Thursday

Geography and regional African poverty

Africa faces serious environmental challenges, including erosion, desertification, deforestation, and most importantly drought and water shortages, which have increased poverty and hunger by reducing agricultural production and people's incomes.
Many of these challenges have been caused by humans; the environment can be said to be overexploited. Deforestation, for example, has been caused by humans seeking new places to live, farm, or obtain firewood.

Drought, water shortage and desertification in Africa have been caused to some extent by global warming, which has mostly been caused by the effects of human energy use outside of Africa.

Too poor to redistribute anything?
Recently specialists have increasingly taken into account the role of geography to explain the absence of economic growth and the aggravation of poverty in Africa. Whereas in many developing countries there are disparities that pose the problem of redistribution of wealth, Africa is simply too poor to redistribute anything.
Well that's not totally true. Africa is full of natural resources, but to give just one example many multinational companies that extract these resources don't even pay any taxes to the country where they operate. In other cases, it's simply that the local aristocracy keeps all the revenues to itself.

The African paradox: it's both rich and poor
So poverty in Africa is paradoxical: the continent is made of 54 countries of low population density and rich in natural resources. Of course, as usual the resources are not evenly distributed between regions, countries and within local populations.

The countries are separated into resource-rich and -poor and into coastal and landlocked ones. Across all categories, most countries have remained stuck with a GDP per capita below $2000 for the past six decades.

The need for tailored development
Unlike other continents, a great share of the population in Africa lives in landlocked, resource-scarce countries which accounts for 1% of its overall growth rate. Another consequence of this is that policymakers need to start thinking in terms of context-based development strategies rather than continent-based ones.
In particular concerning the resource-poor landlocked regions which will remain the very core of the African poverty puzzle. A puzzle that year after year became obviously unsolvable in a day. These very countries are the ones that would need a sort of targeted, continuous aid flow in order to steadily raise consumption levels, therefore consistently reducing poorness in Africa. Nevertheless, today's aid flows only focus on short-term emergencies.

Health and poverty in Africa
Almost half of the population in Africa suffers from water-related diseases. On top of insufficient hygiene education, the frequent inundations (and lack of risk prevention) play an important role: in Mozambique over 1 million people were displaced by the floods of 1999/2000 and an unknown number killed.

Diseases - threat to development
Diseases in Africa – and in particular HIV-AIDS – are another major threat to economic development. As an academic (Whiteside 2002) puts it: “one of the main consequences of the disease is that it impoverishes individuals, households and communities”, thus further entrenching the roots of poverty in Africa.

This is a vicious cycle by which poverty boosts the spread of HIV which in turn increases poverty. The case of the poor in South Africa shows that despite the country's substantial growth, that wealth is still too concentrated in the hands of an "uninfected" minority. That way the gap between the rich and the poor only gets bigger and bigger, making it harder for impoverished populations to catch up with the well-off.

Hygiene and sanitation first
As for basic sanitation and hygiene, it is first and foremost an educational issue. Hygienic habits have consistently prevented millions of deaths across the world in the past decades. And just like in all the countries where it happened, massive full-scale educational campaigns are needed to significantly alleviate poverty in Africa.

Education and poverty in Africa

Education - A neglected cause of poverty
Starting to feel slightly overwhelmed? We're just talking about everyday life poverty here! ... So, not only does proper education help eradicate a great deal of diseases (STIs, sanitation, etc), but there is also a direct link between levels of education and poverty.

Authoritarian rule in most countries has only made the situation worse, deepening both levels of education and poverty in Africa. For that reason, although some argue that authoritarian regimes can better spur development in some cases (China, Singapore,…), but in this case democracy seems more appropriate for the case of Africa.

Is democracy better suited to Africa?
Experts who hold this argument ground it on several factors including: the multi-ethnics nature of most countries (better representation of everyone’s interests), the need for better governance and redistribution of the riches in absence of strong political will, and pervasiveness of corruption that drives people away from the legal and institutional life.

But the experience of democracy in the West has also resulted as we've seen with the protests in 2011 that most of rich countries' wealth eventually ended up in the hands of a very small elite.

Education to gain skills first and foremost
Even though many fancy universities tend to forget it, education is in general about teaching people skills (duh), thereby enhancing productivity, creativity, and exchanges.

Higher education is crucial to bring Africa back into the world system (yes it’s been kind of left aside) and bridge the digital gap with other continents. What we need is then consistent education in ICTs on top of developing the infrastructure (optic fiber, antennas, electricity grids,...) so that people can benefit from an advanced use of ICTs and harness their economic potential.

Fighting on all fronts
Obviously on a priority list of fighting poverty in Africa, this comes after meeting the most basic needs such as food, water, health, energy,... How could you possibly charge a computer's battery without electricity in your town? Yet they did that mistake a few years ago and sent thousands of laptops.

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