SPECIAL REPORTS

Africa at a Glance

Poverty, Ethnic Strife, and Overpopulation are Creating a Tidal Wave of Death that doesn’t Seem to be Letting Up

One, two, three … a child in Africa just died. Every three seconds, a young soul is taken from this earth as a result of AIDS and extreme poverty in the globe’s poorest continent. Every year, more than 6 million children die due to malnutrition before their fifth birthday.

The stench of death, the bloodshed of war, the pain of hunger and famine, this is the Africa that rots away on this earth, glimmers of hope quickly dashed away to despair. Among the troubles, the list is long: poverty, ethnic genocide, civil war, HIV/AIDS, oppressive governments, malaria, poor environmental conditions, lack of education and a handful of others variants of destitution.

The statistics of this continent’s issues display the expansive and the deepness of the hurt here: • Children that do survive here are often born into a world without parents, due to HIV/AIDS or malaria taking the ones that brought them into this earth. A recent report by the African Child Policy Forum, an advocacy group, says there are now 50 million orphaned or abandoned children in Africa. The organization thinks the number could rise to 100 million. • UNAIDS/WHO, 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, July 2008, 22 million out of 32 million reported to have HIV/AIDS were living in Sub-Sahara Africa. Sixty percent of the region’s adult population is living with the disease. • In the Human Development Index of countries below 0.5, "low development,” all 22 countries in that category were from Africa.

Part of the starvation problem is due to the fact that food production and population growth are disproportionate, with much more people than food to go around. There are now 1 billion people living in Africa alone.

A child in poverty writes (from cozay.com): “Life is hard but what can we do? I am not the only person like this. there are many children like me or even worse who live under the high bridge. I don't smoke but most of the children living under the bridge smoke weed which makes them strong. Most of them are thieves and they rob people. I don't steal and I don't smoke. I only shine and repair shoes for people..."

Economic stimulation seems like the easy answer, but because of the conditions here, it has been next to impossible to put into motion. In fact, according to economist Jeffrey Sachs and others, the Sub-Sahara region displayed a negative growth in income per capita during the years 1980 thru 2000.

Microfinance, development goals, and other economic growth strategies seek to infuse a growth period in Africa, but so many other factors contribute to squashing such an endeavor.

One of the greatest inhibitors to economic growth and to overall development is the battles between people groups, what seems like all-out war here. It not only creates chaos, but also makes for a climate of safety impossible, one of the main ingredients for establishing such growth.

Here, in a continent whose geography mixes arid desert, the savannah, and fertile rainforest, where inhabits of this land are just as diverse—hundreds, if not thousands, of people groups share this world—conflict is to be expected. It is recorded that pre-colonial Africa contained nearly 10,000 different states and polities. Today, Africa contains 53 independent and sovereign countries, most of which still have the borders drawn during the era of European colonialism.

Ethnic differences have been exacerbated due to the stakes of power, which often means prime access to natural resources and the money that comes with transaction of those resources.

Places like Rwanda, Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo have become vast killing fields. In 2008, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre monitored internal displacement in 19 African countries. There were an estimated 11.6 million Internationally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in these countries, the lowest internal displacement figure in Africa in a decade, but still nearly half of the world’s total IDP population.

Tribal entities are the most prone to clash, as was the case in Rwanda in 1994, which spawned a massive genocide that will forever remain in the minds of the world, both for its horrific nature and for the fact that the world stood by and watched. More than 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda. The carnage that took place there spilled over to Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, shortly thereafter. Mixed with both ethnic strife—between Hutus and Tutsis—and a power struggle for the country, a regional conflict erupted in one of the most diamond-rich areas of the continent. All-out war took place around the towns of Goma and Kivu, which lasted from about 1998 thru 2003, leading way to a transitional government that took root at the end of that period, though peace still has yet to settle there. To date, the entire onslaught and aftermath of the DRC battle, also known as the Africa’s Word War, has killed 5.4 million people.

Not too far away, an entirely different struggle has been in the Darfur Region of Sudan. More than 300,000 (some estimate the figure to be 400,000) have died in this conflict and 2.5 million have been displaced. Since a rebel group emerged in 2003 to go against a government that blatantly ignored the needs of African farmers, the ‘counterinsurgency’ here has been filled with overwhelming violence spawned by Arab militia working in tandem with government military forces.

Death seems to continue without end. While economists continue to search for big-picture development strategies that require large amounts of money flowing into the country, humanitarian organizations—much of them faith-based—are working hand-in-hand with African countrymen to make progress.

Hope is here in the small villages where water wells have been built or where orphanages have been opened. Peace and growth may be far off, but those that are persisting for a better future are seeing fruits just in the daily provision.