Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30,300,000 km² (11,700,000 mi²) including adjacent islands, it covers 5.9% of the Earth's total surface area, and 20.3% of the total land area. With more than 840,000,000 people (as of 2005) in 61 territories, it accounts for more than 12% of the world's human population.




Africa in the Blue marble picture, with Antarctica to the south, and the 

Sahara and Arabian peninsula at the top of the globe





The name Africa came into Western use through the Romans, who used the name Africa terra — "land of the Afri" (plural, or "Afer" singular) — for the northern part of the continent, as the province of Africa with its capital Carthage, corresponding to modern-day Tunisia.


The Afri were a tribe — possibly Berber — who dwelt in North Africa in the Carthage area. The origin of Afer may be connected with Phoenician `afar, dust (also found in most other Semitic languages). Some other etymologies that have been postulated for the ancient name 'Africa' that are much more debatable include:


  • the Latin word aprica, meaning "sunny";

  • the Greek word aphrike, meaning "without cold" (see also list of traditional Greek place names). This was proposed by historian Leo Africanus (1495-1554) who suggested the Greek word phrike (φρίκη, meaning "cold and horror"), combined with the negating prefix a-, thus indicating a land free of cold and horror. However, as the change of sound from ph to f in Greek is datable to about the 10th century, it is unlikely this is the origin.


Ancient Africa lay to the west of Egypt, while "Asia" was used to refer to Anatolia and lands to the east. Originally Egypt and the Levant had an indeterminate position between these locations, though as part of the Persian empire they were sometimes absorbed in the loose concept of "Asia". A definite line was drawn between the two continents by the geographer Ptolemy (85 - 165 AD), indicating Alexandria along the Prime Meridian and made the isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea the boundary between Asia and Africa. As Europeans came to understand the real extent of the continent, the idea of Africa expanded with their knowledge.




Map of Africa 1890





Africa is the largest of the three great southward projections from the main mass of the Earth's surface. Separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, it is joined to Asia at its northeast extremity by the Isthmus of Suez (transected by the Suez Canal), 130 km (80 miles) wide. (Geopolitically, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula east of the Suez Canal is often considered part of Africa, as well.) From the most northerly point, Cape Blanc (Ra’s al Abyad) in Tunisia (37°21′ N), to the most southerly point, Cape Agulhas in South Africa (34°51′15″ S), is a distance approximately of 8,000 km (5,000 miles); from Cape Verde, 17°33′22″ W, the westernmost point, to Ras Hafun in Somalia, 51°27′52″ E, the most easterly projection, is a distance (also approximately) of 7,400 km (4,600 miles). The coastline is 26,000 km (16,100 miles) long, and the absence of deep indentations of the shore is shown by the fact that Europe, which covers only 9,700,000 km² (3,760,000 square miles), has a coastline of 32,000 km (19,800 miles).


The main structural lines of the continent show both the east-to-west direction characteristic, at least in the eastern hemisphere, of the more northern parts of the world, and the north-to-south direction seen in the southern peninsulas. Africa is thus composed of two segments at right angles, the northern running from east to west, the southern from north to south, the subordinate lines corresponding in the main to these two directions.





Africa is the oldest inhabited territory on earth, with the human species originating from this continent. During the middle of the 20th century, anthropologists discovered many fossils and evidence of human occupation perhaps as early as 7 million years ago. Fossil remains of several species of early apelike humans thought to have evolved into modern man, such as Australopithecus afarensis (radiometrically dated to 3.9-3.0 million years BC), Paranthropus boisei (2.3-1.4 million BC) and Homo ergaster (c. 600,000-1.9 million BC) has been discovered.


The Ishango Bone, dated to about 25,000 years ago, shows tallies in mathematical notation. Throughout humanity's prehistory, Africa (like all other continents) had no nation states, and was instead inhabited by groups of hunter-gatherers such as the Khoi and San (formerly known as bushmen).



Early civilisations and trade


About 3300 BC, the historical record opens in Africa with the rise of literacy in Egypt, which continued, with varying levels of influence over other areas, until 343 BC. Other prominent civilizations include Carthage, the Kingdom of Aksum, the Nubian kingdoms, the empires of the Sahel (Kanem-Bornu, Ghana, Mali, and Songhai), and Great Zimbabwe.


Apart from the Nile valley, the Sahara desert presented a near impenetrable barrier between north and south, until the introduction of the camel. This beast of burden was first brought to Egypt by the Persians after 525 BC, although large herds did not become common enough in North Africa to establish the trans-Saharan trade until the seventh century AD. The Berbers were the first to exploit this, and after the spread of Islam a steady trade in precious metals, ivory, salt and slaves ensued between the Muslim states in the Maghreb and the Sahelian kingdoms.


In 1482, the Portuguese established the first of many trading stations along the Guinea coast at Elmina. The chief commodities dealt in were slaves, gold, ivory and spices. The European discovery of the Americas in 1492 was followed by a great development of the slave trade, which, before the Portuguese era, had been an overland trade almost exclusively, and never confined to any one continent.


Slavery began to be phased out in Europe and America in the early 19th century, resulting in a dramatic shift in the economies of coastal states such as Dahomey and Ashante.



Precolonial exploration


In the mid nineteenth century European and particularly British explorers became interested in exploring the heart of the continent and opening the area for trade, mining and other commercial exploitation. In addition, there was a desire to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. The central area of Africa was still largely unknown to Europeans at this time. David Livingstone explored the continent between 1852 and his death in 1873, amongst other claims to fame, he was the first European to see the Victoria Falls. A prime goal for explorers was to locate the source of the River Nile. Expeditions by Burton and Speke (1857-1858) and Speke and Grant (1863) located Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria. The latter was eventually proven as the source of the Nile. With subsequent expeditions by Baker and Stanley, Africa was well explored by the end of the century and this was to lead the way for the colonisation which followed.



Colonialism and the "scramble for Africa"


In the late 19th century, the European imperial powers staged a major "scramble for Africa" and occupied most of the continent, creating many colonial nation states, and leaving only two independent nations: Liberia, the Black American colony, and Orthodox Christian Abyssinia (Ethiopia). This colonial occupation continued until after the conclusion of World War II, when all the colonial states gradually obtained formal independence.


Today, Africa is home to over 50 independent countries, which mostly still have the borders drawn during the era of European colonialism.





Precolonial Africa


Precolonial Africa possessed perhaps as many as 10,000 different states and polities [1] characterised by different sorts of political organisation and rule. These included small family groups of hunter-gatherers such as the San people of southern Africa; larger, more structured groups such as the family clan groupings of the Bantu-speaking people of central and southern Africa and the heavily-structured clan groups in the Horn of Africa; wealthy, extensive and socially complex kingdoms such as the ancient empires of Mali, Ghana and Kongo; and autonomous city-states such as the Swahili coastal trading towns of the East African coast, whose trade network extended as far as China.



