Welcome to Ghana Pundit: The Home of Politics and Intelligent Analysis


Grab the widget  Tech Dreams

Insist on Your Right to Education

Uneducated citizenry is like a pitch any game can be played on it. Illiteracy is what has given the politicians in Ghana the chance to fool so many people for so a long a time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Debate: Why is Africa Poor?

Why is Africa Poor ?
By Mark Sandell 199 Comments
Categories: Africa
Tags: Africa, liberia, mark doyle, Poverty, Sudan, yekepa
BBC correspondent ,Mark Doyle went on the road to ask that question across the continent. He’s come back with three documentaries. Part one – Africa and the world- airs Monday on the BBC World Service Radio. Mark will join us on WHYS do discuss the issue and share some of the things that he has come accross during his visit. Read on and have a look at Mark’s first post from Liberia. Why, do you think, is Africa poor? Also, post any questions you have to Mark here.

Here’s the first of Mark Doyle’s blog posts while on the road
I’m in the mountains of Liberia, west Africa.

It’s a place of towering forests and tangled greenery. There are majestic mountains and fast-flowing rivers. I love being here; the air is clean and the views are amazing.

As I look north from Mount Tokodeh I can see Liberia’s neighbour, Guinea, shrouded in low cloud. To the east of a forested plateau is another neighbour, Ivory Coast.

Everything looks green and verdant and pure.

Two days ago I was in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. What a contrast! Monrovia is built around a swamp and is, architecturally at least, an ugly little city. But I have always liked visiting the place – even during the years of Liberia’s war in the 1990’s – because Liberians themselves are almost unfailingly friendly and frank. Journalists like that.

“Africa is not poor; it is poorly managed”. The quote is from an interview with the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who I met two days ago to help answer the question I am posing in the forthcoming BBC radio documentary series with the (admittedly rather provocative) working title “Why Is Africa Poor?”.

Mrs Johnson Sirleaf was on her usual form during the interview – she was coherent and convincing.At this point I should declare an interest. I rather like Mrs Johnson Sirleaf. I knew her as an opposition leader and I have followed her progress to power.

I like her plainspoken style in interviews. I admit to not knowing enough about internal Liberian politics to know whether she has full control over the Bad Guys – of which there are many in Liberia – but I freely admit to thinking she is one of the Good Guys. End of declaration.

As Africa’s first elected female head of state I reckon that her take on poverty – as a former international banker, exiled opposition leader and, today, as a President, matters. If you listen to the interview in my series (to be broadcast from August) you may agree or disagree with her views. Or indeed you may disagree with my questions to her.

I’ve come to the mountains of northern Liberia to look at a huge foreign investment project here in the iron ore mines in Liberia’s Nimba County.

My question here is – will big foreign companies like the one planning the iron ore extraction in this region help stop Africa being poor? Is it investment or exploitation? Who wins?


Below is Mark’s original post :

About ten years ago I was driving through Ghana – on the road from Accra to Cape Coast – with a Ghanaian journalist (writes Mark Doyle).
We were putting the world to rights, as one does, as we cruised atop what was – at the time – a nice new tarmac surface.

Our conversation turned to Africa and my travelling companion let forth a litany of woes about poor leadership, corruption, etc etc. Then he put his head in his hands (don’t worry – I was at the wheel doing the driving) and he meboaned; “Oh, what is wrong with us Africans?!”.

Since I knew there was nothing wrong with my intelligent, dynamic, driving companion I said: “Well, there’s nothing wrong with you!”. To which he retorted: “So why are we all so poor then?”

For some reason I never forgot that conversation and now I’ve just started work on a three part series for BBC World Service Radio with a ridiculously ambitious title - “Why is Africa Poor?”. I don’t expect to answer the question completely – if it were that easy, I guess, Africa wouldn’t be poor any more. But I do intend to have a stab at it – to try to formulate the question creatively, at least, and to illustrate some of the possible answers

The programmes won’t be broadcast until late August but BBC Producer Neal Razzell and I have already made one reporting trip for the project – to southern Sudan – and we’re planning a second trip now, probably to Liberia and somewhere else.

I first proposed the title to BBC Editors in 2007 but it didn’t get past the competitive “commissioning” process BBC journalists have to go through to get their ideas on air. This year, it did.

Neal has been trying to give the ridiculously ambitious idea some shape by defining the conflicts – political, military, social, economic, even psychological – which may be part of the answer to the question. He’s come up with three subsections – which may end up being the thematic balast for the three programmes.

It’s all on the drawing board, and the programmes will ultimately be dictated by what we find on our travels, but Neal has identified three sets of conflicts:

Africans Versus Africa:

This is the daily struggle Africans have in a naturally hostile environment. We might end up looking at endemic tropical diseases, for example. Personally, I sometimes think it’s a miracle anything gets done at all in some places – what with half the population suffering from malaria at one point or another. Some places are just so hot…or so flooded…or so dry, or just such downright steamy, pestilential swamps that my hunch is they automatically make people poor. Maybe we will find out if my hunch is correct.Africans Versus Non-Africans:

Here’s where we might get into colonial exploitation, slavery and the rest of it. What are the financial implications of this? What are the psychological scars and how can they be measured, if at all? In this category we may also look at foreign actors – are they “investing” in Africa or “exploiting” her? Or both? Africans Versus Africans:

It seems pretty clear that war makes most people poor – although of course some people benefit from it. But conflicts of all sorts might come in here – bad leadership, for example, and corruption are a form of conflict imposed by one set of people on others. Personally, I haven’t met an African yet who will not say bad leadership is one of their major problems. But if that’s the case whyis African leadership so bad? Is it something to do with “Big Man Politics” or “Tribe” or Ethnicity? Do any of these things actually make people poor?

Wish us luck. We’ll need it – these are big questions.

Luckily for me, most of my job is to ask questions – not to answer them. But this time round I seem to have saddled myself with a bit more responsibility than usual with that absurdly ambitious title.

But maybe you know the answers? If you do, please, please let me have them on the back of an envelope as soon as possible because the day when I have to start writing the scripts is looming….

199 Responses to “Why is Africa Poor ?”
Feed for this Entry Trackback Address
June 4, 2009 at 19:55
It is an ambitious project indeed. You will be buffled by realities emerging out of Africa but you won’t be alone. As an African, I am buffled too. I look forward to be with you in the journey across Africa because I am interested to the findings we can make.
Its undoing can also be traced to outdated cultures and the knowledge divide that exists in its population. Interpretation of progress has been retarded by focus on individualism which has affected in the leadership in this continent.
The urban/commercial disconect is the other sticking point due to poor interpretation of input in relationship to output. There are no clear goals in time and direction that the people tend to take.
The chaos are formented by leadership even though the input of the citizens cannot be ignored.

August 22, 2009 at 17:36
There is one predominant reason why countries are poor and that is quality of government. Compare per capita GDP of North and South Korea, Botswana with Zimbabwe, Norway with Saudi Arabia. It is my personal (admittedly debatable) hypothesis that corruption is a reasonable indicator of quality of government and (lack of) the rule of law. I once plotted per capita GDP for a large number of countries as a function of their corruption index and lo, some scatter in the middle bit, but a very decent s-curve; corrupt countries are poor and their counterparts rich. Question is now what is cause and what is effect, but I bet quality of government under the rule of law is a fine predictive parameter for wealth.
A second intriguing correlation exists between tolerance and economic performance (even when corrected for per capita income and inflation). Attitudes towards globalisation and homosexuality for instance, are a dead giveaway as to how prosperous regions are; it even works for cities in the US. Once more we could enter into the chicken and egg debate here, but personally I think these are the trees we should be barking up – all the rest are unproductive rear-guard discussions.

Jim Towner
August 23, 2009 at 22:03
Dear Arthur. I am a PhD student in International Development and am interested in your comment: “The urban/commercial disconect is the other sticking point due to poor interpretation of input in relationship to output. There are no clear goals in time and direction that the people tend to take.”

Would you please expand on this thought and perhaps give examples? Thank you.

Connie Bransilver
June 4, 2009 at 20:23
I’m just a dumb nature photographer with over 30 years experience with Africa., but I am an observer. Africa killed my first marriage and impoverished us both (a business gone horribly toxic). Africa gave me several ignominious diseases which we won’t discuss. But the rhythms of Africa, the siren call, won’t leave me. It’s like a lover who is bad for me. I love him, I make mad, passionate, drunken love, then wake up hating him and what’s he’s done to me and to himself. Is it because Africans are such wonderful people individually, fun loving, warm and welcoming, caring but fatalistic people? And because of those traits, do they take too little care with their leaders – favoring tough tribal chiefs over moderates? And if so, why? Disease, yes, there is some validity there. Imperialism? That, too, splitting tribes with map drawing, disenfranchising many. Islamic attitutes toward women? Somewhat. Overpopulation? Big yes, and that is tied to the pathetic position of women whether Muslim or other, leaving them disenfranchised, uneducated and poor, and straining resources. Maybe — big possibility — generations and generations of no-hope, no future, leading to “grab what I can while I can” Mobutu-like corruption. I have written too many words to say ‘I don’t know either, but I have downed many beers, shed many tears, trying to find the answers.’ Go for it, and if I can help, call on me.

Jim Newman
June 4, 2009 at 22:24
Hello again
And hello to Connie. In my opinion your comment is very well observed. Africans are poor because their cultures were destroyed by colonialism. They were seduced by magic and later by corruption. Although this is most apparent in Africa the same kind of Friedman economic colonisation has happened all over the world resulting in great poverty. The fact that the Africans have suffered the most from these iniquitous policies could mean that they along with the South Americans could lead the world into a better future.

Tom K in Mpls
June 4, 2009 at 20:27
To me there are to primary simple issues. First the politics are usually based on violence. Instead of building or fixing, they destroy everything. Secondly they use natural resources for the sort term gain of those in power instead of building a future.

Here is an example/thought. The copper producing nations should have placed a high tax on the export of raw copper. This would have produced money that could have been used to develop an infrastructure to support a manufacturing industry. Then they could be shipping finished, untaxed, copper products with a global price advantage for more money. This is because it would slow the availability of copper to the world and help keep the price up. This would in turn get them more money.

June 4, 2009 at 20:27
Because the rest of the World would like to see Rich-Africa poor! Today Obama was physically in Africa, but no significant word about Africa!

June 4, 2009 at 21:27
Important subject. Worth giving some serious thought to and doing a little research before posting. It would be good to eschew the usual cliches and PC claims (e.g. the slave trade, colonialism, neo-colonialism), which usually all share the same underlying racist assumption that Africans are not sufficiently adult to be held responsible for the consequences of their own actions.

@Abram: a poor contribution – the subject deserves better.

@ Tom: your points about violence and short-termism are both correct (though probably not exhaustive). But the question still needs to be answered about why this is so much more true of Africa than any other region (I have my own ideas about that).

Jack Hughes
June 5, 2009 at 08:13

You’re asking the wrong question. Asking the wrong question leads to poor thinking and wrong conclusions.

Thinking about being poor and poverty is a negative concept. Like dark and darkness. Or silence.

A better question would be: “what stops africans from getting richer?”

This is a more solution-oriented question.

August 24, 2009 at 16:16
I, for one, can not understand, how Africans everywhere have money for guns and not for pretty much everything else. Guns cost a lot, bullets cost a lot but still take priority on the scarce resources. Is fighting each other the most important thing in their lives?

James Loudermilk
June 5, 2009 at 08:36
African people, like many other people and countries in this world (rich and poor), need to stop having children they can not provide for. By having kids you can’t care for physicaly, mentaly and emotionaly you are just making a bad situation worse.

June 6, 2009 at 06:12
Just stop kids, Just give up sex forever. The problem in Africa is not having children. The richest of the rich are hoarding everything. It is happening in every country. This one has taken the long hard brunt of It because Africa has so many resources for them to grab. War Lords block aid to people in need. There is no where to go to get any help. Children are always going to be born even in the most extreme situations and they are not the problem.

James Loudermilk
June 12, 2009 at 06:47
I’ll go with that too, but I still think they need to stop having SO MANY Kids. Why bring a life into the world when it’s almost certain it will be victimized.

June 5, 2009 at 09:47
In my years living in African culture, it seemed to me that no one expected anyone to keep their word. No one really expected their best friend to arrive when they said they would. Friends might share their last sandwich, each one taking a bite, yet no one would ever borrow money from a friend, because no one would ever pay back a loan. However, in order to do good business you must keep your agreements. If you keep your agreements, no matter how small, then your associates will come to respect your word, and depend on it. Businesses can’t survive without people keeping their word, without credit, trust and good will.

Africa was robbed by colonial masters, and then by the ruling class that the colonizers eventually raised up, and endorsed in many countries. That class of political bosses has maintained their power through corruption, and violence… thugocracies.

June 5, 2009 at 10:46
As Connie so eloquently said, the reasons are many and are not easy to understand.

But I think in order to try to understand the situation in Africa one must look at the history of colonialisation and the ways in which it radically altered tradition ways of life, culture and language. Their lands and social structures were stolen from them and Colonial systems of governance imposed upon them with all it’s prejudices and injustices.
It is a continent of individual countries still coming to terms with their past – still trying to find their own identities.

Then there are unfair trade agreements with the west which keep Africans in poverty and send all the profits back to big companies in the West; unhelpful form of aid; decades of crippling debt to the World Bank and the IMF.

War, corruption, disease, a lack of good eductional systems, a sometimes hostile environment – when you add it all together the task of eradicating poverty and curable diseases in Africa is onerous to say the least. But we must keep trying.

Danny Eldridge
June 6, 2009 at 10:18
I agree with this reason. I do understand it is not the only one.

But when you look at all Big 20 world groups that meet to make decisions is is based on their economies. The Worlds big economies have already raped the worlds environment and they make rules that prevent developing countries advancing economicaly or finacialy. For instance, South America is told not to use any more rain forest area because it is bad for the climate. Brazil still has 60 to 70% of its forest. The same goes for African forests. The United Kingdom has less than 5% of its forest left. Now where is the fair and level playing field with one set of rules for all. Maybe a levy should be charged to the developed countries for there past industrial damage and the levy used to assist developing countries within the new green sets of rules. They already protect there own economies at the expense of Developing economies.

Another point is that putting money into Africa does more harm than good, due to corruption. Aid would be more effective by creating self sustainable projects that develop people to have ownership with the necessary skills to look after themselves.

Sheetal Survase
August 23, 2009 at 23:47
Hi Anon,

I realise this is a bit of a delayed response, but only came across this post today and was hoping you wouldnt mind me picking your brains further. With particular interest in what you said about the IMF. There are few who would disagree with that, me being one of them.

However, I was wondering if any specific and significant examples come to mind to back your opinion? Admittely I dont know a lot about African history/ politics but think this has much relevance to a paper I’m currently writting. My assignment focuses on the dependancy theory – which in summary attibutes poverty and underdevelopment of the third world to the direct exploitation of the west, through trade and the international institutions set up to facilitate it.

