Africa: Development, Debt & AIDS

Africa is the poorest and least developed continent.  

The UN has adopted eight goals known as the  Millennium Development Goals including cutting poverty in half between 1990 and 2015.  But few people believe Africa will achieve these goals. The number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa living on less than $1 per day has more than doubled from 217.2 million in 1987 to 521.8 million in 1998.  Visit the websites of the Millennium Campaign and White Band which seek to encourage citizens around the world in their efforts to hold governments to account for the promises they made at the September 2000 Millennium Summit.

Africa is being greatly impact by the AIDS pandemic.  According to UN estimates, 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV/AIDS, 70% of the world total.  

Each year the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) publishes the Human Development Report. Of the 30 of the 34 countries ranked in the July 2003 of the Human Development Report as having "low human development" are in Africa.  Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe fell on the index due to AIDS-related factors such as more of their people dying younger. 

Another measure of Africa's poverty and underdevelopment is the Least Developed Countries Report published annually by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.  Of the 49 Least Developed Countries (LDCs), 34 are in Africa.  African LDCs had an annual average Real GDP growth in the period 1997-2000 of 4.1%, an improvement over the 1.5% average annual growth in the period 1990-1996.  But this is partly the result of the amazing average annual Real GDP growth of Equatorial Guinea which in this period began oil production and exports. No other LDC had even half that growth rate. In addition, a number of African countries not classified as LDCs have high rates of poverty. For example Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with a population of 130 million, is not classified as an LDC despite the fact that 70% of the population lives on $1 a day or less.  

Africa, with 13% of the world's population, provides just 2% of world exports.  Because of their poverty and low development level, African countries see foreign investment as necessary supplement to insufficient domestic saving.  But it remains an open question if Africa can attract enough investment outside the extractive industries to have a broad development impact.  Investment is attracted by profit.  Investment went to oil rich Nigeria during a series of military dictatorships and Angola during a civil war.  With the exception of South Africa, most foreign investment in Africa has gone to oil exporting countries and been in the petroleum industry.

The petroleum industry (oil and natural gas) dominate Africa's relationship with the world.  For the year 2001, 73% of U.S. direct investment in Africa was in the petroleum industry. ChevronTexaco announced in 2003 that it plans to invest $20 billion dollars in Africa in energy-related projects in the next five years, mostly in deep water oil and gas projects in Angola and Nigeria. For an overview of the petroleum industry in Africa see Expanding Petroleum Production in Africa.

Africa remains today what it was in the 1960's when the majority of African countries became independent - an underdeveloped continent that exports commodities and imports finished goods.  In sub-Saharan Africa there are thirty-eight low-income countries, including the largest oil producers.  In sub-Saharan Africa 68% of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, primarily with low-input, traditional farming practices.  Yet Africa is a net importer of agricultural goods.  In many countries people are economically worse off today than they were at independence. 

 Women in Southern Africa Struggle Against HIV: Quick Facts by Jennifer Davis (2005)

Selected web site related to African development and debt:

Interview with Richard Knight in The Green Cross Optimist magazine, 2005

The African Forum & Network on Debt & Development (AFRODAD)

Association of Concerned Africa Scholars

Sustainable Africa on

United Nations Development Program (including links to the Human Development Report)

Africa Renewal Online (previously called  Africa Recovery, published by the United Nations Department of Public Information)

United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

United Nations Office of the Special Coordinator for Africa and the Least Developed Countries

United Nations Initiative for Africa

Expanding Petroleum Production in Africa by Richard Knight, President, Southern Africa Committee
Many African countries export oil and natural gas but the wealth has not led to broader economic development or poverty reduction.  

Africa's debt crisis is also a major obstacle to development, poverty reduction and meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  Some useful web links include:

Jubilee USA Network

Jubilee South

50Years in Enough Network

Web sites related to HIV/AIDS include:

This is the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS and Human Rights (United Nations)

The Treatment Action Campaign
This is a major South African campaign organ
Global Treatment Action Campaign

Health Global Access Project (Health GAP) 


Africa Action

This page is part of the web site of Southern Africa Committee

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