Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Poverty in Africa

Leading up to and in the wake of Live 8, there are many opinions being expressed about Africa and its rather impoverished state. Blogs have been written as we try to come to grips with this topic. In most cases we blog sincerely and to the best of our ability but without much expertise.

The following article in The Toronto Star is written by Paul Dodds who appears to be genuinely knowledgeable on this topic. Interestingly, he posits that Africa might benefit from less, not more, global interference. Here is an excerpt.

Africans grew their own food, built their own houses, healed their diseases, developed their own transportation systems and created their own art, myths and music. This involved a vast array of skills and considerable knowledge. Colonization marked a brutal disruption of all of it. Africans were taken from their villages and farms in order to work in mines and on plantations. There they learned skills required to take a subservient role in the production of goods that other people wanted.

When the supply of these natural resources failed, when European demand for the goods faltered or when a cheaper source for them was found elsewhere in the world, these industries died and Africans were faced with economic and social collapse. Africans had lost the knowledge, infrastructure and the social arrangements needed to take care of themselves.

But why did Canada, the United States and Australia not end up poor if colonization is the cause of Africa's poverty? Ironically, these regions were blessed with being relatively resource poor. There was no gold or silver in those colonies. The early immigrants who arrived here came not to exploit wealth but to develop their own self-sufficient societies. Because we were resource poor we were left relatively alone by the colonizing power.

It is instructive to note that the native populations in these same developed nations continue to live at a level of poverty comparable to that of Africa. Our colonization, unlike that in Africa, never ceased and on both continents the original inhabitants remain impoverished.

Read the entire article at The Toronto Star.



timx said...

The African problem doe snot allow an easy answer; but I have heard Africans asking for less aid, not more. I do have a quarrel with Live8 though; I believe that the motives of the promoters were highly suspect, and their attitude is patronising to the public and to the inhabitants of the poor African countries. Since the event was not designed to raise money, I wonder what happens to all the money raised from the TV deals.
But then I'm just an old cynic!

-epm said...

But why did Canada, the United States and Australia not end up poor if colonization is the cause of Africa's poverty?

One answer may be that in Canada, the US and Australia, the native peoples were displaced and marginalized, and not subjugated (though I admit to knowing little about Australia's history with the Aboriginal people). The native people were not part of the economic fabric of the colonies. We imported our slave labor from Africa -- another African resource :( -- rather than the native nations.

When the colonial powers left, they didn't turn the land back to the native inhabitants, rather they left behind "Little Europes," populated and governed by European (British?) ex-patriots, with the same (or similar) cultural identity, skills and temperment as the colonizers.

When the European colonial powers pulled out of Africa, on the other hand, they left a vacuum of governing and economic expertise and social structure. As a result the people of Africa were actually moved backward in a cultural evolutionary sense, with their traditial structures demolished and modern, Eurocentric strutures neither fully developed, nor deeply infused through the social strata.

But then again, I could be off my nut... I'm pretty much making this up as I go along.

-epm said...

Does anyone else think it's odd we treat the entire continent of Africa as a single unit... as if it was the geographical cousin of Rhode Island or Prince Edward Island?

I mean, have you looked at a map? The place is HUGE? Surely there must be a tremendous diversity of challenges and advantages throughout the continent, and treating it as if it was no more complex than, say, a municipal school district is folly...

Heather said...

Very interesting - thanks for posting. I can tell you, as a person who works at one of those international aid organizations serving Africa, we are constantly asking ourselves if we're doing the right thing, or if there might be some better way of offering support.

There's some interesting reading at this link that you might enjoy... It gives an African perspective of western anti-poverty campaigns.

Keith, RN said...

All of these comments are very thought-provoking. My response is that this situation is quite complex, and the myriad reactions to it equally complex. My jury is out, and it remains to be seen if Live8 really accomplished much of anything.

Anvilcloud said...

Okay, I'll try this comment-back thing.

When I taught World Issues, we looked at and even coloured a number of maps. We would looks at things like GDP, literacy, female literacy, energy consumption, calorie consumption, protein consumption, and whatever. Some of our exercises took the form of graphs and statistics (eg Coefficient of Determination). The overall results were always the same. The First World countries (DCs) were always way out in front, and Africa (LDCs) was always way back, especially Africa between the extreme northern and southern fringes. While there are huge regional differences and even differences within regions, it is Africa as a whole (or almost a whole) that lags far behind.

Once we get the idea that we need to have a good look at that continent, then we can start taking into account of the different needs from place to place, but let's face it, potable water and a decent diet are pretty universal requirements.

Back during the Tsunami Relief crisis, I posted a blog called The Other Disaster about Africa, to the effect that we should not forget it. Apparently others feel the same way. Who knows where we go from here, but let's at least look at the situation. If Live8 can do that (and I don't know if it can), then that's great.

Rainypete said...

There is much that needs to be done that can help in Africa, but I agree that it isn't a simple single plan. With a diverse list of countries also comes a diverse list of problems.

Here in North America we seem to have the mindset that money can cure all, so if they need more help just send more money. Maybe it's time we look deeper.

While I applaud Live8 efforts, I think we need longer lasting efforts to help. Long after the music fades and the people return to their cocooned lives, forgetting the needs of those overseas, the problems in Africa will remain relatively unchanged.

Money will not make it all go away.

Do I know what will fix it all?? Dear lord no, or I'd be there fixing it myself. I just hope that those involved can learn to look beyond the chequbook and into the real source of the problems there. Try to work up a longer lasting solution that a financial bandaid can't match up to.