Is Africa too rich to be poor?
As an African, I never stopped to ask myself this question. Is Africa too rich to be poor?
I grew up in Nigeria and was already an adult before I travelled to the UK to study for my master’s degree in Geographical Information Systems (GIS).
When I arrived in the UK in the summer of 2005, I was blown away by the difference in the infrastructure in the UK as compared to my home country Nigeria.
I have also had the opportunity to travel to France and Cyprus. They both have a similar setup as regards the regional planning and architecture of the cities.
Obviously, Europe has its own problem but the problem has nothing to do with poor infrastructural facilities and surely not an inadequate supply of food or quality water.
Please don’t get me wrong here. African is home to some of the happiest people in the world and it is not all Africans that are poor.
It is normal for countries or continents to have their poor and rich fractions. However, statistics show that there are more poor people in Africa than in Europe.
According to FocuEconomics, the top 5 poorest countries in the world are from Africa. These countries are DR Congo, Mozambique, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe.
It is really difficult to understand why Africa is poor.
Honest Account published in 2017 through a collaboration by a few organization shows how the world profits from Africa’s wealth.
According to the report
African countries received $161.6 billion in 2015 — mainly in loans, personal remittances, and aid in the form of grants. Yet $203 billion was taken from Africa, either directly — mainly through corporations repatriating profits and by illegally moving money out of the continent — or by costs imposed by the rest of the world through climate change. This create an annual net financial deficit of over $40 billion.
So why then are African countries poor? Does it have more to do with mental poverty than financial and resource capabilities?
Please stay with me as we look at some of the reasons why Africa is too rich to be poor.
This is a good place to start for obvious reasons. Africa is home to an abundance of resources.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme,
Africa is home to some 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves, 8 percent of the world’s natural gas, 12 percent of the world’s oil reserves; the continent has 40 percent of the world’s gold and up to 90 percent of its chromium and platinum.
Cocoa bean. The cacao plant which is the source of cocoa bean and chocolate arrived in Africa through the Europeans.
It is worth mentioning that the Europeans took the plant to Africa for their own benefit because Africa’s climate suits cocoa plantation.
Africa is now the largest producer of cocoa beans. In fact, West African countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Nigeria produce about 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans.
With this abundance of resources, I am puzzled as to why Africa is still poor.
Of course, these resources are just raw materials that can be used to make finished products. The resources are extracted from Africa to fuel factories around the world including China which is now considered as the manufacturer of the world.
This again begs the question, is Africa poor as a result of mental poverty?
Other resources found in abundance in Africa are crude oil, diamond, rubber, and a lot of other resources.
One of the major factors helping china boost its manufacturing industry and the economy is the labour force.
Africa has the youngest age population in the world, unlike Asian countries. Asian countries have an average age population of 32 years.
According to Pew Research,
Africa has the youngest population of any region, with a median age of 20 — roughly a decade less than the global figure. All but one of the 20 countries with the lowest median ages are in Africa.
There were always going to be disadvantaged when the young population of a continent is more than the old population.
Having a youthful population isn’t a crime but a disadvantage is that it increases unemployment as it means more people fighting for jobs in the future.
Jackie Cilliers, the author of the book Africa First! had some very interesting things to say about the growing African population in relation to economic growth.
According to Cilliers, an increase in population alone will have no positive effect on economic income growth. What affects income growth is the ratio of the working-age population to that of dependants (children below 15 years and the elderly, aged over 64).
There is a very unhealthy belief among Africans that its growing population – which by the way is set to rise to 1.3 billion by 2040 – is a positive to the continent.
But is this really true?
Cilliers argues that the annual addition of millions of children is also at a detriment to the Government.
It means that governments end up spending so much more on health, education and infrastructure just to cope with the larger numbers.
A knock-on effect of this is that they are unable to improve the quality of services for those already in the system.
To buttress this point, even the World Bank attributed one-third of East Asia’s growth during its economic miracle to a growing labour force to dependants.
However, a reduction of the young population in the future is not enough.
These young people need guidance, good governance, and leaders. Sadly, this is not something many African leaders are known for.
The continent of Africa is blessed with a lot of intelligent people.
It is unfortunate that some of the brightest African men and women are using their brains to serve other nations of the world especially the West.
If all the African Medical Doctors in the US and UK go on strike, the health system of these two countries will feel the impact.
A blog on the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2018 shows the big problem of brain drain in Africa.
Below is a statement from the LSE website.
“A poll citing the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), reported that there are about 72,000 nationally-registered Nigerian doctors, with only 35,000 practising in-country.”
The above statement means that 37,000 Nigeria Doctors and Dentists are practising outside Nigeria.
I know you must think that some of them might be practising in other African countries. While that is true, the majority of those figures are practising in the UK and the US.
According to the BBCA, about 4000 Nigerian doctors are reported to be practicing in the USA, with 5000 currently registered in the UK.
Canada and Australia are also some of the destinations for African Doctors.
Something that makes me sad is the fact that when Africans travel outside Africa to the West, they tend to maximize their potential.
