New Internationalist

The Facts

Issue 326

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A farmer from Silmiougou in Bukina Faso. Photo by MARK EDWARDS / STILL
MARK EDWARDS / STILL

AFRICA THE FACTS
As the juggernaut of globalization judders on,
Africa is increasingly being left behind. Despite having followed the West's political and economic prescriptions, African development at the start of the new century has ground to a halt.

ECONOMY - RUNNING TO STAND STILL
Africa has endured two decades of structural adjustment during which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called the tune and demanded that governments dance to it. Yet at the end of those two decades Africa's income per person (the IMF's own chosen measure) is lower than it was at the beginning, while the world as a whole has made steady progress and the rich world's income has gone through the roof.1

Copper production in Zambia
RON GILING / STILL

After the disasters of the 1980s and early 1990s, the last five years have finally seen the economy of Africa as a whole growing. Yet this growth in GNP barely keeps pace with the increase in population, and has no serious impact on poverty. Between 1997 and 1998 (the most recent years for which there are statistics) on the World Bank's own figures the GNP per capita of 13 African countries went up - but that of 21 African countries actually went down.2 In 22 African countries the GNP per capita is still lower than it was in 1980.

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DEBT - THE BIGGEST BURDEN

Africa's debt burden is more than twice as large as that of any other region when measured as a proportion of its economic size.

In addition, for all the West's insistence that Africa pursue free trade, the World Bank estimates that the West's own high tariffs, anti-dumping regulations and technical barriers to trade in industrialized countries cost sub-Saharan Africa $20 billion a year in lost exports.4

 

PLUNGING PRICES
The real prices received by African farmers for four key export crops in the mid-1990s were around 60 per cent of what they were in 1973.

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DEMOCRACY DOMINANT - BUT CONFLICT CONTINUES
[image, unknown] A sea change in the 1990s saw 45 out of 50 African countries hold multiparty elections, in addition to the four which had a democratic system in place at the start of the decade. Only 10 of these elections, however, produced a change of government.4 As the list of current conflicts shows, taking the gun out of African politics will not be easy.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY - AFRICA MAROONED
The most basic index of well-being is life itself - how many years a human can expect to live. Yet while other regions' life expectancy is steadily improving, Africa's is now going backwards.
. Life expectancy declined in no fewer than 31 African countries between 1995 and 1998.8
. The average sub-Saharan African can expect to live 14 years less than someone in the next-poorest region, South Asia - and 30 years less than someone in the industrialized world.
. In Zimbabwe and Uganda the impact of deaths attributed to aids has reduced average life expectancy in 1998 to below what it was in 1960.5

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Looking on the bright side in Rwanda.
RON GILING / STILL

ARMS AND THE BLACKBOARD
African governments are often decried for wasting precious money on the military. Yet on average their military spending (as a share of total expenditure) is broadly comparable to that of the West. And they spend proportionally more on education than any other region in the world.

An old Soviet-supplied tank in Eritrea.
JURGEN SCHYTTE / STILL
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Sources:
1 1980: World Bank World Development Report 1982. 1990: World Bank World Development Report 1992. 1998: UNICEF State of the World's Children 2000.
2 UNICEF State of the World's Children reports for 1999 and 2000.
3 World Bank World Development Report 1998/1999.
4 KY Amoako, Director of UN Economic Commission for Africa, keynote address to Africa Confidential conference, 19 April 2000.
5 UNICEF State of the World's Children 2000.
6 Calculated from population and life expectancy figures in UNICEF State of the World's Children 1982.
7 UNDP Human Development Report 1992.
8 UNICEF State of the World's Children reports for 1997 and 2000.
9 UNctad Trade and Development Report 1998.


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