Appreciate a quick response.

June 5, 2009 at 11:16
My answer is a question to the dveloped world, the world that wants to see Africa Poor. My question is: Why did you make Africa poor morally, physically and monitory?

June 5, 2009 at 11:53
Wow! I posted a comment earlier. It was short. It wasn’t abusive. It made a general point about the need for a non-PC approach to the subject, warned of benign racism, was (respectfully) critical of one post, and entered into a conversation with another, more substantial, post. Yet,innocuous as it was, it was thought ‘too hot to handle’ or publish! That’s just a little bit pathetic.

If the BBC doesn’t want to discuss issues openly, or doesn’t want contributions from political perspectives that antagonise it, then say so, but don’t keep up the insulting pretence that you aren’t partisan.

And btw – regardisng partisanship – when Mark Doyle writes, “Since I knew there was nothing wrong with my intelligent, dynamic, driving companion…”, we know that one important line of inquiry & explanation has already been ruled out without even being acknowledged.

Good luck finding an answer when you refuse to ask all the questions.

June 5, 2009 at 12:15
@VictorK – Those of us who believe that colonialism and neo-colonialism are in part the cause of poverty in Africa actually have done much research. I myself spend three years researching the subject. And your point about supposed PC claims sharing the usual underlying racist assumptions that Africans are not adult enough to be held accountable for their actions, quite frankly is insulting and ill thought out… Believing that history has a bearing on the current situation in Africa does not equate to a patronising form racism. Rather, it is an indepth examination of the social, economic, cultural and historical factors which have been influential in creating the problems in Africa.

Wilson Damien Asibu, Malawi
June 7, 2009 at 11:33
ANON, I agree with what you have just said. I have commented something similar to it, especially on how the past has affected Africa and its poverty today. I have also argued that Africans themselves have also a share of the blame. Africans need to be accountable too.

Livia Varju
June 5, 2009 at 14:55
In short, Africans are poor due to corruption, violence and because they are breeding like rabbits, producing children they can’t feed and then demanding that the West take cae of them. Billions of aid from the West have evaporated, that is, disappeared in the pockets of the leaders.

Tom K in Mpls
June 5, 2009 at 16:02
Ok Livia Varju, you made me come up with a question. You comment on ‘the West’. As I understand it, the majority of successful urbanization in Africa is western. Egypt being the questionable exception. It seems to me the term ‘the West’ has come to mean some intangible ideal or creation based on a perception of what English speaking countries and their economic partners should do. But then again, isn’t English spread heavily over Africa?

James Loudermilk
June 12, 2009 at 06:49
I’m with you, you hit every nail on the head. Well said.

September 2, 2009 at 02:53
I am sorry but i do not agree at all on the issue of the number of children people have. in fact the issue of the number of children is immaterial because not having the children will not end africas woeful poverty only this time it will be adults living in poverty.
No! the problem is not the children but the strategies in place to look after the next generation.
We have leaders who are bonafide vampires/mafia cliques with their police who are accountable to no-one. They have no foresight or program of measurable progress for their countries and you drone on about the children. When they start being accountable, provide security, power supply, roads and an environment for private enterprise then i will listen to your cry for less child birth. however, you will find that the birth rate will drop of its own volition when development takes hold. but do not hold your breath for Africa because it is going nowhere. this is because African leaders have no interest whatsoever in progress and i dare them to prove me wrong.
Peace out!

June 5, 2009 at 15:41
1- They didn’t advance technologically while the rest of the world did.
2- They weren’t unified (No real sense of government) like a lot of the rest of the world.
3- Because of those 2 things, white men (and others) looked down on them, and thought they were inferior.
4- The rest stems from that and they got screwed over for the last few hundred years because of this, and the world (and fellow Africans) continues to take advantage of them….because they can, which just perpetuates it all.

-Anthony, LA, CA

Gary Paudler
June 5, 2009 at 15:48
Africa is rich, it is most Africans who are poor just as indigenous people are kept poor everywhere. It’s too easy for unscrupulous greedy gringos to show up with blankets and beads and guns and take all the gold and ivory and arable land and minerals while supporting compliant “governments” who benefit from an under-educated populace distracted by the exigencies of desperate poverty. The system works – if you, or your government or your governments’ corporate masters, can so easily, as we do, ignore abject, indescribable suffering. I’m a middle-class, middle-aged white guy in California; a member of the most entitled class of people to ever walk the Earth, and it’s the same here, on an absurdly different scale, the formula is simple: Distract the middle class with enough shiny baubles and vague hopes of prosperity and we’ll comply by uninvolving ourselves with leadership and ignoring the less-fortunate who invariably bear the brunt of resource extraction.
Outside Brussels, the seat of the European Union, in Tervuren is the Royal Museum for Central Africa, a splendid whitewash of Europe’s pillaging and oppression of Africa. There should be a hall full of the black hands that King Leopold hacked off the wives and children of underperforming slaves but it’s just the same old bland banality of brave white explorers overcoming mosquitos to rape a bunch of ignorant darkies and their continent. Not enough has changed; we’re still the superior masters struggling (oh, why is it so hard?) to make our disposable subjects do right for themselves and lamenting the intractability of the problem that we created and continue to support. Why are Africans so poor? because it serves our interests to keep them that way. Most of them born without hope, not an aspiration in sight, what’s an expectation? And don’t get me started about overpopulation. What is London’s true carrying capacity? Could all of us cute pale couples support ourselves and our dear children without taking more than our share from somebody else? Did we think about the planet’s carrying capacity (or Chicago’s or Munich’s) before copulating? If we can’t limit our growth to some sustainable level how can we expect anybody else to do that? It’s those people who are the problem.

August 27, 2009 at 09:18
Goodness gracious, Gary! You are lucid!! I loved your reply! And I absolutely, completely and vehemently agree with you!

Nshuti Rugerinyange
September 7, 2009 at 21:31
Gray -
You are absolutely wright and ofcourse Mark Doyle knows why!

The fact that Doyle who lived and traveled across Africa for 25 years can now set out to find answer in a space of 3 weeks is a bit of accomplice – and the series was a ” conspiracy game” against Africa. “Why is Africa poor” is a polite way of inquiring whether we (Africans or indeed poor countries) know ” why we are poor”. His presupposition and i think he was wright, few Africans, if any, pointed any finger at you (the rich world).
Such questions are conspicuous invoking public anger against the so-called ‘post-independence leadership’. Africa is still under colonization – except that the real Administrator of Africa moved their offices to Westminster, Washington DC, Brussels, Paris – the permanent 5 capital cities.

June 5, 2009 at 16:45
Dear Livia – I’m interested to know how you have come to your conclusions?

June 5, 2009 at 18:26
I’ve never heard someone asking; “Why is India poor?”

Danny Eldridge
June 6, 2009 at 10:24
I think the reasons for India and also south America and other developing nations is the same as for my comments on Africa above.

June 5, 2009 at 20:33
RE “” To which he retorted: “So why are we all so poor then?” “”

———— Getting back to subject, PBS did a special on this question a few years back based on a similar question to an anthropologist studying in Papua New Guinea.

After years of the question eating at him, he used his expertise to come up with many theories, one of which is based upon neccessity being the mother of all creation. When you live in tropical lands where fruit ripens year round, abundant wildlife, and resources readily available for shelter, not many improvements to be made.

With colonialism, the notions of exotic possessions entered native people’s conciousness, usually tools or machinery that gave colonists magic al powers, binoculors, rifles, cars, stuff like that. They also arrived in planes or large ships, so once natural peoples start to feel poor and inferior in comparison.

Now the landscape is altered and they can’t fully depend on the land to survive, magnifying the sense of poverty as they transit from native to “developed” and their culture is transmogrified.

Munti Dann
June 6, 2009 at 03:23
Africa is still poor despite years of global incessant aid.
The reasons could be:
1. Lack of capable and honest leaders.
2. Deep rooted corruption at practically all levels of bureaucracy.
3. High rate of emigration of indigenous educated personnel.
4. Relentless inter-tribal conflicts and suspicions.
5. Continuity of traditional hatred and intolerance.
6. Most international aids not reaching the targeted population.

The above must have been very difficult to overcome, more time is needed. At the end of the day, only Africans can help to alleviate themselves from poverty. No one else COULD.

Nshuti Rugerinyange
September 7, 2009 at 22:09
Dann -

1 to 6 are all engineered by the rich world.
1. The West decide who take power in Africa
2. The West dictate the policies – often bureaucratic under pretext of democracy and accountability
3. The west fishes out indigenous educated personnel
4. The West Engineer and short-circuits inter-tribal conflicts
5. Hatred is traditional to Africa as has often been portrayed by stereotype historians
6. International Aid is managed by foreigners who earn 80% of the Aid the bring.
Don’t you think that employing educated indigenous to managed international aid would address Qn3 &6?

June 6, 2009 at 05:54
The modern problems in Africa that keep them in perpetual poverty stem from many complicated intertwined reasons and situations that have conspired to impoverish Africans on a whole.

1. Colonialism as a historical fact has devalued how Africans view themselves or their identity. It has denied their right to self rule thus eliminating the potential for learning the lessons of leadership. Many dark-skinned Africans are viewed with disdain by whites and light -skinned Africans over the centuries. This is so endemic that presently many dark-skinned Africans also have a poor view of themselves and a low self esteem. The impact of this is that many Africans are not motivated to escape poverty because they believe that they were born to be slaves or servants re: Mauritania and slavery, South Africa.

2. Poor leadership is a major issue that is inherent in the African continent. Why is the leadership poor? I hold the view that many current leaders were born or grew up during the period that many African nations got independence 1960-1980. The result is that their leadership style is premised on colonialism. Why do I say that? Leaders from Africa will generally follow the dictates of their culture in how they lead, they will also pattern themselves after their former colonial masters because those are the only examples of leadership they have been exposed to. Nelson Mandela is an exception to the rule.

Thus many leaders in Africa are ill-equipped to lead as they lack the requisite skills of Emotional Intelligence, management, wisdom, insight etc. The result is that leaders like Robert Mugabe who had once championed the cause of Zimbabweans in the 1970’s against white oppressors have himself become an oppressor on an even larger scale and an international pariah. African leaders struggle to manage the diversity of the people in their countries instead relying on tribal methods of bias and favoritism that sow the seeds of discord and war re: Somalia, Sudan Guinea- Bissau, Kenya, Rwanda to name a few.

Guy Taylor
June 6, 2009 at 10:32
“Why is Africa poor?” Africa is not poor; Africa is extremely wealthy in terms of minerals, diversity and culture. However, the only reason it is seemingly poor is purely down to mismanagement of the availability of that wealth. Purely down to corruption and the lack of the rule of law in the majority of those countries!

Shakhoor Rehman
June 6, 2009 at 11:49
Parts of Europe and other continents have African-style poverty. The answer is for the OAU to set up a government-in-embryo like the EU and so inspire a common interest for all africans now and for the future, otherwise division and poverty will prevail.

September 2, 2009 at 03:12
What!! Did i just hear you mention the OAU or AU. Please!! this is not an organisation but a call to muster of a clique of unaccountable crats who can’t wait to be collected from the airport in Mercs and BMWs and to return having achieved nothing. You will have to wait a minimum of 2 generations and i fear you won’t last that long.
No! Progress in Africa will come one country at a time but as i have written earlier i can’t envisage it yet.

June 6, 2009 at 22:09
dear abraham, it is possible that “why is india poor” was not asked because there is a global concensus that india is undergoing rapid economic growth. granted, there is still the problem of extreme income disparity, or skewed income distriution, but which country doesnt suffer problems of poor income distribution or widening of the income gap? poor areas in india probably still remain poor, but because of media persuasion, the belief that india as a whole is getting richer is accepted.

June 6, 2009 at 22:22
It’s so easy to blame “colonialism” on everything. But that begs the question, “Oh, so Africa was rich and successful before colonialism?” One way to look at colonialism is that it was possible to achieve in Africa. I certainly wouldn’t argue that it’s the best thing that could happen, but on the other hand, a fair question to ask might be, “Is post-colonial Africa better or worse off than pre-colonial Africa was?”

September 2, 2009 at 03:19
Dear Bert,talk about hitting the nail on the head.Could i please borrow it, i have a few heads that need nailing.
There are some that argue we were better off during colonisation because some of the services and parastatals created still exist. Some African leaders never added anymore but instead destroyed the existing one.

Hari Tahil
June 7, 2009 at 00:59
I’ve worked for a Japanese NGO for over 10 years that conducts many community-based/operated projects throughout Africa. As @Jack Hughes says “ask the right question” and one question that is usually not asked, especially by major international organizations is “What do YOU (Africans) want?” Non-Africans trying to help Africa always have their own ideas about what Africans need and how to go about providing it. When Africans are supported in achieving their own goals (usually modest, such as local health service and access, education, sustainable income generation, etc.) and are trained to support those goals, the results are pretty impressive.
When outside agencies come in and say “big roads, big hospitals, big power plants, big mines” etc, the countries are saddled with debt, are not stakeholders as they did not contribute to the construction and do not have the civil/political infrastructure to support the continuation of the projects. Furthermore, major international agencies are extremely inefficient as their own costs (staffing) are high.
There are thousands of success stories in Africa, but they are all at the local level and are not ’sexy’ for international media, agencies or wanna-be politicians. When we talk about “Why is Africa poor” it REALLY misses the point as it is the PEOPLE in Africa who need more income. And this is what is always forgotten – the people. Ask them what they want and then together work out a sustainable way for them to achieve their OWN goals with outside training.
If you want to know how – ask me.

Tan Boon Tee
June 7, 2009 at 05:02
Why is Africa poor? Or should one say “Why Africa remains poor?”.

This question should be directed to the African leaders and their governments — they know best.

Despite the numerous aids and money pouring into Africa for the past so many decades to alleviate the poverty, one hardly sees any improvement at all. In fact things get worse in the current global economic downturn. The educated elite groups continue to leave the continent for greener pastures.

Take note, if Africans are not going to help themselves, nobody else can?

Takuro Ozawa
June 7, 2009 at 09:23
We cannot judge rich or poor only in economic way, for many live with rich condition in little economy. We must look ahead and set other measures the richness and the quality of life besides the amount of currency. For example, I live in Japan supposedly “rich” in economic way, but who can say the people live in Japan is spending rich life or not? The quality of life is subjective and relative.

Walter L. Johnson
June 7, 2009 at 10:38
No region with corrupt government can long thrive, and anywhere where what you know counts for less than who you know is doomed to failure.

