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Children, Africa, Poverty
Poverty is a choice Africa has taken and will remain so as
long as the mindset of our leaders remain the same, i.e. putting
self-preservation above the people’s interests. That these leaders have managed
to get away with it, is testimony to the apathy of the African people…
I recently read a book titled: Why Africa is poor – and what
Africans can do about it by Greg Mills, a white South African with a lot of
experience working in Africa. Mr Mills argues, quite convincingly, that
sub-Saharan Africa has remained poor because its leaders have opted for actions
leading to poverty while their counterparts in Asia chose the high road to
wealth creation.

As a result, over 50 years after gaining independence, many
African countries are worse off in real terms than they were in 1960 while under
colonialism. Sub- Saharan Africa’s share of global trade has for instance
shrunk from 4 per cent in 1960 to 2 per cent in 2010; 1 per cent of which is
contributed by South Africa alone. The credit for ‘lone ranger’, South Africa,
ironically goes to the industriousness of the apartheid regime but also to
wisdom of the post apartheid governments not to tamper with the economic
apparatus set up by the racist regime. In neighbouring Zimbabwe it was a
different story. Robert Mugabe’s land-grab, which sent the white farmers
packing, turned a prosperous bread basket of Southern Africa to a poor and
hungry nation.
As Comrade Mugabe must have learnt by now, farming takes
more than being a fanatical supporter of the ruling party. While Asian
countries put emphasis on economic development and uplifting the living
standards of their people, post-colonial African leaders had their accent on
politics and self- preservation of the regimes in power, with little regard to
the welfare of their people.
Africa remained a producer of a limited range of primary
commodities, whose prices have plummeted over the years. Asian countries on the
other hand embarked on industrialisation; successfully competing with and even
beating their former colonial masters at their own game. Many Western countries
are now relocating their manufacturing outfits to Asia, to take advantage of
the skilled labour force and the lower costs of production. Some Asian
countries like Singapore and Malaysia got their act together right from
independence and have experienced astronomical growth for over 50 years.
Others like Vietnam did so after a devastating 15 year-war
with the United States. When the guns fell silent, Vietnam embarked on economic
development which has turned Vietnam into a leading exporter of coffee, fish,
rice and a variety of manufactured goods. Their former enemy, the US, is now
their major trading partner.
Greg Mills attributes the rise and rise of Asia to leaders
making the right choices about development and sticking to them. Asian leaders
laid emphasis on investment in food production to meet domestic demand and for
export, on health, education and skills development; attracting Foreign Direct
Investment and taking full advantage of globalisation and trade liberation.
This ensured that the people were well fed, healthy and got
the skills and training to produce quality goods that consumers want and at
competitive prices. By making the right choices, Asian countries escaped the
poverty trap that has bedevilled Africa to this day. In spite of its vast
agricultural potential, 32 of 48 sub-Saharan countries are dependent on food
aid from donor countries. It is estimated that 40 per cent of the arable land
in Africa is not under cultivation and yet Africa has received external aid to
the tune of $560 billion in the last 50 years!
African leaders failed to prioritise agriculture, a sector
that employs 70 per cent of the population but receives on average less than 8
per cent of the budget allocations in most countries. It is also the sector
which could turn Africa into the largest exporter of food if it received
appropriate investment. The medical services in most countries have collapsed,
leaving especially the rural population chronically in bad health. Education is
also in shambles. It is no wonder that globalisation has largely by-passed
Africa. North Africa on the other hand has done much better.
Even oil producing countries in sub-Saharan Africa have not
been spared the scourge of poor choices. Nigeria for instance has earned a
total of $400 billion in 40 years of oil exportation but has little to show for
it. It is estimated that only 1 per cent of Nigeria’s 138 million people have
actually benefited from oil. Nigeria abandoned agriculture when it discovered
oil. Oil now accounts for 98 per cent of the export revenue.
According to some estimates, if Nigeria had not discovered
oil it would be 25 per cent richer than it is now. Countries like Gabon,
Equatorial Guinea, Angola, etc have had similar experiences to Nigeria as a result
of the oil economy. Uganda could go the same way if it does not learn from the
experience of Nigeria and others.
Poverty is a choice Africa has taken and will remain so as
long as the mindset of our leaders remain the same, i.e. putting self-preservation
above the people’s interests. That these leaders have managed to get away with
it, is testimony to the apathy of the African people and their willingness to
be led badly and into deeper poverty.

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