December 6, 2002 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Africa. Whether you think of it as The Heart Of Darkness, the Dark Continent, or as an ecological laboratory, Africa is ultimately home to us all. But Sub-Saharan Africa is in peril of spiraling into chaos: the scourge of AIDS, near-continuous unrest, and a lamentable inability of most African countries to maintain anything like a modern civil society are precursors to what might become a humanitarian catastrophe unlike anything we have ever witnessed. Do we still blame the ghosts of colonialism for this, or is it time for Africans to take the responsibility for their own problems?
posted by mrmanley (35 comments total)
Africa is a lost cause. And climate change will eventually leave the country completely uninhabitable, rather than just virtually uninhabitable. Africa simply cannot support all those millions of people.

We should wipe out their national debt (or at least freeze the interest) so that they no longer have that excuse to use when begging for more aid. And then gradually withdraw all aid -- see how far they get by themselves.
posted by MarkC at 8:37 AM on December 6, 2002

Does Africa have problems, sure, but they are slowly and carefully being solved. Countries liks South Africa (where I am) can do it with out much external assistance, however others need stable government first and then the help of the world to make them economically stable.

MarkC: Why will climate change only affect Africa? Is the rest of the world somehow exempt from feeling the affects of it?
posted by PenDevil at 8:53 AM on December 6, 2002

Maybe Busch Gardens can take over Africa, turning it into a large safari with amusement rides.
posted by four panels at 8:53 AM on December 6, 2002

freeze the interest on the debt all third world countries now. most of them have paid back their original loans several times over and are still paying off the interest. this is bad in so many ways.
posted by dabitch at 8:55 AM on December 6, 2002

The main problem is the lack of responsible leadership in sub-saharan Africa. It's either 'fathers of the nation' - the grand old men of the post colonial epoch, such as Moi, Nyere, Obasanjo and Mugabe none of whom have ever proved themselves able to lead competently, or it's whichever general has managed to win this week. Even where comparatively stable leadership is in place, corruption ruins whatever attempts are made to better the nation.

It's not just financial, though canceling the remaining debt would do a lot of good, it's a lack of will to actually achieve anything except stay in power among the ruling classes.

Giving financial aid to African nations invariably means pouring money into houses, cars, armies and off shore accounts for their leaders.

That needs to be sorted out.
posted by tripitaka at 9:05 AM on December 6, 2002

Agreed, tripitaka. A good place to start (I know this is already done to some extent) would be giving aid to programs with clear goals, rather than lump sums to governments. Education, sustainable agriculture, sexual education/contraception, and women's advancement would all be good foci.
posted by hippugeek at 9:13 AM on December 6, 2002

And climate change will eventually leave the country completely uninhabitable, rather than just virtually uninhabitable.

Last time I checked Africa was a continent with about 50 separate countries with diverse cultures and environments. It's ignorance like thinking that 'Africa' is just one country that's part of the problem.
posted by batboy at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2002

He could have meant it as in "countryside".
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:23 AM on December 6, 2002

The link to the online version of Heart of Darkness is really cool - it's very enjoyable to have explanatory footnotes linked in the text.
posted by rks404 at 9:25 AM on December 6, 2002

The largest single thing that could be done would be for the EU, Japan, and the US to rationalize our agricultural markets by removing any form of domestic subsidy. That would allow developing African nations to finally produce and sell a variety of normal crops abroad, and earn the hard currency therefore available.
posted by pjgulliver at 9:25 AM on December 6, 2002

Since large parts of Africa seem to be heading towards almost invevitable disasters and no one seems to be able to head off these disasters, shouldn't the next logical step be to try to set up a plan to capitalize on the projected changes those disasters will bring?

For example: there are expected to be huge numbers of unwanted orphans because of AIDS. Why not transport these children out of Africa to an institutional setting where they would be given high-quality education specializing in infrastructure and economic development?
When they reach adulthood, they are taken back to their native country where they are instantly a high-value part of the social structure. An "instant" professioanl middle class, the backbone of successful societies.
posted by kablam at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2002

Hate to do it, but I gotta quote some Rage Against The Machine here.