Colonial Africa


Colonialism had a destabilizing effect on what had been a number of ethnic groups that is still being felt in African politics. Before European influence, national borders were not much of a concern, with Africans generally following the practice of other areas of the world, such as the Arabian peninsula, where a group's territory was congruent with its military or trade influence. The European insistence of drawing borders around territories to isolate them from those of other colonial powers often had the effect of separating otherwise contiguous political groups, or forcing traditional enemies to live side by side with no buffer between them. For example, although the Congo River appears to be a natural geographic boundary, groups that otherwise shared a language, culture or other similarity who resided on both sides. The division of the land between Belgium and France along the river isolated these groups from each other. Those who lived in Saharan or Sub-Saharan Africa and traded across the continent for centuries often found themselves crossing "borders" that existed only on European maps.


In nations that had substantial European populations, for example Rhodesia and South Africa, systems of second-class citizenship were often set up in order to give Europeans political power far in excess of their numbers. However, the lines were not often drawn strictly across racial lines. In Liberia, the citizens who were descendants of American slaves managed to have a political system for over 100 years that gave ex-slaves and natives to the area roughly equal legislative power despite the fact the ex-slaves were outnumbered ten to one in the general population. The inspiration for this system was the United States Senate, which had balanced the power of free and slave states despite the much-larger population of the former.


Europeans often changed the balance of power, created ethnic divides where they did not previously exist, and introduced a cultural dichotomy detrimental to the native inhabitants in the areas they controlled. For example, in what is now Rwanda and Burundi, two ethnic groups Hutus and Tutsis had merged into one culture by the time Belgian colonists had taken control of the region in the 19th century. No longer divided by ethnicity as intermingling, intermarriage, and merging of cultural practices over the centuries had long since erased visible signs of a culture divide, the Belgians instituted a policy of racial categorization, upon taking control of the region, as racial based categorization and philosophies was a fixture of the European culture of that time. The term Hutu originally referred to the agricultural-based Bantu-speaking tribes that moved into present day Rwandan and Burundi from the West, and the term Tutsi referred to Northeastern cattle-based tribes that migrated into the region later. The terms to the indigenous peoples eventually came to describe a person's economic class. Individuals who owned roughly 10 or more cattle were considered Tutsi, and those with fewer were considered Hutu, regardless of ancestral history. This was not a strict line but a general rule of thumb, and one could move from Hutu to Tutsi and vice versa.


The Belgians introduced a racialised system. Individuals who had characteristics the Europeans admired — fairer skin, ample height, narrow noses, etc. — were given power amongst the colonized peoples. The Belgians determined these features were more ideally Hamitic, and in turn more ideally European and belonged to those people closest to Tutsi in ancestry. They instituted a policy of issuing identity cards based on this philosophy. Those closest to this ideal were proclaimed Tutsi and those not were proclaimed Hutu.




Distribution of African language families and major African languages. 

Afro-Asiatic extends from the Sahel to Southwest Asia. Niger-Congo is divided to show the size of the Bantu sub-family




Post-colonial Africa


Since colonialism, African states have frequently been hampered by instability, corruption, violence, and authoritarianism. The vast majority of African nations are republics that operate under some form of the presidential system of rule. Few nations in Africa have been able to sustain democratic governments, and many have instead cycled through a series of brutal coups and military dictatorships. A number of Africa's post-colonial political leaders were military generals who were poorly educated and ignorant on matters of governance. Great instability, however, was mainly the result of marginalization of other ethnic groups and graft under these leaders. Many politicians used the positions of power to ignite ethnic conflicts that had been exacerbated, or even created, by colonial rule. In many countries, the military was perceived as being the only group that could effectively maintain order, and it ruled many nations in Africa during the 1970s and early 1980s. During the period from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, Africa had more than 70 coups and 13 presidential assassinations.


Cold War conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as the policies of the International Monetary Fund, also played a role in instability. When a country became independent for the first time, it was often expected to align with one of the two superpowers. Many countries in Northern Africa received Soviet military aid, while many in Central and Southern Africa were supported by the United States, France or both of the latter. The 1970s saw an escalation, as newly independent Angola and Mozambique aligned themselves with the Soviet Union and the West and South Africa sought to contain Soviet influence. Border and territorial disputes have also been common, with the European-imposed borders of many nations being widely contested through armed conflicts.


Failed government policies and political corruption have also resulted in many widespread famines, and significant portions of Africa remain with distribution systems unable to disseminate enough food or water for the population to survive. What had before colonialism been the source for 90% of the world's gold had become the poorest continent on earth, its former riches enjoyed by those on other continents. The spread of disease is also rampant, especially the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the associated acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which has become a deadly epidemic on the continent. Despite numerous hardships, there have been some signs the continent has hope for the future. Democratic governments seem to be spreading, though they are not yet the majority (The National Geographic Society claims 13 African nations can be considered truly democratic. As well, many nations have recognized basic human rights for all citizens (though in practice these are not always recognized) and have created reasonably independent judiciaries.


There are clear signs of increased networking among African organisations and states. In the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), rather than rich, non-African countries intervening, about half a dozen neighbouring African countries became involved. Since the conflict began in 1998, the estimated death toll has reached 3.5 million. This might play a role similar to that of World War II for Europe, after which the people in the neighbouring countries decided to integrate their societies in such a way that war between them becomes as unthinkable as a war between, say, France and Germany would be today. Political associations such as the African Union are also offering hope for greater co-operation and peace between the continent's many countries. Extensive human rights abuses still occur in several parts of Africa, often under the oversight of the state. Most of such violations occur for political reasons, often as a side effect of civil war. Countries where major human rights violations have been reported in recent times include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, and Côte d'Ivoire.





Africa is the world's poorest inhabited continent: the United Nations' Human Development Report 2003 (of 175 countries) found that positions 151 (Gambia) to 175 (Sierra Leone) were taken up entirely by African nations.


It has had (and in some ways is still having) a shaky and uncertain transition from colonialism, with increases in corruption and despotism being major contributing factors to its poor economic situation. While rapid growth in China and now India, and moderate growth in Latin America, has lifted millions beyond subsistence living, Africa has gone backwards in terms of foreign trade, investment, and per capita income. This poverty has widespread effects, including lower life expectancy, violence, and instability -- factors intertwined with the continent's poverty.


Major economic successes are Botswana and South Africa, which is developed to the extent that it has its own mature stock exchange. This is partly due to its wealth of natural resources, being the world's leading producer of both gold and diamonds, and partly due to its well-established legal system. South Africa also has access to financial capital, numerous markets and skilled labor. Other African countries are making comparable progress, such as Ghana, and some, like Egypt, have a longer history of commercial and economic success.


Nigeria sits on one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world and has the highest population among nations in Africa, with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.


From 1995 to 2005, economic growth picked up, averaging 5% in 2005. However some countries experienced much higher growth (10+%) in particular, Angola, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea, all three of which have recently begun extracting their petroleum reserves.





Africans may be grouped according to whether they live north or south of the Sahara Desert; these groups are called North Africans and Sub-Saharan Africans, respectively. Afro-Asiatic speaking peoples predominate in North Africa, while Sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by a number of populations grouped according to their language — Niger-Congo predominantly in West Africa, Nilo-Saharan in the Eastern highlands and Khoisan in the south.