A little considered (in the public’s mind) factor is how many Africans are ill and frightened. Malary is widespread in Africa, and Bill Gates accurately identified chronic health problems as barriers to African economic growth. I praise him for recognizing and paying for medical research to discover cures and treatments for chronic African diseases like malaria. Frea is just as common as disease. Fear comes from ignorance. For example, an African college student cleared some brush for us years ago and he was afraid of a garden snake because in Africa all snakes he knew of were poisonous. If you have to look at all ground as a source of potential danger it distracts from important jobs like farming. Being associated with the wrong political party can even jeopardize your life.

If you ask any American businessmen, they don’t care if their customers are Democrats or Republicans as long as they buy from the businessmen or use his or her services. In Africa your career, like President Obama’s father, can be made or broken by your political allegiance, and not economic common sense or education in how to shop.

Mark Doyle
June 7, 2009 at 10:45
I’m finding this a bit weird. It’s the first time I’ve written a blog and its such a different sort of journalism from the style I’m used to.

It’s great to be interacting so directly and quickly with the audience, but who am I interacting with? In the past, in response to TV, radio or BBC Online pieces, people have of course written in with their comments.

My favourite comment was when I lived in Lagos, Nigeria and I was writing about trying to get to an appointment to play tennis with a friend. I got stuck in a massive “Go-Slow” as they call traffic jams in Nigeria and almost missed playing altogether. A kindly Nigerian lady – who gave her address and telephone number – wrote to wonder why on earth I had chosen to play at that particular club – and went on to name several Lagos clubs much nearer my point of departure which would welcome a visiting member!

But here on the blog I am looking at comments from people who I have no idea about. Some are even anonymous. Who are these people? Where are they?

Some admit to being in California or elsewhere; some say they are African. But Africans where? In the diaspora? On the continent? What is their motivation?

When interviewing people for radio or TV I like to look in their eyes – or smile, or look blank, as appropriate – to elicit comments or answers.

But right here, now – blogging – I only have my keyboard and my screen to look at.

Thank you for your comments anyway. I was really pleased to get them as I embark on a journey to ask “Why is Africa Poor”. But as I’m a novice at this blogging game I’m just not sure how to react.

Also, at the moment, I’m afraid I don’t have time.

I have risen very early on a Sunday morning to tap this out because it’s the last day in the UK for me before leaving for Liberia on a reporting trip for the series. And today I am taking my son to play football. So I hope you will forgive me if I read your comments in detail later.

June 7, 2009 at 20:44
i’m the anonymous that posted June 6, 2009 at 22:09 and i’m from singapore. =)

Dennis Junior
August 20, 2009 at 04:48
No Problem; Mark Doyle…And, welcome to the excellent world of blogging, and enjoy it….

=Dennis Junior=

June 7, 2009 at 16:00

Check out this video I made of Jeffrey Sachs talking about African aid. He’s definitely of the opinion that more aid is needed…not less.



June 7, 2009 at 18:01
Africans need to help themselves

June 8, 2009 at 00:17
I appreciated Hari Tahil’s post, the perspective of someone who worked there with an NGO. The point that the goals of economic aid should be the goals of local people, and not the ideas of economic success as envisioned by the G20. A valid point. My problem with that view is that if only such limited goals can ever be achieved, then the rest of the world will still consider Africa to be chronically poor.

And I also saw, and recalled, that PBS special about Papua, mentioned by Roberto. The question from the local there was, “Why do Europeans have so much cargo?” Meaning, posessions. Same basic question as this.

The theory in that piece was “farm animals,” which I must say, I found rather a stretch. As Europe had farm animals to rely on, the theory went, Europeans could get on with other endeavors than just gathering food.

The reason I found that theory wanting, perhaps, is that Europeans needed to expend a lot more effort to survive, food-wise, than do those living in tropical climates. Not that Africa is all tropical, far from it, however the problems of poverty are fairly uniform throughout the continent.

Mark, good luck. Yes, the blog is rather anonymous, but that per se does not make the viewpoints invalid. For what it’s worth, I lived in Lagos, Nigeria for 5 years. But make no claims of special expertise on this topic.

June 8, 2009 at 09:25
Hello Mark – fair point! Maybe we should all fill in a little detail. My name is Ann. I’m Scottish but now live in Belgium. Before I became ill and unable to work, I used to teach Religious, Ethical Studies and philosophy to high school pupils in Scotland (In Scotland pupils learn about all the major world religions). One of the courses I taught was called Global Solidarity and in part it examined the issue of rich and poor throughout the world.

I have also been involved with the Make Poverty History Campaign, War on Want, Oxfam, Amnesty International etc. So although it sounds idealist, I guess you could say I’m motivated to try do my little bit for justice and equality. I have personal experience of poverty and injustice, but have also been lucky enough to educate myself out of it. I’d like to give something back.

June 8, 2009 at 14:17
@ Bert

Please check your facts before you make sarcastic and erroneous statements. Africa – culturally and economically – was actually on a par with Europe. It is merely ignorance and arrogance that leads you to assume otherwise. Please learn some history and avoid making facile, sweeping statements, before you seek to perpetuate myths about the continennt.

Angelique, London

Jaime Saldarriaga
June 8, 2009 at 15:59
I believe in a concept of world justice. And I think the world has been unfair to Africa. So, how to fix this? Work with the uncorrupted people of Africa. Don´t support corrupt governments of Africa. Support the African Union and try to make it only one country. This will help to build a better world, I think. Otherwise the world will not believe in the good intentions of the developed world. I think the UN should be more proactive in this direction. Creative leadership can find a solution to Africa which would benefit the whole world.

Tom K in Mpls
June 8, 2009 at 16:39
Over the years ( I’m 49 ) I have gotten to know several African people. I am living now in a place I sub-lease from a Nigerian. I have had several in depth conversations with him, and one thing came up that may explain a lot about why these discussions commonly come out so empty.

I have come to realize that that Africans have a very different sense of what capitalism is as compared to the people of industrially developed countries. Most Africans believe that the rich can make money without cost or effort. That they can set any terms or conditions in business and everyone will accept it. To them capitalism borders on piracy or extortion, or at least price gouging. He has tried several times to come up with ways to make me pay more for my lease and is baffled that I would resist and surprised that I can. Both his lease and mine are very clear and standard yet he is indignant about basic property maintenance and is about to get a rude surprise from the owners.

As I said at the start, any African I have gotten to know shares a lot of this attitude. I wonder what the new tenant, Musa, feels on the subject.

August 24, 2009 at 21:23
Tom, over my so many years, I’ve had the most eye rolling, embarrassingly shallow conversations with poorly informed people of European decent. What can be extrapolated from those conversations? What conclusions should be made about the current economic status of Western nations. Off course the answer is, none.

I live in the United Sates and have lived here most of my life. Africans like most immigrants certainly work harder than Americans. Their children certainly do better in school. Africans are the most educated among Brits. Your encounter with slum lords or unscrupulous Africans is unfortunate but please…. You cant come from a people who got free labor from Africans for centuries, then employed then in their homes for another century for little or nothing to do their house hold duties and make your assertions.

Tom K in Mpls
August 26, 2009 at 20:05
If you read other later posts, I refine that. Also you will see other Africans I know say it is Nigerians that see capitalism in that way. As for work ethic, that varies greatly over the US. Supposedly, North and NE are great, West is ok, South East is poor.

June 8, 2009 at 16:42
@Anon: Nigeria has earned over $300 billion in oil revenue over the past 30 years. That’s more than enough to build a modern infra-structure re education, transport, communication, and health, and launch it on the way to being a middling developed country. Instead, Nigeria remains one of the poorest of poor nations, and Nigerians have no idea what happened to the bulk of the $300 billion (i.e. the country’s rulers looted it).

Ethiopia experienced famine and hundreds of thousands of deaths because of the Marxist Dergue’s policy of seizing and collectivising private land and using forced labour to cultivate it (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of deaths resulting from the regime’s onslaught against ‘class enemies’).

Some of the most under-developed African countries are those that experienced little or no colonialism, such as Liberia and Ethiopia.

The Arab and Islamic fundamentalist Sudanese regime – well before Darfur – exterminated between 3 and 4 million black Africans as a matter of genocidal race hatred.

In Zaire, Mobutu…but the examples are endless. To explain Africa’s poverty with reference to colonialism while ignoring the decisions of Africans is insulting as well as absurd. It is the usually clamaitous decisions of Africans that explain Africa’s poverty, and which themselves need to be explained.

June 8, 2009 at 17:00
June 8, 2009 at 14:17- Angelique wrote, @ Bert: “Please check your facts before you make sarcastic and erroneous statements. Africa – culturally and economically – was actually on a par with Europe. It is merely ignorance and arrogance that leads you to assume otherwise.”

This kind of wishful thinking when it comes to Africa is why it’s so hard to get answers to the question. There was a time in the past when India and China were economically on a par with Europe, and rivalled it culturally in a few areas, but sub-Saharan Africa? What has Africa ever manufactured in its entire history? Even today, crops and minerals are its export staples, and in the past it only had slaves to trade. And how is it even conceivable that culture and civilisation can flourish in the absence of writing? Aside from a couple of paltry C19th examples amongst two African peoples (which came to very little), sub-Saharan Africa has never been literate. There have doubtless been plenty of budding Miltons, Goethes, Newtons, Bachs, Shakespeares, Homers, Ciceros, and Voltaires in Africa, but without an alphabet they’ve all been condemned to being ‘…mute, inglorious…’.

Tom K in Mpls
June 8, 2009 at 17:43
Your statements are correct assuming it is required, or the goal of these people to compete for your industrialized ideal. Personally I don’t make that assumption but I know that many Africans, at least those in power, want your ideal. I have no idea how to do this, but what is needed first is to help people get the ability to feed themselves. Based on local resources. This requires politics as much as agriculture. Then be sure they have the power to decide from there.

Keep in mind that one of the greatest military and political leaders the world has ever know, Shaka Zulu, destroyed all the military Britain could send against him. Then he let them know they wanted none of the British technology or law. Then he failed to recognize the power and lure of capitalism and foreign goods. Slowly his people were entranced and trapped.

June 8, 2009 at 17:22
More reasons for Africa being poor

3. Exploitation by the first world and developing nations are also a major reason for Africa,s poverty and underdevelopment. Africa possess the the largest quantitiy of raw material and wealth that the world desires, diamonds,gold,silver, tin,copper etc but the people at bottom of the social strata generally don’t realise the benefits of all this wealth. Foreign companies normally come in an optimise production for a contracted period where a nominal or no tax is paid on production and refinement of the raw material. When worlrd prices dip or production decreases or the tax break comes to an end they move on the next gullible African country re: Zambia and the setting of a nominal tax on copper because of pressure by the World Bank in 1998.This is also linked to poor leadership as those in charge don’t negotiate for better terms and conditons for their people either through ignorance of business practise,coercion or corruption.

4. Corruption and the siphoning off of the countries patronage(hegemony) is also a problem that has grave consequences. Again this stems from poor leadership. I truly believe these leaders are so unfamiliar with wealth that when the opprtunity presents itself greed envelops them and they steal without a conscience for penury sticken,dying Africans. It has becme the accepted norm that Africans are poor and will forever be poor so the leaders don’t care.

Anon (otherwise known as Ann)
June 8, 2009 at 17:39
Hi Victor – regarding your post June 8th at 16.42, I’m presuming I’m the Anon you wish to disagree with.

Perhaps you could take another look at my original post (June 5th 10.46) where I mention war, corruption etc…

June 8, 2009 at 17:52
I would simply suggest to Angelique that she consider replacing her word “arrogance,” to describe my views, with the terms “exasperation” or “aggravation.” In order to improve, we need to begin by identifying the problems to be solved. Pretending them away, making everything someone else’s fault, might bring short term, feel-good rewards, but it won’t go much further than that.

Dave in Florida
June 8, 2009 at 18:07
Anyone who has ever been to Africa knows that corruption is the rule of law thoughout the continent. Until this can be stopped no one will invest in Africa, and only Africans can cause this to happen.

Corruption is everywhere from the street corners to the presidential palaces.

Colleen in US
June 8, 2009 at 19:29
Corruption is one key factor for its continuing poverty. Corrupt and/or militant governments, keeping wealth for themselves, instead of taking care of the flock (so to speak).

I also heard on another NPR program; an educated economist who has been to Africa (and I believe, may have heritage there) speak out that part of its failing is because there is too much world donations – too much world assistance… it has become a crutch and perpetuates the problems, instead of pulling them out of it.

What I understood from that program is that Africa’s nations need economic policies and possibilities – some of which can come from trading, bartering, and the natives of these nations being business/trades people. TO save the countries; we can’t just keep giving in the way we have been – we have to give in ways that help stabilize their economies and encourage national participation – for the sake of everyone.

It goes back to the saying, ‘give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for life’.

Stephen Chewe
June 8, 2009 at 19:34
Africa is poor because of poor leadership, poverty, lack of being entrepreneurship and ethic politics.

John in Germany
June 9, 2009 at 14:36
Is Africa Poor?.
When the cream is taken off of the milk it becomes fairly tasteless.Some African Leaders, and their cronies have been taking the cream for years, and continuous corruption has taken the rest.
Colonialism is always blamed for the downward trends in any country-Worst of all Zimbabwe, But Colonialism is not all to blame.Take a farmer from a farm and put a non trained worker on it and see what happens. Africa has received Trillions of dollars in aid, and has nothing to show, the money must have gone somewhere??????.

Africans have been abused by the Colonial Powers, but mostly by their own people. I am full of admiration for South Africa, she has risen from all evils to become a Star,when not perfect but a star. The other African countries could follow suite, and shine as much.

John in Germany.

June 9, 2009 at 22:54
Many a time I have asked myself that question over and over again. How can a continent rich in natural resources and a people who were self sufficient before the arrival of the Europeans or the so called civilized world become so poor. Africans have been left in a limbo not knowing whether to go back to their old ways or move forward with the so called ways of the Europeans which has messed up our continent for many years.

Before the arrival of the queen and her thieving European counterparts we had governing systems in place better than what was introduced to us. The introduction of all these systems of governance has helped confused Africans of how to rule ourselves, we have become reliant on all these systems which does not relate to our way of life. For a system to work in a society it must be tailored around the social lives of the society.

I hear about corruption all the time in Africa yes there is corruption but who the hell helps these leaders corrupt their subjects? Is it not the same western countries who use the media to broadcast these allegations but underneath it all they still protect the corrupt. How the heck can one person like Mobutu Seseseko own 13% of the Belgium railway system and yet the world was told they didn’t know where his money was?

For Africa to be free we only have to believe in ourselves and depend on ourselves to get out of this madness. Africa doesn’t need anyone to trade with, we can trade among ourselves like back in the days.

Darrel Trombone
June 11, 2009 at 13:22
Why? well if you were to ask Bono, he’d know doubt blame it on the French and Italians for reneging on promises. Ask the Africans about breaking promises, I say.

Tom K in Mpls
June 11, 2009 at 16:48
“Is it investment or exploitation? Who wins?” I covered this in my first post on the topic. It is all in how the government allows it to happen. The copper mines were a failure for Africa. Will Mrs Johnson Sirleaf learn from the failure of her neighbors or just take the easy cash like the others?

Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
June 11, 2009 at 18:01
There`re 3 reasons to describes why Africa is so poor.1st Africans themselves have a natural believe that they`re poor& inferior despites their natural richness and strength,2nd African dream is destroy by overpopulations,racial,religious,social,economical & political differencies amongst ourselves, 3rd Majority of us are uneducated therefore leaving them ultimate consumers,simply Africa needs to reforms in some of their social way of life.

Dinka Aliap Chawul,Kampala
August 17, 2009 at 13:59
Our African leaders use resourses to keep themselves in power rather than investing on they people that they leads!

June 12, 2009 at 13:48
Is it investment or exploitation?

The answer depends on the:
1. terms and conditions of the negotiated contracts.

2. programs and strategies the government will enforce(if any) to ensure that the wealth gets to a large proportion of the population.

3. government’ s ability to reinvest the wealth gained in sustainable industries and diversify the economy.

4. using of some of the wealth in education to develop the human capital.

5. fiscal education of the people so that they will not waste the money on cosumables.

6. government’s ability to be transparent and accountable to the people in order to mitigate corruption

Mohammed Ali
June 16, 2009 at 16:10
Wow, what a nice question that will be debated till the end of time, if there will be one. Africa is poor for several reasons and some include:

1. The Translavery brought upon us by the West
2. Colonialism after slavery
3. Intrench corruption brought about as a result of western governments implicitly supporting corrupt African governments because they yielded to their whim and caprices. E.g. Uganda’s Musevini, Egypt’s Mubarak and many in the past.
4. Mismanagement of resources by both Africans and those that exploited natural resources.

The truth is that we will never be rich unless we decide to do things on our own and stop the dependency symdrom of receiving handouts from others. The more handouts they give us, the more they control our activities and their agenda is for us to remain beggars.

Frank Gilbert
June 17, 2009 at 20:31
This is an enormous question ,but its success now lies in its own hands, blaming past actions i.e. slavery is irrelevant. Most African states have had their independence for over 40 yrs – so long enough to maximise their hugh natural resources, unfortunately most of their leaders are corrupt, tribal,and bigots, they
run “their ” country for themselves ,their family,their tribe, all seek power for themselves, and not for the benefit of their people .Only time and education will effect a change and that could take another 50 yrs,- more progress could be had by each nation state if the problem of malnutrition could be controlled: this again is in their own hands more money spent on agriculture would have a major impact as would self control of population, i.e family sizes.

Mark Doyle
June 18, 2009 at 15:36
Nairobi, Kenya: Today I’ve seen more of the city of Nairobi than I did during a year-long stint of living here in the early 1990s.

Still in pursuit of answers to the question “Why is Africa Poor?” (the material I am gathering is for a series of BBC World Service radio programmes to be broadcast from August), I came here to look at urban issues.

My host for the day, architect and town planner Mumo Musuva, took me far and wide in the city which Kenya Airways proudly announces, in its landing message, is “the home of the United Nations in Africa”.

Mumo drove me past the big UN complex in the Nairobi suburb of Gigiri and alongside the huge, ugly utilitarian fortress next to it that is the newly-built US Embassy here (“Photography Not Permitted”).

During my time here in 1993-4 the UN complex was one of the few places I knew well. I spent most of that year shuttling between coup crises in Burundi; the Black Hawk Down era in Somalia; and the Rwandan genocide.

Busy, disturbing times.

In those days, Kenya was, for foreign correspondents, largely a place for sleep and rest.

So I had not been to Mumo’s childhood area, the middle class suburb of Eastlands, before; and I had not seen the slum of Muthare close-up.

Muthare is a rotting expanse of rusting tin shacks as far as the eye can see – and it’s slap-bang next to the elite Muthaiga suburb with its manicured plots, many of which were carved out illegally from public forests by what are known in Kenya as “land-grabbers”.

Seeing the city through the eyes of a Kenyan architect and planner was fascinating. Mumo believes that bad or non-existent town planning is a cause of poverty.

Nairobi is a place where chaotic “informal sector” industries are allowed to flourish in what are supposed to be residential areas. These industries pollute the environment with noise and rubbish. But, of course, they also provide vital jobs.

“We need to harness the power of these activities”, says Mumo; “and we also need to see their advantages”.

The key, perhaps, would be to provide services (water, electricity, roads) in exchange for modest taxes. That way, the vast energy of the informal sector could benefit everyone, and not be seen as a nuisance.

The trouble is that in Kenya few believe their taxes are being properly spent.

I’m not sure what the solution is to all this, but I’m fumbling towards thinking that Africa is not, in fact, poor at all. There’s everything here: resources, people, water, sunshine, energy and often – even in the case of some rare politicians! – goodwill.

But these things are not joined up by good planning. Maybe President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia was right when told me; “Africa is not poor, it is just poorly managed.”

I’ll try to think about that further for the radio programmes. But meanwhile, I’ll tell you one thing Africa certainly is – and that is Big. Very Big.

Flying from Liberia to the western Kenyan town of Kisumu (my first stopoff in the “home of the UN in Africa”), via Accra, Ghana, then Nairobi, took me almost 24 hours.

The only respite on the flights was when the Ghanaian nation soccer squad, the Black Stars, boarded the plane in Accra en route to a training cam in Kenya and then their World Cup qualifier in Sudan.

The Kenyan Airways stewardesses transformed their usual friendly smiles to ecstatic grins as the yellow, green and red-shirted heroes sauntered on with their bling watches and latest iPods prominently on display.

Kisumu, on Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest freshwater lake), gave me a chance to look into two issues endemic across tropical Africa – malaria and the scourge of the river and lake-bourne weed, Water Hyacinth.

So, two places very new me in the space of just a few days – the delightfully laid-back and in parts very attractive town of Kisumu, and bits of Nairobi I have never seen before.

Africa is Big.

I feel so privileged to be travelling through.


July 2, 2009 at 16:34
Dear Mark, I’m an artist/horticulturist researching the same question you are. Travel is not an option for me so your journey is fascinating personally. Thanks for what you are doing.
The real reason for posting here is because there is a paper written by David Fielding from Dept of Economics at Uni of Leicester from May 2000, tackling the same question. You should find him when you get back.
You say Africa is big and disorganised. So does Fielding. He used hard sums to figure out how much African countries’ economic development is actually impeded by colonialism, ethno-linguistic diversity and geography. He points out that relative to population, natural resources are more limited than in any other continent. Interesting but true, according those gifted in counting.
What I can’t fathom yet, is the influence that Arab foreign policy has on African conflicts? Why the end of apartide political settlement in S.Africa did not address the economics of the country?
Also the Sach’s effect leaves me wondering why his answer to everything is bloating bank accounts and encouraging land based debt? He doesn’t seem concerned enough with educating women. Also why is he so keen to saddle N.America with the burdon of guilt for African poverty, when aid is known to increase corruption?
May the road rise to meet you and God bless.

thokob mule
July 3, 2009 at 12:24
africa is rich indeed, the mindset and attitude of the people is what’s poor. if one has a poverty mentality, even the surrounding will come out being poor. africa is not at all poor. there are so many resources, espacially human resource, which can boost the status of the continent. only the good Lord God Almighty will bless and restore africa to its original form, if the poeple yeild to Him…. God Bless..!!

Ernest Merrill
August 19, 2009 at 20:36
Poverty as wealth is a mind thing.
Africa and Africans are poor because Africans
do not value Africans. There is too much envy
and the crab-in-the barrel mentality.
They just do not like to see their own kind succeed.

Ernest Merrill
August 19, 2009 at 20:45
Success is a mind thing.
Africa is rich but Africans are poor because Africans do not value Africans. There is too much envy and the crab-in-the barrel mentality, i.e.,they do not like to see their own kind succeed.

Thomas Murray
August 19, 2009 at 20:58
Connie succinctly described what I’ve heard so many others say: Enchanted continent. Wonderful people. Bottomless misery.

But at core, Africa’s problems stem from overpopulation. It sounds cruel to say, but until Africa stops having one child per mother, they’ll have no one else to blame but themselves.

And that’s the good news. Sorry.

–Louisville, Kentucky, US.

David Price
August 19, 2009 at 21:07
If you want to know where Africas money is….Try looking into some African leaders European bank accounts! Who is worse,the people who offer the bribe,or the people that take it? Nigeria should be reasonably well off by now… but it ‘aint why?

August 19, 2009 at 21:59
Why is Africa perpetually poor?

Everyone knows poor leadership and corruption keep Africa poor but don’t miss this one:
It’s insidious in nature and a major factor.

They are IMF and World Bank loans and the austere measures that prevent development, stymie education, immobilise health care, devalue their currency, add value added tax(vat), raise taxes, introduce free markets, privatise state owned companies, remove farmers subsidies so they can’t compete and they go out of business, increase electicity and water rates. These are just a few.

Countries that don’t develop human capital and viable industry will remain forever poor as is the case in Africa.


August 19, 2009 at 23:33
Part of the reason is because of the way the intl. aid is given out.

Usually it’s done with lots of conditions attached. If the govt. refuses to go along with these, then the aid has an astronomical interest rate attached to it. The country can’t possibly pay it back. Then, “vulture” capitalist firms come in to make a killing by buying the debt.

As long as there’s profit to be made, the cycle will continue.

Rashid Patch
August 19, 2009 at 23:35
Africa is poor because of centuries of ruthless colonial oppression and exploitation, none of which has ever ended. The “liberation”of African nations in the late 20th century was simply the imperialist powers “outsourcing” their supervisory, management, and security tasks while maintiaining – even greatly increasing – their economic domination and exploitation.

After hundreds of years of colonial powers routine practice of “divide and rule”, traditional African social structures have been fragmented and balkanized to the point where any political power can only be perceived as a chance to grab for oneself and one’s family.

Generations have to be educated to experience that they have a community besides their intimate circle. The socialist and communist idealists of the national liberation struggles had the only education program of that sort – capitalists are never able to argue well for social solidarity without

August 24, 2009 at 13:31
Colonialisation! I totally agree, nothing much has changed since the slave trade. Africa is arguably the richest continent on earth in terms of natural resources. The so called developed World has routinely stripped and stolen from the land, all of its resources and returned practically nothing back. Until we stop enabling this culture of corrupt government, and and allow Africa, its people to partake in its own wealth we will continue to keep Africa poor!

Rashid Patch
August 19, 2009 at 23:45
Africa is poor because of centuries of ruthless colonial oppression and exploitation, none of which has ever ended. The “liberation”of African nations in the late 20th century was simply the imperialist powers “outsourcing” their supervisory, management, and security tasks while maintiaining – even greatly increasing – their economic domination and exploitation.

European nations all had centuries-long periods of feudalism and building a conception of national identity before liberal democracies could evolve. Colonialism took African nations and reduced them to a pre-feudal condition. Arbitrary “national” borders, drawn with no regard for anything but the convenience of colonial administrators, exacerbated the problem. After hundreds of years of colonial powers’ routine practice of “divide and rule”, traditional African social structures have been fragmented and balkanized to the point where any political power can only be perceived as a chance to grab for oneself and one’s family.

Generations have to be educated to experience that they have a community besides their intimate circle. The socialist and communist idealists of the national liberation struggles had the only education programs of that sort – capitalists are never able to argue very well for social solidarity unless they can point to an external enemy. Kwame Nkrumah’s ideal of pan-African Unity could provide an ideal of a community for Africans, but the forces of self-interest and factionalism – still encouraged and supported by the colonial powers – will oppose it violently.

La Lucha Libre ContinĂșa!

Rashid Patch
Oakland, California

Tom K in Mpls
August 20, 2009 at 00:38
Glad to have you (and this) back. I am also glad to see that someone that not only paraphrases Douglas Adams, but has been studying the issue agrees to what is needed. Issue one is a stable (and accountable) government to build issue two, an infrastructure (schools, roads, sanitation and power) to support issue three, a broad based economy.

On a related WHYS show I spoke to people that could only cry about past piratical dealings. In looking to the past they had eliminated the possibility, in their minds, that any future foreign business could be beneficial. Please read the forth post here, my first on the subject, to see a realistic example.

August 20, 2009 at 02:16
Because of failed colonial interests which have ravaged the entire continent. Enslavement, Africans subjugating Africans and then selling them to the white man. Lack of true support, substitution for actual skills and knowledge with money and false promises from industrialized nations just looking for another way to exploit the ignorant masses. Idle chit chat about why africa is so poor, westerners blogging their lives away, attempting to solve problems through words not actions.
Why is Africa so poor? Because, the life and the will to live it has been slowly sucked out of its people by greed, selfishness and a lust for power over a now desolate landscape, ravaged by war, famine and pestilence (namely aids); corrupt megalomaniacal leaders who fancy themselves kings, in the great tradition of its western teachers.
It will take Africans many more generations to recover from what has been done and encouraged by outside influence. A once prosperous and flourishing people, reduce to dust by the machines of progress; and what a great progress it has become. Poor is just another word for used up.

August 20, 2009 at 07:06
Many parts of our earth are placed poorly; I mean they are not as`fortunate as many others are in the matters of topography, climate, natural resources etc. But, there’s no use lamenting if you were born in any of the less fortunate pieces of land; Do we keep ruing for life if we happen to be born to poor parents? Don’t we strive to make ours as well as out parents’ lives better? Same can be done for Africa by its own children. The best way to do it is by seeking the spots or the areas which can be put to the best use for the African society in general. And to do that the African countries will have to cooperate with each other much more than it’s done anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, the right kind of working environment is a must to implement or to make effective any constructive and progressive cooperation between the African nations; this ought to be achieved by ensuring safety and security to their people by putting a stop to violence and all kind of unjust exploitation of their citizens, especially the least fortunate or the most vulnerable ones. The next step should be to provide adequate and accessible health-care and the basic needs like potable drinking water, staple diet, some clothing, temporary shelters and sanitation etc. It will be only after doing this barest minimum, that the other processes, like paid-work/employment, nutrition, transport and communications can be taken care of. FOR AFRICA TO BE HEALTHY, PEACEFUL AND PROSPEROUS, THE ONLY WAY IS BY MOVING FORWARD UNITEDLY.

August 20, 2009 at 08:42
I believe that two things cause the never ending violence and entrepreneurial failure in Africa… bad parenting, and a culture where you are a fool if you keep your agreements.

The parenting style is called the “abandonment style.” Fathers are seldom involved, and most children are raised by relatives… not the mother. If you were never the ultimate concern of an adult attention 24/7, then you have never been loved. If no one ever loved you, you will never truly love someone else.

Keeping agreements, whether it is to be on the job site at 8:00, or drive the jeep to town and by 20$ worth of nails makes no sense in most African cultures. It is not uncommon for a terrific employee to be excellent for months, only to end up stealing 10$ worth of tools and never returning. Being clever, being sneaky is much more respected than keeping your word.

