The Invisible Continent - Africa

by David Model

Z magazine, May 2006


Every day there is an inundation of news debating the myriad issues on Iraq and Iran. Missing from the radar screen is the tragic plight of the people of Africa who have suffered the effects of war, poverty, and disease for over 100 years, most of which can be attributed to the empire-building nations of the North.

Despite the imperialistic ambitions of these Northern governments, people have occasionally responded to crises in Africa, but only when, for example, the photograph of a starving child from Ethiopia appears on television evoking their generosity and compassion.

Even Live8 concerts-organized by Bob Geldof to raise awareness and pressure the G8 nations to commit themselves to more aid and debt reduction-were detrimental to the cause of social justice. Geldof and Bono infused the G8's plan for reducing debt and alleviating poverty with legitimacy and reassured people that there was finally light at the end of the debt tunnel. The truth is that for every dollar of debt relief, countries would lose one dollar in aid and, at the same time, any aid increases would require liberalization and privatization. The deception effectively removed poor nations from the radar screen.

For example, currently, a major catastrophe is engulfing East Africa where 6.25 million people are at risk of starvation in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti. The World Food Program reports that assistance from the outside world is sadly lacking for the people of Eastern Africa where $314 million is needed to alleviate the crisis while the shortfall is currently $225.7 million.

One of the major shortcomings in news coverage in the mainstream media is the lack of context or in-depth analysis. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) reported in 2004 that, "Sub-Sahara Africa is the only region where the number of people living in abject poverty has grown in the past 20 years." According to another UN report on December 19, 2005, "Average unemployment rates have remained at around 10 percent since 1995, the second highest in the world after the Middle East. The most visible consequence of such high unemployment is growing poverty in Africa. At least 61 million more Africans go hungry today than in 1990."

Unfortunately, poverty and unemployment statistics are too broad in scope to capture the real scourge of the adverse effects of poverty. In 2001, for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 46.4 percent of the population lived on less than $1 a day compared to Europe and Central Asia where only 3.6 percent lived on less than $1 a day. Similarly, 76.6 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa lived on less than $2 a day compared to 19.7 percent for Europe and Central Asia.

One of the appalling tragedies of poverty is that in Sub-Saharan Africa 175 children out of every 1,000 failed to reach the age of 5 compared to an average of 6 in industrialized countries in 2003. Contributing to child mortality is the fact that only 57 percent of people in this region have access to safe drinking water.

Furthermore, poverty undermines the ability of children in Sub-Saharan Africa to ward off diseases such as measles due to the lack of proper nutrition, vitamin A supplements, and vaccines. The World Health Organization reports that in 2006 between 216,000 and 279,000 children will die from measles, which could have been prevented by a vaccine or halved by vitamin A supplements. Malaria is another major killer in the region where at least 900,000 people die each year, 70 percent of whom are children. The UN "African Malaria Report" warns that "Sub-Saharan Africa faces continued malarial devastation unless swift action is taken. Malariais the single biggest killer of children under five and a serious threat to pregnant women and their newborn."

Approximately 30 million people in Africa are HIV positive and the resulting disease, AIDS, has already killed 15 million. Although public pressure has forced pharmaceuticals to lower the price of drugs that delay the progress of AIDS, only 50,000 African sufferers have access to them.

Another malady is the civil wars in many African nations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered from the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II as a result of a civil war that has involved eight other African nations and foreign powers. Over three million people have died and many more have been displaced. Yet few people are aware of this ongoing tragedy. The conflict in the Darfur region of Western Sudan alone has claimed 200,000 lives and left stranded over a million refugees. Uganda, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, and Nigeria have also experienced civil wars in the last 12 years.

The outrageous irony in this media disinterest is the complicity of imperial nations in these crises through exploitation of natural resources, such as oil, gold, and coltan and through exploitation of cheap labor, such as slave labor in the Congo. To ensure the success of their exploitation, countries such as the United States and Belgium have depended on vastly superior military strength, surrogate forces, support for insurgents to secure the land on which the resources were located or to force unwilling inhabitants to work as slaves.



David Model is professor of political science, economics, and sociology at Seneca College, King Campus and the author of Lying For Empire: How To Commit War Crimes With A Straight Face (Common Courage Press).

Africa Watch

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