Except for South Africa, whose government seeks the consent of the (white) electorate, and for one or two newcomers to democracy like Botswana, African governments rule by brute force. Since 1957, there have been 150 African heads of state, but only six gave up power voluntarily. All the rest died in office, were murdered, or were thrown out in military coups. In virtually every African country, the people who rule are the people who own the weapons. This explains why African countries spent $2.2 billion on imported weapons in 1983 while they spent only $1.7 billion on medical care. Until it was overthrown in 1991, the Ethiopian government was spending 60 percent of its revenue on the military.

Impermissible Explanations

Why, then, is Africa poor? For anyone who has looked into the question, there seems to be little doubt that Africans have brought misery upon themselves. Whether it be in Africa, Haiti, or Washington DC, Africans show little evidence of an ability to organize and run a modern economy. Just as blacks have made wastelands of those parts of the United States in which they are a majority and over which they exercise authority, so have Africans desolated a continent bursting with riches.

Of course, it is not permissible to conclude that this is because of natural, genetic handicaps from which blacks suffer, so anti-white arguments inevitably rush in to fill the explanatory void. Blacks the world over, whether they live only among themselves or among people of other races, are said to lead lives of failure and misery only because whites have oppressed them in the past and continue to oppress them in the present. It makes no difference that this explanation falls apart under scrutiny it is the only one that is permitted because the alternative does not conform to current political dogma.

There can be no pleasure in saying so, but the facts point to one conclusion. Whether in Africa or America, Haiti or Great Britain, blacks are poor because they are, for the most part, incapable of lifting themselves from poverty. Africa is poor, just as Harlem is poor, because it is populated by Africans.


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This distinction isn't simply rhetorical. If there are cultural forces at play, one of those three things must be true. What's more, the political implications of each are different. If the black culture explanation is correct, it suggests that admonishments against the behavior of black Americans — the sort of thing that Coates has consistently objected to — are a proper response to entrenched poverty. If there's a culture of poverty, there needs to be a broader cultural realignment among all poor people, one that's not limited to the black community. If there are no internal cultural forces at play, then the "racism exists" explanation becomes more significant.

Put more simply, there are three options for why black people continue to experience higher levels of poverty: it's in part black people's fault, it's in part poor people's fault, and it's society's fault. The best answer, without question, is the latter.

The culture-of-poverty option

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the problem lies with the second option, that there is something about being poor that results in future generations being poor.

If this culture exists, what are its components? Ryan's remarks offer one view: it involves "men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with." Or, put more crassly, parents who have been out of work take refuge in the welfare state, living on food stamps and government services, and their children learn that this is a viable means of survival.

Last November, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a study suggesting that the children of people who receive government benefits are more likely themselves to receive such benefits. "[W]hen a parent is allowed [benefits], their adult child's participation over the next five years increases by 6 percentage points," its summary reads. "This effect grows over time, rising to 12 percentage points after ten years." (The conservative National Review embraced the argument, unsurprisingly.)

The study — conducted by looking at Norwegian, not American, benefits usage — found a relationship. But the noticeable uptick in the likelihood of children signing up for benefits programs was to the effect of being 1-in-16 or 1-in-8 more likely to do so. That's hardly a suggestion there is necessarily or even probably a transfer of the inclination to avoid work over generations.

There simply isn't a strong argument to be made that identifies attributes of enduring poverty from attributes common to the black community. Chait never presents one clearly.

In fact, in his most recent response to Chait, Coates argues that his opponent confuses the first and second options, conflating black culture with the culture of poverty. Here is what Chait wrote, in the closest approximation of a definition of that culture, and citing a paper linked in this essay by Jamelle Bouie.

Coates' point, in part, is that Chait is pointing to things that are primarily specific to communities of color as being representative of the culture of poverty at large. But, further, that blurring that line tends to happen more when the "roots of poverty" being identified are more rampant in the black community.

The black culture option

Perhaps another assumption is in order. Let's assume instead that the black culture option is the correct explanation. That pathology actually is something reserved for black people.

But again: What are the components of that culture? Paul Ryan got in trouble because he implied that the problem was, in short, laziness. Coates frames it loosely in similar terms — "black people are less responsible, less moral, or less upstanding" — which Chait quickly steps away from, preferring the gauzy expression "cultural norms that inhibited economic success." The paper cited by Chait indicates a number of very specific behaviorisms and attitudes, some of which he notes, but it also downplays the idea of "culture" as an organizing force.

The clean overlap with longstanding anti-black stereotypes embodied in the Ryan argument and in Coates' formulation is the problem. It's what got Ryan in trouble. And it's why, from the outset, the black culture formulation should be considered suspect.

In his most recent post, Coates makes an exhaustive argument demonstrating the lengthy history of racist policies and programs that existed to help white Americans at the expense of black Americans. Chait presents the evolutionary repeal of programs explicitly targeting blacks as progress — the end of slavery, the end of Jim Crow. Coates presents it as refinement, as a softening and blurring of the approach society takes toward putting the interest of whites over blacks. It's the Lee Atwater-ization of institutional racism, manifested on the front page of The New York Times — on the same day that Coates published that essay — in the form of expanded voting restrictions that would keep more black (Democratic) voters from getting to the polls.

The racism exists option

Believing that black culture is primarily at fault means believing that black cultural attitudes are why the black unemployment rate has always been at least 50 percent higher than white unemployment. It likely means assuming that vague, hard-to-identify and complex cultural attitudes are responsible for most of the things on this bulleted list: flat wages, higher rates of arrest for possession of marijuana, higher rates of incarceration, a greater likelihood of being arrested at school, a lower likelihood of being accepted to top-tier colleges. When The Wire noted that black preschoolers are more likely to be expelled from their preschool programs, multiple people wrote in to blame the black culture of single parenthood. It was blamed on black culture.

Is black culture why this 2003 study found that job applicants "with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names"? American history demonstrates countless examples of racist obstruction of black economic success. Ongoing examples show countless ways in which black Americans are still obstructed in the same way.

In his essay, linked to by Chait, Jamelle Bouie makes the point that certain aspects of behavior might influence certain aspects of the fight against poverty. But he then makes a critical ancillary point: that the addressing the systemic problems that obviously block black success — like the intentional neglect of poor urban communities — should happen regardless. "'Culture' might explain the reluctance of individual households and families to leave" those communities, he writes, "but it’s of limited utility when it comes to the broad phenomenon. In that case, the starting point should be the fact that African Americans deal with a unique set of durable circumstances that have festered and worsened over the last forty years." The dominant white culture articulated by Coates and that neglected those communities is the more obvious problem.

Is this so impossible to imagine? America was born with sin and keeps sinning. No matter how fervent your belief in the perfection of the American ideal, you've certainly met enough Americans to know that the ideal may not always be met. Racism is the simplest answer and racism, of all theories, is the one with a robust evidentiary trail.

Finally, consider this: The poverty level in the Hispanic community was 33 percent in 2012. In 1970, the figure was 24.3 percent. Poverty is entrenched in the Hispanic community. Do we blame black culture? Latino culture? Maybe we should consider that Coates is right, and admit that America needs to fix itself before it starts trying to fix the cultures it has spent a long time breaking.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.


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at some point in time all black nations were colonized by the white nations and all black people in these nations have african origins. And black people don't like progress.

we are the ones holding ourselves back. Greed is the main reason why we're not progressing

you NEED to LEARN YOUR HISTORY.

blacks have and are historically been oppressed by the YT.

you NEED to LEARN YOUR HISTORY.

blacks have and are historically been oppressed by the YT.

I'm just going to throw this out there as well, if you've ever watched sweet 16 on mtv you'll notice that the black kids parents are almost always celebrities but the white kids, latina kids and all the other kids' parents are just wealthy unknowns. I think that the show highlights the extent of the problem in a way.

yes, I've wondered about that issue on the show as well. But then "sweet 16s" basically a white culture, just like halloween and thanksgiving in America used to be. So long as black people want to fit into white celebrations, they may always be second place.