I have no idea how to change these things… no idea where to even start.

August 24, 2009 at 14:11
i’ve just decided to ask a similar question for my dissertation. As for war, most wars are, at least in part, about control of resources. this only becomes so drastically important when people are already impoverished enough that control of resources seems worth the price of war. so you can’t just say that ‘war is why africa is poor’. there is no way of proving cause and effect (and I would argue the other way).

i would also like to make the point that many of these corrupt governments (mugabe’s in particular), would not have lasted this long if the west hadn’t kept on giving them money.

Hussein Adow Abdille
August 20, 2009 at 10:50
The reasons according to me as to why Africa as a continent is poor and or why it has remained poor for decades is that there is lack of managerial output and high political favourism appointment.Adding to that is the evil practice of the endless corruption which is acancer in this continent.

But above is lack of or under utilisation of the educational knowledge practice gained.Not for getting is the effect of innate social dependency from donors.Otherwise Africa is not poor but made poor by its peoples.

August 20, 2009 at 12:11
Africa is poor because of corrupt mafia type leadership. Most of the people that are leading Africa today did not come to power in a proper way -most did massive rigging of election or refused to cede power to the election winners.This creat instability ,strife and wars which discurage investment. The dictator for life distroy loyalty to state and creat cult of personality .Most of the rulers are not interested in the welfare of the nations, they want only POWER and the RESOURCES. Consequently they empty the public treasures and resources into their private ones and bankrupt the thereby creating a dearth of funds for investnemt and economic stagnation and inmany cases nagative economic growth.

August 20, 2009 at 14:37
RE “” Africa is poor because of centuries of ruthless colonial oppression and exploitation, none of which has ever ended. “”

———– Not much original thought there. Just mouth the old useless platitudes and watch Africans sit on their hands while everyone and their grandmums robs Africans blind, eh?

Since WHYS is completely dependent upon endless rhetorical questions to frame it’s productions in, perhaps someone needs to raise the question:

“” Why do so few natural born Africans remaining in Africa become acclaimed global icons of art, music, sport, academic research, political leadership, and so on? “”

Africans and their descendants have much greater success overall when located in other western countries in spite of claims of racism and supposed lack of opportunities in these countries by these immigrants.

That doesn’t answer the “poor” question, but it does pose questions about the nature of pure Africanism that keep the continent hobbled in misery and turmoil.

August 20, 2009 at 16:16
i believe what africa became poor continent it is only by their leader for example in somali abdulahi yusuf was the worst president and he was only giving apportunities for his clan

Matthew Houston
August 20, 2009 at 21:12
It’s because, in a sense, Africa is the soul of the Earth. It embodies the way in which we treat each other as a whole. We have exploited our land and turned against each other to a great deal. Unfortunately, as some of the earliest civilizations, it’s the African people who pay the highest price for mankind’s failures.

Dennis Junior
August 21, 2009 at 01:46
I have to agreed with Liberian President to a point, that Africa is not poor technically; The African continent is poorly managed…..

=Dennis Junior=

Nelson Isibor
August 21, 2009 at 11:46
Wrong question, Africa is NOT poor. Africa sits ontop some the richest natural resources in the world based on that, it’s a sizeable percentage of the people who are poor not the continent itself. I really have issues with the title of the post/documentary because it’s very misleading. One of the major reasons most Africans are poor is the effect of bad leadership which breeds among other things corruption.
For those interested, I suggest you get a copy of the book ‘HOW EUROPE UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA By Walter Rodney’. The same people calling Africa poor laid the very foundation for it.

August 21, 2009 at 14:37
Same old excuses…blame the old colonia powers..get over it. The simple fact is most African countries were better off under the colonial powers. They and they alone are responsible for the mess they are in…after more than 30 yrs and Billions of Dollars of western money..they are still a mess. They need to clean up there act and start helping their people and wean them selves of the international aide. I have not given one red cent of my money to Africa for over a decade..just a waste of my hard earned money..so some clown like Mugabe can live the high life while his people die.

August 24, 2009 at 13:33
while I agree with you on most of what you have said here, I must bring to your attention that to solve any problem one must know what caused the problem to begin with. Africa was like a ripe apple waiting to be picked when the colonialists arrived. They developed alot of country’s across the continent during this process but sadly they took more than they gave, and still continue to do so to this very day. It is my personal belief that they taught Africans the art of theivery, divide and rule and to feather their nests by all means destroying anything and anyone that stands in the way of them achieving this evil mothod of aquiring wealth. In this day and age where technology and the fundamental understanding of how things work, it is very surprising that the super powers have failed to come up with a strategy that would effectively deal with dictators and demonic rulers rising up anywhere in the world..eg Mugabe! Finally, I would like to ask you and all who believe that Africa should solve their own problems a simple question. If every ruthless leader in Africa were removed, all forms of corruption were squashed, every tribal difference dealt with, would this not open the door for history to repeat itself…with the west coming back to pick the ripe apple again?

August 21, 2009 at 14:42
May be African nations just do not have what it takes to Govern ? may be their culture is too back ward to govern properly. I am tired of hearing about poor Africa..maybe they need the old colonial powers to come back and take over again.

Heri Muhero
August 27, 2009 at 19:53
As an African who has lived in Europe and North America, it no longer surprises me that some people with a western education still make statements such as “…maybe their culture is too backward to govern properly?” Martin, please educate yourself about history and world affairs.

The majority of people who live in most African countries have an appalling standard of living — for a variety of reasons, among them: the effects of slavery & colonialism, exploitation, lack of national identity, poor leadership, misplaced priorities, shortsightedness, under-developed civil societies, anemic public institutions, etc.

I understand why Africa is poor, but why is the historical overview of some commentators so poor? To use the European adage: Rome was not built in a day. Why are Africans expected to succeed after 50 years of independence even though the Europe and America we see today took centuries to develop?

Some solutions to Africa’s current plights are: time, an educated (not a schooled) civil society, institutions that advance the welfare of the majority, and indigenous solutions that work within an African framework.

Jaime Saldarriaga
August 21, 2009 at 14:43
Evil leaders of some countries should be liable to the International Penal Court. And this liability should be enforced.

August 21, 2009 at 14:58
Africa is poor because the world wants us to stay poor despite our rich sources.We will not stay poor. Africa is getting up now.

August 21, 2009 at 15:03
Whatever you do, do not talk about the European and American financial predators, posing as neo-liberals who offered to help the Africans build their economies, only to tie them into a system where any extra creation of wealth was and is siphoned off to the financial predators.

Best to stick to Darwinian themes, blame the African people.

August 21, 2009 at 21:27
Basically, because of the corrupt African leadership and the African people who want to keep their corrupt leaders in power. Stop complaining about the Western countries and clean up your own problems.

Joan Belfon
August 21, 2009 at 22:24
I think we should stop describing Africa as ‘poor’. The continent is one of the richest in the world in terms of its natural resources.When we keep doing that we we concentrate on providing aid, and giving them donations when we should be aiding instead development of their natural resources towards the benefit of the people and the societies.

What we have are poorly managed countries where the focus is on power and self-interest and violence and corruption are the tools used to support and maintain power bases. When we can change this scenario, when we can ensure that democracy is alive and well-practiced, when we can ensure that the people of Africa have access to all the basic amenities and fundamental rights each human being needs to survive, when we can ensure that the people of Africa can focus less on finding a daily drink of water or a daily meal and can focus more on developing their communities and societies, then we can begin to use the correct adjective to describe the African continent-’rich’.

amanda foyoh
August 22, 2009 at 00:35
Africa is so poor today because of several reasons that has affected africa in several ways;
Africa has been greatly exploited by the western world before colonization and possibly up to now because of the resources and the rich endowment of africa. I remember been taught at school about the huge minerals being taken from africa to the western world and this is what they used in developning western world.This has left africa in poorly state.
Africa is also poor because of the selfishness of it’ s leaders.They rule the country not in the interest of the people but themselves.The huge donations that are sent to africa for it’ s developnment and the poor is not going to the right place but just to it’s leaders and cabinet members.
The people of africa need to come together and help for the betterment of africa. Tribalism and hatredness does not take us to take us any further.

Justin Durueke
August 22, 2009 at 06:56
Africa is a great continent with lots of natural and human resources. The problem with Africa is failed leadership. African leaders loot the resources of their country and impoverish the citizens of their country. The Mobutus, Abachas, Idi Amins are good examples. African leaders deliberately make their people poor in order to pay them to rig elections. In my country, the government uses the police force to rig elections and use thugs to intimidate or most times eliminate political rivals. Corruption in Africa is at an endemic level and has eaten deep into the fabrics of the African society. It is ironic that Africa with his its abundance of natural and human resources has remained the poorest continent in the world. These rulers not leaders represent their personal and political god-father’s interest while in office. A viable and working democratic system needs to be instituted for Africa to develop. While most scholars argue that Africa is to development what mars is to NASA, I strongly believe that a working democracy in different Africa countries will go a long way in eliminating some of the problems in the continent. Thank you.

Ronald Almeida
August 22, 2009 at 07:46
Africa’s Problem

Is that the ‘Lion’ having made the kill and gorged himself to the full, now lolls in the shade looking on uninterestedly from the distant while the vultures and hyenas squabble over the meager remains.

This is not the problem of Africa alone but of the whole of the so called developing world. Cultures based on the bounties of mother-nature. Lands exploited in the past by invaders from less fortunate environments. A cultural confusion caused by the repercussions of the past that, hopefully, may someday be resolved by future generations, recognizing their own worth and individuality. Instead of blindly aping, characterless melting pots of mediocrity. As the U.S., Canada and Australia have already become. Poverty has more faces than one, that of economic status.

Briggette W.
August 22, 2009 at 09:30
Why is Africa Poor?

An opinion is FEAR.

Fear of what they do not know.
Fear of what they know.
Fear of losing life; Africans live today, they appreciate what is before them, now. Making the society very transactional; survivalist.
Fear of losing identity. As identity is family, and belonging. Whether it be tribal affiliation and/or geographical. I believe this is a fundamental to the human element.

A pathology is deep in this culture, and change will come as a whole working together. Westernization and Capitalism introduces too much individualism, where too many are left behind. This invites greed, power, and self importance prone to corrupts anyone. But in an economy experiencing growing pains, good or bad. It’s a drunken affect often resulting in taking the wrong course of action. For self and not the whole.

As a Black American living in the continent, I experience dissapointment daily, but also observe what we (the West) have forgotten, some very important principals to care for one another and the value of the village. I’m trying not to romanticize the culture because there are many harsh realities; especially being a woman.

Good luck with what you find, I hope you make this available on DVD for educators to use. Our children (global) require better information than what is sometimes chosen in text books.

david lulasa AKA daudee mwanzi
August 22, 2009 at 10:49
the inventors and patent owners of the current financial world system are sick….got anti cash flu…whenever these powers just cough,the rest of the world including india,china,brazil and africa’s top financial power house,south africa,get affected badly.
in simple terms,this year would not even have been the appropriate year for Africa to stop batter trade.

tambua village(TV),

Kindi Jallow
August 22, 2009 at 23:45
It is a paradoxical statement that Africa is a rich continent but rated amongst the poor. One of the reasons why Africa was colonized is to provide the growing western industries with raw materials which were bought at lower prices later on processed and was sold to us at higher prices. They set up administrative judiciary all of which were in the interest of colonizers in a nutshell.
After independence most of the leaders who took over behaved just like colonial administrators and could not deliver as promised ‘a better life’ for Africans what many people fought for, to the point of sacrificing their lives.
The colonial masters have gone but their institutions and systems of administration are here with us in our work places have not changed for instance there is segregation of what is known as junior staff and senior staff, in terms of food, salary, toilets, social benefits because of the colonial mentality even in the eyes of the law, or system of administration there are different laws applied for the senior and for the junior staff. In a situation where corruption is institutionalized, where can you complained without being fired?
The Banking sector too has not changed, they make up so much profit without reinvesting on those who worked so hard to make the profit but only the directors are entitled bonus at the end of the period. The system employed in robbing or ripping of the people, small and medium scale enterprises is to have an unreasonable interest rates which they find very hard to sustain in the long run. Thus making it impossible for individual or enterprises to grow because the servicing of debts at bank rate is so high all the profit made by enterprises will go into paying debts.
A person who is a graduate from the west and an African who had obtained the same qualification will not be paid at the same rate for obvious reasons.
The list can go on and on, we need to decolonized our minds and use fresh thinking to meet the challenges ahead.

thomas bauer
August 23, 2009 at 09:46
It’s very tiring to hear the easy excuses over and over again: exploitation, colonialism etc. If these would be the really causes of african poverty why these forces didn’t had much effect in Asia? Look at countries like Indonesia, Vietnam: centuries of exploitation and very intensive colonialism. Despite all existing problems, these countries are far ahead of most African countries in all aspects of human development. Could it be that there are other factors responsible for the ongoing mysery of so many African countries?

Dear African people. Stop blaming others for your own shortcomings and start cleaning up your own mess.

balach rasheed
August 23, 2009 at 10:16
why Africa is poor?the question is itself shows alot of causes. the main cause of poverty is the geo-politics situation in africa is very poor,the second and the most important cause is corruption and no political stabilities ever found in Africa.Africa became poor continent it is only by their leader for example in somali abdulahi yusuf was the worst president.Another cause is that the America is not honestly interested to take a pivotal role for the development of Africa.

Emile Barre
August 23, 2009 at 12:30
Africa needs an equivalent to the EU. The OAU is a toothless tiger.

Grace Igweta
August 23, 2009 at 13:38
Some countries in africa are poor due to policy contradications and unsychronised resource allocation. A country like Kenya where clearly agriculture is the back borne of its economy, does not reflect this in its policy and resource allocation… at best, support to agriculcture (much of which is rural, small holder) is rhetoric…. and as a result, we have continued rural-urban migration, which increases the urban poverty {more jobless poeple living in slums} and the rural despair (fewer young people to work in the fields)

Florian Fischer (Berlin, Germany)
August 23, 2009 at 13:59
Obviously there are a great number of mechanisms today that make up problems on the African continent including global warming and corrupt gouvernments. And obviously there is a lot of variety of countries and levels of prosperity or poverty.
Yet there can be absolutely no question that the main reason for poverty in this extraordinarily ressource rich continent (in every sense of the word – meaning as well natural as well as cultural an scientific ressources) is the centuries of exploitation through foreign nations, the enslavement of its peoples justified by racism!
Anyone denying this apologetically denying history!!

