Sub Saharan Africa
“The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say ‘Africa’. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.”
- Ryszard Kapuściński, The Cobra’s Heart
Accommodating 16% of world’s population (UN 2017 revision of world population prospects) and covering about 20% of Earth’s total land area Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent. Lacing the cooling effects of regular precipitation, most regions in Africa have only always experienced a warm climate. Out of all the countries in the world, Africa is the only nation known for its wildlife roaming freely, in fact the continent’s tourism industry relies heavily on its wildlife and tribes. The continent however is known for more than just its vibrant fauna, even though all of African countries are in the news for various challenges that they face ,Sub Saharan Africa, a diverse region of 47 countries, occupies a special sort of limelight.
In all cities all over Sub Saharan Africa, prodemocracy demonstrators have taken to the streets, protesting against one party rule and propagating for the reformation of their societies, but one can still witness around 70% of its population sunk in poverty and misery. Colonialism is to be partially blamed for the African scene as it rendered many of its citizens homeless, landless and unemployed. The European exit in 1950s and 1960s brought rarely any respite as the damage had already been done, the nation was already in shambles. What made things even worse were the political leadership replacing the colonial rulers, who much like the latter devoted less attention to the grains and crops Africa most depended upon.
Various government initiatives and multinationals have attempted to change the African society to which the strongest resistance came from the indigenous peoples. With over 1000 languages and a plethora of ethnic groups and tribes, the diverse culture of Sub Saharan Africa has withstood the strong external forces that have time and again tried to uproot the region’s cultural values and beliefs. Despite the cruel exploitation Africa faced in the hands of the Europeans and poor guidance of post- colonial leadership, the countries have still managed to hold on to their traditions and culture , their most prized possessions. Music and dance especially, are not only means of expression but communication. The fact that they are largely participatory reflect their culture’s warm acceptance of the cultures they encounter. Dancing and singing collectively is part of their daily routine and is of immense significance because such activities are a means to inculcate certain kinds of social patterns. These societies teach their children and their future generations the importance of community life, solidarity and unity right from childhood. For instance, Yoruba dancers and drummers, express communal desires, values, and collective creativity, there are dances and songs for every occasion and ceremony.
Lack of access to education, poor governance and infrastructure along with many more regional setbacks may be looming over Sub Saharan Africa like dark clouds on a rainy day, but the strong and deep cultural roots, the nation’s attempts to preserve their authenticity and not turning into any other developing nation losing their history in the midst of building a better future, shine as bright as the sun that shows up after the clouds pass by.
Agriculture is a key pre requisite to urbanization in all societies, thus most of Sub-Saharan Africa did not witness the rise of cities until the modern periods. It was historically isolated from Eurasia and sharply limited by the Sahara Desert as a consequence there was a lack of access to the innovations of Southwest Asia where the regions were under heavy influence of technological changes.
Fundamental technologies like agriculture, smelting, writing and the wheel were absent in Sub Saharan Africa which dramatically influenced the course of Sub Saharan history, especially in the case of agriculture. In most of the parts of Sub-Saharan Africa the city’s life did not begin before the Middle Ages, Nubia and Ethiopia being the only two exceptions. The region was devoid of any cities before the period ca. 650-1880, in this time period a rich variety of civilisations emerged.
Pre-Colonial Civilization in sub-Saharan Africa can be divided into three distinct categories: Christian, Islamic and traditional. Christian civilization in sub-Saharan Africa was limited in Ethiopia. Traditional sub-Saharan cultures (“traditional” sense of the religion of indigenous peoples) flourished throughout the southern half of the African continent, but most of them were not in the cities. The Islamic civilization, on the other hand, flourished in the cities of the different kingdoms in the northern half of Africa. The most prolific part of the Islamic sub- Saharan Africa was in West Africa, thanks to the mighty Niger River. The most powerful Islamic State in the south of the Sahara (also known as ‘ Carina Sahara ‘) flourished there, branched in the desert and meadows. The Islamic civilization also took much along the east coast of Africa, in the form of city states founded by Arab traders.
Sub Saharan states derived much of their wealth from trade. In the period before the colonial civilization, the southern region of the Sahara presented three major trading areas: North (Trans-Sahara trade), East (Indian Ocean trade) and the west (the Atlantic trade). Among the main exports from sub-Saharan Africa were slaves, gold, copper and animal products (e.g. ivory, skin, feather, turtle shells).