About this African poverty: it's so true: we're no more colonised, but we still can't make our country work! Is there someone pressing buttons somewhere so that no matter how we try, Africa will always be the DARK continent?

God should help us and our future generations. Amen.

Good topic. I wish I had an answer.

Botswana is successful - No?

When I say successful, I mean at the same level as other nations around the world. Success to me is a situation whereby you are an economical power. Where your policies and actions affect the rest of the international community in a very significant way. You also have to look at things like life expectancy, in Botswana it is currently 51 years old for men and 49 for women (not exactly good), 37% of the population is infected with HIV. To be fair though the country has a high level of literacy (about 80%), economic growth is one of the highest in the world, the GDP per capital is about $15,000 (Nigeria's is $2000 big big shame). On a worldwide scale Botswana does quite well in some areas such as GDP/capital, economic growth and literacy but in areas such as HIV it has about the highest infection rate in the world. Overall though it fairs much better than other African countries but being the best of the worst does not make a country successful.

Liberia was one when the AA ran it, though when the natives took over, it all went to crap as usual. You folks have too many conflicting tribal/ethnic hang ups to get anything done right. The simplest tasks like voting turn into violent, murderous blood bath events. It triflingly ridiculous. />What kind of mindset must a people possess to go out and massacre over 3000 people with machetes and other blunt objects in a span of a few days simply because simply because some white dude in far away Europe said something negative about their faith? What kind of mindset must it take, to go out and systematically slaughter nearly 1 million people in just a few days simply because the said people were of the ethnic group of most of the leaders in your nation? Satanic is what kind as far as I'm concerned. />

Now, I'm not saying that this is the mindset of all on the African continent though it is so of enough to keep shit from working smoothly there.

Liberia was one when the AA ran it, though when the natives took over, it all went to crap as usual. You folks have too many conflicting tribal/ethnic hang ups to get anything done right. The simplest tasks like voting turn into violent, murderous blood bath events. It triflingly ridiculous. />What kind of mindset must a people possess to go out and massacre over 3000 people with machetes and other blunt objects in a span of a few days simply because simply because some white dude in far away Europe said something negative about their faith? What kind of mindset must it take, to go out and systematically slaughter nearly 1 million people in just a few days simply because the said people were of the ethnic group of most of the leaders in your nation? Satanic is what kind as far as I'm concerned. />

Now, I'm not saying that this is the mindset of all on the African continent though it is so of enough to keep shit from working smoothly there.

Bahamas, Botswana, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon all come to mind, but it depends on what you define as "successful".

Bostwana's population is so tiny, 1.6 million. (diamond)

Cape Verde's population is less than half a million.(

Equitorial Guinea's population is 616,459

Gabon's population is 1,485,832.

This transcends beyond African countries. If you go to Cuba, Brazil, The United States or even the UK. you find that blacks tend to fare a lot worse than all the other races economically and socially. This week in London there have been 6 stabbings majority of which where carried out by black youths. I know there a many successful black people in Nigeria, in Africa and the rest of the world but the fact is that as a whole we fair much much worse than others and no amount of personal success academically, professionally, socially or financially can make me feel great about myself until we can figure out a way to solve this problem.
I'm just going to throw this out there as well, if you've ever watched sweet 16 on mtv you'll notice that the black kids parents are almost always celebrities but the white kids, latina kids and all the other kids' parents are just wealthy unknowns. I think that the show highlights the extent of the problem in a way.

The answer is simple. . . . . .This is because Black people have not been given the opportunity to excel in the major facets of life.
Showbiz and Sports are the only areas u can actually say there's a level playing field. . . .
Think of it as institutionalised RACISM.

Huh?? who didn't give them opportunity?? There we go again blaming the white man.

@topic, Like somebody said, it's due to greed by the people and corruption by the government.

Bostwana's population is so tiny, 1.6 million. (diamond)

Cape Verde's population is less than half a million.(

Equitorial Guinea's population is 616,459

Gabon's population is 1,485,832.

That's not a credible reason to undermine their success. Going by your logic, I guess we can then say Sweden, Norway, Denmark, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Israel aren't successful, because their populations aren't as big as you'd like them to be? I think not.

The reason why Botswana, and Cape Verde are so successful is because the people in charge know where to put the money. Botswana has a large Diamond industry, and their leaders use that Diamond money to rebuild the country, and help the people, and that's why their H.D.I. (Human Development Index) is so high.

The reason Cape Verde is so successful is also because their leaders are also responsible for maintaining the well being of the country. Another reason why Cape Verde is so successful, and is still growing, is because of it's booming tourism industry, and how the leaders are aggressively promoting the country in Europe, and other areas. Many people predict Cape Verde becoming the next Canary Islands, so watch out for them.

Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon are largely successful because of their vast oil reserves, and Gabon also has a growing eco-tourism industry.

E.G. doesn't have the best leader (because he's a military dictator), and he allows still a large portion of his people to go hungry, but things are improving in that country with a massive national reconstruction effort occuring, with many people being moved from slums into adequate housing, amongst other services.

Gabon's leaders are adequate, but could be better. As I said before, they have large oil reserves (which is in large part why they're so successful), but they are slowly starting to become leaders in tourism. Gabon also has a high H.D.I., and they also have a growing Agricultural industry, with government trying to reach self sufficiency by growing their own crops.

South Africa is also successful, but I didn't mention it in the first place because I thought the obvious needn't have to be said. In about 5 years, I'd add Angola to that list, because the sheer pace of their development is just amazing.

Bostwana's population is so tiny, 1.6 million. (diamond)

Cape Verde's population is less than half a million.(

Equitorial Guinea's population is 616,459

Gabon's population is 1,485,832.

no it doesnt! abeg stop watching sweet 16!

I don't think any decent black unknown should appear on MTV for the wrong reason too crass to flaunt wealth for
dumbdown show like sweet sixteen

Huh?? who didn't give them opportunity?? There we go again blaming the white man.

@topic, Like somebody said, it's due to greed by the people and corruption by the government.

22 million and 75% of the Prison system are BLACKS.
Is that the opportunity you are talking about. . . . . .

What would likely become a child raised with no father figure?
Hoods where men are jobless(because they are ex-cons) and a gun store is situated near a liquor store.
Chiogo. . . . . .THINK.

First of all, the topic says 'Black nations'. You seem to be focusing on the United States(no?), which is really no man's land but still run by the whites because they have the highest population.

Secondly, I was talking about Nigeria specifically. It is a black nation, right? Who is denying them this opportunity you're talking about? C'mon, the country is run by Nigerians.

Interesting. What do you mean by "successful" and how do you measure success?

Think of the following scenarios.

1) A society that has and enjoys great infrastructural and technological developments, and some measure of state governance (as in good roads, housing, etc) but neglects and ill-treats the underprivilede. Most ancient empire of the past were such societies (Roman, Aztecs, etc).

In their day, the Aztecs would have been considered an advanced and "successful" society. Should we considered the fact that they routinely sacrificed thousands of other humans to their gods and unfortunate aspect of their development. Or should we consider it a core element of success?

To the Romans, human life seem to have little value. They routinely abandoned unwanted children, organised games in which humans would fight to the death, etc, etc. Yet they also enjoyed some of the best amenities of their times in the world.

2) A society that largely relies on outside labour and brainpower for its functioning.

I contend that what we seen today as development is probably the first time such has emerge in human history. Something extraodinary happened about 400 years ago, with the development of the scientific method and the enlightenment. There is truly no record in human history of these two elements having exerted great influence as they have in the last few hundred years.

For instance, under the scientific mode of thinking, it is no longer enough to be satisfied with the knowledge that the addition of coke to iron would create more ductile and usable steel. It is no longer sufficient to accept that certain combinations of natural herbs would cure a disease. The scientific mind would be interested in asking more fundamental question about why these are so.

The enlightenment created the general climate in which such deep fundamental questions could be asked. It was no longer going to accept the rule of authority and tradition. Nothing was regarded as sacrosanct anymore, everything would be subject to the most thoroughgoing examination and scrutiny.

I contend that any society that imbibes the tenets of the scientific rationalism and the ethos of the enlightenment would be a society on the royal road to development and "success".