Speakers of Bantu languages (part of the Niger-Congo family) are the majority in southern, central and east Africa proper. But there are also several Nilotic groups in East Africa, and a few remaining indigenous Khoisan ('San' or 'Bushmen') and Pygmy peoples in southern and central Africa, respectively. Bantu-speaking Africans also predominate in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and are found in parts of southern Cameroon and southern Somalia. In the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, the distinct people known as the Bushmen (also "San", closely related to, but distinct from "Hottentots") have long been present. The San are physically distinct from other Africans and are the indigenous people of southern Africa. Pygmies are the pre-Bantu indigenous peoples of central Africa.


The peoples of North Africa comprise two main groups; Berber and Arabic-speaking peoples in the west, and Egyptians in the east. The Arabs who arrived in the seventh century introduced the Arabic language and Islam to North Africa. The Semitic Phoenicians, the European Greeks and Romans settled in North Africa as well. Berbers still make up the majority in Morocco, while they are a significant minority within Algeria. They are also present in Tunisia and Libya. The Tuareg and other often-nomadic peoples are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Nubians are a Nilo-Saharan-speaking group (though many also speak Arabic), who developed an ancient civilization in northeast Africa.


During the past century or so, small but economically important colonies of Lebanese and Chinese have also developed in the larger coastal cities of West and East Africa, respectively.


Some Ethiopian and Eritrean groups (like the Amhara and Tigrayans, collectively known as "Habesha") speak Semitic languages. The Oromo and Somali peoples speak Cushitic languages, but most Somali clans can trace some Arab ancestry as well. Sudan and Mauritania are divided between a mostly Arabized north and a native African south (although the "Arabs" of Sudan clearly have a predominantly native African ancestry themselves). Some areas of East Africa, particularly the island of Zanzibar and the Kenyan island of Lamu, received Arab Muslim and Southwest Asian settlers and merchants throughout the Middle Ages and in antiquity.


Beginning in the 16th century, Europeans such as the Portuguese and Dutch began to establish trading posts and forts along the coasts of western and southern Africa. Eventually, a large number of Dutch augmented by French Huguenots and German settled in what is today South Africa. Their descendants, the Afrikaners and the Coloureds, are the largest European-descended groups in Africa today. In the 19th century, a second phase of colonization brought a large number of French and British settlers to Africa. The Portuguese settled mainly in Angola, but also in Mozambique. The French settled in large numbers in Algeria where they became known collectively as pieds-noirs, and on a smaller scale in other areas of North and West Africa as well as in Madagascar. The British settled chiefly in South Africa as well as the colony of Rhodesia, and in the highlands of what is now Kenya. Germans settled in what is now Tanzania and Namibia, and there is still a population of German-speaking white Namibians. Smaller numbers of European soldiers, businessmen, and officials also established themselves in administrative centers such as Nairobi and Dakar.


Decolonization during the 1960s often resulted in the mass emigration of European-descended settlers out of Africa — especially from Algeria, Angola, Kenya and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). However, in South Africa and Namibia, the white minority remained politically dominant after independence from Europe, and a significant population of white Africans remained in these two countries even after democracy was finally instituted at the end of the Cold War. South Africa has also become the preferred destination of white Anglo-Zimbabweans, and of migrants from all over southern Africa.


European colonization also brought sizeable groups of Asians, particularly people from the Indian subcontinent, to British colonies. Large Indian communities are found in South Africa, and smaller ones are present in Kenya, Tanzania, and some other southern and east African countries. The large Indian community in Uganda was expelled by the dictator Idi Amin in 1972, though many have since returned. The islands in the Indian Ocean are also populated primarily by people of Asian origin, often mixed with Africans and Europeans. The Malagasy people of Madagascar are a Malay people, but those along the coast are generally mixed with Bantu, Arab, Indian and European origins. Malay and Indian ancestries are also important components in the group of people known in South Africa as Cape Coloureds (people with origins in two or more races and continents).




By most estimates, Africa contains well over a thousand languages. There are four major language families native to Africa.

  • The Afro-Asiatic languages are a language family of about 240 languages and 285 million people widespread throughout East Africa, North Africa, the Sahel, and Southwest Asia.

  • The Nilo-Saharan language family consists of more than a hundred languages spoken by 30 million people. Nilo-Saharan languages are mainly spoken in Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, and northern Tanzania.

  • The Niger-Congo language family covers much of Sub-Saharan Africa and is probably the largest language family in the world in terms of different languages. A substantial number of them are the Bantu languages spoken in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

  • The Khoisan languages number about 50 and are spoken in Southern Africa by approximately 120 000 people. Many of the Khoisan languages are endangered. The Khoi and San peoples are considered the original inhabitants of this part of Africa.

With a few notable exceptions in East Africa, nearly all African countries have adopted official languages that originated outside the continent and spread through colonialism or human migration. For example, in numerous countries English and French are used for communication in the public sphere such as government, commerce, education and the media. Arabic, Portuguese, Afrikaans and Malagasy are other examples of originally non-African languages that are used by millions of Africans today, both in the public and private spheres.





Africa has a number of overlapping cultures. The most conventional distinction is that between sub-Saharan Africa and the northern countries from Egypt to Morocco, who largely associate themselves with Arabic culture. In this comparison, the nations to the south of the Sahara are considered to consist of many cultural areas, in particular that of the Bantu linguistic group.


Divisions may also be made between Francophone Africa and the rest of Africa, in particular the former British colonies of southern and East Africa. Another cultural fault-line is that between those Africans living traditional lifestyles and those who are essentially modern. The traditionalists are sometimes subdivided into pastoralists and agriculturalists.


African art reflects the diversity of African cultures. The oldest existing art from Africa are 6,000-year old carvings found in Niger, while the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt was the world's tallest architectural accomplishment for 4,000 years until the creation of the Eiffel Tower. The Ethiopian complex of monolithic churches at Lalibela, of which the Church of St. George is representative, is regarded as another marvel of engineering.


The music of Africa is one of its most dynamic art forms. Egypt has long been a cultural focus of the Arab world, while remembrance of the rhythms of sub-Saharan Africa, in particular west Africa, was transmitted through the Atlantic slave trade to modern samba, blues, jazz, reggae, rap, and rock and roll. Modern music of the continent includes the highly complex choral singing of southern Africa and the dance rhythms of soukous, dominated by the music of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A recent development of the 21st century is the emergence of African hip hop. In particular, a form from Senegal is blended with traditional mbalax. Recently in South Africa, a form of music related to house music known under the name Kwaito has developed, although the country has been home to its own form of South African jazz for some time, while Afrikaans music is completely distinct and composed mostly of traditional Boere musiek, and forms of folk and rock music.





Africans profess a wide variety of religious beliefs, with Christianity and Islam being the most widespread. Approximately 40% of all Africans are Christians and another 40% are Muslims. Roughly 20 percent of Africans primarily follow indigenous African religions. A small number of Africans also have beliefs from the Judaic tradition, such as the Beta Israel and Lemba tribes.