August 23, 2009 at 15:23
Africa is poor becos of lack of understanding among africans and her culture

jude ngah
August 23, 2009 at 22:23
africa has been cursed with greedy and selfcentred leaders and above all the cancer of corruption has eaten deep into africa africa needs deliverance and serious prayers

August 24, 2009 at 04:17
Hi “Tom K in Mpls” I am interested in your copper theory, this is in reference to your
June 4, 2009 at 20:27 blog. Citing Zambia as a test case, what could have been done? I ask this question because copper prices touched US$10,000 per tonne and sadly we don’t have anything to show for it! In the 1960’s and early 1970’s high copper prices translated into more schools, hospitals and more infrastructure whereas in the last decade the benefits from high copper prices are negligible. Why have high copper prices translated into a bonanza for Chile and into nothing for Zambia and the DRC?

August 24, 2009 at 10:35
All African countries without any exception are poor, oil rich countries are no better. I ‘ll illustrate taking two “extremes” in Africa, Ethiopia and Algeria.
African countries in general are simply very very badly managed and not only that, the whole culture is just not right. Everyone is wanting to get rich using whatever means. Corruption and greed are gangrening the continent at all levels of society.
Another big problem is also that Africans have not managed to find a political system that fits their cultural specifications. There is not a tradition of state in any of the African countries, except for Ethiopia, which has been a nation for millennia. People have a high sense of civility ( even more so during the time of the Emperor). Ethiopia might be very poor, but you would be surprised by how well the state functions. In Ethiopia the state has a lot of authority unlike most african countries that do have a state. It might not sound like much, but in Ethiopia tax are collected (with as much tenacity as the IRS in USA), people build on land they own ( if not the state destroy it), there is security, a legal system, hospitals and schools. The service provided might not be 1st class, but it is at least provided.
Instead some oil rich countries such as Algeria have not gained any benefit from their huge wealth because there is no functioning state, and anarchy reigns. Despite the vast oil wealth they are on the same level as Somalia, only difference being that they have enough to eat ( since enough to import, although food could be grown locally) but everything else is like somalia.

August 24, 2009 at 10:42
Oh and by the way, western nation should stop sending aid to Africa, it is a big waste of money ( unless they do it to subsidies their economy ). It really does not bring anything good, just a lot of PR for nothing. Africans should stand for themselves, if they are not capable of, then millions will die of diseases or war, it is just normal. Now with the bigger challenges facing the world at large ( climate change, over population, failing crops…) it will be survival of the fittest, there will more wars…. what we are seeing now is nothing compared to what is about to come…

Ariel Huang
August 24, 2009 at 11:28
Billions if not trillions of dollars have been poured into the black hole of Africa since many decades ago. But why is Africa still poor?

Africa is rich in natural resources and labor. But it does not have businessmen.
You need business entrepreneurs to develop land and mines and to market them.

i do not want to talk about Japan and how they rose from completed ashes to become a world economic super power despite having totally no natural resources. But let us take China, Israel and Singapore as examples,

Thirty years ago, China was as poor as Africa due to state socialist policies that prevented businesses from sprouting out. When the floodgates of capitalism was open, the Chinese being traders for many centuries in the past and being a race of hard working people, thrust themselves into commerce and international trade. Since then China has become the factory of the world and China is now the world third largest economy.

Countries that do not have natural resources like Israel and Singapore are rich in human resources and business talents. They can create wealth from virtually out of nothing. Israel has nothing except deserts while Singapore is just a small island, perhaps smaller than the city of New York! These countries make use of natural resources of other countries to do businesses.

Africans must realize that businesses develops a country. Not guns , nor land nor natural resources. And most definitely not pride nor boastful talk.

What should Africa do?
1. Open up your economy to the world like China and Singapore. Let businessmen come to develop your land and mines. Forget about the ‘exploitation’ thing. Nobody would want to develop your natural resources freely if they are not given a big slice of the pie. Most importantly, the African gets employment and learn business know how.

2. Learn from successful countries on how to manage the state. Send teams to China and Singapore to learn.

3. Route out corruption.

4. Kick religion out of politics.

August 24, 2009 at 11:38
The extremes of weather in sub-saharan Africa is the long-term cause of poverty in this part of the world. In this part of the world you are never far away from devastating drought or devastating floods. Elsewhere in the world, the weather is either much more predictable or within narrower extremes. In north Africa, for instance, you get extreme heat but this is always the case so civilisations can adapt and develop to that constant environment.

Humans and their human-like ancestors have existed in sub-saharan Africa for millions of years. And the key to their success is the diverse range of skills and food sources available to the hunter-gatherer . No matter what the weather throws at them they’re always likely to have something to fall back on (knowledge of an edible bush root etc.)

With farming and civilisation comes specialism. And when you put “all of your eggs in one basket” you will inevitably get a crop-failure at some point and sooner rather than later in a place with extreme weather conditions. Compare this with Europe, which has the most benign weather conditions in the world. It’s no coincidence that the global civilisation we now have originated here because of the relatively uninterrupted technological progress that can take place here.

August 24, 2009 at 11:44
Africa, just like Latin America, (in order to provide their squalid, poverty stricken and downtrodden people with certain unalienable rights, equality and liberty) may have to go through a painful transition to Communism before their traditionally contemptuous, inconsiderate and hugely dysfunctional population could learn to be civil and democratically social to one another, to have mutual respect, not common disdain so prevalent amongst some third world people. (The fundamental cause of their poverty, filth and abject misery). Africans must do a radical rethink of their prejudicial and corruptive values. Given hard-knocks opportunity for moral and ethical indoctrinations people can become better and European style of Social-Capitalism or Capital Socialism may then be attained further on down the road.

August 24, 2009 at 12:06
Africa is poor because Africa NEVER set out to devide other nations into politically ungovernable satellite colonies to be forcibly conquered, ruled and exploited.

Africa is poor because Africa did NOT force the rest of the world into two destructive world wars.

Africa is poor because Africa did not set out to forcibly capture, torture, murder and enslave millions of inhabitants from other nations for her own gain.

Africa is poor because Africa does NOT consume two thirds of the world’s resources, cause lasting damage to environment at the expense of other earthly beings.

Africa is poor because it never influences global trade and financial decisions that have ensured that the continent remains dependent.

Africa is poor because it has been the passive victim of a global ideological cold war that was used to force unpopopular regimes on her people.t

Ariel Huang
August 24, 2009 at 12:28
Africans are poor because they do not know how to do businesses and make money. Period.

Freddy Safieli Manongi
August 24, 2009 at 12:31
I am at Tanzanian at the University of Wales, Bangor undretaking a PhD in Religion, Socioeconomy and Natural Environment. I did a PhD research along the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, trying to corrolate religiosity and poverty/wealth. No one has seriously examined whether religions in Africa cause poverty, or vice versa. This is the focus of my PhD. Initial results indicate high dependance on supernatural powers (God or gods) make Africans lazy and prone to natural environmental dissasters, diseases and factors resulting from climate change. Political governance is also trapped in the God “delution cycle”, and unable to get Africans out of God slavery. This dimension has been ingored by African governments and not part of sustainable development agendas pursued by them. Conventional education in African seem not to address religiosity aspect and educated Africans are still clinging on god, despite their knowledge on humanly factors of sustainability. Initial findings also show relationships between poverty and religiosity in Kilimanjaro region very clearly. God (if any) bless Africa, just the way you do to the United States of America.

August 24, 2009 at 12:31
africa is poor because the west wants it that way.. the first world is terrified of africas potential.. they have resources in abundance and one of the most fertile places on earth.. if they got their act together to any extent they would wipe out most first world farmers.. the most powerful lobby groups in the us and eea

August 24, 2009 at 12:43
Everybody is quick to point out the corrupt dictators in africa but what nobody points out are the westerners who enable that corruption. in the UK if you’re caught with stolen goods, you’re prosecuted, how come nobody talks about the swiss banks that take that money knowing full well where it came from? why isn’t anybody talking about their corruption?

Osabutey ANNY
August 24, 2009 at 12:48
I had the opportunity to listen to your programme this morning on the radio, and the question itself is very loaded. Africa, by all standards, is never poor but the people. The people are because simply because greedy leaders see political power as an opportunity to enrich themselves. Take for example Ghana where a former president retires from office and he wants two houses, seven cars, a million dollar to set up a foundation. Juxtapose this to the huge numbers of children in rural and even communities who have to work miles from home before they could go to school. Again, access to portal water is not there and all what the political elites care about is the money to enrich themselves. Hospitals in this country are graveyards. MPs are asking for thousands of dollars even in the face of recession. School children are still studying under trees. Look at Togo which is a walking distance from eastern corridors of Ghana and almost the size of my palm, the poor are still wallowing in poverty. Roads are bad, education to the same and you think about how Eyadema alone looted that tiny country, the answer to your question lies in the two scenarios i have painted.

August 24, 2009 at 13:06
This is a good effort in trying to put things into perspective concerning the state of affairs in Africa but I dont understand why Mark Sandell failed to properly address the devastating effects left by colonial exploitation. Centuries of plunder, divide and rule, along with all the cases of kidnap, rape and racism have had adverse effects on the Motherland too and this too should be given full investigation and exposure.

August 24, 2009 at 13:59
Africa is simply poor because of corrupt leaders,who prioritised their interests other than the interests of their subordinates.if we’re to come out of poverty we need to tackled corruption first.

Taurai Marenje
August 24, 2009 at 14:08
I believe Africa is poor because of poor governance that is rooted in colonialism.

I am a Zimbabwean born after the independence of the country hence am considered a ‘Bornfree’, a term which has been actively used in the past fews years of Mugabe and Zanu-Pf’s violent political tenure. It has been used in propaganda attempting to exclude us from political activity and debate based on a flawed argument claiming that all bornfrees do not have a voice of wisdom regarding the directions the country should take because we did not suffer under the racist colonial system. While this of course is a very silly argument, the very fact that colonialism is still being used as an excuse to try to exclude others from participating in deciding their countries’ directions is evidence of the deep rootedness of colonialism to the problems of governance in Africa.

Colonialism is still fresh in the minds of the people and it symbolises a period of loss and oppression. loss of wealth that was shipped to the ‘developed’ world and loss of land and resources which were allocated to the conquering colonisers while the locals were driven in abject poverty in a society with a new definitions of wealth. this has allowed people like Mugabe to garner support (even though violent) by using anti-colinialist and imperialist rhetoric. The concoction of experience of living under racist colonial government mixed with Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric has been potent enough to leave a lot of people disillusioned. this enabled Mugabe to entrench himself in power, of course with the help of force. Now he is powerful and the people of zimbabwe cannot rise against his bad leadership for they won’t meet friendly police trying to contain a demonstration but a hard-hitting force.

A look at the lancaster house agreement which brought about independence for zimbabwe would explain the problems posed by colonialism in the future of zimbabwe. In the document was a clause which stated that the status quo on land (i.e. whites owning most of the fertile land)was not to be disturbed for 10yrs. the contained and delayed what was then to happen in 2000, the land reform or invasions as others would prefer. the economics of the country have been badly damaged and the roots? colonialism.

Of course This is not an attempt to exempt all other explanation but just to argue that it would be stupid to set colonialism aside in this discussion.

Mwiya Liywalii, Lusaka, Zambia
August 24, 2009 at 14:13
The reason for Africa’s poverty the USA Foreign policy – African countries are non-aligned ie. they have no military alliances with America or any of the rich countries which the USA considers a threat to it security. Thus, since the USA wants to control the whole world, a poor Africa is much easier to control. And since Africa does not have military alliances with Russia and China (The USA’s major headache), there is no need for the USA to panic by trying to form alliances with a neutral Africa. The USA knows that a prosperous Africa can pose an even bigger threat to the dominance because of the huge resource base that Africa is blessed with. Thus in a weaker Africa it is easier for USA to get whatever resources they want from Africa. They deliberately arm-twist our leaders into such things like privatisation which cant work for Africa (atleast not now). Only the rich countries can afford to buy these state-run companies, not an average African.

August 24, 2009 at 14:40
I am struck by the following sentence

“Kenyan architect and town planner Mumo Museva took me to the bustling Eastleigh area of Nairobi, where traders have created a booming economy despite the place being almost completely abandoned by the government. ”

Which could be rewriten as

“…booming economy attributed to lack of government interference”.

August 24, 2009 at 14:46
I would think a major contributing problem is climate, ie: the lack of clean water. Water is such an essential ingredient for all life and without it food can’t be grown, livestock fed, etc. If someone can figure out a solution to the water problem, things could probably be much better.

August 24, 2009 at 15:05
It wasn’t just the whites; Africans sold Africans into slavery. But that was a long time ago. Colonialism wasn’t such a long time ago, but it certainly wasn’t all bad by any means, depending on which colonials you’re looking at. But whatever, you’d think that by now Africans would have managed to see how the old tribalisms are wrecking their continent and that more cooperation would be infinitely to their advantage. Why don’t they see this? And it’s not just males fighting with males; it’s wholesale slaughter of females and children.

August 24, 2009 at 15:06
I think Africa just needs a bit of time. When the Romans found the English on their island two thousand years ago they lived in mud huts….

August 24, 2009 at 15:11
Africa has remained enslaved because it has corrupt leaders who are ‘entertained’ by western governments who are themselves only concerned about their own interests. It is not only diamonds that have blood on them. Look everywhere and you will see blood. It is always curious to me that western countries can track down and block the funds terror groups and drug smugglers use yet they seem powerless to do the same with clearly corrupt politicians. Ask yourself the question: which country’s leader, on a presidential salary, can affor 33 properties in France alone ? How can it be ? Yet the situation persists. Until this type of thing is addressed the people of Africa will never achieve their deserved place in the sun.

Edwin M
August 24, 2009 at 15:28
Less than four years ago I watched a very frightening yet honest documentary on bbc world. Till todate I always remember how the four horses of the africa, as the programme was titled, have grown to a point that it is impossible to live without them. Drought, AIDS, War and Hunger have torn apart Africa, that was what it said. Anyway it was more of an emphasis to the question of why Africa is poor. I have always added that greed among we the Africans is getting us nowhere. Most African leaders are not happy to leave the presidencies because they have scores of crimes to face afterwards. I simply do not have the answers but do encourage fellow Africans to get an education.

August 24, 2009 at 16:15
Simply put, there is no culture of investment for the good of the nation – the majority of africans focus on self, family, self, tribe and self.

Yes Africa was exploited by the empire building countries of Europe -but some nations – particularly the British, left a legacy of education and infrastructure.

The majority of African’s politicians are interested only in feathering their own nests, and exploiting their own countrymen for personal gain.

Africa isn’t poor – it is just that the money is sitting in swiss bank accounts….

Trevor Simumba
August 24, 2009 at 16:16
Africa’s poverty stems from plain poor leadership (those who sold slaves and those who bought them) in Africa supported by an unfair international system that promotes continued bad governance in Africa so long as it does not affect the plunder of resources. Remember that the Bible is categorical on what happens to people without a vision, ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge or vision’. until we have a cadre of selfless visionary leaders at all levels of African society we will continue to endure poverty.

Jaime Saldarriaga
August 24, 2009 at 16:17
Sometimes sovereignty can be a minus to justice and development, I think. Could this be the case for some african countries?