I usually ask my friends the following question

Imagine that there was a global natural catastrophe in which all countries (nations) but one were destroyed. What are the chances that that one surviving country would have re-created the state of development we have in the 21st century.

Supposing the only country to survive such a calamity was America. To what exend would the American be deprived by the loss of the entire world but Americans.

Now, supposing the only country to survive were Nigeria. What are the chances of Nigeria re-creating the state of knowledge we have in the 21st century? How long will it take - 100, 400, 1000, 40000 years?

This brings me to my second criteria of a "successful" society. A society with great respect of intellectual capital, and great reserves of such capital. I did try to address this subject in another thread , but alas there were few willing to contribute their views.

My own personal anecdotal observation is this - African cultural life does NOT promote and favour intellectualism. In fact, the same can be said of the cultural millieu of African American life. There is a class of the so-called educated, but such have become essentially tradesmen in the various specialism - tradesmen doctors, trademen computer scientists, tradesmen teachers, etc, etc. Such people, outside of their day job, would hardly open a book or be interested in intellectual affairs outside of their jobs.

please stop spreading false statistics. the number is only about 50 percent or so. blacks and Hispanics combine to form 2/3 of the prison population.

The white man hired slaves who went around the plantations to impregant the women. That led to many black Americans growing up without a father figure.

I think that is still hunting them till date. A guy raised without a father will not know what it means to be a good father.

Well what about other black nations?

nope, wrong again. the slaves actually had an effective communal structure. single family homes in the AA community and in general have been increasing since 60's. let's stop blaming the white one for once.

The white man hired slaves who went around the plantations to impregant the women. That led to many black Americans growing up without a father figure.

I think that is still hunting them till date. A guy raised without a father will not know what it means to be a good father.

Well what about other black nations?

Interesting. What do you mean by "successful" and how do you measure success?

Think of the following scenarios.

1) A society that has and enjoys great infrastructural and technological developments, and some measure of state governance (as in good roads, housing, etc) but neglects and ill-treats the underprivilede. Most ancient empire of the past were such societies (Roman, Aztecs, etc).

In their day, the Aztecs would have been considered an advanced and "successful" society. Should we considered the fact that they routinely sacrificed thousands of other humans to their gods and unfortunate aspect of their development. Or should we consider it a core element of success?

To the Romans, human life seem to have little value. They routinely abandoned unwanted children, organised games in which humans would fight to the death, etc, etc. Yet they also enjoyed some of the best amenities of their times in the world.

2) A society that largely relies on outside labour and brainpower for its functioning.

I contend that what we seen today as development is probably the first time such has emerge in human history. Something extraodinary happened about 400 years ago, with the development of the scientific method and the enlightenment. There is truly no record in human history of these two elements having exerted great influence as they have in the last few hundred years.

For instance, under the scientific mode of thinking, it is no longer enough to be satisfied with the knowledge that the addition of coke to iron would create more ductile and usable steel. It is no longer sufficient to accept that certain combinations of natural herbs would cure a disease. The scientific mind would be interested in asking more fundamental question about why these are so.

The enlightenment created the general climate in which such deep fundamental questions could be asked. It was no longer going to accept the rule of authority and tradition. Nothing was regarded as sacrosanct anymore, everything would be subject to the most thoroughgoing examination and scrutiny.

I contend that any society that imbibes the tenets of the scientific rationalism and the ethos of the enlightenment would be a society on the royal road to development and "success".

I usually ask my friends the following question

Imagine that there was a global natural catastrophe in which all countries (nations) but one were destroyed. What are the chances that that one surviving country would have re-created the state of development we have in the 21st century.

Supposing the only country to survive such a calamity was America. To what exend would the American be deprived by the loss of the entire world but Americans.

Now, supposing the only country to survive were Nigeria. What are the chances of Nigeria re-creating the state of knowledge we have in the 21st century? How long will it take - 100, 400, 1000, 40000 years?

This brings me to my second criteria of a "successful" society. A society with great respect of intellectual capital, and great reserves of such capital. I did try to address this subject in another thread , but alas there were few willing to contribute their views.

My own personal anecdotal observation is this - African cultural life does NOT promote and favour intellectualism. In fact, the same can be said of the cultural millieu of African American life. There is a class of the so-called educated, but such have become essentially tradesmen in the various specialism - tradesmen doctors, trademen computer scientists, tradesmen teachers, etc, etc. Such people, outside of their day job, would hardly open a book or be interested in intellectual affairs outside of their jobs.


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Africa has always been poor. Indeed, for most of human history, the whole world has been poor. It was really only in the 18th century with the industrial and agricultural revolutions that North Western Europe, especially England, started to lift itself out of poverty. It is a case of Western exceptionalism.

Why this occurred is a complex story. But the rise of democratic government, openness to trade and investment, and the development of science and education are part of the story. And as Western Europe developed offshoots in North America and Australasia, prosperity spread with it. Japan then followed with the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. But, then it was not until recent decades that much of the rest of East Asia started to develop rapidly. Again, globalization and good economic management are an important part of this story.

So, the question is why has Africa not been able to develop in the same way that Western, and East Asian countries have been able to do so.

In reality, in the period until the 18th century, when all the world was mired in poverty, Africa's economic performance was even worse than other regions. Why? Perhaps climate and geography played roles. For example, Africa has always been afflicted by tropical, contagious diseases, in contrast to the more temperate countries of Europe. Unstable and harsh climate, and poor soils limit the potential for agriculture. And a lack of navigable rivers and natural inlets hampers trade.

Why has African economic performance been relatively weak over the past 200 years? Africa is after all very rich in resources. Africa, particularly its coastal areas, always had contacts with the rest of the world. But the 19th century saw the colonisation of almost all of Africa by European countries in search of ivory, nuts and palm oil (selling in return rifles). This colonisation gradually led to a political destabilisation of African society. European leaders then drew country boundaries as they shared these new African colonies between them. Some 10,000 pre-existing political units were amalgamated into some 40, and at the same time other African communities were bisected and often trisected. In most cases, the nations of modern Africa are the direct successors of these colonies.

From the colonial capitals in Africa radiated out the colonial infrastructures of roads and raliways, posts and telecommunications. Such infrastructure was design to link colonies to the homes of their colonial masters in Europe. Travel between African countries was usually (and still is) much more difficult.

Following the second World War, decolonisation started, often peacefully. Despite the enthusiasm for independence, there was a massive lack of educated and trained manpower to goven these new countries which were unprepared for independence (today Africa loses an average of 70,000 skilled personnel a year in brain drain to developed countries). They were also bereft of basic infrastructrure and public health facilities. Ethnic relationship was an important factor in many government appointments. While governments often started with democratic systems, many quickly became authoritarian and the military became a major force, This may have helped consolidate these new countries, but it was not so favourable to their economic development. It was also a source of conflict within and betwen nations.

The Cold War was fought partly in Africa as both the US and the USSR provided massive assistance to certain regimes (often dictators). This usually fostered corruption and weakened governance more generally. Also, both China nd Taiwan, and also South Korea, supported corrupt dictators to gain their political support. Corrupt political leaders put billions of dollars into private Swiss bank accounts. Independence in Africa coincided with a period when many development economists recommended state planning and a large state sector. This overstretched government capacities and led to overborrowing and indebtedness.

Africa also underwent a demographic explosion as life expectancy increased thanks to modern medicines and improved hygiene, improved food production and distribution, and a high birth rate. Africa may have had a population of less than 100 million in 1900, by 1960 it had risen to 200 million, by 1990 to 450 million and today over 700 million. Food production could not keep pace, so that large amounts of food now have to be imported.

Many countries have also suffered from the curse of natural resources, with Nigeria being the classic case. As oil prices and revenues rose massively, Nigeria went on a spending spree to finance questionable projects, including through major borrowing. Today, Nigeria is even worse off, being poor, corrupt and unstable. Overall, Africa's rich natural resources (notably diamonds and coal) have been more of a source of conflict than prosperity.