The indigenous African religions tend to revolve around animism and ancestor worship. A common thread in traditional belief systems was the division of the spiritual world into "helpful" and "harmful". Helpful spirits are usually deemed to include ancestor spirits that help their descendants, and powerful spirits that protect entire communities from natural disaster or attacks from enemies; whereas harmful spirits include the souls of murdered victims who were buried without the proper funeral rites, and spirits used by hostile spirit mediums to cause illness among their enemies. While the effect of these early forms of worship continues to have a profound influence, belief systems have evolved as they interact with other religions.


The formation of the Old Kingdom of Egypt in the third millennium BCE marked the first known complex religious system on the continent. Around the ninth century BCE, Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) was founded by the Phoenicians, and went on to become a major cosmopolitan center where deities from neighboring Egypt, Rome and the Etruscan city-states were worshipped.


The Ethiopian Orthodox Church officially dates from the fourth century, and is thus one of the first established Christian churches anywhere. At first, Christian Orthodoxy made gains in modern-day Sudan and other neighbouring regions. However, after the spread of Islam, growth was slow and restricted to the highlands.

Islam entered Africa as Muslims conquered North Africa between 640 and 710, beginning with Egypt. They established Mogadishu, Melinde, Mombasa, Kilwa, and Sofala, following the sea trade down the coast of East Africa, and diffusing through the Sahara desert into the interior of Africa -- following in particular the paths of Muslim traders. Muslims were also among the Asian peoples who later settled in British-ruled Africa.


Many Africans were converted to West European forms of Christianity during the colonial period. In the last decades of the 20th century, various sects of Charismatic Christianity rapidly grew. A number of Roman Catholic African bishops were even mentioned as possible papal candidates in 2005. African Christians appear to be more socially conservative than their co-religionists in much of the industrialized world, which has quite recently led to tension within denominations such as the Anglican and Methodist Churches.


The African Initiated Churches have experienced significant growth in the 20th and 21st centuries.








Name of region and
territory, with flag


(1 July 2002 est.)

Population density
(per km²)



Eastern Africa:


Burundi Burundi





Comoros Comoros





Djibouti Djibouti





Eritrea Eritrea





Ethiopia Ethiopia




Addis Ababa

Kenya Kenya





Madagascar Madagascar





Malawi Malawi





Mauritius Mauritius




Port Louis

Mayotte Mayotte (France)





Mozambique Mozambique





Réunion Réunion (France)





Rwanda Rwanda





Seychelles Seychelles





Somalia Somalia





Tanzania Tanzania





Uganda Uganda





Zambia Zambia





Zimbabwe Zimbabwe






Middle Africa:


Angola Angola





Cameroon Cameroon





Central African Republic Central African Republic





Chad Chad





Republic of the Congo Congo





Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo





Equatorial Guinea Equatorial Guinea





Gabon Gabon





São Tomé and Príncipe São Tomé and Príncipe




São Tomé

Northern Africa:

Algeria Algeria





Egypt Egypt





Libya Libya





Morocco Morocco





Sudan Sudan





Tunisia Tunisia





Western Sahara Western Sahara (Morocco)




El Aaiún

Southern Europe dependencies in Northern Africa:

Canary Islands (Spain)




Las Palmas de Gran Canaria,
Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Ceuta Ceuta (Spain)




Madeira Islands (Portugal)





Melilla Melilla (Spain)




Southern Africa:

Botswana Botswana





Lesotho Lesotho





Namibia Namibia





South Africa South Africa




Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Pretoria

Swaziland Swaziland





Western Africa:

Benin Benin





Burkina Faso Burkina Faso





Cape Verde Cape Verde





 Côte d'Ivoire Côte d'Ivoire




Abidjan, Yamoussoukro

The Gambia Gambia





Ghana Ghana





Guinea Guinea





Guinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau





Liberia Liberia





Mali Mali





Mauritania Mauritania





Niger Niger





Nigeria Nigeria





Saint Helena Saint Helena (UK)





Senegal Senegal





Sierra Leone Sierra Leone





Togo Togo
















The economy of Africa comprises approximately 887 million people as of July 2005 living in 54 different states. Africa is by far the world's poorest inhabited continent, and it is, on average, poorer than it was 25 years ago.  The United Nations' Human Development Report 2003 (of 175 countries) found that positions 151 (Gambia) to 175 (Sierra Leone) were taken up entirely by African nations.




Topographical map of Africa



It has had (and in some ways is still having) a shaky and uncertain transition from colonialism, with the ensuing Cold War and increases in corruption and despotism being major contributing factors to its poor economic situation. While rapid growth in China and now India, and moderate growth in South America, has lifted millions beyond subsistence living, Africa has stagnated, even going backwards in terms of foreign trade, investment, and per capita income. This poverty has widespread effects, including low life expectancy, violence, and instability - factors intertwined with the continent's poverty. Over the decades there have been many attempts to improve the economy of Africa with very little success. Much of the continent is still very poor.



Regional variation


While no African nation could be considered wealthy enough to join the ranks of the developed nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the entire continent is not utterly impoverished and there is considerable variation in its wealth. The richest areas are the far north and south of the continent. Arab North Africa has long been closely linked to the economies of Europe and the Middle East. In the south, South Africa is by far the continent's wealthiest state, both in GDP per capita and in total GDP, and its neighbours to the north have shared in this wealth. The relatively small and oil-rich states of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea round out the list of the ten wealthiest states in Africa.


West Africa, with a long history of trade and a high level of development in the pre-colonial era, has tended to be wealthier and more stable than the continental average. The island nations such as the Seychelles, Cape Verde, and Mauritius, have also remained somewhat wealthier than the continental nations, but the unstable Comoros remain poor.


The poorest states are those that are engaged in or have just emerged from civil wars. These include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Burundi, and Somalia. In recent times the poorest region has been the Horn of Africa, although it has historically been one of the wealthiest regions of sub-Saharan Africa; Ethiopia especially had a long and successful history. The current poverty of the region, and the associated famines and wars, have been a problem for several decades.


There is also considerable internal variation within countries. Urban areas, especially capital cities, are generally wealthier than rural zones. Inequality is pronounced in most African countries: an upper class has a much higher income than the majority of the population.




World map showing position of Africa






Before the advent of the Roman Empire, Ancient Egypt had been one of the most prosperous and advanced civilizations on Earth. The port of Alexandria (founded by Alexander the Great in 334 BC) was one of the hubs for Mediterranean trade for many centuries. Well into the 19th century, Egypt remained one of the most developed parts of the world outside Europe.


South of the Sahara conditions were very different. Internal trade within the continent, being cut off by thick forests and massive deserts, was always difficult. The bulk of sub-Saharan Africa has never been as prosperous as the rest of the world. The main exceptions were Nubia and Ethiopia which had trade routes north to the Mediterranean world.


