Sunday, December 17, 2006

Why is Africa like this?

I had always liked reading about the world history and Geographies. And in recent times, Wikipedia has really helped me in this. God, how I like Wikipedia (there’ll be a separate blog on that!). In the past 1 year (probably even more than that), I’ve read about almost every single country in this world. Wikipedia gives the history, geography, politics, current events, economy etc of every country.

And as everyone would know, none of the countries in Africa are in a good state. And I’m sure this is the impression about Africa in the minds of every single non-African. I used to think a lot on what actually went wrong in Africa and why are they suffering like this. The countries of Asia and South America were also colonized and exploited, but we seem to doing much better than the Africans. Reading and thinking about this, I realize that there are host of reasons that have caused this devastations.


Africa has a highly varied geography – the dense fertile Congo rain forests, the central highlands, the dry Kalahari Desert, fertile Nile delta and also the harsh Sahara. And a majority of this is really inhospitable. And this has isolated much of interior Africa from the rest of the world thus giving it the name ‘Dark continent’. So the people did not really catch on the advancements of the outside world. The interior of Africa remained mostly nomadic and is still is like that in many countries. This is totally against the modern way of living.

There did exist powerful kingdoms like the kingdom of Benin, but they were still backward compared to the colonial powers.

Paper Partition

When the European powers started colonizing Africa, they really did not care about the culture of the people living there. The African race was just considered so inferior that they didn’t even think of treating them of normal humans. Large number of blacks was exported as slaves and they were just treated as animals. They were portrayed as being equal to monkeys. There were lots of zoos in Europe and Americas, where the Africans were displayed along with the chimps in cages. The last human zoo was in Germany as late as 1958.

So the European powers met somewhere in Europe (Antwerp I guess) and had a map of Africa in front of them, and drew out the borders of colonies and divided the continent among themselves. Many of these borders were just straight lines; cutting across areas inhabited a people of a single tribe, thus effectively dividing them. And these borders remained after independence. So many of the existing borders are not based on the tribes, religion, language or anything, but just lines drawn in paper by some European power in some European city.

The best example is the case of Tutsi and Hutu people inhabiting the regions of current day Rwanda and Uganda. These people are divided among these countries. While they are a majority in one country, they are minority in other. This was also used by the colonial power to divide and rule them. That animosity developed by the colonial power has now led to decades of civil war including the notorious Rwandan genocide.

Human Development

African countries ranks last in the World wide Human Development Index. This again is fallout of imperialism. Unlike in Asia where the local population was trained at least to do the clerical administrative jobs, the African population was largely neglected by the imperial powers. Large number of whites settled down in the African colonies to take care of governance and to exploit Africa’s natural resources. And when the countries got independent, many of them left for their motherlands. With the majority of Africans also not having any sort of education, there was a huge knowledge vacuum in many of the newly independent African countries. And as a result, there was no big leader of any sorts available to guide the nations. And the big warlords and criminals took over the governments paving way for civil wars, genocides etc.

At the time the African countries became independent, i.e. by the 1960s there was just one university in the whole of North and West Africa. Such was the pathetic state of affairs.

Cold War

Most African colonies gained independence when the cold war was at its height. Their economies were too nascent and vulnerable and totally lacked any infrastructure. And many countries did not have any leader with a proper vision. Also these countries were rich in important natural resources. So obviously they caught the attention of the two super powers. In order to control the natural resources, they started installing puppet regimes in many countries, which just gave the super powers all access to the resources, while denying the locals even the basic necessities. The super powers even supported such fanatics and maniacs like Idi Amin, just to propagate the cold war. The result – Anarchy, civil war, genocide and stripping of natural resources.

Many of the governments were supported by huge aids provided by the super powers. And when the cold war ended, the aid was abruptly stopped and the governments were left in the dark and the economies started crumbling.


The colonial powers created plantations in many parts of Africa, often supplanting the local crops. They created plantations of mainly cash crops like Coffee, rubber, cashews etc. And this practice continued even after independence. The new governments did not give much importance to food crops and invested more on the cash crops. Plus many countries were concentrating on just one or two varieties. So when the prices of those particular cash crops fell in the international market or when there is a drought or famine, the economies fell. During times of drought, the food crop production was not enough to support the population and there arose huge famines crippling the economies further.

Natural resources

The rich natural resources of Africa are both a boon and a bane of this continent. So far it has mainly been a curse. The governments do not have the infrastructure or the money to exploit these natural resources. So they are compelled to let foreign governments and large corporate to do the job. These external agencies resort to bribery, illegal funding of civil wars & rebel groups etc in order to gain control of the natural mines and to exploit the people there. Many of the corrupt governments also support this in exchange for arms. And in the process all the natural resources are just exported overseas with little benefit to the local population.

And in addition to all these, there are other things like tropical diseases, AIDS, nomadic lifestyles of the people unsuited to modern development etc. that are continuously keeping Africa down.


venky said...

Hey! Nice informative post da. That fact about paper partition was something i was not aware of till now. i had always wondered how all boundaries are more or less straight lines. interesting stuff.