The majority of African countries are dependent on imported oil. The 1970s oil shocks had disastrous consequences as many African countries borrowed to such a point where they could neither service existing loans or obtain new credit. IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programmes only worsened the situation.

Should we worry about Africa? Yes, for at least five reasons: humanitarian security reasons --failed states can be a source of terrorism etc global bads like the spread of contagious disease enormous migration pressures if Africa develops like Asia, it will provide markets for us all.

What does Africa need? Good governance, peace and security, investing in people, economic growth and poverty reduction, more and fairer trade, more financial resources, and better partnerships with developed countries. Western countries have promised to double aid to Africa, but have not been keeping this promise. Also, African countries suffer form Western protectionism. European cows recieve subsidies of $2 a day, while Japanese cows receive subsidies of $4 a day -- in both cases more than African GDP.

What hope for Africa? In recent years, Africa has been growing by 5% a year, though largely thanks to increased demand for oil and natural resources from China and other emerging economies. Private sector entrepreneurship is improving. But, while there are more and more open elections taking place, most Africa democracies are very flawed.

Africa has long been the continent of eternal hope, with the international community hoping and praying for a renaissance. While this is laudable, it is important to be realistic about Africa. Africa's share of world trade is only 3% compared with over 7% in 1948. Most of that trade comes from South Africa and African oil and gas producers. Crude oil comprise more than half of Africa's exports. In two-thirds of Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, one or two products account for at least 60% of the country's total exports. Only 3 African countries are in the world's top 50 exports -- South Africa (39th), Algeria (42nd) and Nigeria (43rd). Africa's share of global FDI is a mere 3%. Is it possible to argue that Africa is losing from globalization? No, it is rather a case of globalization passing Africa by.

Some more sobering indicators follow. South Africa and Nigeria account for 54% of SSA's GDP. 45% of SSA's population live in extreme poverty (compared with 41% twenty years ago) -- this is the highest of any continent. And a further 30% live in moderate poverty. Life expectancy in SSA is 47 compared with 69 for East Asia and 78 for developed countries.

According to surveys, African countries are the most difficult in the world in which to do business. Access to finance, infrastructure, institutions and skills are the most severe constraints cited by entrepreneurs. African countries have the highest levels of corruption. Africa has a large number of failed states.

To some extent, Africa is the continent of lost hope. Most African countries seemed to be a much better starting position 50 years ago than the East Asian economies. While Asia exceeded all expectations, Africa dashed its hope.

Commission for Africa Report, 2005 -- www.commissionforafrica.org

The World Economy: A Millenial Perspective by Angus Maddison, OECD, 2001

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time by Jeffrey Sachs, 2005


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The optimistic "Africa Rising" slogan has been looking a little tired of late, as its critics point out that higher growth rates do not necessarily deliver either jobs or poverty alleviation. There’s been less focus on another area where the "Africa Rising" narrative also seems to be failing to deliver: improved security for the continent’s 1.1 billion inhabitants.

The last year has seen a spate of high-profile, hugely embarrassing domestic-security lapses in two of sub-Saharan Africa’s key economies, each regarded in the West as trusted partners and regional anchor states. The notion that the continent was growing increasingly capable of policing itself took a knock during the Westgate siege in Kenya last September, in which 67 people died. More recently, Nigeria’s armed forces have been publicly humiliated by the failure to free more than 200 schoolgirls taken hostage by Boko Haram militants and a series of escalating attacks in that seizure’s wake.

What’s striking about both episodes, on opposite sides of the continent, is that they have involved national armies ordinarily regarded as amongst the continent’s best. In the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Africans were determined to take responsibility for their own security by gradually phasing out reliance on armed interventions paid for and mounted by the West. Nigeria and Kenya are seen as crucial in that effort.

Nigeria, which recently supplanted South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy, has long provided the muscle for regional interventions blessed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), serving in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Its Joint Task Force (JTF) has contributed to international peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and East Timor, and dispatched soldiers to Somalia, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali. Meanwhile, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), widely attributed with having held the country together after elections in 2007 exploded into ethnic factionalism, are viewed in Washington as a vital East African bulwark against al-Shabab infiltration from the north. The KDF currently has more than 3,000 men deployed in southern Somalia.

Yet both armies have botched key domestic interventions when crises hit, exposing weaknesses that raise fundamental question marks about operational reliability.

When Islamic terrorists attacked the Westgate shopping mall in central Nairobi last September, KDF troops actually shot members of the elite counter-intelligence paramilitary unit that had already secured the area a row over jurisdiction suddenly took precedence over securing the area. The KDF then devoted much of the four-day siege that followed to shooting open shop owners’ safes, emptying fridges of beer and looting designer outlets — removing men’s suits, jewelry, mobile phones, and frilly underwear as survivors cowered in toilets, waiting to be freed.

All this was done in the heart of Nairobi, just meters from where the world’s media stood watching and waiting. If the KDF behaved like this at home, what, wondered many Kenyans, did it get up to when no prying eyes were around? A simultaneously draconian and sloppily executed roundup of thousands of Somalis suspected of living illicitly in Nairobi’s Eastleigh district, ordered at the beginning of April by the government, has since probably done more to radicalize Kenya’s Muslim community, human rights groups say, than al-Shabab ever achieved.

In Nigeria, a fortnight later, scores of parents of the kidnapped girls became so exasperated by army assurances that the situation was in hand, they resorted themselves to exploring the Sambisa forest where Boko Haram were believed to be hiding the children. Anti-government demonstrations in Abuja are getting angrier, Twitter campaigns and denunciations of the government and military elite ever more vocal — but reports continue to stream in of soldiers either fleeing when Boko Haram fighters attack or failing to deploy in the first place.

Experts say too that the JTF played a part in creating the current crisis. Back in 2009, when Boko Haram took far less radical a form, the army handed over its captured spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf to police, who summarily executed him. The JTF has since alienated the Muslim community of northeastern Nigeria with the indiscriminate detention of hundreds of locals.

Why are two key African forces proving so disappointing? And what do their failings signal for the African Union’s long-touted ambition of using regional troops to stop genocide, hunt down jihadists, and neutralize pirates, among other things, while reducing Africa’s reliance on the U.N. and the militaries of friendly former colonial powers?

The answers, unfortunately, offer little cause for optimism.

Africa’s relationship to its military could be defined as one of long-standing, uneasy intimacy. First-time Western visitors are often struck by two things: how much camouflage they see around them, and local inhabitants’ knee-jerk response to men in uniform, who are viewed not as reassuring symbols of law and order but as potential predators.

Such attitudes stem from the post-independence era, when the military coup became a standard method for alternating executive power. The new nation states were weak, inexperienced political parties squabbling, and institutions embryonic. The African armies established by France, Britain, and Portugal, which the colonial powers had used as fodder during the two World Wars, easily came to dominate their societies, representing both possible threats and vested interests clamoring for attention.

"The West has this model of a disciplined, neutral army that stands on the sidelines, independent of domestic politics," explains Jakkie Cilliers of the Pretoria-based Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS). "But the African model is of a military that is used internally and is part and parcel of domestic politics and resource allocation."

Presidents like Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, who himself staged two successful coups, warded off likely repeats by deliberately keeping national armies divided and faction-ridden. Mobutu was a great believer in building up and then running down competing elite forces, relying in a real crisis on Western paratroopers and white mercenaries to do his fighting for him.

Elsewhere on the continent, fragile, twitchy civilian governments often encouraged the generals they feared to become de facto businessmen, with foreign sorties seen as particularly lucrative forms of distraction. None of this encouraged discipline, nor was it healthy for rank-and-file morale.

During its intervention in Liberia in the 1990s, for instance, Nigeria’s army became firmly associated with diamond smuggling and drug trafficking. After coming to the rescue of Laurent Kabila in 1998, Zimbabwe’s generals became deeply embroiled in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s diamond and gold mining.

These scenarios are dated now. Today, the AU does not look kindly on putschists, regional powers have turned concerted cold shoulders on juntas, and coup leaders swiftly learn to embrace the rhetoric of multiparty democracy. But many scars remain, explaining what can seem like baffling levels of confusion and incompetence in the continent’s security forces.

the legacies of the 1960s and 1970s in many African countries is: to what extent can you trust your military not to threaten the government?" says Knox Chitiyo, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Africa program.