However, new technologies and the development of civilization made trading easier all over the world. For most of the first millennium AD, the Axumite Kingdom had a prosperous trade empire on the East Coast (where today we can find the states of Ethiopia and Eritrea). Axum had a powerful navy and trading links going as far as the Byzantine Empire and India. The introduction of the camel by the Arab conquerors of North Africa in the 10th century opened trade across the Sahara for the first time. The profits from trade in gold and salt led to the creation of a series of powerful empires in the western Sahel that, according to travellers' reports, were home to vast wealth, including the Kingdom of Ghana and the Mali and Kanem-Bornu Empires. Arabs also played an important role in building a prosperous maritime trade along the east coast of the continent. This region became quite prosperous as Swahili traders exported ivory and slaves across a trading region that spanned the entire Indian Ocean region.


Further south empires were less common, but there were exceptions, most notably Great Zimbabwe. One region that did see considerable state formation due to its high population and agricultural surplus was the Great Lakes region where states such as Rwanda, Burundi, and Buganda became strongly centralized.


In the 15th century, Portuguese traders circumvented the Saharan trade route and began to trade directly with Guinea. The Portuguese traders were joined by other European traders as the decades passed, and this led to a rapid rise in prosperity in that region, which soon became home to a number of flourishing states, such as the Kingdom of Benin, Dahomey, and the Ashanti Confederacy. Also common in this region were loose federations of city states such as those of the Yoruba and Hausa. However, this wealth was principally based on the slave trade; and this source of economic wealth collapsed with the abolition of slavery and the later colonization of almost the entire continent by European powers.


While Europeans were ostensibly committed to developing their colonies, the first decades of colonial rule saw a laissez-faire strategy employed, where it was hoped that European companies would do most of the actual development work if given a secure operating environment. This only occurred in a handful of areas with especially rich resources, and growth of the colonial economies was minimal from the 1890s until the end of the 1920s. The colonies were also obliged to pay their own way, receiving little to no development money from the home country. It was only in the 1930s with the rise of Keynesian economics that it became agreed that the colonial administrations had a significant role to play in encouraging development. However, the Great Depression and the Second World War hampered new projects. It was not until the post-war years that colonial development projects truly got under way.


The 1950s saw booming economies in much of Africa as growth and international trade increased to many times their pre-war levels. This was tied to the insatiable demand for raw materials in the rebuilding economies of Asia and Europe and the strong growth in North America, which caused raw material prices to increase greatly. By the end of the colonial era in the 1960s, there was great hope that Africa could continue to grow substantially on its own. Sporadic growth during the years after independence continued as the new nations borrowed heavily from abroad to fuel growth.


However, Africa was hit hard by the world economic decline of the 1970s, rising oil prices, corruption, and political instability; and in subsequent decades Africa has steadily become poorer compared to the rest of the world. Africa stands in stark contrast to the solid growth in South America and the spectacular growth of East Asia over that same period. In 1970, according to the World Economic Forum, ten percent of the world's poor were in Africa; by 2000, half of them were. From 1974 to 2000 the average income declined by $200.



Economic sectors




Africa's economy is more reliant on agriculture than that of any other continent, with around 60% of Africans working in the agricultural sector. About three fifths of African farmers are subsistence farmers tilling small plots of land to feed their families, with only a minimal surplus that can be sold for other goods. However, there are a significant number of larger farms that grow cash crops such as coffee, cotton, cocoa, and rubber; these farms, normally operated by large corporations, cover tens of square kilometres and employ large numbers of labourers.


The cultivation of crops for export to the West while millions on the continent starve has often been criticized. Many blame it on the current practices of Japan, the European Union and the United States. Each massively subsidise their own farmers, leading to overproduction of such commodities as grain, cotton and milk; this lowers the global price of such products and makes Africans unable to compete with the West and Japan, except in cash crops that do not grow easily in a northern climate. On the other hand, these countries also protect their agricultural sector by high import tariffs.


Thus, in Africa all excess capacity is turned over to growing crops for export; as a result, when crisis sparked by civil unrest or a bad harvest occurs, there is no extra food saved that could make up the shortfall, and people starve. The excess foodstuffs grown in the developed nations are often just destroyed, as it is not economically viable to transport it over long distance across the oceans to a market that has little money to spend. While in ideal circumstances cash crops can help to improve the wealth of a nation, any positive aspects are negated if their production leads to famine.



Mining and drilling


By far Africa's most valuable exports are minerals and petroleum; these resources are concentrated in only a few countries. The southern nations have large reserves of gold, diamonds, and copper. Nigeria and its neighbours export significant amounts of petroleum, as does Libya. These areas make up the vast majority of mineral and petroleum exports from the continent.


While mining and drilling bring in the most money to Africa each year, these industries employ a tiny fraction of the continent's population, only about two million people. This means that the profits normally go either to large corporations or to the governments. Both have been known to squander much of this money on luxuries for the elite or on megaprojects that return little value.


In some cases, these resources have turned out to be a curse. For example, though Congo is rich in minerals, the country remains one of the poorest countries in the world. This is historically due to ownership fights over these minerals. In Congo, the fights could be traced back to early 1900s. After Congo became independent from Belgium, the colonial government hesitated to leave behind these resources. Congo solicited UN help to push Belgium, but that turned out to be a bad idea. In an attempt to get out of the quagmire, Congo sought USSR assistance, but this led the country deeper into trouble, as the country separated into two and a lengthy proxy war between the west and east began.





Africa is the least industrialized continent; only South Africa has a substantial manufacturing sector. Despite large local supplies of cheap labour, almost the entire continent's natural resources are exported elsewhere for secondary refining and manufacturing. According to the AFDB about 15% of workers are employed in the industrial sector.


The multinational corporations that control most of the world's major industries, and the financiers who pay for them, require some guarantee of political stability before erecting an expensive factory - and this stability is rare in Africa. A certain level of education among the populace, good infrastructure and a stable source of electricity are also considered essential factors in investment decisions, but these factors are lacking across much of Africa. Thus other poor regions of the world - India and China - are more attractive to companies looking to build a new factory or invest in a local enterprise.


In earlier years, many states also had limits on foreign investment to ensure local majority ownership, and close governmental control over industry further discouraged international investment. Attempts to foster local industrial concerns have been hampered by insufficient money for investment and lack of technology and training. The paucity of local markets for goods and the difficulty of transporting goods from major African centres to world markets also plays an important role in the lack of manufacturing outside of South Africa.



Investment and banking


Banking in Africa has long been problematic. For the most part the continent is served by local banks, which are often unstable and corrupt. Thus governments and industry rely mainly on international banks. The one major exception is South Africa, which has a thriving banking sector that was in some ways aided by the international sanctions of the apartheid era, which forced out the British banks that had once dominated. In the years after independence the banking sector in most of Africa was heavily regulated by governments, with strict limits placed on international competition. In recent decades banking reform has been a priority of the IMF and World Bank and there have been some significant changes. One of the most important is permission for more penetration by foreign banks; and the South Africans have been the most successful in attracting foreign banks to operate in their country.


Encouraging foreign investment in Africa has been very difficult. Even Africans are reluctant to invest and about forty percent of savings from sub-Saharan Africa are invested in other markets. Much investment must thus come from foreign governments, who often have ulterior motives, or the IMF and World Bank, who impose stringent conditions before loaning money





The intractable nature of Africa's poverty should not, according to modern economic theory, be the case, and the root causes of Africa's poverty are much debated. It is also difficult to tell what is an effect and what is a cause of poverty. Endemic warfare and unrest, widespread corruption, and despotic regimes are both causes and effects of the continued economic problems.