"AIDS is killin' the entire African nation
And a vaccine is still supposedly under preparation
but those governments, they don't mind their procrastination
they say, 'We'll kill them off, take their land, and go there for vacation'"

From The Crow Soundtrack.
posted by cinderful at 9:40 AM on December 6, 2002

Yes that Rage, certainly is a band of idiots.

Kablam, don't you think that maybe placement of 40,000,000 orphans will be kind of difficult. Also, maybe adults raised in European countries won't want to be taken back to Africa any more so than any other native blacks do.
posted by dgaicun at 10:00 AM on December 6, 2002

Why not transport these children out of Africa to an institutional setting where they would be given high-quality education

Don't worry, al Qa'ida will provide for their education. Of course it will primarily be in use of weapons, tactics, and how to blend into those previously mentioned European countries.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 10:09 AM on December 6, 2002

Worst. Save Africa. Idea. Ever.

Courtesy of National Review. This is by the same guy who fired Ann Coultier for her 'invade and Christianize the Mid-East' rant after 9/11. That magazine is just overflowing with great world policy ideas.
posted by dgaicun at 10:13 AM on December 6, 2002

Speaking of Africa, this book of Leni Riefenstahl photographs from Africa is astonishingly beautiful. I saw a copy in the Paris Taschen store; amazing photography, great production, and the subject matter is fascinating.

Despite all that the book is fairly creepy, wandering between beautiful art and creepy colonialism. Especially considering the source. All in all, an excellent Taschen production. Worth taking a look even if you can't come up with the $1250 for a copy.
posted by Nelson at 10:37 AM on December 6, 2002

yeah, dgaicun, that pretty much takes the cake.
posted by muppetboy at 11:38 AM on December 6, 2002

Dgaicun....whether or not you think the idea makes sense using the terms described, colonization of this type is essentially what is occuring in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and East Timor today. In essence, nation-building is selfless colonialism.
posted by pjgulliver at 11:42 AM on December 6, 2002

Is it really settled (finally) that

Africa is ultimately home to us all

I tend to buy that theory, but I thought it was still a (generally accepted) theory. At least fairly recently I thought there were still some respectable scientists who felt there was strong evidence for the actual emergence of humanity happening in parallel elsewhere?
posted by freebird at 11:45 AM on December 6, 2002

Ahh...let me rudely address my own question to save you all the trouble of telling me to read the damn links before yapping. The Nature article says there's DNA evidence supporting the common origin theory, but that it's still a somewhat open question. I'd like to get the technical details about that analysis - it sounds like a slightly expanded version of the usual linkage analysis of mitochondrial DNA. Perhaps a nice PDF to read over the weekend....
posted by freebird at 12:00 PM on December 6, 2002

It would also help if perhaps but a small percentage of the profits from Chevron, Exxon, Shell, et. al. actually stayed within the country from where it was reaped/raped.
posted by four panels at 12:00 PM on December 6, 2002

dgaicun: 40,000,000 *less* the already HIV-infected, and less those already damaged through other disease and starvation. Even 1 or 2 million could create vast change throughout the continent. But what is involved?

First, an institutional setting. A giant orphanage with no exposure to adults not in a supervisory or educational role.
From the air it might look like a neat, clean, well-managed refugee camp full of children.
Hyper-managed minimum security upbringing.

Second, their education is regionally oriented. "This is your nation. And this is what it needs. And this is how you get that." The language they are taught is English, as it is the de facto language of commerce. And yes, there might be a bit of indoctrination of national pride as part of the curriculum. But also the ability to make *something* out of almost nothing, which used to be called "Yankee ingenuity."