Nigeria’s history of military coups stretches back to 1966, two years after independence from Britain. It only ended in 1999 with the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo. One of Obasanjo’s first moves was to try and render the army coup-proof by retiring 400 senior officers deemed more interested in politics than military campaigns, bringing the armed forces back under civilian command.

That history renders the civilian government’s reluctance to meet generals’ demands for new kit — the reason, many officers now claim, for its inability to bring Boko Haram to heel — thoroughly comprehensible. "The army has been a massive factor in Nigeria," says Cilliers, "and if it’s too well run and effective, there’s the danger it becomes a big problem at home."

Some military experts argue that it’s easy to underestimate the logistical challenges facing troops trying to locate the kidnapped girls. "The three states that Boko Haram has attacked most frequently cover a geographical area more than five times bigger than Switzerland," says Max Siollun, a Nigerian military historian. "The Sambisa forest is also vast. It would be difficult for any army to track schoolgirls in a forest twice the size of Belgium."

Unnerved by the ruthlessness of the radicalism they are encountering, soldiers feel under siege. "It is likely that Boko Haram has been more adept at infiltrating the security forces than the other way around. There is frustration in some units that soldiers are being picked off by seemingly invisible Boko Haram fighters who have a suspiciously good knowledge of the military’s movements," Siollun says.

Others dismiss these as excuses, placing the emphasis for the army’s failures on decades of budgetary "leakage" in a country routinely ranked as one of the world’s most venal. Even before the kidnapping placed Boko Haram on Michelle Obama’s radar, the Nigerian media were recounting how unpaid allowances, miserly rations, and Spartan living conditions were undermining morale among soldiers — who complained militants went into battle far better equipped than they.

At one barracks in Maiduguri, a flashpoint for Boko Haram attacks, soldiers mutinied twice in May alone, with recruits on one occasion opening fire on a major general’s car.

Observers say soldiers manning road blocks often lack radios that would allow them to communicate with colleagues, and the JTF lack the capacity to air lift forces to conflict zones, dooming troops to days of travel to even reach Nigeria’s northeast.

"We spend billions of pounds a year on the Nigerian army, but you have to bribe the armory to get a round for your AK47," Nigerian blogger Kayode Ogundamisi told an audience at London’s Frontline club this week. "Corruption, let’s be frank, is at the core of this issue."

In Kenya, by contrast, the armed forces have long been respected for their apolitical stance and operational efficiency. But analysts say that professionalism was slowly eaten away by a pattern of ethnic appointments under President Daniel arap Moi, an ethnic Kalenjin, and then his successor, President Mwai Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu. "After 2007, Kibaki made sure that every strategic post, all the top jobs, rested in Kikuyu hands," says a Nairobi-based security analyst who prefers to remain anonymous.

Giant procurement scandals such as the recent $1 billion Anglo Leasing scam, which involved 18 bloated military and security contracts signed off on by Kibaki’s ministers, also bled the state treasury of funds while doing nothing to provide armed forces with the equipment required for modern warfare. "If you’re going into action with junk equipment, and you know that your fat general is sitting at his desk having made a nice profit from buying that junk, well, that’s not very motivating, now, is it?" says the security analyst. (Two of the firms involved in Anglo Leasing were recently paid off by the government after going to court, a bitter irony for Kenyans who feel security in key cities has never been worse.)

In an echo of previous African conflicts, the KDF today also stands accused by a U.N. monitoring group of becoming invested in charcoal trading in Somalia — a business which, ironically, benefits the very al-Shabab militants the KDF is fighting.

Another issue that has surfaced is the state of Kenya’s domestic police, corroded by decades of systemic sleaze and ethnic favoritism. A good police force is the interface between a state’s security apparatus and the public, providing it with the data that allows effective grass roots monitoring of communities. But in Kenya, roadblocks are used primarily to extract bribes, not information.

One of the characteristics of the Westgate siege, some security experts say, was the absence of any prior intelligence indicating imminent attack. This was a sign not only that intelligence systems had failed, but that the country’s network of immigration posts and police stations were functionally useless.

"You could make the case that Africa doesn’t need militaries, it needs gendarmeries," says Cilliers. "But we’ve got into this pattern in which the army is called in automatically, because no one trusts the police."

For his part, Chatham House’s Knox Chitiyo believes a more fundamental problem has recently been exposed: The changing nature of today’s security challenges are catching off guard what, at heart, are old-fashioned former colonial armies, set up and trained on traditional lines. "These armies are good at handling either conventional warfare or counterinsurgency," Chitiyo says. "But now, you have a new dynamic, a nexus of domestic terrorism — rural and urban — coming together with counterinsurgency, and they are not equipped to deal with that new type of warfare."

Both Westgate and the school kidnapping, he argues, highlight the growing need for African special forces, boasting sophisticated skills in hostage negotiations and extraction. At the moment, these skills often come from abroad: Nigeria, for instance, accepted them after an international meeting hosted in Paris by President Francois Hollande. Anti-terror experts and specialists in hostage negotiation from France, Britain, and the United States are reported to be in Nigeria now, using aerial and other surveillance to try and locate the girls.

But such cooperation raises the risk of prolonging the continent’s continuing dependency. "Are African governments going to have to rely on the West again, and for how long?" asks Chitiyo, warning of "delicate sovereignty issues."

The AU has plans for a 25,000-person African Standby Force, meant to fill the role of, variously, U.N. and American, French, and British forces. It will be based on existing national forces, and despite recent debacles at home, incompetence abroad by African troops is by no means assured. When airlifted to an African crisis zone by the U.N. and provided with Western salaries, decent kit, sophisticated intelligence backup, and clear lines of command, blue-helmeted African forces can dramatically raise their games. Uganda’s generals, for example, have been accused of needlessly prolonging th

The optimistic "Africa Rising" slogan has been looking a little tired of late, as its critics point out that higher growth rates do not necessarily deliver either jobs or poverty alleviation. There’s been less focus on another area where the "Africa Rising" narrative also seems to be failing to deliver: improved security for the continent’s 1.1 billion inhabitants.

The last year has seen a spate of high-profile, hugely embarrassing domestic-security lapses in two of sub-Saharan Africa’s key economies, each regarded in the West as trusted partners and regional anchor states. The notion that the continent was growing increasingly capable of policing itself took a knock during the Westgate siege in Kenya last September, in which 67 people died. More recently, Nigeria’s armed forces have been publicly humiliated by the failure to free more than 200 schoolgirls taken hostage by Boko Haram militants and a series of escalating attacks in that seizure’s wake.

What’s striking about both episodes, on opposite sides of the continent, is that they have involved national armies ordinarily regarded as amongst the continent’s best. In the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Africans were determined to take responsibility for their own security by gradually phasing out reliance on armed interventions paid for and mounted by the West. Nigeria and Kenya are seen as crucial in that effort.

Nigeria, which recently supplanted South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy, has long provided the muscle for regional interventions blessed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), serving in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Its Joint Task Force (JTF) has contributed to international peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and East Timor, and dispatched soldiers to Somalia, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali. Meanwhile, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), widely attributed with having held the country together after elections in 2007 exploded into ethnic factionalism, are viewed in Washington as a vital East African bulwark against al-Shabab infiltration from the north. The KDF currently has more than 3,000 men deployed in southern Somalia.

Yet both armies have botched key domestic interventions when crises hit, exposing weaknesses that raise fundamental question marks about operational reliability.

When Islamic terrorists attacked the Westgate shopping mall in central Nairobi last September, KDF troops actually shot members of the elite counter-intelligence paramilitary unit that had already secured the area a row over jurisdiction suddenly took precedence over securing the area. The KDF then devoted much of the four-day siege that followed to shooting open shop owners’ safes, emptying fridges of beer and looting designer outlets — removing men’s suits, jewelry, mobile phones, and frilly underwear as survivors cowered in toilets, waiting to be freed.

