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CHAPTER SEVEN

Sub-Saharan Africa, the region discussed in this chapter (see Figure 7.1), is home to about 750 million people. It contains several of the fastest-growing economies in the world, as well as some of the world’s richest deposits of oil, gold, platinum, copper, and other strategic minerals. Yet the news that comes out of Africa is usually about disease, environmental devastation, war and genocide, political corruption, and poverty. All too often, these reports fail to convey both how outsiders are implicated in Africa’s problems and how effectively Africans themselves are devising solutions. During the era of European colonialism (1850s–1950s), wealth flowed out of Africa, and although colonialism officially ended with the granting of political independence in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, wealth is still flowing out of Africa. Investors from the rich countries of the world continue to reap Africa’s wealth by extracting minerals and other natural resources under unfair terms of trade—a practice called neocolonialism. An example is provided by the fishing industry of three countries: Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau, all lying on the northwestern coast of the continent. The fish are plentiful here, fed by nutrients pumped in by the cool Canary Current. In the 1990s, high-tech fishing fleets from around the world discovered this resource, and by 1996, 97 percent of the fish caught in these waters were taken and sold abroad by fleets from Asia, Russia, and Europe. In the case of Guinea-Bissau, the foreign fleet owners paid just U.S.$11 million a year for licenses to take a catch worth U.S.$130 million a year on the global market. Senegal and Gambia struck similarly lopsided deals. Local fishers and workers in related industries were soon impoverished. By June of 2006, some out-of-work fishers were using their boats to carry an estimated 10,000 undocumented West African migrants to the Canary Islands (possessions of Spain), from where they hoped to reach mainland Europe and find work. Fish-eating Europeans, unaware of what was happening to West African fishers, were puzzled as to why so many Africans were risking so much to find work in their part of the world. It is not surprising, then, that Africa is impoverished and often at war with itself. The average per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest in the world. From time to time, violent conflicts, often arising over access to resources or ill-advised government policies, have turned the generally low standard of living into outright destitution. But today, amid the turmoil, there are many hopeful signs that the conflicts can be resolved and the well-being of the majority enhanced. In recent years, a number of Africans have been recognized as among the best leaders and champions of democracy the world has to offer; two of the best known in the West are South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, from Ghana. But there are countless others: just beginning to gain international recognition, for example, are the women leaders who have emerged in Liberia, Rwanda, Kenya, and elsewhere across the continent. Since independence, African countries and societies have struggled to determine appropriate pathways to economic development and progress. Although many have not yet found a sustainable path, some are now experiencing significant growth: Angola, Botswana, Chad, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa all posted GDP growth rates of 5 percent or better in 2005.

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