Poverty in Africa,
famine and disease.
In this FAO Poverty In Africa map,
Darker is Poorer but some light areas are just 'no data' - see our Poor in a Rich World page.A majority of the worlds poorest countries today are in Africa. Of course some African countries like South Africa and Egypt are not quite as poor as others like Angola and Ethiopia. And though in recent years absolute poverty in Africa has shown some slight falls, African income levels have actually been dropping relative to the rest of the world. So poor Africa has been getting relatively poorer on average, and 2013 sees North East Africa again having starvation for millions in the region now especially affecting Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan - and in Somalia religious war has been worsening the famine situation there.
famine in africa
1. The land is a major problem in Africa, with many African countries having confused land ownership so that much useful land is unused - and in some African countries where rainfall is unreliable there is still little or no irrigation of land. Africa's natural resources have also been mostly monopolised by European and American companies largely taking money out of Africa. And African land degradation, largely due to poor land management, has mostly been worsening in recent years especially in East Africa and near the Sahara.
2. Financial aid going to African countries has often been mostly emergency food aid needed as short-term help with famines, and any longer-term aid has often been misappropriated for personal wealth by corrupt officials or for military spending. Where useful financial aid has been supplied to African countries it has often been in the form of loans with high interest rates that poor countries find too expensive a debt burden. Africa has to date attracted little foreign investment though much of that has been more stable longer-term European investment as in mining.
3. The terms of trade set by richer countries tend often to exploit poor countries and give unfairly low price for their exports of commodities such as tea, coffee, bananas and their other export products. And foreign businesses operating in Africa also often do not help the local economy as much as they easily could help. Some of these problems are of course not unique to Africa and are seen also in some non-African poor countries.
4. Education, medicine and drinking water are also major problems in poor African countries - as well as transport and energy. Diseases like AIDS, malaria and cholera are widespread with the latter two involving poor water systems. In some African countries a lack of adequate medical services is helping maintain poverty for many families.
5. Many have noted that countries in Africa have often suffered from civil wars and inadequate government, and this may be in part due to many African countries being artificial colonial creations with borders that make sustainable government more difficult. Conflict-torn countries with long running civil wars such as Angola, Burundi, Mozambique, Somalia and Uganda have had little effective government, making it very difficult to get hold of supplies or build necessary infrastructures. This has also given neighbouring countries big refugee problems. And much of Africa has also had corrupt government, like Zimbabwe. But in Africa both the wars and the corrupt governments maintaining poverty, have often been supported by richer Western governments.
But many countries in Africa are now showing some real signs of progress towards better governance. The African Union has established the voluntary self-monitoring Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) for states to conform to agreed political, economic and corporate governance values. Twenty nine of Africa's fifty three states signed up to participate in APRM by June 2008, being - Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. This at least shows that governments of these countries are aware that government may need improving. See APRM.
Some of the poorest countries in Africa really need substantial prolonged aid to fund direct universal welfare benefit systems to help them climb out of poverty. Extreme poverty being widespread helps cause other bad things like many children being sold as slaves or used in armies and getting no education.
African poverty often means widespread hunger and starvation. And it is a general fact of poverty that if you are too poor then you may have no resources to improve that. But progress on poverty in Africa can be achieved with a bit more real effort, and is being achieved now to at least some extent in parts of Africa such as Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Recently poverty has been cut in China and now China is giving the biggest help to cutting poverty in Africa and elsewhere. Cutting poverty in one country can help cut poverty in more countries.
To quote Nelson Mandela,
Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice.
Cash-strapped African governments have to squeeze every last penny out of their agricultural sector, imposing taxes on production that help drive up food prices and help drive down wages in Africa. In addition, African governments often have to sell their export crops for bargain prices to pay the interest on their foreign debt. Richer importing nations know that the producers have to sell, and so offer artificially low prices. And while spending on education and health need increasing in much of Africa to help reduce long-term poverty, aid loans often require their governments to reduce spending.
African farmers especially need to use more fertilisers, but they are too expensive for many to use. On average Africa did make some poverty progress in the years 2000 to 2008, but have undone some of that progress since. In many poorer African countries, the current world recession is causing family remittances from overseas workers or migrant workers to fall now. As more migrant workers lose jobs in South Africa, Western Europe and the USA, remittances to families in the poorest African countries are being hit. And aid has not been rising recently.
While different African countries are affected by poverty somewhat differently, and need different means of handling their poverty problems, one appropriate aid mechanism could be the most effective. A substantial regular annual non-loan financial aid package should be agreed by the main aid-donor governments, and be provided only through the African Union for appropriate distribution to African countries each year. And the African Union should be required to monitor and report on such aid's effectiveness in reducing poverty in each African country.
(We appreciate the support received for this website, from Oxford University's Emeka Kachikwu of Nigeria)