Africa's geography is unsuited to trade and thus hampers its economy. The centre of the continent, at least on the western side, is an almost impenetrable rainforest that greatly impedes the transit of people and goods. Some of the wealthiest parts of South Africa are blocked from the rest of Africa by the Kalahari Desert, while the Sahara creates an obvious barrier to trade. While Africa has a number of great river systems such as those of the Nile, Niger, Congo, and Zambezi, it is not nearly as well-linked by rivers as are other areas, such as Europe and China. Moreover, many of the rivers are blocked by rapids and cataracts that require vast development projects if they are to be bypassed. The wetness of the interior also makes transport difficult. Few roads are paved and during the wet season many of the unpaved tracks become impassable mud.


Countries in Africa are also cut off from the sea to a greater extent than those on other continents. Africa has more landlocked nations than any other continent, and countries in the centre of Africa are more populous than those of other areas. By contrast, the centres of North America and Asia are composed of vast steppes or plains that can never support a high population density. Most notably, the ridge running from Zimbabwe to Ethiopia has superb volcanic soils and the higher altitude gives it a more temperate climate. The lack of access to the sea makes international trade far harder.


Within Africa, the wealth of nations is highly correlated with changes in latitude. One potential explanation for this is that modern civilization originates and is possibly best suited for temperate climates, but fails in the tropics. The majority of the world's population and wealth is found in the temperate zone. Historically the vast expanse of Eurasia, almost entirely in the temperate zone, was linked by land routes, allowing technologies and ideas to spread from one area over time, aiding innovation. This expanse and spread of technologies among those in the temperate zones means that everything from agricultural techniques to medicines are more often made to address the concerns of the northern climes, and often fail when brought south. This theory could partly explain why temperate South Africa is by far the wealthiest part of Africa, and why other tropical areas in South America and Indonesia share in Africa's poverty. There are no tropical countries in the OECD, and only a handful have a GDP per capita above the world average. A tropical latitude is not a guarantee of poverty, but globally there is a definite correlation between wealth and climate. Variations of the theory of geographic determinism date back to Montesquieu but have recently been revived by academics such as William Masters and Jeffrey Sachs and popular writers such as Jared Diamond.


Africa is well-endowed with natural resources. The continent has the world's largest supplies of gold and diamonds and contains large reserves of oil both in the north and around the Gulf of Guinea. Some have suggested that, counterintuitively, these foster a resource curse which fosters poor governance, and few African countries seem to have materially benefited from their mineral wealth. It is as well suited to agriculture as any other continent; the volcanic soils of the Great Lakes region are—by some measures—the best in the world.


One resource that Sub-Saharan Africa has historically lacked is stone suitable for building. This meant that almost all pre-colonial civilizations built mainly out of mud brick, which leaves few lasting ruins. The only notable exception to this is Great Zimbabwe. For many years this led European explorers and historians to conclude that pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa was devoid of civilization, as in Europe all great civilizations left an indelible mark in stone ruins.





Closely linked to geography is the problem of disease in Africa. The tropics have been, and still are, more hospitable to disease than the colder climates. The most significant illness has long been malaria. A new problem, but one of vast magnitude, is the rise of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS, the spread of which to some degree correlates with that of poverty, has hit hardest in some of the wealthiest African countries, including Botswana, Swaziland, and South Africa. AIDS has decimated or will decimate the working-age population of many states.


The cost healthcare costs, including those of importing anti-retroviral AIDS drugs from the west is also a major new burden on many African states, leading to the challenging of drug prices and the manufacture of cheap generic alternatives. Tropical diseases are often just as expensive to cure, when cures exist. Since the tropical regions are far poorer, pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to invest in curing the diseases of the region. Disease not only reduces the work force and creates an extra burden on health care, but also has an important effect on agriculture and transportation, as most forms of livestock cannot survive the diseases of the region. Historically this meant that sub-Saharan Africans did not have the use of pack animals for trade or work horses for labour, hurting the continent's development.


The effect of AIDS could lead to a major African epidemic. This will cost Africa a lot of money for vaccines and a lot of patience.



Map showing European claimants to the African continent in 1913


Map showing European claimants to the African continent in 1913






There is great debate over the effect of the Colonization of Africa. Africa reached its greatest relative wealth in the years just prior to decolonization. Since then many countries have not yet returned to the levels of wealth they reached in the 1960s. Some see this as evidence that colonialism helped the local economies, while others argue that colonialism left a debilitating mark on African economies.


To achieve the relative wealth of the colonial period, imperial overseers geared the economies of Africa towards exporting raw materials. Thus Egypt became a vast producer of cotton, Ruanda-Urundi almost completely dedicated to growing coffee, and Upper Volta to the production of palm oil. Basing an entire nation's wealth on one commodity, however, would have debilitating effects in later years. These monocultures left national economies extremely vulnerable to price swings, making economic planning difficult. Some writers, such as Walter Rodney in his influential book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, argue that these colonial policies are directly responsible for many of Africa's modern problems.


Other post-colonial scholars, most notably Frantz Fanon, have argued that the true effects of colonialism are psychological and that domination by a foreign power creates a lasting sense of inferiority and subjugation that creates a barrier to growth and innovation.


Europeans in the late 19th century also were infused with racism and social Darwinism. The elevation of the white race above blacks would have lasting repercussions in those lands that saw significant European immigration, most notably South Africa and Rhodesia. Even more damaging, in many cases, was the introduction of the idea that northern Hamites such as the Ethiopians and Tutsi were racially superior to other Africans. This division of society into rival ethnicities would have long-lasting negative effects, especially in Rwanda and Burundi.


While in some cases European rule was a protectorate, in those areas that became actual colonies one of the first acts was to ensure all the top members of society were Europeans; this not only meant the rulers but also the lawyers, doctors, and academics. In areas of Africa that had a significant educated native population, such as the Gold Coast and the Maghreb, the educated were looked upon with great suspicion by the colonial rulers as they were seen as likely nationalists and anti-imperialists. Many colonial regimes therefore did not put money or effort into creating a local elite. While they funded education, this was almost entirely primary education that taught basic skills such as literacy. Thus upon independence many African states saw an exodus of the European administrators and consequently lacked individuals with the training or education to operate the government they had inherited. For instance, the massive area of French Equatorial Africa was divided into four independent nations, but was home to only five locals who were university graduates.


One method of seeing if colonialism had an effect on the economies of Africa is to see if the very different colonial policies of the European powers have led to different results. It can quickly be seen that any region unlucky enough to be ruled by the raubwirtschaft of for example Leopold II in his Congo Free State has not prospered. The long reluctance of Portugal to surrender its colonies, leading to long wars of independence, has also had an obvious negative effect on Mozambique and Angola. By contrast the countries under French control are much better off, while those under British dominion were the most successful of all. However, this can be seen in a completely different manner. Britain, at the time of the Scramble for Africa, was the world's greatest power and could thus cherry-pick the wealthiest parts of the continent for itself. The French, who also had a mighty navy, could also occupy prosperous areas, while the Belgians were forced to take the interior, which was then already far poorer.