The scramble for Africa counts as the most eventful phase in African History. Africa was the closest of all the targets of the European empire builders, it was also amongst the least advanced of all their targets especially “Black Africa”. The southern parts of Africa were the last to be grabbed even though their coast lines were known to Europeans, up until 1860s the interiors were protected. European explorers soon started to realise that Africa was too valuable to be left to the Africans alone, after all the citizens were backward and were seeking civilisation were they not? A takeover was inevitable and all forms of local resistance were met with Maxim guns and repeater rifles. By 1914 all of Africa (except Liberia and Ethiopia) was conquered by Europe.
Acting as parents to Africans, the Europeans counted them, taxed them and ordered their communities into tribes— and where true tribes did not exist, they were invented. The most fertile lands were taken for plantations, and the minerals were dug out and shipped off to be processed in Europe. Despite of being so harshly exploited, Africa saw little of all the wealth that was being generated.
The colonisation by the Europeans was however short lived and after the Second World War America propagated an end to European imperialism but the long and bloody struggle for freedom, left Africa both politically and psychologically impoverished. The Africa we see now, represents a continent of states stranded between its traditional ways and modernity.
CHALLENGES AND CONFLICTS
In recent times African agriculture has shown progress in developing a good business environment, armed conflicts have reduced, regional and sub regional institutions are being strengthened and there is a wide spread agreement on the fact that growth in agriculture in Africa is largely responsible for her progress in economy. As the global economic crisis diminishes new market opportunities are expected to emerge for African farmers.
According to High Level Expert Forum “Population growth and urbanization point to domestic and intra- African markets as the most promising areas for stimulating medium- to long-term agricultural growth……The strong potential of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is welcome news: agriculture is the backbone of overall growth for the majority of countries in the region and essential for poverty reduction and food security. But, as pointed out by the 2008 World Development Report, failure to exploit this potential has significantly compromised the role agriculture could play in reducing poverty.” Sub Saharan Africa thus faces a very special challenge- even though agriculture has responded to a better macroeconomic environment and improved price incentives its positive prospects will not materialise unless and until purposeful and concerted policy actions are implemented, especially if the growth rate and progress in agriculture is to be sustained and if it is to result in reduced poverty. Many challenges need to be overcome by Sub Saharan Africa some of which are the ever increasing technology divide, slow development of input and output markets and associated market services, slow progress in regional integration, governance and institutional shortcomings, conflicts between ethnic groups and tribes, increasing cases of HIV-AIDS afflicted persons and other diseases. The report goes further to suggest that “connecting smallholders to markets and helping them to adapt to new conditions and become more productive, increasing opportunities for rural employment, reducing risk and vulnerability, especially to extreme weather events and price swings, and increasing access to assets and skills will be some of the actions to make sure that agricultural and rural growth goes hand in hand with poverty reduction.”
For decades the African continent has been threatened by the trap of food crisis, which has primarily resulted due to the lack of investment in agricultural sector. Experts point out that in Guinea Savannah region, which is an area twice as large as that planted with wheat worldwide, only 10% of the area is farmed. This implies that lack of technological innovation is a fundamental challenge in achieving productivity growth, “yield gains associated with high-yielding varieties have been much lower in sub-Saharan Africa than in other regions, partly as a result of the inadequacies of input and output markets and extension services and poor infrastructure” which reflects that despite of being abundant in natural resources Africa has not significantly invested in research and development. Incidence of under nourishment is highest in Sub Saharan Africa and thus narrowing the nutrition gap is imperative. Nutrition gap refers to i) increasing availability and access to the foods necessary for a healthy diet and ii) increasing actual intake of those foods. Nutrition security objectives have not been taken into consideration in designing and implementing agricultural development initiatives and this perhaps could be the reason why the nutrition gap only seems to widen as years pass by.
In addition to the above mentioned problems in agricultural sector, the levels of social fragmentation related in particular to ethnic diversity is relatively high in Sub Saharan Africa. In light of recent findings it can be concluded that organised political violence has had the greatest impact on economic development as the risks of civil war and violent riots reduce growth. When faced with impeding violence, resources are allocated to address the immediate concerns and less likely to be allocated to education, creation of infrastructure or strengthening of social capital. In Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence Is Ignored, a map represents conflict death tolls between 1990-2007 and reveals 88% rise in Africa as opposed to 2% in Europe and 1% in America, this implies that the media has been increasingly biased towards covering incidents occurring in first world countries and ignoring incidents happening in third world countries which only adds to the problem. During the 1990s the incidence of civil wars in Sub Saharan Africa had alarmingly increased, many studies have linked the conflicts with poor economic conditions and failed political institutions however there is a need to also consider other factors that could possible account for this unique rate of growth in violence, factors such as role of governance and youthful age. It would not be wrong to argue that the conventional approach to peace and harmony cannot be applied in the case of Sub Saharan Africa, which faces a plethora of issues and challenges. Weak African states have also given rise to religious conflicts.