August 24, 2009 at 16:20
Africa is not poor. It has land, manpower and resources to be an economic super-power. Four hundred years back Africans started (forced) working for developing new found continent America and the result is visible today. Same African people could have made Africa the world’s economic power if they were working with similar efforts. But they had no leaders to channel their efforts and resources in right direction.
Recently, one of a rare genuine leader of an African country gave a simple but convincing answer to the question: Why Africa is poor? He stated that, “So far, our leaders and politicians have planned and worked for failures. Unless they change their self enriching work plan, Africa can never prosper”.

Any one having African experience knows the truth about that statement. It is a well known fact that, if development plans were made for success, very soon there won’t be avenues left for corruption. Making and re-making a failed project again and again provides avenues for corruption endlessly, enriching the leaders endlessly in the process.

YAW, Ghana, Accra
August 24, 2009 at 16:27
Africa is poor because it has weak institutions to ensure compliance to laws and regulations. The leadership of Africa prefer weak institutions in order that they can rob the people of their rich natural resources. How can a leader who educate his children in UK be committed to improving the education system in his country?

August 24, 2009 at 17:08
I respectfully disagree with those who exert that Africa is not “poor” but rather, it is poorly managed. The economic fact is that when you manage your resources poorly and the end result being a “rock bottom” standard of living, you are poor!
Mismanagement of Africa’s resources is a process. This process has resulted
in poverty of most of our people; thus Africa is “poor”.

There appears to be many reasons why Africa is chronically and perpetually poor many of which have been pronouced earlier. But one reason stands out; and that’s The lack of leadership, particularly during post-colonialist period. When an individual nation has a leader, I mean a good leader, there will be room for good governance…decerning opinion from the opposition, compromise, respect for the constitution, respect for public opinion, human rights etc. Only through the exercising of the aforementioned, can there be political stability. I trust we know that where there is polical stability there is generally economic progress which result in a rise of standard of living.

August 24, 2009 at 17:33
I too agreed when President Sir leaf said that Africa is not poor but poorly managed.If we are able to put and end to high corruption of our leaders ,sure Africa will be developed. But where we are Africa is just the reservoir of raw material which are extracted by big international firm with out any consideration any local development plan for local people and transported to the west to be transformed.
ps: Nigerian oil question ,Mali gold ,Angola Diamond etc…
If petrol, gold,diamond , cotton coffee etc……. produce in Africa were transformed here I’m sure that young Africans will not risk there lives in joining Europe by the sea.

August 24, 2009 at 17:46
Africans are poor because since 250 CE the black rulers of the Swahili coast and sub sharan Africa, sold their subjects (and neigbours) to Arab slavers. and since ca 1550 CE the black kings and chiefs of the west coast sold their subjects (and neighbours) to white slavers. Nowaday, since slavery is not longer profitable, the “chiefs” sell the minerals.
Africans are poor because they do not rebel against their “chiefs”. Tribal loyalties divide the populations of all African countries.
Have you seen any action against Mugabe of Kagane from African leaders?
I think it is time Africans start to react against their own “chiefs” in stead of seeking scapegoats in the west (and why not in the Middle East) and in history.

Eng. Nebiat Ayele
August 24, 2009 at 17:52
African leaders are the cause of the problemin general in the regin. Being in power for them is serving their own family, and relatives and if needed their own tribe.
Mugabe, Meles, Gadaffi, Sudan, Gabon…They have got all the BIG D’S. Diesease, drought, dessert, displacement, diaster, distroyment, discrimination, dividing,…you name it.

On the other hand most intelectuals go back to africa to live like a king. To have a serevant, a gard, villa expensive car. That is one of the cause of leaving your country and coming back with a feudal mentality this days.

In short africa is a victim of it’s own people.

Nebiat from Holland

Adeniran Moses - Calabar Nigeria
August 24, 2009 at 18:33
Africa is poor because alread the west had lootted during colonial era, mounted a political machinery to worked in the favour against the masses, and in return the poor masses of africa who are now seeing how far they have been raped, materially, morally political and more now reacts through what ever means they can both againg the political elite and anybody that comes thier way through voilence, corruption and lost more thats why we are poor

August 24, 2009 at 18:35
The simple truth is that the leaders of most african countries are corupt to the helt. If the question was asked ” were the african peoples better off under colonianism”, the answer is YES!!.

Harneel Singh Sagoo
August 24, 2009 at 18:43
In my opinion being born and bred in Kenya and currently studying mechanical engineering in Germany.

I have the view that the Government does not allow local manufactures to survive. Products that can be made in Kenya by local Kenyan people can be easily imported duty free from overseas. Why?

Example: Fermenting vessels for breweries, trailers, storage tanks, furniture e.t.c.

The material to make these products have duty taxed onto them. How can local manufacturing outfits compete! The Government never supports a local manufacturer. If there are local companies which have backing of the Government then there will be less unemployment, more literacy and greater wealth and prosperity for the country as a whole.

August 24, 2009 at 18:43
Yes this continent is poor all because of the corupt leaders who thinks the whole world belongs to them. I am urging all the Western Heads to stop sending AID to Them at once. Their grand parents were thiefs, parents were same and themselves more polithiefians. I suggest We go under colonization again in the way laws will be enforced and justice prevails. I am a black african but i have regreted to be an african so much.

August 24, 2009 at 18:50
There are many reasons why Africa is so poor, but often well touted is the amount of aid/help that Africa gets.

Perhaps as part of your research, try and speak to several Africans (they will probably worry about telling you the truth, since they wont want to lose their jobs) who work for development agencies, donors, NGOs, UN, World Bank, etc. Ask them about the quality, experience, qualifications, number, type of personnel sent to work in Africa, ask about the kind, type, quality, nature of advice that is given, ask exactly the percentage of development aid, grants, loans, etc that actually gets to the people, ask about the adventurers, traders, etc, that various ‘donor’ goverments send to ‘develop’ and trade’ in these areas, ask how partners/interlocuters are chosen, ask who leads/decides for Africa in these agencies, check the number, type of African personnel that work in these agencies and what contributions/authority they have, check on the personnel that work to ‘develop’ Africa. Ask if there is any avenue or choice in terms of turning down personnel, advice, projects, etc, that are sent to Africa. Your research should focus on those who come to build peace, encourage, trade, deliver aid, etc (of course without prejudice those many that are genuinely helping, even if sometimes naively and with limited understanding, knowledge and capacities themselves). Perhaps an aspect as to why Africa continue (I say continue) to be poor can be revealed.

August 24, 2009 at 18:50
Africa has this problem because of foreign powers covertly make sure that many of it’s local leaders are about the foreign interests rather than the African’s interest. And any leader who genuinely seek the poeples’ interest is assasinated! Eg. Mobutu was installed by the CIA and Patrice Lumumba was hunted down and killed.

dr. alumera hudson
August 24, 2009 at 18:52
great topic. am following world have your say . am appaled at some comments. the bottom line according to me is
a) take control of our lives
b) minimise dependence
c) tag all aid to good governance
c)get rid of despicable african leaders if necessary by force
d) be patient this things take time.
e) in the case of my contry kenya lease it out to better people am sorry to say i dont think a kenyan exist who can lead this country

Adeniran Moses - Calabar Nigeria
August 24, 2009 at 18:55
Africas vote does not matter, or not the incumbent political parties and leader annoint thier own maniputed election results

August 24, 2009 at 19:15
There is no need debating the issue, Africa is poor just because of leadership failure. Our leaders lack the skills and will power to rule the people. they are selectected mainly due to tribal reasons and not by the people.

Jay Bessey
August 24, 2009 at 19:48
I find it striking that the world has yet to see a strong and prosperous tropical nation. Is there one example?

So, is it possible that the temperate climate, despite its winters, is more tractable to human exploitation?


August 24, 2009 at 20:05
Many good, insightful comments. All except the one that suggests communism as a necessity for positive change. Look at Ethiopia. It is still suffering from the Dergue with absolutely no hope of self-sufficiency in sight. (But when it is reaping billions in Aid in return for military support for the West, why should it want it any other way?) If you want some very good insights on how the Horn has fallen into disrepair thanks to “Aid”, I urge you to read the book “The Road to Hell” by Michael Maren. You’ll think twice before donating to the big NGOs.
I also do not agree that we can generalize about Africa. Some countries suffer drought, many suffer poor leadership, and all but a couple suffer the long lasting effects of colonization. But we need to look at the success stories and ask the African leaders why they can’t follow suit. Use Rwanda as a case study in how a devastated country can rise from the ashes. Psychologically, Rwanda will be on the mend for generations. But physically, it has shown us what a country can do when it has leaders who are fiscally as well as morally responsible. (But let’s also hope that Kigame holds elections soon and does not turn into another Mugabe)
Bottom line, the problems of Africa have to be solved country by country, leader by leader.

August 24, 2009 at 20:08
Thank to BBC for giving platform.
I do not believe that Africa is poor. Africans are just being dragged to poverty by actions and phenomena we all know from the past, such as slavery. Even the corruption has been imported to Africa. The question of “why Africa is poor?” has been already answered by many and at many stages. Most of the African leaders have received their education outside their country.
We must stop the blaming game and focus on solutions. I believe that the solution will not come from a sort of “Marshall’ Plan” which is legitimate because we all know the simple and significant way to help after a disaster.

August 24, 2009 at 22:29
africa will never be flourish nor rich due to the current conditions.it completely depends on U.S and some other most developed countries with their great possible contributions to the africa

Nigel Bragge
August 24, 2009 at 22:46
Africa is poor in essence through Choice. The African countries choose a path of destruction rather than the road of reconciliation. Governments allow this path because the continued cycle of poverty breed ignorance which in-turn breeds Dictators.
As a Continent it has failed miserably to uphold good Governance allowing these very Governments to continue to rape and pillage their nations resources which are quietly re-directed into personal Swiss banks accounts.
Choosing to take Accountability is the beginning for real change. The sooner Africans grasp this simple truth the sooner
Change can be brought about. A Change that will begin to eradicate poverty that has ravaged the Continent for far too long.
But it all begins with Choice and the path chosen thus far is clear.

NIgel Bragge,

August 24, 2009 at 23:49
I agree for the fact that Africa is not poor as far as resources are concerned. However Africa is poor at using its resources. The first and most factor its leadership. Most African leaders were very poor before they came to power. They use their powers to their benefits. The second important factor for Africa to be poor is the nagative role of Western countries on the contnet. The use their comparative adavantage to make Africa remains poor.

Ibrahim Mansaray
August 25, 2009 at 01:49
This is a good question why Africa is poor. To answer the question, Africa was suppressed in all angle to development. Slavery, colonialism and the commonwealth suppressed Africa to development. Is were the foundation was broken to development or wealth.

let us go back to history, How many slaves were shipped out of Africa? slave that were shipped out of Africa were the one suppose to laid the foundation for the development of Africa. those slaves were the scientist of Africa, Eugenia of Africa, technocrats of Africa and Architect of Africa, that were supposed to build the foundation for the development. Instead, they were shipped out to north America and Europe to labor freely, the labor they were suppose to do in Africa.
At this time, imagine the US and Europe during the 16th century. were they develop? especially the American continent, African slaves built the it instead of building Africa. So, Were would Africa race with the rest of the world? for wealth, That foundation was destroyed log time a go.

After slavery what happened, colonialism. This is another factor that destroyed African development. look at what happened in Cong, and Rwandan during colonialism did the Belgian treat them fairly? look at west Africa, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Nigeria A

After slavery, look how colonialism killed Africa or the scramble for Africa

August 25, 2009 at 04:31
Africa is poor because rather than address their own failings, Africans in power prefer to blame slavery (ended 150 years ago ), colonialism (ended just after WW2) and interference by outside governments (such as wiping out national debts run up by corrupt leaders creaming off money into Swiss bank accounts, providing aid which is creamed off into Swiss,etc, etc.) When Africans can stand up and take the blame on their own shoulders, then we will see some change. Other nations have been more repressed in the last 200 years and have managed to adapt and improve, Africa sits in the past in a puddle of self pity.

Jean Richard Samba
August 25, 2009 at 06:04
Thanks for your question about why Africa is so poor?

My answer in this question is that Africa is not poor but African people are poor.
from the presidents and people, In my entire life, I have never seen any African president who is rich after he has removed or died from office. this sounds to me that we as African. we never had leaders since the colonization.as long as the Neocolonialism exist and African people will not stand for their freedom, nothing will

Samba Jean Richard

Sajeev J Chakkalakal
August 25, 2009 at 09:56
Africa is the foundation for mankind, and is by definition the ultimate cradle of human civilization itself. There are many economic, geographica, and socio-political dimensions addressed by other posters which all have their relevance. Nevertheless, I think any debate on “Why is Africa Poor?”, must include reference to the fact that most other civilizations that eventually flourished in other parts had more contact (other than enforced slavery and minimal trade) across their region/continent’s borders.(Whether by trade, military conquest or regular migration). This key sharing of knowledge and resources amongst other things has been fulcrum behind the growth and development of more diverse and advanced cultures in other regions.

Stefan Paetow
August 25, 2009 at 11:48
I have to agree with President Johnson-Sirleaf. Africa is not poor. It is poorly managed. I’m sure you will have noticed in your travels around the continent that the (wo)man on the street will attempt their utmost to become prosperous, and schemes pioneered by Grameen (and its successors) and other organisations give them the means to do so without government intervention.

Life in Africa would be so much better for everyone if the governments in power didn’t partake in the “Keeping up with the Joneses” style race. If the Prez of South Africa has a massive palace, then the Prez of Namibia or DRC will try to outdo him in ostentatiousness. That is really not necessary, and the people on the street agree.

We’ve seen this in my home country – Namibia. Why on earth the president needs an absolutely massive compound, no one understands. Why the president needs an extraordinarily expensive private jet is just as incomprehensible when the government then goes on to accuse former colonial power Germany for its ills (and worse, Germany complies by throwing more money at them).

Looking at neighbouring Botswana as an example – The government there is generally low-key, yet manages to keep the country prosperous by cleverly managing and investing in its natural resources (Debswana is a major shareholder in De Beers). It has raised the living standards of its citizens (at least those who wish to), and it has managed to stay under the radar of everything that makes African politics so distasteful.

Many African governments could take them as an example. I wish President Johnson-Sirleaf the best of luck. Her credentials and personal achievements speak for themselves, and I hope that Liberia will be another beacon of achieving the practically unachievable – economic prosperity without the corruption that goes with it.

edmund Mushay Ezurike
August 25, 2009 at 14:06
My point is Europe specially Britain,Belguim,Germany & USA ravaged African in the past. The present Leaders who has colonial mentality of former ravagers continue till present. They loot the economy & with the help of Europe & USA siphon these loot to banks,buy houses & send their children to study in oversea countries. In Africa it is difficult to find a political office holder who aspire to power because of genuine desire to make a change in the lives of the improvished masses. They remain in power for self interest & for enrichment of their family & cohorts.