For example, Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu was raised in Nigeria and graduated from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. He later studied at Yales University and became an Associate Professor. He took part in the investigative trial of the COVID-19 Vaccination. Below is a text from Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu CV on Yale University School of Medicine website;
In response to the COVID pandemic, I am Yale’s principal investigator on multiple investigational therapeutic and preventative clinical trials for COVID-19 including remdesivir (now FDA approved), leronlimab and remdesivir and tocilizumab combination therapy as well as the Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine trial.
Thomas Mensah is a Ghanian who contributed to the development of fibre-optics and nanotechnology. He possibly wouldn’t have been able to make that contribution if he was in Africa.
Without leaving Africa, Silas Adekunle wouldn’t have made the contributions he has made to the Robotic Engineering field. He is a Nigeria born inventor and entrepreneur.
These are just very few of Africa’s gifted and intelligent people.
I don’t want this to sound as if I am blaming the governments in Africa. However, if you think about it, is electricity, security or crooked infrastructure on the list of what entrepreneurs in Europe and America have to worry about? I think the answer is no.
There are some things that are out of the capability of individuals. Things like security, infrastructure are supposed to be provided by the government.
The Grow Africa Partnership was founded jointly by the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD Agency), and the World Economic Forum.
The title of one of the articles on Grow Africa website reads
60% of the world’s arable land is in Africa and it has billions of investment potential.
There is some part of Africa suffering from drought and global warming issues which are affecting planting. However, most parts of Africa have fertile soils that can enable us to produce food in abundance.
I am not sure why we are not leveraging on the lands we have in Africa.
Maybe the reason for our poverty has a continent really is mental poverty.
Africa has huge potential when it comes to tourism. Africa is the mother of the whole world. Africa is where every human originates from.
Going to Africa should feel like going back home to people all over the world regardless of race.
There is almost no continent with an enviable array of culture and history like Africa.
Millions of people go to Africa on vacation. Most of the tourist destinations in Africa are concentrated in North, East, and South Africa.
North Africa especially is known for a lot of archaeological sites and has the advantage of its proximity to Europe. I think this region of Africa still has the potential to develop the tourism industry even more.
The East and South Africa are hotspots for safari holiday to experience the beauty of Africa’s wildlife. Kenya and Botswana are some of the top destinations for wildlife. I think other parts of Africa also have potentials.
One of the issues the tourism industry generally face in Africa is inadequate security and communal conflicts.
The less exploited area in Africa when it comes to tourism is West Africa. With the beautiful beaches, wildlife, and incredible vegetation, there is huge potential for this area.
Most parts of West Africa is reasonably peaceful apart from Nigeria that has had a lot of insecurity recently.
The people of Africa are generally peaceful, hospitable, and welcoming.
There is a lot of potential in tourism in Africa that needs to be harnessed.
The weather in Africa is calm and beautiful and always suitable for a good holiday.
I must also mention that Africa art and music can be incorporated into a big branding for Africa tourism.
Major challenges facing Africa
Political Institution and Accountability
Archaeological evidence proved that Africa is the origin of humankind. So why is the cradle of humanity still considered poor with all the resources she has.
I think the major problem with Africa is that her political institutions have not lived up to expectation.
All the countries doing well around the world have people who know what they are doing as leaders. Sadly, in Africa, politics often look like a battle between clueless oppositions.
Leadership is very important.
If the head is sick, it is likely going to affect the whole body.
Africa’s political institution is just not doing a good job at governance.
If you have lots of money in the middle of the desert or in the forest. What will you do with it? You will need intelligence and good management skills. Political institutions are just too bad in African when compared to other parts of the world.
As well, corruption in Africa is at another level and also a big issue. African elites continue to steal money and deposit in foreign accounts.
The stolen money from Africa abroad is enough to pay all of Africa’s debt.
There is no accountability in governance in Africa. Most African leaders just do anything they like.
An article by Financial Times in 2020 shows how Angola President is trying to recover billions of dollars stolen under the administration of his predecessor.
If we can just stop being selfish in Africa and think about making life better for ordinary people. I think Africa can rise up and be great.
Colonization caused a lot of damage to Africa. The damage caused is more spiritual than physical.
When a white man arrived in Africa. He is treated like a king with a lot of respect. It’s the reverse when a black man arrives in Europe or America.
African people have been brainwashed to think everything from the West is better than what they have in Africa.
It doesn’t matter whether it is a human being or a commodity product. As long as it is from the West, people generally believe in Africa that it is the best.
Consumer vs Producer
We just are not producing enough physical products in Africa.
We depend too much on imported goods. Only consuming and not producing is bad enough.
Combine it with importing almost everything you need, no country can strive economically by exporting its raw materials and buying the finished products.
A good example of this is Nigeria. Crude oil is on top of the list of what Nigeria export. And, refined oil is top on the list of Nigeria import.
Thousands of jobs which suppose to come from manufacturing are not there because there are no industries.
If it is imported it is good but if it is locally made it is not good enough.
It’s the reason why manufacturing is almost not existent in the majority of African countries.
So why truly is Africa poor?
I think Africa is poor as a result of mental poverty. The inability of the citizens and government to be progressive thinkers in itself is a huge detriment to the continent.
How do you progress when you have refused to psychologically move along with the times? Many African countries are stuck in the past and archaic way of doing things. And I am sorry but no progress will come from that.
To step out of poverty, the first thing we must do as a continent is change our mindset.