26 November 2007

The Fate of Africa

Ever since spending a couple years in Africa, I've been interested in knowing how things are going over there. This is pretty tough, as there are over 50 countries and 900 million people to keep track of.

In watching the news from Africa, it's pretty obvious that most of the continent is having a difficult time. Economies are bad, civil wars are prevalent, and many governments are either corrupt or incompetent. This made me wonder why conditions are so poor there when living standards are rising in so many other parts of the world.

So I signed up for an African History class here at BYU-Idaho, and it's been great. The professor assigned us to read The Fate of Africa, an exhaustive historical record of Africa's nations from around 1960, when many African nations gained their independence, to the present day.

It's tragic to see how bright the future was for many of these countries when they were released from colonial rule. Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Kenya and Angola are among nations that had good bases for a strong economy and solid infrastructure.

But then a combination of factors led to the downfall of almost every single one of these countries:

  1. African presidents, once elected or appointed, refused to leave office. With only two exceptions, every African leader transformed into a dictator or tyrant, establishing one-party rule and massing as much wealth as he could. Several were assassinated or overthrown in coups, but peaceful transitions of power have been extraordinarily rare.
  2. African countries became free at a time when communism and socialism were hot. Russia was seen as a beacon of progress, and Soviet agents were constantly trying to gain influence in Africa, as were Western powers. Several nations tried nationalizing major companies and industries and others fully embraced Communist doctrines, going so far as to put statues of Marx and Lenin in their cities. In all instances, these systems of government failed. The millions of Ethiopians who died of starvation in the 80's have these policies (and other factors such as their president ignoring drought conditions) to thank for their demise.
  3. Countries such as England, France, and Germany did little to help African nations transition from colonialism to self-rule. In many cases, those Africans who filled governmental positions had limited training and little, if any, experience.
While Africa has experienced a few bad decades as of late, things are looking up in many places. With the assistance of the World Bank and independent governments from both the East and West, nations are allowing multi-party politics, capitalism is flourishing, and the standard of living is increasing. Later posts will focus on individual examples of how Africa is progressing.

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