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AND OUTLOOK
According to IMF reports, recent economic growth in SSA countries have been encouraging. Progress in improving macroeconomic policies, supporting institutions and resolving regional conflicts have proved to be the driving factors behind the recent developments. The report also mentions that “The external environment has also become more favourable through a modest improvement in the terms of trade (mainly higher export prices of some major commodities) and increases in development assistance and debt relief. Prospects for lower trade barriers into industrial countries have improved with the passage of the EU’s Everything But Arms initiative and the U.S.’s African Growth and Opportunity Act.” Security threats have subsided in several countries in Sub Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank reports growth is projected to continue to rise to 3.2% in 2018 and 3.5% in 2019. The report also mentioned that given the demographic and investment trends, structural reforms would be required to boost potential growth in the coming years. Many SSA countries have faced chronic malnutrition due to civil unrest, tribal conflicts, ethnic cleansing etc but in the 21st century, conflicts can be seen to subside, not rapidly but at a very slow and steady rate. One of the primary reasons for this can be the low enrolment rate of children at every level of education, which hinders social and economic development in the countries.
In sub-Saharan Africa, many communities, towns and cities, have their own beliefs and traditions. The traditional African society is a community, they believe the need of many is of more importance than individual needs and achievements. Basically, the upkeep of the individual must be shared with other extended family members. Any mention of culture in Sub Saharan Africa cannot overlook its most important cultural aspects, its art, music, clothing and cuisines. For many it is believed that spiritual world is responsive to music and deeply affected by it, thus music making is derived from religious experience and religion plays an inseparable role in the sub Saharan culture. In their scared songs, the heart and essence of the music lies in the retelling of their history and worshipping their Gods. Dancing involves moving rhythmically multiple body parts. When it comes to cuisine one can see that traditional Southern African dishes consist mainly of meat, West African dishes are starchy and flavourfully spicy, Southeast African dishes reflect Islamic links and Central African cuisine connects with all SSA countries. Sub Saharan Africa also boasts its own traditional clothing style, Kente cloth is produced by the Akan people of Ghana, Raffia by the Kuba people in Central Africa and in Southern Africa animal hide and skins are used for clothing. Sports like football and Cricket also have a major following in the SSA countries.
Any study of such a diverse nation however cannot only focus on its cultural diversity. What’s a tragic scenario in the 21st century is that no more can we paint a rosy picture and only orient our discussion on Africa towards its ethnic diversity and its traditional ways of living. The ground reality is far from what fancy blogs on tourism in Africa may imply. The culture and ethnic diversity face growing threats from inter-state wars and internal affairs. The countries are trapped between development and preserving culture. Radical activities have found a home in certain regions and have disrupted the growth initiatives causing violence and chaos all over the continent, Sub Saharan Africa remains the most vulnerable out all other regions given that its states are already very weak. Despite of the current dismal scene, there are those who continue to stand up against destructive forces. Influential people from fields of literature, science, journalism, art, entertainment etc. are becoming the torch-bearers of peace and harmony and urging the generations to come to follow their footsteps. But theanswer to all questions undeniably lies in the hands of the government, well planned and concerted policies and programs will become the key to a sustainable functioning of the SSA countries.
- Diversity issues facing the public service in Sub-Saharan Africa by M J Balogun
- Reigonal integration in Sub Saharan Africa by Faezeh Foroutan
- Forced Displacement and Refugees in Sub Saharan Africa: An economic Inquiry by Philip Verwimp and Jean-Francois Maystadt
- http://gsdrc.org/document-library/ethnic-ideology-and-conflict-in-sub-saharan-africa-the-culture-clash– revisited/
- https://www.routledge.com/Stealth-Conflicts-How-the-Worlds-Worst-Violence-Is– Ignored/Hawkins/p/book/9780754675068
- http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756223/obo-9780199756223– xml
- The challenge of development in Sub Saharan Africa by Monica Trevino Gonzalez
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- The special challenge for sub Saharan Africa by High Level Expert Forum