Africa is more than crisis, diseases and corruption.
Despite its problems and challenges, Africa is full of geographic, ethnic and cultural diversities, contrast and hope. Hope in terms of positive democratic, technological and economical developments, at least in some countries, Ron Garst told an audience this week at Fort Lewis College.
“Don’t think that the countries in Africa are all the same,” said Garst, an expert on Africa and former Peace Corp volunteer in Nigeria.
Though different, many of the countries face similar problems.
“Too many countries rely too much on their natural resources,” he said.
The railroads built in colonial times are not useful anymore, since most of them lead to the coast but not into the continent’s inner parts. “They weren’t here to help anybody – they were here to get the resources in the colonialism,” Garst said.
Another challenge for the continent is population growth. Countries in Africa have the highest population growth in the world. For example, half of the population of Nigeria in 2009 was younger than 20 years old.
Political parties in African countries are often ethnic because of the mistrust of the single ethnic groups against each other. If ethnic conflicts between political parties arise, countries can become failed states.
During his time in Africa, Garst saw the contrast between wealth and poverty. He showed his audience at the Life Long Learning lecture a photo of an African town: In the back, a lot of expensive villas. In front of them, slums. “The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty is incredible,” he said.
Another proof of this contrast is the income inequality in Nigeria. The population’s poorest 20 percent get six percent of the income, while the richest 20 percent get 46 percent.
Yet, Garst makes clear: There is hope. Since the mid-1990s, more countries are emerging. In some countries, the gross domestic product increases by 2 to 4 percent per year, while the poverty rates are falling by more than 1 percent annually. Emerging countries usually embrace democracy, which attracts foreign companies.
From this, big changes result for emerging countries: more democratic, accountable governments; more sensible economic policies; an end of the debt crisis; new technology; and a new generation of policymakers such as nongovernmental organizations, activists, watchdog groups and new leaders in the governments – leaders with vision, influenced by their stay in foreign countries for their education.
“Africa’s future depends on Africans,” Garst said, referring to the challenges African countries must deal with: slowing the population growth, cooperation with international allies, overcoming AIDS and Ebola and a change in the many politicians’ minds.
“Africans must realize they must control their own future and not rely on others,” Garst said.
Thomas Feiler is a student at the Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany, and an intern at The Durango Herald.