Using the same method one could compare Africa as a whole with other colonised regions such as Asia or South America. At the end of the second world war South America was economically the strongest of the colonised regions yet in the span of one generation, previously colonised regions of Asia have become economic powerhouses.





A related outcome of the Scramble for Africa is that the national boundaries within sub-Saharan Africa were often established by Europeans using maps in Europe, frequently using latitude and longitude rather than natural borders in Africa. In some cases this has separated population centres from their supplies of food or natural resources. Most African states were created based on initially artificial borders, which often cut across cultural, tribal, linguistic and religious boundaries. These artificial borders created ethnic and religious cleavages which could potentially make national unity more difficult and internal violence more likely.


However, those states that preserved pre-colonial boundaries are no more successful than those that did not. Few countries in Africa have more troubled recent histories than Rwanda and Burundi, even though their borders are almost identical to those of the prosperous kingdoms from which they are descended. The ancient and only briefly colonized state of Ethiopia is one of the poorest on the continent, and ethnically unified Somalia has failed so completely that it no longer exists in any real sense.


Africa is also a much divided continent with many small countries. Any successful economic growth requires regional cooperation, sometimes difficult due to political tensions. This also means that to be effective foreign aid must be multilateral, making it far harder to base aid upon the performance of local governments.



Language issues


The sheer diversity of much of Africa also hurts growth. There are a huge variety of languages existing across Africa. Seven of the ten most linguistically diverse countries in the world are African. In 1996, the most linguistically diverse country in Africa was the Central African Republic, which included 68 distinct language groups spread across a population of 3.4 million people, with only 350,000 people belonging to the major language group in the country—the Sango. Situations similar to this, where language groups are comparatively small and where a considerable plurality of languages exists, are common in Africa. Moreover, 68 language groups is not the highest total of living languages in an African nation; Africa's most populous country, Nigeria, possesses over 400 language groups, while Cameroon encompasses 279 language groups, the DRC 221, Tanzania 131, Chad 127, and still others have similarly high numbers.


An added difficulty is that in many states the primary language of government is the language of the former colonial powers - English, French, or Portuguese. Much of the political debate and discourse in Africa and Africa's institutions of learning is also conducted in these European languages. However the majority of people in the nation rarely speak these European languages fluently enough to be able to participate in political debate except via intermediaries. This creates a divide between the elites and the rest of the population.





The political situation in much of Africa, while not a root cause, is seen as one of the primary causes of the intractable nature of African poverty. The history of democracy in Africa has not been a successful one. With only a few exceptions the countries of Africa rapidly turned to military dictatorships or other forms of centralized rule. While some of these rulers did work to improve the lot of their nation's citizens, others used power purely for their own benefit. One of the most notorious was Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire, whose regime has been called a kleptocracy due to its looting of the nation's wealth. According to most international measures the economies of Africa generally rank as some of the worlds most corrupt, with bribery and graft widespread. These problems are to some degree a product of colonialism, the poorly handled de-colonization, the superpowers' practice during the Cold War of supporting any ruler with the desired political alignment, and the continent's poverty itself.


Economists argue that one of the factors behind the differing economic development in Africa and Asia (both were at similar levels of income in the 1960s) is that in Africa, corruption has primarily taken the form of extraction of economic rent with the resulting financial capital moved overseas rather invested at home (hence the stereotypical, but sadly often accurate, image of African dictators having Swiss bank accounts). By contrast, Asian dictators such as Suharto have often taken a cut on everything (requiring bribes), but otherwise provided more of the conditions for development, through infrastructure investment, law and order, etc. University of Massachusetts researchers estimated that from 1970 to 1996, capital flight from 30 sub-Saharan countries totalled $187bn, exceeding those nations' external debts.[1] (The results, in terms of development (or lack of it), have been modelled in theory by economist Mancur Olson). In the case of Africa, one of the factors for this behaviour was political instability, and the fact that new governments often confiscated previous governments' corruptly-obtained assets. This encouraged officials to stash their wealth abroad, out of reach of any future expropriation.


The massive inequality generated by this corruption also hindered development, as the wealthy elite not only avoided investing at home, but also imported most of its consumption (as the desired luxury goods were generally not available at home). This hindered the development of national markets. Historically, economic development is closely linked with the creation of a middle class with enough income to save (and invest), but not substantially in control of the levers of the state. In countries where elites fail to nurture such a middle class, development is all but impossible (except the illusory and destructive development based on resource extraction, especially oil).



Civil and international wars


Since independence Africa has seen dozens of wars, both civil and international. This has contributed to poverty as states have spent their scarce resources on military equipment and supplies. It has also greatly hurt development as warfare has scared off foreign investors, destroyed infrastructure, and created lasting animosities.


Much of this conflict was initially driven by the Cold War. The countries of the Western and Eastern blocs used foreign aid money as leverage to move countries into their camp. This foreign aid had a questionable effect on development: because large amounts of it were tied to the purchase of military weapons and the donor countries turned a blind eye to corruption and the misappropriation of the funds, corruption became endemic. Even worse, the cold war led to proxy conflicts in Africa as both blocs would fund and assist any rebellious or sectarian groups in a nation under the control of the opposing bloc.


Almost all developed countries have slashed foreign aid spending since the end of the Cold War and so one would expect a reduction in violence. However, violence has, if anything, increased. Civil wars have raged throughout the Great Lakes region, Somalia, Sudan, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea-Bissau. International wars have involved the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours (see the First and Second Congo Wars), and war broke out between Ethiopia and its former province Eritrea.



Foreign trade


Dependency theory asserts that the wealth and prosperity of the "core" nations of Europe, North America and East Asia is dependent upon the poverty of the rest of the world, including Africa. Developed in the 1950s and 1960s to explain why development was failing in South America and Africa, dependency theory asserts that the West needs a source of cheap raw materials, labour, and markets in order to maintain its own wealth. Unlike classical Marxism, dependency theorists thus believe that the poor regions must break their trading ties with the developed world in order to progress. This theory however is open for much criticism and many economists have discredited it, for lacking evidence.


A less radical approach to foreign trade is the assumption that the protection of certain economic sectors in developed countries hamper Africa's growth. One of the most important of these sectors is the agricultural sector, as many developing countries produce cheaply large amounts of agricultural products, but nevertheless don't export these products much. This is caused by the farm subsidies and high import tariffs for agriculture of Japan, the European Union and the United States. Nevertheless during the last decades these subsidies and tariffs have been gradually reduced, though they are still relatively high.







Effects of widespread poverty


Many of the causes of Africa's economic malaise are also its effects. These include the disease, warfare, misgovernment, and corruption that have all been discussed above.


