Poverty in Africa
IN COMPARISON TO OTHER regions of the world, Africa is the land of the poor. According to the UNDP multidimensional poverty statistics, 46% of sub-Saharan Africa live below $1.9 per day while 43.4% live below the national poverty line. Like the compounding law of prosperity, poverty begets poverty. The poor appear to be constrained within the poverty ecosystem unless a radical external factor causes liberation. That is the thinking behind the vicious cycle of poverty which demonstrates that poverty emits a constellation of dynamic forces that reinforce each other in ways that perpetuates the poor in the state of poverty. That is also consistent with the theoretical culture of poverty. Poverty also breeds crime as it is mostly a consequence of the deprivation of material needs. That is the underlying idea behind poverty perpetuating the corruption that creates it. The vast amount of natural and other resources in Africa in combination with the billions of dollars in aid from multilateral agencies in foreign countries should ordinarily mean that Africa would have been free from poverty. But that has never been the case. The corruption-driven selfrule approach of African leaders ensured that never happened. Self-rule, in turn, appears to be driven by a mindset of poverty that stands on a perception of economic inadequacy.
The effect of all of this is that the continent drowns in muddled waters cramped with undesirables. These include hunger, low life expectancy, literacy, elevated levels of unemployment, high infant mortality rates and low per capita income. This constellation of ‘bads’ dynamically reinforce each other and create an unwanted culture and the vicious cycle of poverty. Per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa in 2019 was $1,585.44. Although this average number is a far cry from comparable per capita GDP in other regions of the world, it masks the severity of the income problem on the continent. For instance, the GDP per capita for countries like Burundi is $261.2 and $468 for the Central African Republic. Somalia’s per capita income  is $127, while that of Sudan is foreign $441.5. Now, compare these numbers with the world’s average income per capita, which stands at $11,428.57. Apart from Mauritius and Seychelles, with average incomes of $11,203.5 and $17,401.7 respectively, no other African country has an average income that is higher than US$8,500.
Even among the African countries with relatively high per capita GDP of $5,000 and above, the income inequalities are very severe with the poor, usually more than 40% of the population. Equally, elevated levels of extreme poverty in Africa mean high levels of chronic hunger. According to the SOS children’s villages, 226.7 million people are starving in Africa. This number implies that the share of the world’s hungry population is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 50% of the people living below the poverty line. Africa’s severe hunger and malnutrition conditions have also led to high levels of stunting among children. For instance, approximately 40% of all the children in Tanzania and indeed, entire sub-Saharan Africa are stunted. Stunting affects mental development, which also has a significant impact on productivity in later years.
According to the World Health Organization, the global life expectancy at birth in 2016 was 72.0 years (74.2 years for females and 69.8 years for males), ranging from 61.2 years in the WHO African region to 77.5 years in the WHO European region, giving a ratio of 1.3 between the two areas. The infant mortality rate in the continent is also one of the highest in the world. Estimates show that 11% of the continent’s children die before the age of five. It is even worse in Sierra Leone, where 16% of children die before they are five years old. Again, according to UNESCO, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of educational exclusion. 20% of its children aged between six and eleven are excluded from school.
Similarly, 33% of those between 12 and 14 years of age are equally out of school. In general, the estimate is that a total of 30 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school. Again, it is only about 6% of young people in sub-Saharan Africa that are enrolled in higher education institutions compared to the global average of 26%.
Ideally, the poverty conditions in Africa are easily attributable to lousy leadership. Africa has had its great feel and share of corrupt and inefficient leadership. This array of private, pocket-focused self-rule leaders was little motivated to alter the socio-economic conditions of their people. As they increasingly focused on the cramping of their pockets with the continent’s resources, more of the latter’s population sank into poverty. However, while the leadership factor has always facilitated the deepening of the continent’s poverty conditions, other factors played and continued to play critical roles. There is the burgeoning population growth of the continent, conflicts and wars, climate factors, diseases and illnesses, inadequate infrastructure, the unequal trade relationship with most foreign countries as well as for commercial quality and the attendant productivity. According to the United Nations, the Africa population is to double by 2050. The projected 2050 population size may still double by 2100. It is therefore quite apparent that unless the productivity rate outstrips the rates of human population growth by far, that Africa’s conditions of poverty will prevail or even get worse. Consequently, the leaders should find innovative ways of facilitating a slowdown in the continent’s population increase.