Again, this is just an example of what *could* be done.
posted by kablam at 12:02 PM on December 6, 2002

freebird: The two origin models are multi-regional and out-of-africa.
More here. The latter is generally considered the more mainstream one, but the former still has some legs.

pjgulliver: ok, dude.

kablam: your real name wouldn't possibly be Jonah Goldberg, would it?
posted by dgaicun at 12:09 PM on December 6, 2002

The problem with canceling debt is: what's the incentive for anyone to provide new "loans", which they will need? Same thing goes for nationalizing resource-based industry: There are lots of countries in the so-called third world rich in natural resources but without the capital to start up; there's no reason for the oil or mineral industry to get involved if they are not going to gain financially from it. I don't believe the problems can be attributed to colonialism per se, but I accept the fact that a natural result of the end of colonialism is tribalism, and the closer a people are to their tribal roots the easier it is to fall back on. And this is being proved out in other places such as the former Soviet Union and India/Pakistan/Bangledesh/Balkans where, when the central authority which forced unity is gone the differences between groups drives people to cling to their group rather than what they were once told was their 'country'. That many of these tribal leaders manipulate their followers by exercising ethnic and religious differences simply as a means to retain power while they rob the State treasury is nothing new. Imposing an outside will on African states in the name of humanity is just another form of colonialism and will only add to the problem. The African people will eventually fix this themselves.
posted by Mack Twain at 1:23 PM on December 6, 2002

pjgulliver: The largest single thing that could be done would be for the EU, Japan, and the US to rationalize our agricultural markets by removing any form of domestic subsidy. That would allow developing African nations to finally produce and sell a variety of normal crops abroad, and earn the hard currency therefore available.

Bingo. Bullseye. Nail on the head. Our agri-welfare government/corporate system impedes normal markets with artificially low prices, and strips Africans of the means of food production not only for themselves but for the capital-building export markets.
posted by skimble at 1:35 PM on December 6, 2002

Its really criminal what our agricultural subsidies have done. Rather than encourage these countries to become self sufficient food exporters, we've forced them to rely on exporting single crops, that, mainly for climatic reasons, cannot be produced in the developed world, like natural rubber, coffee and tea. So rather than diversifying into far more praticle foodstuffs, these economies become completely reliant on one main crops, who's value can swing unpredictably.
posted by pjgulliver at 2:38 PM on December 6, 2002

dgaicun: Liberia was founded with the idea of spreading democracy to the continent through ex-slaves. You have to wonder what would happen to Africa with an injection of a million or two people who were not only *not* enslaved by tribalism and institutionalised racism, but were *also* educated to build and sustain their nation. Liberia never amounted to much because its slave founders didn't have the education to create a nation. Had those slaves been more than just trained in Christianity, in something practical, the entire modern history of Africa might have been different.
The rest of Africa, even South Africa, is tormented by the inability to evolve beyond tribalism. Eventually tribalism must be destroyed. And the proper kind of education is the key.
posted by kablam at 3:05 PM on December 6, 2002

Do we still blame the ghosts of colonialism for this, or is it time for Africans to take the responsibility for their own problems?

My vote's for blaming the "ghosts of colonialism", though I strongly dispute the notion that they are mere ghosts. Even after the wars of decolonization of the 1960's, overseas powers continued to influence government policies in various African nations. The U. S. and the Soviet Union propped up various regimes in their proxy wars waged in Africa. Large business interests still warp local economies in African countries to this day--i. e. multinational oil companies in Nigeria. Even benevolent interventions by the international community to stave off famine and introduce modern agricultural technologies have had unintended, harmful consequences analogous to the original harms of colonialism.

Our dealings with Africa have always been colonialist, and they will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. I agree with some of the above suggestions for change, but I think those, too, have their colonialist dimensions and will bring about ambiguous consequences.
posted by smrtsch at 3:20 PM on December 6, 2002

Why hasn't africa pulled itself out of poverty? How could it? Try and think of one thing that they could do to pull themselves out that would be allowed in our current global economy. There is nothing. They have gold, diamonds, oil, fertile land yet they are poor. How can this be? Do you think Chevron and Monsanto will sit idly by while the profits from a resource get piped into the education system of the central african republic, or do you not think that world corporations are powerful enough to control those resources?