All this was done in the heart of Nairobi, just meters from where the world’s media stood watching and waiting. If the KDF behaved like this at home, what, wondered many Kenyans, did it get up to when no prying eyes were around? A simultaneously draconian and sloppily executed roundup of thousands of Somalis suspected of living illicitly in Nairobi’s Eastleigh district, ordered at the beginning of April by the government, has since probably done more to radicalize Kenya’s Muslim community, human rights groups say, than al-Shabab ever achieved.

In Nigeria, a fortnight later, scores of parents of the kidnapped girls became so exasperated by army assurances that the situation was in hand, they resorted themselves to exploring the Sambisa forest where Boko Haram were believed to be hiding the children. Anti-government demonstrations in Abuja are getting angrier, Twitter campaigns and denunciations of the government and military elite ever more vocal — but reports continue to stream in of soldiers either fleeing when Boko Haram fighters attack or failing to deploy in the first place.

Experts say too that the JTF played a part in creating the current crisis. Back in 2009, when Boko Haram took far less radical a form, the army handed over its captured spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf to police, who summarily executed him. The JTF has since alienated the Muslim community of northeastern Nigeria with the indiscriminate detention of hundreds of locals.

Why are two key African forces proving so disappointing? And what do their failings signal for the African Union’s long-touted ambition of using regional troops to stop genocide, hunt down jihadists, and neutralize pirates, among other things, while reducing Africa’s reliance on the U.N. and the militaries of friendly former colonial powers?

The answers, unfortunately, offer little cause for optimism.

Africa’s relationship to its military could be defined as one of long-standing, uneasy intimacy. First-time Western visitors are often struck by two things: how much camouflage they see around them, and local inhabitants’ knee-jerk response to men in uniform, who are viewed not as reassuring symbols of law and order but as potential predators.

Such attitudes stem from the post-independence era, when the military coup became a standard method for alternating executive power. The new nation states were weak, inexperienced political parties squabbling, and institutions embryonic. The African armies established by France, Britain, and Portugal, which the colonial powers had used as fodder during the two World Wars, easily came to dominate their societies, representing both possible threats and vested interests clamoring for attention.

"The West has this model of a disciplined, neutral army that stands on the sidelines, independent of domestic politics," explains Jakkie Cilliers of the Pretoria-based Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS). "But the African model is of a military that is used internally and is part and parcel of domestic politics and resource allocation."

Presidents like Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, who himself staged two successful coups, warded off likely repeats by deliberately keeping national armies divided and faction-ridden. Mobutu was a great believer in building up and then running down competing elite forces, relying in a real crisis on Western paratroopers and white mercenaries to do his fighting for him.

Elsewhere on the continent, fragile, twitchy civilian governments often encouraged the generals they feared to become de facto businessmen, with foreign sorties seen as particularly lucrative forms of distraction. None of this encouraged discipline, nor was it healthy for rank-and-file morale.

During its intervention in Liberia in the 1990s, for instance, Nigeria’s army became firmly associated with diamond smuggling and drug trafficking. After coming to the rescue of Laurent Kabila in 1998, Zimbabwe’s generals became deeply embroiled in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s diamond and gold mining.

These scenarios are dated now. Today, the AU does not look kindly on putschists, regional powers have turned concerted cold shoulders on juntas, and coup leaders swiftly learn to embrace the rhetoric of multiparty democracy. But many scars remain, explaining what can seem like baffling levels of confusion and incompetence in the continent’s security forces.

"One of
the legacies of the 1960s and 1970s in many African countries is: to what extent can you trust your military not to threaten the government?" says Knox Chitiyo, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Africa program.

Nigeria’s history of military coups stretches back to 1966, two years after independence from Britain. It only ended in 1999 with the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo. One of Obasanjo’s first moves was to try and render the army coup-proof by retiring 400 senior officers deemed more interested in politics than military campaigns, bringing the armed forces back under civilian command.

That history renders the civilian government’s reluctance to meet generals’ demands for new kit — the reason, many officers now claim, for its inability to bring Boko Haram to heel — thoroughly comprehensible. "The army has been a massive factor in Nigeria," says Cilliers, "and if it’s too well run and effective, there’s the danger it becomes a big problem at home."

Some military experts argue that it’s easy to underestimate the logistical challenges facing troops trying to locate the kidnapped girls. "The three states that Boko Haram has attacked most frequently cover a geographical area more than five times bigger than Switzerland," says Max Siollun, a Nigerian military historian. "The Sambisa forest is also vast. It would be difficult for any army to track schoolgirls in a forest twice the size of Belgium."

Unnerved by the ruthlessness of the radicalism they are encountering, soldiers feel under siege. "It is likely that Boko Haram has been more adept at infiltrating the security forces than the other way around. There is frustration in some units that soldiers are being picked off by seemingly invisible Boko Haram fighters who have a suspiciously good knowledge of the military’s movements," Siollun says.

Others dismiss these as excuses, placing the emphasis for the army’s failures on decades of budgetary "leakage" in a country routinely ranked as one of the world’s most venal. Even before the kidnapping placed Boko Haram on Michelle Obama’s radar, the Nigerian media were recounting how unpaid allowances, miserly rations, and Spartan living conditions were undermining morale among soldiers — who complained militants went into battle far better equipped than they.

At one barracks in Maiduguri, a flashpoint for Boko Haram attacks, soldiers mutinied twice in May alone, with recruits on one occasion opening fire on a major general’s car.

Observers say soldiers manning road blocks often lack radios that would allow them to communicate with colleagues, and the JTF lack the capacity to air lift forces to conflict zones, dooming troops to days of travel to even reach Nigeria’s northeast.

"We spend billions of pounds a year on the Nigerian army, but you have to bribe the armory to get a round for your AK47," Nigerian blogger Kayode Ogundamisi told an audience at London’s Frontline club this week. "Corruption, let’s be frank, is at the core of this issue."

In Kenya, by contrast, the armed forces have long been respected for their apolitical stance and operational efficiency. But analysts say that professionalism was slowly eaten away by a pattern of ethnic appointments under President Daniel arap Moi, an ethnic Kalenjin, and then his successor, President Mwai Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu. "After 2007, Kibaki made sure that every strategic post, all the top jobs, rested in Kikuyu hands," says a Nairobi-based security analyst who prefers to remain anonymous.

Giant procurement scandals such as the recent $1 billion Anglo Leasing scam, which involved 18 bloated military and security contracts signed off on by Kibaki’s ministers, also bled the state treasury of funds while doing nothing to provide armed forces with the equipment required for modern warfare. "If you’re going into action with junk equipment, and you know that your fat general is sitting at his desk having made a nice profit from buying that junk, well, that’s not very motivating, now, is it?" says the security analyst. (Two of the firms involved in Anglo Leasing were recently paid off by the government after going to court, a bitter irony for Kenyans who feel security in key cities has never been worse.)

In an echo of previous African conflicts, the KDF today also stands accused by a U.N. monitoring group of becoming invested in charcoal trading in Somalia — a business which, ironically, benefits the very al-Shabab militants the KDF is fighting.

Another issue that has surfaced is the state of Kenya’s domestic police, corroded by decades of systemic sleaze and ethnic favoritism. A good police force is the interface between a state’s security apparatus and the public, providing it with the data that allows effective grass roots monitoring of communities. But in Kenya, roadblocks are used primarily to extract bribes, not information.

One of the characteristics of the Westgate siege, some security experts say, was the absence of any prior intelligence indicating imminent attack. This was a sign not only that intelligence systems had failed, but that the country’s network of immigration posts and police stations were functionally useless.

"You could make the case that Africa doesn’t need militaries, it needs gendarmeries," says Cilliers. "But we’ve got into this pattern in which the army is called in automatically, because no one trusts the police."

For his part, Chatham House’s Knox Chitiyo believes a more fundamental problem has recently been exposed: The changing nature of today’s security challenges are catching off guard what, at heart, are old-fashioned former colonial armies, set up and trained on traditional lines. "These armies are good at handling either conventional warfare or counterinsurgency," Chitiyo says. "But now, you have a new dynamic, a nexus of domestic terrorism — rural and urban — coming together with counterinsurgency, and they are not equipped to deal with that new type of warfare."