The most direct consequence of the low GDP in the area is its low standard of living and quality of life. With the exception of elites throughout the continent and the wealthier areas of South Africa and the Maghreb, Africans have very few consumer goods. Quality of life does not correlate exactly with a nation's wealth. Angola, for instance, reaps large sums annually from its diamond and other mines, but after years of civil war, conditions there are still poor. Radios, televisions, and automobiles are all rare luxuries. Most Africans are on the far side of the Digital Divide and are cut off from communications technology and the Internet. Quality of life and human development are also low. African nations predominate in the lower reaches of the UN Human Development Index. Infant mortality is high, while life expectancy, literacy, and education are all low. The UN also lowers the ranking of African states as the continent sees greater inequality than any other region. The best educated also often choose to leave the continent for the West or the Persian Gulf to obtain a better life.


Especially deadly, however, are the periods of great shortages. The worst of these are the famines that have regularly hit the continent, especially the Horn of Africa. These have been caused by disruptions due to warfare, by several years of drought, and sometimes by plagues of locusts.


An average African faced annual inflation of over 60% from 1990 until 2002. This number is somewhat misleading as much of the inflation is accounted for by only a few countries. Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo both saw triple digit inflation throughout the period. Most African states saw inflation of around 10% per year.


There are no good numbers for unemployment in most African nations, but it is an important problem. This is especially true in the major cities like Lagos and Kinshasa that have large slums of the unemployed and underemployed.


Environmental degradation is also an important consequence. Farmers on the verge of starvation are unlikely to be concerned about the fate of the rainforest in their pursuit of new land, and starving people do not often consider the rarity of an animal before eating it. Along the length of the Sahel, deforestation and overgrazing has caused increased desertification as the Sahara spreads south. The illegal poaching of rare animals or timber to be sold in the West and the killing of elephants for ivory is also attractive to the poor. Local governments have little money to devote to protecting the environment.



Attempts at promoting growth


The relative economic failure of Africa has long been an important issue both in Africa and abroad. Many attempts at solving Africa's poverty have been attempted, but few have had any great degree of success.





In the years immediately after independence many nations saw the rapid industrialisations of the Soviet Union and China under communism as models to follow. This led to command economies and major investment in heavy industries such as coal and steel production to stimulate growth, but this approach had little success. Only a handful of states formally adopted socialism and even fewer turned to outright Marxism. Everywhere government intervention in the economy was seen as necessary for growth, especially since private companies and investors were unlikely to invest in the region.


Often the approach of governments in Africa was to borrow heavily from abroad and use this aid to grow the economy to a level that the loans could be paid off. Sporadic growth during the years after independence continued. The countries focused on exports to pay for these development efforts. The 1973 energy crisis hit sub-Saharan Africa as hard as anywhere in the world. While some nations were net exporters, most were heavily reliant on imported fuels. Economies quickly began to falter and events such as famines hit Africa in the 1980s. The collapse of the Soviet Union, which had supported socialist and collectivist projects throughout the continent, undermined the legitimacy of such an approach, while it also meant that there were no longer any sources of international aid to help pursue this approach.



Average annual growth in per capita GDP from 1990 to 2002.


Average annual growth in per capita GDP from 1990 to 2002





Thus in the 1980s, socialist ideas were discarded throughout almost the entire continent as free market capitalism became seen as the route to salvation in what became known as the Washington Consensus. By 1990, forty of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa had agreed to follow rigorous IMF restructuring plans. IMF recommendations saw the continent's currencies drop by an average of 50%, the selling off of government-owned industries, and the slashing of government spending. After twenty years, however, these methods have seen as little success as the socialist approaches of the previous era. Average growth increased from 2.3% per annum to 2.8%. Only a handful of African states reached new levels of wealth, and many others became poorer over the course of the 1990s. Today there is a great deal of controversy on why this failed. One school of thought is that the reforms failed because they were only economic in nature and without democracy and the rule of law development cannot occur. However, another school of thought is that the liberal capitalism represented by the Washington Consensus was fundamentally flawed.


Yet another school of thought attributes some of Africa's problems to insufficient liberalization. It has been pointed out that while the developed world has insisted that Africa open its markets and eliminate public subsidies, this has been one-sided as the developed world has not opened its markets to agricultural goods from Africa nor has it eliminated agricultural subsidies. At the GATT free trade talks, the African leaders repeatedly request that the developed nations abolish the subsidies they provide their farmers and open their markets to African agricultural goods. It has been argued that the abolition of the subsidy would have three beneficial effects for the developing world and Africa:


  • The developed nations would produce less food locally, therefore providing a larger export market for developing countries.

  • Food prices would rise without the artificial subsidy and therefore would increase profits for food exports from the developing world.

  • The developing nations could adopt a more balanced agriculture policy, producing food and grain for export; this would provide a surplus that would shield countries from famine.





The pursuit of self-sufficiency as advocated by dependency theory has been given limited trials in several African countries. In the 1980s, Nigeria banned the importation of many foodstuffs to stimulate domestic production. The Lagos Plan of Action of 1982 called for Africa as a whole to block imports from the rest of the world, but few countries followed through on the idea. Eventually even Nigeria agreed to liberalization.



Foreign aid


Since independence there has been a constant flow of foreign aid into Africa. The benefits of this aid have been mixed. In many cases much of this aid was misappropriated by unscrupulous leaders. During the Cold War the main goal of much of the aid money was to win the allegiance of these rulers, and so their misappropriation of the aid was at the very least overlooked. Since the end of the Cold War almost all developed countries have slashed foreign aid spending. Many also allege that the aid that was not stolen was long misdirected. For many decades the leading notion of development was government supervised mega-projects; today many believe that small grants to local businesses would be more effective. One example of foreign aid which has come under considerable criticism is food aid. In some circles, it is believed that food aid does not solve any fundamental problems and can also lead to a dependency on outside assistance, as well as hindering the development of indigenous industries. Food shipments in case of dire local shortage are generally uncontroversial; but as Amartya Sen has shown, most famines involve a local lack of income rather than of food. In such situations, food aid - as opposed to financial aid - has the effect of destroying local agriculture and serves mainly to benefit Western agribusiness which are vastly overproducing food as a result of agricultural subsidies. Historically, food aid is more highly correlated with excess supply in Western countries than with the needs of developing countries.



Debt relief


Recently, advocacy for debt relief has become widespread. Each year Africa sends more money to western bankers in interest on its debts than it receives in foreign aid from these countries. Debt relief is not seen as a panacea, but many believe that relieving some of the burden, especially of debts that were run up by regimes for their own benefit, will help the economies of Africa grow and prosper. However, a number of arguments against full and unconditional debt relief exist. The first is that debt relief will in effect punish nations which have managed borrowing well and are in no need of debt relief. The second is that unconditional debt relief will not necessarily cause nations to spend more in social programs and services. Finally, it has been argued that debt relief may make it more difficult for nations to receive credit in the future. Since external debt payments flowing out of the continent are of about the same size as the external foreign aid flowing in to the continent, some have argued for an external debt relief on condition of ending at least 90% of the foreign aid. Recently the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative was launched; if implemented, it would greatly affect Africa's economy.





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Solar Cola drinkers care about climate chaos ...


.. Thirst for Life


Planet Earth Solar Cola can 330 mil


(330ml Earth can)



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