Okay, I’ve been bad. Very bad. But hey, half years are the perfect times to start over. So today, on the first day of summer, I’m going to write a post. Except not really. I’m going to donate a term paper. Admittedly it was not written for you guys, but it is a good way to get me posting again. (And I promise I will start posting again)
Hope you enjoy! I got an A.
AP World History
3 June 2009
Africa: Why the 11,608,000 Sq. Mile Anachronism Can’t Catch Up
Home to over 70% of the world’s most impoverished citizens, Africa has been rolling in chaos since it was first divided into countries in the 1950’s and 60’s. In Western Africa alone forty-four successful military coups, forty-three failed military takeovers, more than 82 plots for such takeovers, and seven civil wars have occurred since the 14 countries in that region became independe. Twenty-three of the bottom twenty-five countries with the lowest HDI’s are in Africa. In 1960, African countries had failed to reach the infant and general mortality rates that existed in England 50 years previously. In the 1970’s malaria took a huge leap in Africa, even as health around the world improved. As of 1980, global poverty was finally decreasing, but not in Africa. Even in the 1990’s, when most of the world was on the up due to post Cold War prosperity, African nations lost 5% of their GDPs, eliminating all of their growth in the previous 20 years. The situation is obviously hostile, and trends suggest that these non-developing, underdeveloped countries will fall further and further behind as time progresses. However, the origins of these problems, and the reasons for their perpetuation, can be found in times much before our present day. As all countries were at some point much like today’s Africa, though most in the 1300’s, the reasons why these problems exist is not what’s important, but rather the reasons that African countries are unable to climb from the depths of disorder like their Western counterparts. The cycle of failed states in Africa is in reality caused by reasons that are not immediately obvious: Africa becomes lodged in multiple, fairly inescapable traps, including the equilibria of poverty and violence, the dangers of foreign aid and natural resources, disease and the global market, and the unfortunate reality of having less than perfect neighbors.
African countries have been falling behind since their very first decade of independence, and they didn’t exactly start out with ideal conditions. Randomly drawn borders, incompetent leadership, and frustration with their former overlords all had a part in starting Africa at the less promising end of the spectrum. The arbitrarily drawn borders managed to put peoples who had been warring for decades into one country, expecting them to come together and defend their now mutual borders. These borders also divided families, farms, and historical tribal boundaries. The people in charge of this mess turned out to be even more harmful than the rough borders. Africa’s leaders fell into two categories: corrupt and incompetent. The corrupt maintained their colonial absolute power through insidious means, taking money out of their countries and exercising brutal tyranny. Mobutu, a particularly successful corrupt leader, had more allegiance to his own bank balances than to his country’s future and turned Zaire (now Congo) into little more than a bankrupt ‘kleptocracy’. The incompetent leaders often managed to gain the love and respect of their people, but not by actually accomplishing anything. Kwame Nkrumah is an excellent example of this. He was wildly popular, but still managed to harm the people of Ghana through his inexperienced policies. The final colonial relic that added to Africa’s slow start is the anger of the people. Rage about even legitimately unfair conditions can hinder progress, as people look for reparations from the past instead of trying to move forward. These colonialist relics, combined with the late ages of independence, and the original, geographical and biological reasons that Africa was even able to be colonized, put Africa behind as it entered the second half of the twentieth century.
Though Africa started behind, it had the potential to recover. Nearly every country has suffered through hard times, poor leadership, hostile takeovers, and the struggle to bring people its people together. Yet not every country remains in dangerous conditions. India, for example, was decolonized only decades before Africa and left in just as poor conditions. However, it is on the road to improvement, while Africa is not. Obviously renewal is possible (for further examples look to China, Germany and the United States) and so the reasons that Africa started out behind cannot be the same reasons that it can’t catch up. It’s the development traps that keep Africa down.
The poverty/violence cycle, the first development trap, is widely known, mostly because of its relation to gang violence. However, this cycle, the one in which a poor individual turns to violence in hopes of finding a better future, refers to that of a single individual. In Africa, the cycle is taking place on a nationwide scale. This is more than just a poverty-leads-to-rebellion relationship: this refers to the country itself turning to violence, and then the entire country becoming poorer. The poverty escalates as the violence escalates because the more instable a country is, the less likely foreign investors are to put their money there, fearing elements like nationalization, or even the very physical destruction of their perspective assets. As the violence makes new investors shy away, it also makes old investors start to pull out. Recovering from the lost investments takes time, even after the violence ends. On average it takes a country in Africa two years of stability to renew foreign investing interest (Collier 5). That is to say that only after two years of the countrywide stability will an investor return money to the country. As the period of violence is in addition to the recovery years and could take any amount of time, say 3 years, this puts the country 5 years behind in their already lagging economies.