Both Westgate and the school kidnapping, he argues, highlight the growing need for African special forces, boasting sophisticated skills in hostage negotiations and extraction. At the moment, these skills often come from abroad: Nigeria, for instance, accepted them after an international meeting hosted in Paris by President Francois Hollande. Anti-terror experts and specialists in hostage negotiation from France, Britain, and the United States are reported to be in Nigeria now, using aerial and other surveillance to try and locate the girls.

But such cooperation raises the risk of prolonging the continent’s continuing dependency. "Are African governments going to have to rely on the West again, and for how long?" asks Chitiyo, warning of "delicate sovereignty issues."

The AU has plans for a 25,000-person African Standby Force, meant to fill the role of, variously, U.N. and American, French, and British forces. It will be based on existing national forces, and despite recent debacles at home, incompetence abroad by African troops is by no means assured. When airlifted to an African crisis zone by the U.N. and provided with Western salaries, decent kit, sophisticated intelligence backup, and clear lines of command, blue-helmeted African forces can dramatically raise their games. Uganda’s generals, for example, have been accused of needlessly prolonging th
e war on the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north of their own country, the better to pocket ghost salaries, run hotels, and engage in the timber trade. But the army’s performance in Somalia as part of the AU mission in Somalia has been exemplary.

Still, the Nigerian and Kenyan episodes clearly do not bode well for AU strategists. (The launch of the standby force has been delayed to 2015 after repeated reschedulings.) "If you have problems associated with underfunding, low morale, and corruption in a national force, it washes across everything else," Cilliers says. "Anyone thinking of pulling together a peacekeeping operation in Africa should be seriously concerned about what’s happened in these two countries."


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Recent years have seen many regions of Africa involved in war and internal or external conflict, from the seven or so countries directly involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the Sierra Leone crisis and the war in Ethiopia/Eritrea and the various other civil wars.

Yet here, as mentioned in the media section of this web site, , the western mainstream media does practically nothing to raise this awareness (or, perhaps it is not deemed important enough to report extensively about).

Occasional coverage is provided, but not anywhere near the volume like we had seen during the build up and the ensuing crisis in Kosovo, or Iraq, or Palestine/Israel, each of which were serious conflicts, but in terms of deaths and displaced, were often far less than many conflicts in Africa.

More coverage about issues concerning Africa can be found on the Internet than the traditional mainstream media outlets, but even then it is not as easy to find the information. Side Note (Since originally making this point in 1999, additional web sites from African organizations have emerged providing a lot of information, about news, cultures, and so on about all aspects of Africa. Even the popular press in the West are providing more information on African news, although these are often very brief and without the much needed perspectives and backgrounds from political, historical, socioeconomic angles etc.)

According to research from media organization Media Tenor, from 1 January 2002 until 30 June 2003, September 11 has turned the watch back to the pre-1990’s, virtually eliminating all events and issues that are not related to either the United States or its coalition partners—especially when reporting on conflicts.… conflicts and wars played the most important role in all analysed television stations in Britain, Germany and the United States. But subtracting from this coverage Iraq and Afghanistan, only 0.2% (n=507) of all reports (N=23587) focused on conflicts in Africa. Wars without the involvement of the Western nations, do not seem newsworthy enough to appear on international TV news agendas, and the little coverage given only focuses on the brutality of the conflict and not on possible solutions.

But why is it important whether or not media outlets in countries such as those in the West provide coverage of African and other conflicts that do not appear to involve them?

  • Background such as the colonial as well as post-World War II history, social and political context, international economic issues and much more are all perspectives needed to help people in the western nations and elsewhere to really begin to understand the present situations and issues in appropriate context. Simplistic views (at their simplest and crudest, they are even racist, intentional or not) offer little understanding of the complexities of causes, let alone a platform from which to form ideas on how to move forward.
  • In international affairs, influential nations, such as many from western countries all have direct and indirect influences around the world, so it is important for such issues to be presented broadly and to see issues such as those in Africa with this context in mind.
  • From a somewhat self-interest perspective (which, after all, most countries prioritize on, in international affairs), things happening far away have an impact on us. For example, J. Brian Atwood, former head of the US foreign aid agency, USAID commented that failed states (which included a number of African countries suffering from conflict) threaten our nation. They cost us too much. They create diseases that impact on us. They destabilize other nations. They stymie economic growth and they deny us economic opportunity in the largest new marketplace — the developing world. (quoted from Esman and Herring, editors, Carrots, Sticks, and Ethnic Conflict Rethinking Development Assistance , (University of Michigan Press, 2001), Chapter 3 USAID and Ethnic Conflict: An Epiphany? by Heather S. McHugh, p. 54.)

Why are many African nations poor? - History

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Africa has always been poor. Indeed, for most of human history, the whole world has been poor. It was really only in the 18th century with the industrial and agricultural revolutions that North Western Europe, especially England, started to lift itself out of poverty. It is a case of Western exceptionalism.

Why this occurred is a complex story. But the rise of democratic government, openness to trade and investment, and the development of science and education are part of the story. And as Western Europe developed offshoots in North America and Australasia, prosperity spread with it. Japan then followed with the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. But, then it was not until recent decades that much of the rest of East Asia started to develop rapidly. Again, globalization and good economic management are an important part of this story.

So, the question is why has Africa not been able to develop in the same way that Western, and East Asian countries have been able to do so.

In reality, in the period until the 18th century, when all the world was mired in poverty, Africa's economic performance was even worse than other regions. Why? Perhaps climate and geography played roles. For example, Africa has always been afflicted by tropical, contagious diseases, in contrast to the more temperate countries of Europe. Unstable and harsh climate, and poor soils limit the potential for agriculture. And a lack of navigable rivers and natural inlets hampers trade.

Why has African economic performance been relatively weak over the past 200 years? Africa is after all very rich in resources. Africa, particularly its coastal areas, always had contacts with the rest of the world. But the 19th century saw the colonisation of almost all of Africa by European countries in search of ivory, nuts and palm oil (selling in return rifles). This colonisation gradually led to a political destabilisation of African society. European leaders then drew country boundaries as they shared these new African colonies between them. Some 10,000 pre-existing political units were amalgamated into some 40, and at the same time other African communities were bisected and often trisected. In most cases, the nations of modern Africa are the direct successors of these colonies.

From the colonial capitals in Africa radiated out the colonial infrastructures of roads and raliways, posts and telecommunications. Such infrastructure was design to link colonies to the homes of their colonial masters in Europe. Travel between African countries was usually (and still is) much more difficult.

Following the second World War, decolonisation started, often peacefully. Despite the enthusiasm for independence, there was a massive lack of educated and trained manpower to goven these new countries which were unprepared for independence (today Africa loses an average of 70,000 skilled personnel a year in brain drain to developed countries). They were also bereft of basic infrastructrure and public health facilities. Ethnic relationship was an important factor in many government appointments. While governments often started with democratic systems, many quickly became authoritarian and the military became a major force, This may have helped consolidate these new countries, but it was not so favourable to their economic development. It was also a source of conflict within and betwen nations.

The Cold War was fought partly in Africa as both the US and the USSR provided massive assistance to certain regimes (often dictators). This usually fostered corruption and weakened governance more generally. Also, both China nd Taiwan, and also South Korea, supported corrupt dictators to gain their political support. Corrupt political leaders put billions of dollars into private Swiss bank accounts. Independence in Africa coincided with a period when many development economists recommended state planning and a large state sector. This overstretched government capacities and led to overborrowing and indebtedness.

Africa also underwent a demographic explosion as life expectancy increased thanks to modern medicines and improved hygiene, improved food production and distribution, and a high birth rate. Africa may have had a population of less than 100 million in 1900, by 1960 it had risen to 200 million, by 1990 to 450 million and today over 700 million. Food production could not keep pace, so that large amounts of food now have to be imported.