Additionally, numerous conflicts and wars also played substantial roles in the frustration of production and in inflicting more poverty on the continent. Some of the notable ones in recent times include the conflicts between pastoralists and herders in the northern parts of Nigeria, Boko Haram religious insurgency that affects both the north of Nigeria as well as some parts of Cameroon, Niger Republic and the Republic of Chad. Others include the South Sudanese Civil War, the conflicts in the Central African Republic, the pool war in the Congo Republic, the ongoing Kamwina Nsapu rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Somalian insurgency, and the second Libyan Civil War. These conflicts take a toll on the economic productivity and social life of the continent. Climatic factors such as flooding, famine and drought also have substantial adverse effects on the productivity of the continent. In the past decade, there have been several bouts of severe droughts and consequent famine and starvation in several parts of the continent. Backed by several studies, the continent appears to be particularly vulnerable to the adverse consequences of climate change. For instance, the drying up of Lake Chad, which hitherto sustained the agrarian lifestyle of millions of people in the basin, caused major socio-economic dislocation. Millions have lost their means of livelihood and forced to migrate to other parts of the country with severe economic consequences.
Diseases and illnesses have also taken their toll on the continent. Africa is in the malaria belt, but it has also been very susceptible to the devastating consequences of the Ebola disease as well as HIV infections. Before that, the continent had high incidences of polio disease and river blindness. Much of this gained strength on the back of its inadequate infrastructural facilities, particularly hospitals. Again, with insufficient infrastructure, efficient production is almost illusory. Unfortunately, the continent has much of it. It leads the world in the lack of the right kind of infrastructure that facilitates enhanced productivity and escape into prosperity. From the absence of motorable roads and adequate supply of electricity to poorly functioning seaports, a severe infrastructural crisis is a crucial setback for the continent. Poverty and the lack of access to long-term finance combined with severe infrastructural deficits, the continent cannot produce and sell at competitive prices. Developed countries and their most sophisticated trading partners leverage these disadvantages to forge unjust trade relationships with the continent. Through the amplification of the mind-shifting comparative advantage theory, the continent appears quarantined on the production and exports of primary commodities while being hamstrung by deployment capacities for sophisticated industrial production. Even commodities exports are not left out. Varieties of barriers are set by several trading partners to minimize the continent’s share of the global market. Serious human resource issues also compound all these. With less than 6% of the continent’s population acquiring advanced education, the desired level of highly qualified human capital to drive enhanced economic activities appears restricted. This human capital inadequacy combines with poor access to longterm capital which also further constrains the capacity for commercial production.
Fortunately, the Brookings Institute report of March 2019 shows that poverty in Africa may be decreasing. However, they also stated that the fall in poverty is not fast enough. According to the report, more Africans are now escaping extreme poverty than are falling below the poverty line. They predicted that if the trend continued that by 2030 Africa would have reduced the ranks of its extremely poor by 45 million and relative poverty would decline from 33.5% to 24%. The future for Africa; a future where poverty is banished, and prosperity enthroned will depend upon strong leadership at various countries levels as well as continental level. Such leadership will ensure that conditions, resources, and opportunities for citizen welfare exist. It is a leadership that will not only be enabling but adaptive with the ability to deal with the crisis faced by the continent and make significant changes in response to the realities as they manifest efficiently and quickly. Africa needs such leadership that will also ensure that citizens have more substantial participation in the democratic process implying that the governance mechanism will be transparently open as well as responsive to the public’s mood in its policy formulating processes. This kind of leadership would go a long way in strengthening the structure for combating poverty in the continent.
Professor Ike-Muonso is Managing Director/CEO of Value Fronteira Limited