Already behind, Africa, unlike the other developing countries, failed to grow. Originally this was due to the results of colonization, but soon Africa became stuck in the traps, the first of which has already been depicted. Africa’s second trap is all the more daunting because at first it looks like a blessing. The curse of natural resources has plagued Africa since colonial times, being one of the reasons the colonists moved in to begin with. Africa has “40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric power supply; the bulk of the world’s diamonds and chromium; 30 percent of the uranium in the non-communist world; 50 percent of the world’s gold; 90 percent of its cobalt; 50 percent of its phosphates; 40 percent of its platinum; 7.5 percent of its coal; 8 percent of its known petroleum reserves; 12 percent of its natural gas; 3 per cent of its iron ore; and millions upon millions of acres of untilled farmland. There is not another continent blessed with such abundance and diversity”. Resources are normally seen as good, good enough that countries go to war over them, and yet they have been less than helpful to Africa. The reason for this lies in two key facts: one, that countries can become dependent, and therefore develop stagnant economies when faced with an abundance of resources, and two, resources can spark instability when left unsupervised.
Resource-bound stagnant economies can be found in all parts of the world, not just Africa. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain recognize this, and are attempting to wean their economy of oil. While Saudi has known that oil can only provide jobs for a third of its population, it had previously chosen to simply pay the rest of its people instead of creating jobs for them. Algeria was in much the same situation, until President Abdelaziz Bouteflika came to his senses and began seeking out foreign investment to help stabilize his messy economy. These countries, though outwardly more prosperous, have no real economy. They would look much like Africa without their resources: they are resource dependent.
Becoming dependent on a resource is not the only thing that resources can do; they can also cause a craze for easy money. One of these crazes spawned blood diamonds, which are diamonds that violent revolutionary groups, like the Revolutionary United Front, forced people into mining for the money. Diamond mining is very attractive to these quasi-terrorist groups because they are easy to sell, hard to trace, and can quickly produce enough money to buy the weapons these groups need. These weapons are often used to overthrow the government, as was the case in Sierra Leon in the 1990’s, when rebel groups began cutting people’s hands off to ensure that they couldn’t vote (finger prints were required for voting) and instate a stable government, capable of shutting down their diamond mining institutions. The more valuable the resource, the more gruesomely people are willing to act to obtain the resource. In this way, resources can actually shut down governments if they are unable to control them, much like the out of control slave trade shut down the Kingdom of Kongo in the early 1500’s, when the government could not stop people from kidnapping people for slavery, and eventually fell. At the time of his fall, Alfonso begged Portugal to end the trade entirely. African countries today are not yet begging the world to stop buying their resources, but perhaps they should, as resources can both cripple economies to dependence and cripple governments to their downfalls.
The trap of foreign aid is almost identical to that of resources: people can become dependent on it, and people can become violent attempting to steal it. African states have become more and more dependent on Western governments for economic aid and support. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia expressed this problem in his 1966 speech on foreign aid, saying, “Most of our weaknesses derive from lack of finance, trained personnel, [so] we are left with no choice but to fall on … the west [and] this is one of the real sources of danger to our own Independence.” Kaunda was weary of the problems of becoming dependent on the West, but he saw no alternative. Only leaders who are very used to foreign aid could see survival in any other way as impossible, and so the fact that Kaunda sees the necessity of foreign aid has already made him dependent on it. This is not to say that aid cannot be administered well, but as it is currently being dispersed, it causes dependency. All the same, the other threat inherently tied to foreign aid is worse.
Foreign aid has become something to be hoarded by African leaders, and for the same reasons that make rebels kill for diamonds. It’s easy to get, hard to trace, and can make a leader very rich. “Africa is full of governments that steal money. Billions of dollars are hidden by African politicians in Swiss banks or spent on mansions, lavish trips and luxury cars,” and as the leaders are the ones who distribute the aid, it’s virtually impossible to catch them. In fact, sometimes the aid money that well meaning countries and citizens send to help the poor actually does the opposite, because it gives African governments an incentive to keep their countries poor: the poorer the country, the more they get in aid money. Some African leaders even go out of their way to ensure that their citizens can’t escape poverty. In Kenya, the government will not allow anyone to own land, or any businesses to expand, unless some heavy bribery comes into play. Even paying off the officials does not guarantee the right to hold onto your business however; some businesses are bulldozed for no reason at all. Western nations give the African governments the incentive to keep people poor. This is just another trap that an African nation can fall into. When a country’s own government fights to keep its people poor, it can’t possibly be expected to escape, but some people have grossly high expectations. Most of these people are American conservatives.