If you're a government and your people are starving and dying of hiv do you turn down a loan from the IMF because it will force you to liberalize your economy? When that liberalization allows companies to come in and profit from your resources what can you do? If a government threw out all the foreign companies so that they could make the money and use it for their own population do you think we would allow that to occur? We would, rightly, call it a socialist revolution and move in to "liberate" that country's people.
posted by rhyax at 8:00 PM on December 6, 2002

It is not the ghost of colonialism that is killing Africa, though colonialism set up the stage. This is what's killing Africa:
"The size of the debt trap can be controlled to claim all surplus production of a society, but if allowed to continue to grow the magic of compound interest dictates it is unsustainable. One trillion dollars compounded at 10 percent per year become $117 trillion in fifty years and $13.78 quadrillion in one hundred years, about $3.5 million for every man, woman and child in the Third World. Their debt is 50 percent greater than this and has been compounding at twice that rate -- over 20 percent per year between 1973 and 1993, from $100 billion to $1.5 trillion [only $400 billion of the $1.5 trillion was actually borrowed money. The rest was runaway compound interest]. If Third World debt continues to compound at 20 percent per year, the $117 trillion debt will be reached in eighteen years and the $13.78 quadrillion debt in thirty-four years." -- J.W. Smith, The World's Wasted Wealth 2, (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 143.
posted by Nothing at 9:47 PM on December 6, 2002

kablam, where to start...
please can you define tribalism, as you understand it?

*CAUTION* 'america bashing' post, do not read if you are sporting a pair of the ideological blinkers so popular at the moment.

perhaps your summer camps for aids orphans idea (which reminds me of the stolen generation in australia a little too much) could be applied in the us? where the children would be taken, and what they should be taught in order to fix north america's problems is up to you, as benevolent dictator. the murder rate in north america could be seen as a clear indicator of a society that is not at all stable; 'complete social breakdown' is an expression i have heard used. your plan needs to be implemented asap!
you may reflect that the reason that many countries in africa are riddled with coruption and burdened with massive debt is because they have power hungry dictators for leaders. often sustained by western govermenments and businesses, who don't mind them increasing their arms expenditure at all (arms sales - any customer is a good customer). the countries limited financial resources are used up furnishing the continuous military actions to secure the natural resources needed to maintain the military action. remind you of anyone yet?
the only reason that the us is not yet in the dire straits that some parts of africa are in is that the us is financially better off at the moment.
posted by asok at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2002

here's the link i meant to post. it's coltantastic!
posted by asok at 12:02 PM on December 7, 2002

I read that Africa is very rich in resources but is not getting any foreign investment because it is too risky. Governments change yearly it seems, and if I can't be sure that my investment will produce a profit in the long run than I would rather invest in other more stable places--i.e. Asia. Foreign investment in America is HUGE, because of the protection of property rights and countless other unique economic opportunities (observe the $350 billion trade deficit in 2001, a good thing).

So it seems to me that the first and foremost super important thing that any African government can do is secure property rights, and divest everything else. Hopefully countries like the United States will help facilitate this, and cancel the foreign debt as described above. I hope that we see major improvement within our lifetimes, because it's within our reach and to do nothing would be immoral.
posted by MarkO at 1:12 PM on December 7, 2002

So it seems to me that the first and foremost super important thing that any African government can do is secure property rights, and divest everything else.

I'm sure the World Bank would applaud that plan, but how would it help Africans? This is happeneing now, and the more it does the more foreign companies move in and take over resouces piping the money out of the country.
posted by rhyax at 11:10 PM on December 8, 2002

"This is why Africa gets the leaders it deserves". Matthew Parris of the London Times muses on the WaBenzi who run the continent. This article and his follow up make a difficult but persuasive point, perhaps Africans are just too nice, too forgiving to have decent leaders.
posted by grahamwell at 8:02 AM on December 9, 2002

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