Africa - a continent of hope and despair
Africa has a land mass equal to one-fifth of the world surface and a
population of nearly 900 million. Though it has been long considered the
‘Dark Continent’ by Europeans in the 19th Century, it is actually the
cradle of human civilization. The earliest known Homo Sapiens started
roaming the globe from there long before the human settlements sprang up
in the West.
Large African civilisations existed from several millennia before
Christ. The Pyramids of Egypt as well as the remnants of the famous
ancient Sudanese civilisations are par of the rich cultural heritage of
Africa’s natural biological resources include large tropical forests,
an abundance of animal life, considerable areas of fertile soil, and
even larger areas fit for agriculture, crop production or husbandry.
Several African countries have a huge potential, not only to produce
enough food to feed their own populations, but to become net exporters
of agricultural produce, regionally and in world markets.
South Africa: Oil depot inferno
It has a large share of the world’s mineral resources including coal,
petroleum, natural gas, uranium, radium, low-cost thorium, iron ores,
chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, zinc, tin, bauxite, titanium, antimony,
gold, platinum, tantalum, germanium, lithium, phosphates, and diamonds.
Africa produces more than 60 metal and mineral products and is a major
producer of several of the world’s most important minerals and metals
including Gold, PGE’s (Platinum Group elements), Diamonds, Uranium,
Manganese, Chromium, Nickel, Bauxite and Cobalt.
Some of the world’s largest reserves of fossil fuels, metallic ores
and gems and precious metals are found in Africa. Africa has about 30
per cent of the planet’s mineral reserves, including 30 per cent of
bauxite, 40 per cent of gold, 60 per cent of cobalt and manganese, 75
per cent of phosphates and diamonds, 80% of chromes, and 90 per cent of
the world’s PGM (Platinum Group Minerals).
Thus Africa is one of the richest continents in terms of natural
biological and physical resources. Also it has a huge potential of human
resources too, which could be developed and productively engaged.
At the same time is also the poorest continent. Poverty rides high.
Africa’s poverty rate of 50 percent is shown to be the same in 1981 and
2005. This is because poverty worsened between 1981 and 1996.
The mean consumption of the poor is lower than any region, at around
70 cents per day in 2005, using the $1.25 poverty line. The number of
poor people in Africa doubled in between 1981 and 2005, from 200 to 380
The poverty in Africa had its origins in the slave trade and
colonization. For more than four centuries Africa was drained of its
human resources. The slave trade that enriched America and the Christian
states of Europe de-populated Africa by exporting nearly 20 t0 40
million persons as slaves. The result was a demographic “hollow” in the
As for colonisation European nations competed with one another to
colonize the Continent. By 1914 Africa was divided among Belgium,
Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. They were all
after African natural wealth, principally its minerals.
These economic interests dominated even the demarcation of state
boundaries in Africa. They were ad hoc arrangements made principally
with a view of retaining strategically important resource rich areas
under their control even after independence. For this purpose tribal and
other differences in the region were exploited by the colonial masters.
A series of internal wars were unleashed to break off such resource rich
regions from the independent countries. Such was the case in Angola and
The colonial powers destroyed the indigenous economy in Africa and
set up mono-cultural economies that were heavily dependent on foreign
planted crops or extractive industries. People were driven from the land
and large plantations or extractive industries grabbed most of the land.
Poverty was what the colonial powers bequeathed the newly independent
nations of Africa.
The pernicious results of colonial rule prevailed even after
independence. As Bob Geldof says “in Africa, existing patterns of
farming were wiped away and huge plantations of single non-native crops
were developed, always with the need of European processing industry in
There was a global transfer of foreign plants to facilitate this -
tea, coffee, cocoa, rubber etc.; The result was the erosion of the soil,
forerunner of the desertification evident today. And with the erosion
came steadily decreasing quantities of already scarce local food grown
on marginal lands by labourers working for pitiful wages. This
concentration on a few major cash crops or the extraction of an
important mineral source left the countries on independence incredibly
vulnerable to dramatic fluctuations in the prices of those commodities
on the world market.”
Poverty was then further exacerbated by the policies of the World
Bank and the IMF which tried to impose structural adjustment policies
ostensibly to develop their economies. The results are disastrous. At
the time of independence in the 1960’s Africa was a net food exporter
but now it imports more than a quarter of its food needs. As cited
earlier poverty has increased. African nations have become more
The present global food crisis and the financial crisis make matters
worse. It will bring more pressure on African countries to honour their
debt commitments as the IMF has warned. It is doubtful whether developed
countries now saddled with their own economic problems due to recession
will contribute even the amounts promised for African debt relief. Even
before the advent of the crisis the G8 has failed to deliver its promise
of US $ 40 billion debt relief promised at the Scottish Gleneagles
Summit in 2005. Christian Aid estimates that Africa has lost $272bn in
the past 20 years from being forced to promote trade liberalization as
the price for receiving World Bank loans and debt relief. What is
required is not just debt relief bur debt cancellation. The lenders
would not loose as the above figures quoted from Christian Aid shows.
The challenges facing Africa are enormous. It is obvious that they
cannot be overcome by policies hitherto followed. What is required is a
new policy, new direction and new commitment. Obviously it should be
pro-poor and similar to what is practised in Latin American countries
such as Brazil and Venezuela. It needs a new social contract, a new
state that empowers the poor and practices broad participatory
There is no need to be pessimistic. Africa has enough physical and
human resources that if properly harnessed and owned, could convert it
to a continent of hope instead of being a continent of despair as it is