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The background of development in Africa

The politics of development: the Africa perspective, the writer is pointing out
the notion of development and underdevelopment and the urge to inculcate
the readers on the issues of development mode in different countries.
Development has taken on a much broader meaning than simply economic
progress and now has ecological, cultural and moral implications. The politics
of development deals with the study of social, political, economic, cultural
and environmental matters through a study of key issues such as poverty,
gender relations and globalisation.
Some believe that to understand Africa's lack of development "geography is
more important than history". The continent is rich in mineral resources, yet
it remains the world's poorest region with the slowest development. The
geographical reasons for this lack of development persist because of its
heavy dependence on a small number of primary exports, climatic change,
ethnic diversity and rapid demographic growth. Internal political and
international relations, in the past and today, compound these problems.
Historically, the path towards development in many African countries has
been significantly marked by the effects of colonialism (where a European
power controlled the country) and post-colonialism (from the 1950s-1970s)
when many African countries emerged from colonial rule. They were not
prepared for, or experienced in, democracy. This often led to many changes
of government and in many countries there has been dictatorship, where
one man has ruled the country, backed by the military. As a
result, kleptocracy has been rife; this is where corrupt leaders have
amassed personal fortunes at the expense of the population, who are living
in poverty. Their wealth has often been increased by using aid funds
intended for their people. Although many of these leaders have been
replaced, corruption is still a major problem. The instability in Robert
Mugabe's Zimbabwe today is an example of this.

Corruption
The influence of corruption on the development in Africa, is profound. For many
governments, the main aim of the people running the country is helping themselves
rather than helping the people of their country. Corruption has had, and continues to
have a disatrous effect on development.
People at the top of government can and do plunder resources coming into government.
Government resources are siphoned off by those in control of government and used to
enrich those in control. People at lower levels of government can plunder resources too
by not providing services they are paid to provide, charging for services which they
should provide, and by taking goods, e.g. medical supplies or trucks, which should be
used for government service.

Food and development
The effects of shortages: starvation/malnutrition; food production
and distribution
Food shortages in many African countries are an increasing problem. There
are many reasons for this. Areas of Africa which are already prone to
drought are becoming drier still due to climate change. Amongst the worst
affected countries are Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Eritrea and Zambia; a
group of countries where 15 million people will go hungry without aid. In
2006, many countries had their worst harvests in 10 years and many are
experiencing their third or fourth severe drought in a few years.
Food production and distribution can also be hampered with lack of
cultivation due to war, illness or materials limits food supplies. When
combined with the effects of natural crises such as drought or flood this can
produce insecurity in food supplies in many African countries. This then has
a direct impact on development. Malnutrition, when food is plentiful, but
not varied, is also devastating in its overall impact on health. In Senegal,
73% of malnourished children have anaemia and chronic malnutrition is
twice as high in rural rather than urban areas. Lack of education and
agricultural methods or knowledge often results in low yields. This is
compounded by poor communications which hinder the dissemination of
knowledge as well as the distribution of foodstuffs themselves. Effects are
observed in life expectancy, infant and child mortality, worker productivity
and even in success of treatments for HIV/AIDS.

Conflict
The effect of recent conflict on development has been devastating. Armed
conflict of a large scale or for a long period destroys any prospect of
economic and social development. It can take decades to reconstruct after it
has ceased. Destruction of the infrastructure upon which a country needs to
develop and lack of trust amongst communities means that conflict is one of
the main causes of under-development in Africa today. Millions are uprooted
and are forced to become refugees. In the Darfur regions of the Sudan,
millions were forced from their homes by rebels from the north and so fled
to nearby Chad. Such large scale displacement of peoples puts pressure on
the receiving country as well, despite international aid. Any prospect of self
sufficiency is thus lost by the refugee.

Debt
Cash crops, terms of trade and exchange rates
During the 1950s and 1960s, governments and banks in the developed
world encouraged recently independent African nations to borrow huge
amounts of money. Instead of investing this in development, in many cases
this was spent on what was termed "prestige projects" such as dams and
airports. Aid was also often stolen by corrupt leaders or used to finance
armed conflict.
When interest rates began to rise dramatically in the 70s and 80s, these
African countries found themselves unable to repay even the interest on
their loans. The interest was then added to their loans. Between 1980 and
1995, sub-Saharan Africa's debt to the rest of the world had almost trebled
and, as a result, the populations suffered. Between 1995 and 1997,
Mozambique spent more on debt repayment than on health and education.
The World Bank imposed one "solution" on African countries. This was to
increase the production of cash crops: things like tea, coffee and luxury
fruits, which are in high demand in the West. The theory was that the cash
crops would be sold on the international market and the income would help
to repay the national debt and pay for cheaper imported food. However, this
policy led to disastrous consequences. In most of the countries advised to
grow cash crops land, which could have been used for growing vital food for
the population, was used up. In some countries, such as Tanzania, many
were forced to grow coffee rather than food.
The Sudan, once an exporter of wheat, was forced to grow cotton and use
the profits to import wheat, but when the bottom fell out of the cotton
market, it had no money to import wheat and so large-scale famine ensued.
Trade policies also affected the income from cash crops. African countries
were forced to accept the trading prices, or terms of trade, imposed by the
West. Because there was over-production of cash crops, this quickly led to
their value falling. The drop in income deprived African countries of valuable
income for development.
Another consequence of the cash crop policy was that large multinational
companies persuaded governments to sell huge amounts of land to them.
They went on to develop vast industrial farms or agribusinesses, at the
expense of the local farmers, who were forced to give up their land and
become labourers. Not only were African countries unable to grow enough to
feed themselves or develop their own economy, but they were also too poor
to afford to import food or technology from abroad.
Vulnerable economies have insecure currencies. Many African countries are
disadvantaged by fluctuating exchange rates against the stronger
currencies of the developed world. Trading is made more difficult as imports
cost more yet less is gained from exports. The price for goods is not
determined by the African country supplying materials or goods, but by the
demand in the markets of the developed world. Developing countries do not
have the facilities to enable production to change in response to demand
from the west and often market knowledge is not shared with the supplying
countries.