Why is Africa Still So Poor? - #6

May 29, 2021

So how were the newly emerged African elites going to protect themselves from a coup and stay in power? Well, by taking the money intended for economic development and handing them out as salaries to powerful government officials to keep them happy enough so they wouldn’t start a rebellion. But whereas colonies had oversight from their European government who would fire anyone getting too corrupt, the new leaders had no such oversight and to show just how incompetent some of these governments were, in the Central African Republic, the government didn’t even keep proper records of financial transactions, ignored budgets in favour of in-the-moment decisions, and government salaries could often be 3 or 4 months late.

By 1964, Senegal spent 47% of the government budget on the elites, 58% in Ivory Coast, and 65% in Dahomey, now called Benin. And if outsiders wanted access to African resources, all they had to do was bribe those government officials to get access to those resources, and so Western governments and companies started paying money to African elites to gain access to the resources rich nations needed to run their own economies. As a result, the elites became richer while the poor became even poorer. So if you’re an oil company, all you have to do is bribe the government officials and you can extract all the oil you want. The elites would get a portion of the profits, while the people would see no benefits from resources taken from their own country. Over time bribes had become the norm in Africa and this is a system which is still active in many parts of Africa to this day.

Africans saw what was happening and would often protest or even start rebellions to stop their own exploitation, but in the 1960s African countries did not yet have a strong enough military to keep the peace, so who did they call upon to restore order? Well sadly, their former colonizers.

The French and British in particular suppressed rebellions and protests across Africa in exchange for greater access to African resources. By 1965, these military interventions became common across Africa: Algeria, Congo, Benin, the CAR, Upper Volta, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia; All independent countries and yet all had European troops stationed there to secure European access to African resources.

African nations experienced around 40 successful coups within the first 2 decades after independence and so Africa gained a reputation for being a very unstable continent. So unstable in fact that almost nobody wanted to invest in Africa anymore except for their resources. This highlights another issue: people think of Africa as “one single entity”; a continent filled with poverty and war, so when someone hears about, for example Boko Haram in Nigeria, it is often grouped with the rest of Africa as just being another war in a continent filled with war. Yet what most people don’t realize is that the area in which they operate is over 1000 km away from Nigeria’s economic centres and has almost no effect on business. They are further away than Amsterdam is from Warsaw, but companies will still refuse to do business in Africa because of this belief and this creates a cycle; people group Africa together as a poor continent, resulting in less business, which results in Africa staying in poverty.

Despite all these issues, some things did improve in Africa; by the 1980s African politics started to stabilize with fewer coups, primary school enrollment went from 36% to 63%, secondary school from 3% to 13%, life expectancy rose from 39 to 47 years, and the medical professionals per person doubled. On the whole though, the average African was becoming poorer but Africans were receiving better healthcare and education and this would be very important for Africa by the 1980s because in the 1980s Africa faced 3 major issues. Read on by clicking here.

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