Why Africa?

Why exactly is Africa in so much shit? Why do we lag behind in every aspect one can think of? war, poverty, corruption, oppression by the government, underdevelopment…Africa leads on all counts. Frankly i dont buy the idea that colonialism did this. 40 years on and we still blame dead white guys?Besides, colonialism did a whole lot of good for us too. So why are we last? Im interested in your opinions.

40 years of non-colonialism (some would say neo-colonialism) vs. 450 years of colonialism and you expect everything to be hunky-dory?

The greatest disadvantage that many African nations have is the high rate of corruption. This discourages outside investment.

Big corporations will invest in countries that have a rate of corruption of, say, five per cent. That is, where they have to bribe the government ministers in order to get permits, etc. But when it comes to paying forty per cent, corporations won’t bother.

Someone told a joke on this notion: a rich South Korean politician and a rich African politician were comparing notes. The Korean pointed to a busy road, and said, “I get ten cents out of every car or truck that goes on that road.” The African pointed to an empty field and said, “I seized the construction company, deported their managers, and sold the equipment to someone like you.”

(Not the kind of joke that’s funny, I’m sorry to say…)


*Originally posted by minega *

I see by your user name that you’re from Rwanda. Maybe you can shed some light on the current situation between Tutsi and Hutu.

My limited understanding of the history of Rwanda was that it was first a German (and later a Belgian) colony. Prior to colonization, the Hutu and Tutsi maintained relatively close cultural/socio-economic ties. The Belgians, in particular, decided to stratify the Hutu/Tutsi populations - better able for them to maintain social/political order. After colonialization, the ties became much more polarized between the two. I don’t think the scale of slaughter that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 would have been as great (possibly not have occurred at all) if not for the polarization of the two groups directly attributed to the colonial period.

While I’ll agree that blaming all the problems solely on colonialism is oversimplistic, to dismiss it as not that important would be to ignore the lingering negative impacts that it helped foster (tribal/ethnic rivalries, political instability, economic dependecy on developed world, etc.). Elements pertaining to colonialism are at fault, but one needs to consider other factors as well - for example, the physical environment.

I don’t think that just “colonialism” answers the question, but the specific type of colonialism has a lot to do with it. In the Americas, it was the colonists, themselves, who rose up and declared independence. In Asia, countries that had existed prior to colonization threw off European empires. In sub-Sahara Africa, the colonial powers tended to keep all the infrastructure in their own hands, meaning that there was neither a growing middle class nor an indigenous bureaucracy to support the new nations when they were “granted” freedom from the colonizing empires. (Not all were treated as badly as Congo/Zaire was treated by the Belgians, but most were pretty much cut loose to fend for themselves.) The stronger countries in Africa, tend to be the ones that followed the example of the Americas with the colonists establishing their own modern nation-state (as in South Africa or Zimbabwe) or where there was already a “modern like” kingdom before the colonizers arrived, which the colonizers used as a basis on which to build their infrastructure (as in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire).

Now, Mugabe is doing what he can to destroy Zimbabwe, but he is not much different (other than locally defined tactics) than Marcos in the Philipines or Sukarno in Indonesia. There are currently troubles in Cote d’Ivoire and neghboring countries, but they tend to be related to troubles spilling over from nearby countries. We have witnessed the same problems in South America for the last 180 years. Unlike North America, that was dominated by three hegemonies, where individual break-away movements were constantly suppressed, South America, like Africa, was more “Balkanized”–a word that notes that even Europe can suffer that sort of problem.

After colonialism, I would guess that Socialism was the biggest hurdle to consistent development. There is nothing wonderful about unbridled Capitalism; it can destroy people and nations quite nicely. But the evidence would seem to indicate that a basic Capitalist engine needs to be in place to drive the economy. Socialist reforms can keep Capitalism from becoming a plutocracy, but pure Socialism simply does not have the wherewithal to keep a country running and adapting to new situations. Unfortunately, most of the African nation-states were created when that fight between Capitalism and Socialism had not yet been resolved, and many nations that needed the Capitalist engine got off to very weak starts because they tried Socialism, first. This had the worst possible ramifications for the Sahel region, where centralized planning has interfered with the ability of those regions to respond adequately to the droughts that have plagued the area for the last few decades.

The other aspect of African colonialism that differed from much of the rest of the world, (and ties in with the last point) was an historical accident regarding agriculture. Much of sub-Sahara Africa had never been farmed (and much of it is still unsuitable for large-scale farming). This tended to keep down the populations of the regions. When the Europeans first showed up, much land that was suitable for farming was used exclusively by pastoralists. That, by itself, did not present a problem. The “Great American Desert” is now called the “World’s Breadbasket” (at least until Ukraine gets its act together and takes away the title). However, a lack of farming meant lower populations. Since the colonizers did not generally send in their own settlers*, little of the land was converted to farming. To get an industrial nation going strongly, one needs labor. Lacking labor, there was little that the new African nations could offer the rest of the world in manufactured goods. So they were then stuck selling off their mineral resources if they had any at lower prices than they could have managed, had they been selling finished goods. (And, of course, to get at the mineral resources, they usually had to contract with outsiders–often former colonial enterprises–to provide the initial expertise. This further reduced the amount of revenue that they could recover from the sale of those raw materials.)

*Sending in one’s own settlers is not necessarily a moral good: North America’s breadbasket was only settled by displacing (and killing) the original hunter-gatherer societies who were living there. However, in terms of what one needs to do to have succeeded by the end of the 20th century, it was an effective strategy.

