“I love Africa in general; South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries” said Paris Hilton. Well, Paris is not alone in getting muddled about Africa and as George Kimble once said “The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.” So, with a lot of outside help, because you have to admit Africa is a big subject, we are going to try and bring some clarity to this “thing” about Africa and you are welcome to join in.
First, and in defence of Paris, Africa is all too often described, talked about, as if it were one big country, when it is in fact a continent of some 53 countries with different cultures, languages, environment and of course economic and political set ups. Unfortunately for us, we tend to hear only about those countries that make the headlines and usually for the wrong reasons. Yet, just equally, you could say Africa is a country because all African people have a common history, one that predates the artificial and recently imposed borderlines, a common past experience of slavery and colonialism, a common present experience of struggles and hopefully a common future of economic, political and social freedom. But for now, studying Africa, country by country is a fair and practical way to do justice to the efforts of each one of them. So over the next few months, we will open a “dossier” for as many countries as we can, starting with those where our members are actively engaged.
But, to keep up with the generalization for a little while longer, it must be said that the Africa of today is not the Africa of the days of Independence (from late 50’s to the early 70’s for most), or even of the Africa of the 80’s and even 90’s. In the last 10 years, political and economic progress has been the order of the day for many of the countries, albeit slow and sometimes ill inspired. But most of the countries of Africa had a huge mountain to climb at independence. Bereft of infrastructure or an ambitious middle class able to drive the economy and pay taxes to a Government accountable to them instead of their old masters and later the aid business; the path to progess was always going to be a tough one.
But today Africa is the only continent that grew faster in 2008 than it did in 2007. It even has less debt than any other continents and its diaspora sends more money back home than it receives in aid from the rest of the world. Over 50% of countries now hold democratic elections that can be deemed free and fair. Those tackling corruption head on, such as Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and even Nigeria are finding that investors are sniffing around, although much unnessary red tape (a remnant of colonialism?) is still a real obstacle to doing business in Africa.
But while it is right to see a ray of optimism, the challenges are still huge. Sub saharan Africa is still the poorest region in the world with over 700 million people living on less than a dollar a day and unlikely to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. We have put up a page for you to see what they are and to help you compare progress. Do also check out our links and information page for more information and unusual, and sometime funny, facts and fiction. Enjoy Africa, we certainly do.