Most conservatives have these grossly high expectations because they have unlimited faith in the free market. Sometimes seen as the end-all cure-all for economic problems, the global market is injuring Africa in two main ways. One, because it is growing so quickly that it can become exclusive and two, that it fails to solve the disease crisis, which it would need to in order for Africa to function like the rest of the trading nations. In 1980, Mauritius became one of the luckier developing nations: it escaped from all of the development traps and was ready to function in world market. It quickly jumped in and soon reached middle-income levels. Madagascar too managed to escape all of the traps, but it took longer…20 years longer. At that point, the global market was not open to accepting any more traders at its level, and Madagascar did not reach the income levels of Mauritius. In fact, starting in the 1990s, the global market became less and less of an opportunity for new nations, and it is speculated that even if an African nation managed to escape the traps, it would not be able to fit into the economic world, and would eventually fall back into a state of underdevelopment. This means that Africa could not become a full-fledged member of the global market, and so cannot reap its benefits. One of these benefits is medicine.
The presupposition behind the fact that a market will create a demand for medicine, and a company will then develop, produce, and distribute this medicine is that people have money to buy medicine. Disease does not create the demand for medicine, a group of people wanting and able to but the medicine does. Obviously, Africa lacks such a group, as the people suffering from disease have no money to buy food, much less a cure. So the diseases go untreated and affect more and more people, and keep the country poor. Poor countries can’t buy medicine. Sick countries can’t get rich. So the profitless cycle continues, completely ignored by the free market.
Now, say a country manages to surmount the odds stacked against it, and gets rid of the violence, and gets rid of the poorly managed natural resources and foreign aid, and gets rid of the disease, and finds a way to join an international market that stopped accepting applicant’s back in the 1980’s, this poor hard working country is still not safe. It probably doesn’t have a strong army, and its neighbors are still probably shooting each other over pre colonial disputes, and are probably stuck in one or more development traps. Having bad neighbors and a developing military does not seem to work out well, because a country with developing infrastructure can easily import violence from a neighbor. Chad and Sudan are an excellent example of this: they mutually house each other’s rebels (Iheduru 132). Both would need to escape the violence trap together for either to succeed, and being bound to a neighbor just as sluggish as itself doesn’t exactly speed up progress. Less fortunate countries may never escape from the aforementioned traps due to continual invasion from their neighbors, or because their neighbors deny them access to sea ports needed for trade.
Africa started out behind, and only the West can be blamed for that. Unfortunately, unlike countries like China, India and Brazil, Africa has stayed firmly behind, and this is because it gets stuck in development traps. These traps include the cycle of poverty and violence, the hazards that arise from foreign aid and natural resources, the inability for poor countries to escape disease and enter the global market, and the geographical disadvantages of having poor neighbors. To escape its reputation as the slum of the world, Africa will need a systemic success: all of these threats will have to disappear, together.
“Africans on Africa: Colonialism .” BBC 5 July 2005: 5.
Ayittey, George. Africa in Chaos. 1998. N.p.: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
Colleir, Paul. The Bottom Billion. 2007. N.p.: n.p., 2007.
Contending Issues in African Development. Ed. Obiema M Iheduru. N.p.: n.p., n.d.
Diamond, Jared M. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies . 1997. N.p.: W.W.Norton and Company, 1997.
Fetter, Bruce. “Health care in twentieth century Africa: statistics, theories, and policies. (International aid improved mortality rates in Africa but is disappearing in 1980s and 1990s).” Africa Today (June 1993).
Lamb, David. The Africans . 1984. N.p.: n.p., 1984.
Mason, Cheryl J. “African National Independance.” Empathos Nation Enterprises. 3 June 2006 <http://www.empathosnationenterprises.com/Consulate/EN-Library/Black-Studies/afindep.html>.
McGowan, Patrick J. “Coups and Conflict in West Africa, 1955-2004 .” Sage Journals Vol. 32.2 (2006): 234-253.
Pirozzi, Giacomo. UN. 1998. UN. 5 Mar. 2001 <http://UN.org/p/africa/Diamond.html>.
Stossel, John, and Patrick Mcmenamin. ABC. 12 May 2006. 5 June 2009 <http://www.freeafrica.org/news/2020.htm>.
Zakari, Fareed. Illiberal democracies at home and abroad. 2003. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
Note: If any of you actually chose to have the pleasure of reading through that entire thing, you may be wondering about my views on capitalism. I will explain them in my next, shorter post.