Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Development Crisis in Africa

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Development Crisis in Africa

Article excerpt

The development crisis in Africa

EVERYONE agrees that the present development crisis in Africa is alarming. Yet it is not due to a shortage of human or natural resources. In addition to the enormous potential of its young population (46 per cent under the age of 15), this second largest continent after Asia, with an area of 30.3 million km two square, still has 800 million hectares of potentially arable land (although only 170 million were cultivated in 1985). Africa's share of world mineral reserves is 96 per cent for diamonds, 90 per cent for chromium, 85 per cent for platinum, 50 per cent for cobalt, 55 per cent for manganese, 40 per cent for bauxite, 13 per cent for copper, 50 per cent for phosphates and almost as much for gold, and 30 per cent for thorium and uranium; it also has large deposits of nickel, lead and iron.

Moreover, the continent's huge energy potential is as yet virtually untapped: to date only ten African countries are oil producers and although Africa possesses 20 to 27 per cent of the world's hydro-electric potential, it has harnessed only a very small part of it. It is therefore surprising that a continent so well endowed with natural wealth should be in a state of economic stagnation, or even decline.

Should we not seek the cause of the problem in the inadequacy of Africa's scientific and technological capacity? This seems to have been the conclusion reached by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) during the preparation of Africa's Priority Programme for Economic Recovery, in which it is stated that: "Experience indicates that no country has attained any breakthrough in its economic development without a minimum science and technology base."

A divided continent

Development efforts in Africa run up against a great number of difficulties, the major causes of which are the partitioning of the continent, the dependence of the economic systems of Africa, unsuitable development policies and strategies, the educational situation and the handicap of illiteracy.

The division into a multitude of small States is the first obvious problem for the peoples of Africa. The natural wealth referred to above is very unevenly distributed among more than fifty States with, at present, over 500 million inhabitants. Ten per cent of them live in countries poorly endowed with natural resources and half of them, spread among thirty-four African States south of the Sahara, live in poorly irrigated or drought-prone areas.

These and many other geographical and linguistic considerations are so many reflections of a fragmentation generating economic, commercial, scientific and technological constraints that are difficult to surmount within territorial boundaries which are usually narrow and often not clearly defined. This can be illustrated by the following statistics: in 1983, 39 African States had fewer than 10 million inhabitants each. These included 12 of the 14 land-locked States of Africa, mostly in the Sahel region, and 12 States with fewer than 1 million inhabitants. Of the 37 countries designated by the United Nations as the "lead developed countries" (LDCs), 26 are in Africa; 24 of them are classified as countries which do not produce enough food to support themselves and 21 are on the World Bank's list of low-income countries. The economic development of all these countries would certainly benefit if they belonged to regional cooperation groups or to subregional economic communities.

All the characteristic features of underdevelopment are to be found in African economies. Based essentially on exports of raw materials and mass imports of manufactured goods, these economies are characterized by dependence, a low growth rate of gross domestic product (GDP)--estimated at 1 per cent for the continent as a whole between 1980 and 1984--a huge trade deficit and a heavy foreign debt, representing 43.8 per cent of GDP and 187 per cent of the value of exports and non-factor services(*) in 1984. …

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