This one partly explains the rest.

European power did not colonialize Africa until after the American Civil War. It didn’t really get going until the 1880’s.

I any event, I think most of the problems in Africa can be traced back to three Primary causes, which interact to create others.

  1. Traitional tribal society
  2. Poor agricultural base and lack of investment in education
  3. European Colonialism

In a couple of years, we’ll have to add

  1. AIDS

Being soemwhat of an optimist, I’d like to think that Africa is just behind the times. Not all societies “advance” at the same rate. All the countries that are currently considered prosperous were once impoverished. Perhaps Africa will, in time, come into its own.

many countries now have democratic governments…Kenya,Ghana,Nigeria,Uganda,zambia…and yet the African Union has proved to be completely toothless when itcomes to their own dictators like certifying the sham election in zimbabwe and cvontinuing to hobnob with Mugabe.that is despicable.

a friend of mine went on holiday in Liberia…strange i know…anyway he saw an incident when president Charles Taylors convoy almost run into another car at a junction.his bodyguards came out and sprayed the car with bullets then drove on…
it aint easy living in Africa

and did anyone hear the BBC 'From our own correspondent about the torture of an MDC guy in Zimbabwe and his lawyer…it was so chilling i could barely sleep that night.

I respectfully defer to smiling bandit’s superior knowledge and agree with him/her.

As much as I would enjoy agreeng with John Mace, I worry its not that good. Many African states are experiencing great famines of late, and, well, that isn’t something I think can be overcome anytime soon. Its also something that will simply stop any other advance in its tracks until overcome.

But, I'm not sure what ca be done about any of the problems.

Go look at a map of Africa. See those lines? Yeah, the country borders. Well im sure you know that those borders–even today–are completely artificial. Europeans divided up Africa in a completely unnatural way and in doing so did things like group opposing ethnic groups together, created land-locked nations, etc. That is just one disadvantage. The legacy of half a mellinia of European oppression may never go away. Plus, go

Actually, it’s the interaction of all the above that causes so many of the troubles. None of the above by themselves probably would have been suck a knockout punch.

Africa’s home-grown kingdoms, empires, (did they have any republics?), what-have-you were very often dismembered and divided between two or more European powers. When the colonies became independent, there was still active memory of these old polities, but they were split up.

To make matters worse, the Europeans lumped together all tribes that happened to be living next to each other. This was done for European adminsitrative convenience, so it is very common for a country to be A majority/B minority and its neighbor to be B majority/A minority, both A and B still remembering ancient unification. However, the modern countries are not going to let themselves carve into each other, and these days A activists seem to keep wanting all the B to simply accept their leadership, and vice-versa.

Now, on top of that, the World Bank has decided that they only will help countries that have a large “cash crop”. Thus, real infrastructure investment and solid agriculture get no funding. It would be like the USA trashing all our wheat and corn just to grow tobacco. This is what the World Bank requires of their clients.

And just to ice the cake, just to nail the coffin, Africa gets AIDS worse than anywhere else. However, southeast Asia is rapidly catching up.

Half a millenium??? Can you document the claim that you have just made that Europe has been “oppressing” Africa since 1500? Don’t go screaming “slave trade”. That would only show that how ignorant you are. The African slave trade was a 100% partnership on the African side of things.

Well, while the claim “half a millenium of oppression” is an exaggeration, a claim that the slave trade was, somehow, not the result of European and Arab interference is a serious avoidance of the historical record. Certainly, the slave trade did not affect all of Africa in the same ways and cannot be used to provide a one-crime-explains-all answer to the problems of Africa, today.

However, a claim that the slave trade was simply an African phenomenon upon which Europeans and Arabs capitalized is clearly in error, as well. The chattel slavery that was introduced by the Arabs and Europeans was of a type wholly unlike the small-scale, individual-taken-in-battle-and-made-a-servant variety practiced throughout Africa (as well as much of the rest of the world) prior to the arrival of the Europeans and Arabs. The earlier slavery did not cause the removal of over 20 million persons from the continent that already had the least population density.

To point out that there were Africans who participated in the slave trade does not change the fact that they were simply accomodating themselves to a new practice introduced from the outside. Someone who denies that the slave trade was an external form of oppression may need to read a bit more history, as well.

According to Guns, Germs, and Steel, you’ve just listed secondary effects, not primary causes. The question is, why did sub-Saharan Africa lag behind Europe, or even Mediterranean Africa? Jared Diamond supposes the lack of high quality domesticated plants and animals is the primary cause. Without that, it’s difficult to grow populations, establish state-level societies, and produce iron technology. (Although parts of sub-Saharan Africa did have some of these, to a some extent.) All of these would have been handy in fending off…

Plus, you can never underestimate the influence that powerful jerks have on the course of history. Observe the unending parade of dictators within and beyond Africa.

Or, to put it another way, “You should never underestimate…” Because it can be underestimated.

Please provide a direct quote where I claimed this or retract your libelous accusation that I did. I stated that it was a “100% partnership”–that the Africans were as heavily involved as were the Europeans or the Arabs.

I would like a retraction for your lie against me.

Have you ever noticed how the citeless alway want to see? Dogface I suggest you take the lead, and come up with a cite that shows “100% partnership”

I suggest Africa has so many problems due to the following reasons:
-Colonialism setting artificial boundaries.
-Colonial powers not providing proper oversight when leaving, thus allowing power vacuums.
-Racism by the international community.
-Lack of oil.