I'm watching Obama give a speech to the parliament of Ghana right now. Why is Obama in Africa? Why does Africa matter? As even George W. Bush recognized, Africa is, along with South-Central Asia, the most likely region to see failed states emerge. It is also a region that many know little about. I remember once that Bell Curve and I wrote a trivia quiz for our favorite pub and we had a hand out of map of Africa with the countries' names left blank. We knew it would be challenging for most Americans to fill in those names (of course our friends at the pub did fine for the most part) but the fact that we could reasonably assume people would struggle is telling. Consider the famous report that Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country. She's not the only person who thinks this, although she may be the only one who thought that thought she was qualified to hold high public office despite that level of ignorance. So here are some factoids about Africa.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Of the 229 countries that the CIA World Fact Book has profiles for, 18 of the 20 poorest countries in the world are in sub-saharan Africa. One of the others is Afghanistan and the other is a semi-sovereign territory of New Zealand. Many of the countries in Sub-saharan Africa have economies that depend on the export of a single commodity or natural resource (oil, gold, diamonds, coffee, peanuts, etc). Many of the countries in Sub-saharan Africa have experienced violent ethnic conflict or civil wars recently. Millions of people have been killed or displaced in wars that are either going on now or only recently finished. Basic infrastructure that we take for granted (like roads, a power grid and clean water) are absent in much of the continent. The internet is slow to take root in this region. Decent access to the internet is critical not only for communication but investment too. Capital transactions these days are all computerized. Many of these countries languish under massive debt problems. There are also problems with establishing a consistent legal structure in many of these countries. As if this wasn't enough, there is also a widespread problem with malaria and HIV-AIDS.
But there are success stories too. And Ghana is one of them. Despite not being particularly rich, Ghana has established itself as a relatively stable democracy with a bright future. Botswana is doing even better.
Obama's speech focussed on how Africans need to and can solve their own problems. One of best lines in the speech (one that got a lot of applause) was "Africa doesn't strong men, it needs strong institutions." To help that, Obama promised directly western aid to help build the institutions that a stable democracy and economy need. Let's hope it works out for Africa.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 5:58 AM