August 25, 2009 at 14:32
Read “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” and you will find your answer there.

Unless we were exploited and divided, the developed world could not benefit. It only took corrupting one leader to get what one needs from each country in africa.

But I think that great time has arrived where it is the end of exploitation. The economical downturn and the environment, and resources scarcity will be a point where thinking has to shift and is forced to shift. This will be the point of great liberation for all the indigenous peoples of the world, including Africans. If all the people in the world really saw themselves as one family, we would not do this to each other.

Abdul Diallo
August 25, 2009 at 19:01
Why is Africa poor? very interesting question!! in my point of view africa is not poor; Instead, Africans are poor and that’s because of bad leadership, selfishness of African leaders who are the most corrupt in the world. I won’t say that the foreign investors in the continent with the goal to corrupt Africans, but we, Africans gave them opportunity to being corrupted. And these people (leaders) are corrupted because they are selfish. They only think about themselves and families. They ignore that they are their for a whole continent. For me the solution for overcoming poverty in Africa is that Africans leaders need to overcome first their weakness, which is corruption. They need to make those investors understand that if they want to invest in the continent, the African population is the priority for them being leaders not themselves. Because that what make them leaders, that’s what they are their for, to care for all Africans.

August 25, 2009 at 20:07
Africa to my knowledge is poor primarily because of what external forces namely the rich countries of the world have inflicted on them. They are not lazy, stupid – they do not have too many children – like the rest of the worlds poor, are poor because of the repulsive neo-liberal revolution of the 70’s that rampantly destroyed communities, environments, ecosystems, cultures and human life to feed itself.

In a world where we judge wealth on GDP, and not on facts on the ground, it is no wonder many of us don’t know what we’re talking about.

Abdoul Diallo
August 25, 2009 at 21:25
I do agree that some foreign companies are do helping the African continent and it population, but those companies that are helping are operating in countries where the leaders are less corrupted. For example, in Guinea(West Africa), which is one of the richest, if not the richest, in west africa is rancked as one poorest country in the world. This has not only been caused by the colonisation that the continent had known but caused by it people. The reason why I say that is since Guinea regained it independance from the french in 1958, only two presidents have shared the power. The first one ruled the country for 26 years and the 2nd one that died in 2008 ruled it from 1984 to 2008. The only thing that these two were good at was in killing, corruption, and enriching them on the back of the Guinean papulation. Right now the country is trying to deal with a group of soldiers who got hold of the power after the death of Lansana Conte and who are doing everything they can to stay in power like their predecessors. One solution to the Africans problem is a real cooparation between African nations, They need to fight all the continent’s issues togerther. Because Africa is not poor but it people are.

Peter Nkumu
August 26, 2009 at 18:34
I am an African from Congo-Kinshasa and I don’t agree with the statement that Africa is poor because we have everything it takes to be ” economically rich”. I totally agree with those who believe Africa is poorly managed. Africa problems are directly related to lack of good leadership, everything else(western influence) is secondary. Leadership is everything that can make or break a country, company, group or organization. We have seen all around the world that countries with good leaders tend to do well, companies well managed do well. Noticed I left democracy out of my statement because I believe it is the people who create a system not the other way around. A democratic country with a bad leader will not produce anything good, the same thing is true for communist system. Good leaders have vision and put people’s interest first. Good leaders also know how to listen, observe, act , take tough decisions and have the courage to be accountable for their failures.

In Africa, the majority of politiciens are corrupt and have no vision for the future of the continent. They are contracting billions of debt on behalf of the people and have nothing to show for . They treat the state and the people as a private property which they can abuse at will and not be held accountable.

Economic resources can be useful tools for the development of a country but they are not and should not be considered the only factors because many developed countries hardly have any natural resources. It is the people who lead not the resources a country has that make the difference .

August 27, 2009 at 21:45
Africa is being exploited today, just as it always has been for the past several centuries. There is plenty of oil, minerals, precious metals, natural gas here. Much of these resources are being extracted by huge private ventures.However, the income thus generated NEVER gets invested for the betterment of the local region. The money goes to companies like Shell, Sassol, de Beers, to name just a few. Proper palms are greased in respective Governments for lucrative contracts and exploration rights.
Africa is poor, illiterate and sick because it benefits the developed world for her to be so.

August 28, 2009 at 09:05
I have had two comments rejected. Perhaps, BBC, you should only allow comfortable questions to be asked about a problem for which it appears you have a preconceived idea of what the answer is.

My comment was provocative but it was eloquent and reasoned. I suggest it is better to attack my ideas with burning logic and reason than to avoid publishing what I have to say because it isn’t what you want to hear.

I find it ironic that both my comments were disallowed but that comments written incoherently and referring racistly to whites as “gringos” seem to be considered high-brow enough to publish.

August 31, 2009 at 13:28
I clearly heard on BBC that the World Bank is funding the building of the worlds biggest dam on the Congo river .The electricity generated will be sent to Europe to power Europes homes and factories.Yes Africa is poor because if Africa was rich where would some people get oil, electricity,lattes,diamonds ,fruits medicines ,fish etc having almost finished what God gave them?

Slavery and colonalism are real.. Let those who truly love Africa support reparations ,the unification of the continent and the return of any Africans in the disapora who wish to return home

Oluseyi Boroffice
September 1, 2009 at 00:35
I was very captivated by your piece which sought to answer the question “why is Africa poor”? I have been grappling with this question for the last 15 years and I would like to share some of my observations.

I do agree that the cause of Africa’s problems are primarily its leaders no question about it, but then why do we have such leaders? I do believe that Africa’s problem started during the colonial times with the kind of government imposed on us. Most people tend to forget that most African countries are made up of smaller countries forcibly amalgamated into nations against the will of the people residing in those newly created countries. You touched on it in your program when you mentioned tribalism. But then what about Europe? wouldn’t you say that the countries of Europe are mainly divided along “tribal” lines? You have the French in their own country and the Germans and the Italians in their respective countries. Even the United Kingdom has not completely solved its “tribal” issues which it has been wrestling with for almost a thousand years. (You have the English and the Scots forming what is known as the United Kingdom). The EU is finally a reality and it has taken just as long (1,000 years) to get it to work, yet African countries are expected to make it work in 50 years?

Nigeria alone has over 300 different languages and just as many different peoples and cultures most of which are fast disappearing. It is a miracle that Africa is not in a bigger mess than it is right now. Let us not forget, Europe was at war with itself for much of its recorded history.

But what about the Asian countries? they too experienced colonialism. And my observation has been that it was not to the same degree to which Africa was exposed to.

Most of Africa’s political/ organizational fabric was badly mauled during the colonial era and to the degree that Asia did not experience. (Belgian Congo comes to mind). This has affected its ability to govern itself well.
Another reason is the time it has taken to come to terms with this inherited form of government. Africa has only had about 50 year on the average to do this.

In conclusion, other former colonies have not had to wrestle with
a) Trying to contain different mini-countries in one larger country and
b) An almost completely eroded ability to self govern by the time independence came along. I believe this has contributed to the epidemic of bad leadership Africa has had.

September 1, 2009 at 02:54
Elementary; Africa is under educated, no continent can garner any measurable wealth with illiteracy rates hovering around 80%. Asia hasn’t been burdened with such illiteracy rates in a long time. So Asia’s low GDP’s were just a bleep that would stand to be corrected when European countries could find a way of utilizing Asia’s cheap, educated labor force. Africa needs more quality schools and books than Africa needs medicines and foods.

The potency of educated African masses will lead to a demand for better returns on sales of their resources, hence the reluctance to educate Africans.

Education is what has turned every African capital city into hubs for opposition parties, despite the loop sided distribution of wealth to the capital cities at the expense of the lesser cities.

God bless the people who would dare to educate Africans!

September 1, 2009 at 04:33
Reality ignored will alter that reality not one jot!

September 1, 2009 at 17:53
Why is Africa poor? Because we’ve taught them to rely on us for handouts, in part. Also because those handouts virtually disappear in corrupt government before ever getting to the people, so there’s not much they can do with it.

They’re also not particularly future-minded (with no disrespect intended to the majority of Africans, who I understand to be wonderful people, but see http://www.newsy.com/videos/africa_aiding_or_abetting for some example of the corruption for instance). Warlords basically keep villages in poverty because they don’t give them time to grow. Pharmacists steal and sell drugs without concern for their careers or upward mobility.

If we put them in a position where it meets their needs and desires to be productive citizens, we will see them turn around and become productive citizens. But we also need to appeal to their unique culture rather than automatically assuming they have Western ideals mirroring “The American Dream.”

So there are a number of reasons. Many of the above that I didn’t comment on as well.

September 1, 2009 at 21:41
Mr Doyle,

To be honest I was a bit sceptical to listen to your report titled: ”Why is Africa Poor?”. I was admittedly thinking ”here comes another reporter bringing down the image of our continent”. However, very much to my surprise, you did mention positive stories out of Africa at the beginning of the podcast.

May I say that the right titled should be ”WHY IS AFRICA POORLY MANAGED?”, which is altogether different to ”Why is Africa Poor?”. How? The latter simply portrays a continent with no hope, whereas the former dictates an issue of management and not potential.

Yes, your current title brings in more attention for people to listen, but this is one of the reasons certain people are conditioned to believe that Africa = Poverty.

Your first part of the report is indeed an interesting one, as you travel around the continent to answer some of your questions. I am looking forward to the 2nd part, as you look at the role of Africans to improve the continent’s economic and wealth growth across its population. Although I also believe a regional look is needed when looking at Africa’s continent.

September 2, 2009 at 12:37
Leadership is more office holding.But unfortunately this is how our governments understood their role.Our leaders are indeed in power.But they lack the authority which comes from being the choice of the people.Most of them came to power by sheer force of arms or once elected they have retained their hold by intimidation black mail and killing.Bad governance responsible for why Africa is poor. So the question why Africa is poor should be I think to all 53 African leaders.They are the problem and the solution.Would you please ask them?

September 2, 2009 at 12:51
Leadership is more office holding.But unfortunately this is how our governments understood their role.Our leaders are indeed in power.But they lack the authority which comes from being the choice of the people.Most of them came to power by sheer force of arms or once elected they have retained their hold by intimidation black mail and killing.Bad governance is responsible for why Africa is poor. So the question why Africa is poor should be I think forwarded to all 53 African leaders andpoleticians.They are the problem and the solution.Would you please ask them?

Jaime Saldarriaga
September 2, 2009 at 15:25
Somehow the world should lead an idea of integrating Africa into only one country and liability of government should be guaranteed to the world community. I think.

September 3, 2009 at 18:41
It’s no mystery why Africa is so poor.But the question begs an answer.Foreign Aid is one of the culprits along with pandemic African corruption by its leaders.Put in 100 years of colonialism which continues on through exploitation of Africa’s resources eg. I give Africa 300$million in aid but I take out 6oo$ million in resources.France has been good at that but he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Africa can only be fixed by Africans but most of the countries have regressed since Independence.Ghandi said that “poverty is the worst form of violence”Africa is a great continent with great people unfortunately the leadership has little interest in its own people .

September 4, 2009 at 09:25
Africa is not poor. If you asked yourself “what is Africa rich in”, the answers will warm your heart. Africans simply ought to be proud of themselves and their Nations, and appreciate where God has placed them.

That will be the time they will be respected in the diversity of the world and stop being called “poor”. Intelligent and highly trained Africans will stop rushing to Western and Asian capitals to be exploited for the benefit of the “rich” nations.

Trying to catch up with anyone will always make you look poor.

September 5, 2009 at 03:17
It is almost ironic that Africa is the most richest in terms of natural resources, foresets, land,etc..but yet is the poorest?? There are many reasons to why Africa is poor. First to mention the corrupt military leaders all over the contient, there has been no change in africa and they continue to have the “same” corrupt leaders from generations to generations. Its the people that vote and choose the government. The citizens of africa need to change their views on politics and start choosing the “right” people to lead. diseases (natural part of life) that is killing everday.Not enought education. I think the key to Africa’s sustaniability and poverty is to have a better education and to develop math,science,etc..programs to every single person. Overpopulation is anothe issue, but If the government can get people to educate others in the country, poverty levels will reduce, unfortunatly that will never happen because of corruption! I have a strong believe that Education is the key to Africa’s stability and Future. Africans need to stop complaining for once about slavery, and coloniaism, and start building a future. The past is the past and there is nothing anybody can do about it or turn clocks back, its now to focus on the future!

September 6, 2009 at 10:19
Who says Africa is poor? Poverty is a relative term only and not empirical.

On the other hand this is perhaps an irrelevant question that is better replaced with some action to make Africa “rich”. I would suggest that any such action begins with processing the products of Africa in Africa. Does anyone know why timbre gets exported in the form of logs from the Congo instead of as finished products? Because it suits the owners of capital to keep it that way for one.

It is not nearly enough to go on endlessly about African poverty as if it were some sort of entertainment. If you think it is bad, fix it and if you dont want to fix it then leave Africa alone. It was just such interference that brought colonialism into Africa with such devastating consequences.

Enugh talking.

robert wise
September 6, 2009 at 11:49
Dear Doyle,
On 2nd. september I submitted a contribution to this site. It has not been recorded amongst the other submissions.
I submitted it as a former colonial servant therefore was not surprised at the decision of your staff not to give the views any publicity. I am aware that there exists an overwhelming politically correct prejudice inthe BBC but it is a prejudice which runs contray to the BBC Trust Agreement. I refer you in particular to Clause 9 sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) which provide that you should promote awareness of different cultures and alternative viewpoints and the importanceof reflecting …. different beliefs. This implies that there should be no knee-jerk censorship.
Otherwise I welcome your attention to a serious problem that many of us have wept over during our lifetime.. Wise

September 7, 2009 at 04:02
I think all that have been said about why is Africa poor can be sum up as lack of unity among leaders after the fail of pan-Africa to Unite Africans.
Africa is divided into their colonial languages. french, English, Arabic not to mention ethnicity/tribes etc all those could never let African understand themselves to Have one central government like the rest of Developed countries. the Solution to why is Africa poor is unless THEY UNITE AND HAVE ONE GOVERNMENT ONE LANGUAGE and change will come. I agree with Kenya researcher who said ” I think we are not using our brains”.

Unity is important because Africans can address issues collectively such as

Corruption, dictatorship, injustice, western political and economic influence and exploitation. multinational companies exploitation. etc

From Australia

No comments:

Ghana Pundit Headline News

E-mail subscription

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Pan Africa News

Graphic Ghana


Peacefm Online - News with a vision

The Times - World News

The Times - Africa News

Pambazuka News :Emerging powers in Africa Watch

AfricaNews - RSS News

The Zimbabwe Telegraph

BBC News | Africa | World Edition

Modern Ghana

My Blog List