Many countries have also suffered from the curse of natural resources, with Nigeria being the classic case. As oil prices and revenues rose massively, Nigeria went on a spending spree to finance questionable projects, including through major borrowing. Today, Nigeria is even worse off, being poor, corrupt and unstable. Overall, Africa's rich natural resources (notably diamonds and coal) have been more of a source of conflict than prosperity.

The majority of African countries are dependent on imported oil. The 1970s oil shocks had disastrous consequences as many African countries borrowed to such a point where they could neither service existing loans or obtain new credit. IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programmes only worsened the situation.

Should we worry about Africa? Yes, for at least five reasons: humanitarian security reasons --failed states can be a source of terrorism etc global bads like the spread of contagious disease enormous migration pressures if Africa develops like Asia, it will provide markets for us all.

What does Africa need? Good governance, peace and security, investing in people, economic growth and poverty reduction, more and fairer trade, more financial resources, and better partnerships with developed countries. Western countries have promised to double aid to Africa, but have not been keeping this promise. Also, African countries suffer form Western protectionism. European cows recieve subsidies of $2 a day, while Japanese cows receive subsidies of $4 a day -- in both cases more than African GDP.

What hope for Africa? In recent years, Africa has been growing by 5% a year, though largely thanks to increased demand for oil and natural resources from China and other emerging economies. Private sector entrepreneurship is improving. But, while there are more and more open elections taking place, most Africa democracies are very flawed.

Africa has long been the continent of eternal hope, with the international community hoping and praying for a renaissance. While this is laudable, it is important to be realistic about Africa. Africa's share of world trade is only 3% compared with over 7% in 1948. Most of that trade comes from South Africa and African oil and gas producers. Crude oil comprise more than half of Africa's exports. In two-thirds of Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, one or two products account for at least 60% of the country's total exports. Only 3 African countries are in the world's top 50 exports -- South Africa (39th), Algeria (42nd) and Nigeria (43rd). Africa's share of global FDI is a mere 3%. Is it possible to argue that Africa is losing from globalization? No, it is rather a case of globalization passing Africa by.

Some more sobering indicators follow. South Africa and Nigeria account for 54% of SSA's GDP. 45% of SSA's population live in extreme poverty (compared with 41% twenty years ago) -- this is the highest of any continent. And a further 30% live in moderate poverty. Life expectancy in SSA is 47 compared with 69 for East Asia and 78 for developed countries.

According to surveys, African countries are the most difficult in the world in which to do business. Access to finance, infrastructure, institutions and skills are the most severe constraints cited by entrepreneurs. African countries have the highest levels of corruption. Africa has a large number of failed states.

To some extent, Africa is the continent of lost hope. Most African countries seemed to be a much better starting position 50 years ago than the East Asian economies. While Asia exceeded all expectations, Africa dashed its hope.

Commission for Africa Report, 2005 -- www.commissionforafrica.org

The World Economy: A Millenial Perspective by Angus Maddison, OECD, 2001

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time by Jeffrey Sachs, 2005


Why is the African continent poor?

You would be hard put to find a poorer place anywhere on earth.

I went there as part of a journey across Africa to ask the question "Why is Africa poor?" for a BBC radio documentary series.

I was asked to investigate why it is that the vast majority of African countries are clustered at or near the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index - in other words they have a pretty appalling standard of living.

In Pibor, the answer to why the place is poor seems fairly obvious.

The people - most of whom are from the Murle ethnic group - are crippled by tribal conflicts related to disputes over cattle, the traditional store of wealth in South Sudan.

The Murle have recently had fights with the Lol Nuer group to the north of Pibor and with ethnic Bor Dinkas to the west.

In a spate of fighting with the Lol Nuer earlier this year several hundred people, many of them women and children, were killed in deliberate attacks on villages.

There has been a rash of similar clashes across South Sudan in the past year (although most were on a smaller scale than the fights between the Lol Nuer and the Murle).

And so the answer to why South Sudan is poor is surely a no-brainer: War makes you destitute.

Why is there so much war?

And yet South Sudan is potentially rich.

"It's bigger than Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi combined," the South Sudan Regional Co-operation Minister Barnaba Benjamin, enthused.

"Tremendous land! Very fertile, enormous rainfall, tremendous agricultural resources. Minerals! We have oil and many other minerals - go name it!"

The paradox of rich resources and poor people hints at another layer of explanation about why Africa is poor.

It is not just that there is war. The question should, perhaps be: "Why is there so much war?"

And the headline question is in fact misleading Africans as a people may be poor, but Africa as a place is fantastically rich - in minerals, land, labour and sunshine.

That is why outsiders have been coming here for hundreds of years - to invade, occupy, convert, plunder and trade.

The spectres of slavery and colonialism hover in the background of almost every serious conversation with Africans about why most of them are poor.

It almost goes without saying that, of course, slavery impoverished parts of Africa and that colonialism set up trading patterns which were aimed at benefitting the coloniser, not the colonised.

But there is a psychological impact too.

Hajia Amina Az-Zubair, the Nigerian president's senior adviser on poverty issues, told me that colonialism "was all about take, not build", and that this attitude "transferred itself into a lot of mindsets".

Even today, Ms Zubair said it was sometimes difficult to design poverty-reduction programmes that were inclusive:

"You sit round a table and ask 'What are your needs?' and you get an absolute blank. Because for years, they've been told what they're going to have. So even the ability to engage has been difficult for us."

The resources of South Sudan have never been properly developed.

During colonial rule South Sudan was used as little more than a reservoir of labour and raw materials.

Then independence was followed by 50 years of on-off war between the south and north - with northerners in Khartoum continuing the British tactic of divide and rule among the southern groups.

Some southerners believe this is still happening today.

On my journey across the poorest, sub-Saharan swathe of the continent - that took in Liberia and Nigeria in the west, Sudan in the centre, and Kenya in the east - people explored the impact that both non-Africans and Africans had had on why Africa is poor.

Almost every African I met, who was not actually in government, blamed corrupt African leaders for their plight.

"The gap between the rich and the poor in Africa is still growing," said a fisherman on the shores of Lake Victoria.

"Our leaders, they just want to keep on being rich. And they don't want to pay taxes."

Even President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia came close to this when she told me she had underestimated the level of corruption in her country when she took office.

"Maybe I should have sacked the whole government when I came to power," she said.

"Africa is not poor," President Johnson-Sirleaf added, "it is poorly managed."

This theme was echoed by an architect in Kenya and a senior government official in Nigeria.

Both pointed out that the informal sector of most African economies is huge and almost completely unharnessed.

Marketplaces, and a million little lean-to repair shops and small-scale factories are what most urban Africans rely upon for a living.

But such is their distrust of government officials that most businesspeople in the informal sector avoid all contact with the authorities.

Kenyan architect and town planner Mumo Museva took me to the bustling Eastleigh area of Nairobi, where traders have created a booming economy despite the place being almost completely abandoned by the government.

Eastleigh is a filthy part of the city where rubbish lies uncollected, the potholes in the roads are the size of swimming pools, and the drains have collapsed.

But one indication of the success of the traders, Mr Museva said, was the high per-square-foot rents there.

"You'll be surprised to note that Eastleigh is the most expensive real estate in Nairobi."

He added that if Eastleigh traders trusted the government they might pay some taxes in return for decent services, so creating a "virtuous circle".

"It would lift people out of poverty," he said.

"Remember, poverty is related to quality of life, and the quality of life here is appalling, despite the huge amount of wealth flowing through these areas."

Then the young Kenyan architect echoed the Liberian president, some 5,000km (3,000 miles) away on the other side of the continent.

"Africa is not poor," he also said.

"Africa is just poorly managed."

You can hear the first of Mark Doyle's programmes Why is Africa poor? on the BBC World Service on Monday 24 August 2009 at 0906 GMT, 1406 GMT and 1906 GMT. It will also be available on the website.


Watch the video: ΔΙΑΧΩΡΙΣΜΟ ΕΜΒΟΛΙΑΣΜΕΝΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΑΝΕΜΒΟΛΙΑΣΤΩΝ ΘΕΛΕΙ Ο ΚΑΠΡΑΒΕΛΟΣ (July 2022).


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