May 25 is Africa Day, a commemoration of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (known today as the African Union – AU). This is a day recognised by Africans on the continent, as well as in the African diaspora. As an African from the diaspora, I reflect on the wealth of Africa and how it ought to benefit the people of Africa.
Africa is arguably the most natural-resource-rich continent, with more than enough to sustain every person living there. These resources include gold, iron, copper, silver, bauxite, petroleum, natural gas and cocoa. 21% of gold, a most precious commodity, comes from Africa. Diamonds from Africa account for 46% of global production. Uranium, 17%; platinum, 75%; bauxite, 8%. And the list goes on.
In spite of the wealth evident in the above figures, Africa is the continent with the most people living in poverty. More than 25% of the world’s hungry live in Africa. Over 30% of African children suffer from stunted growth due to nutritional deficiencies. 1 out of 11 children in Sub-Saharan Africa die before the age of 5 (SOS Children’s Villages). And though poverty levels are shown to be decreasing, the number of Africa’s poor is rising (Brookings Institution).
But who’s to blame? Africa’s colonial past certainly plays a role. Imperialist nations and corporations are also to blame for their role in the exploitation and misuse of Africa’s resources, but African leaders are complicit. Corruption has been one of the major challenges faced on the continent, leading to inordinate levels of income inequality.
The measure of income inequality, referred to as the Gini Coefficient, ranks countries on a scale of 1 to 100, with 0 representing complete equality, and 100 representing complete inequality. According to the World Bank, South Africa ranks the highest in income inequality (63), and of the other top 10 countries, 6 are African.
African leaders have the power to take greater ownership of the continent. Many have tried and have been deposed and replaced by unscrupulous leaders. Some have been assassinated by foreign governments, such as the case of Congolese independence fighter, Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated with the help of the CIA, according to declassified CIA documents.
Many African leaders have, however, reneged on their responsibility to the people, caring more about fattening their pockets and less about their people’s standard of living. If the natural resources of Africa benefited Africans, as much as they benefited those outside of Africa, Africa would not need aid.
As a matter of fact, the value of aid ‘given’ to Africa annually is nothing compared to the value of resources and profits funneled out of Africa and enriching others. Furthermore, the aid Africa receives is often misused by corrupt officials, hence, it has little impact on those who need it most.
Still, the state Africa is in, is owing to multiple factors, including the spread of diseases, natural disasters, wars, conflicts, and religious extremism. Foreign powers continue to exert influence in the affairs of many African countries. These serve to further complicate matters, and the people on the ground continue to bear the brunt of the impact.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. African people have shown great resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable hardships. According to the World Bank, 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in 2018 are in Africa, and Ghana and Ethiopia rank 1 and 2 with growth rates of 8.3% and 8.2% respectively. Although this does not show the direct impact in terms of how many are lifted out of poverty, it is a good indicator of improvements on the continent. The informal sector continues to be a driving force and a source of livelihood for many, and a means of resilience.
The main challenge faced by African countries is that of leadership. A lack of will and vision stem from this very challenge. Greed and mismanagement result in the resources exploited being used to benefit the few, while the many suffer. Ordinary African people are robbed of what is rightly theirs. The prospects are both good and bad, depending on the perspective from which one looks at it; the resources are there for the benefit of all concerned, but history shows that corruption largely keeps the benefits out of the hands of the majority. But I have hope in the leaders on the ground who are already doing the work; they will continue to agitate for better, and eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, better must come.