Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 3

Where knowledge rules

Search Helium
Search Helium

Causes of poverty in Africa

by Kallie Szczepanski
Created on: April 16, 2008
Today, 300 million African people live on less than $1 US per day. The incidence of extreme
poverty never seems to go down, despite decades of work by African governments and NGOs,
outside NGOs, and foreign government aid programs. What causes this entrenched poverty, on a
continent rich with natural resources?

Unfortunately, poverty in Africa doesn't result from just one or two causes. There are a number
of different factors at work, all interacting with one another, and making the problem of
entrenched poverty extremely difficult to solve.
Some of the major causes of poverty include: war and armed conflict, poor farm policy, lack of
access to credit, rampant unemployment, lack of access to education, and disease.
One-fifth of all African people live in countries seriously disrupted by armed conflict. When war
is ranging all around, it's very difficult to grow crops, continue to work in an office, or earn
money. Ordinary life becomes impossible, as people are forced to flee their homes.
Thus, productivity goes down, and poverty rates shoot up. Countries at war produce an average
of 12.5 per cent less food per person than they do during peace time.
One example is Angola, where a 27-year long civil war killed half a million people and left 3.8
million people displaced. Virtually all the country's infrastructure was destroyed in the conflict,
and more than three-quarters of the population fell into extreme poverty. Today, 85% of
Angolans make their living through subsistence farming, working fields that conceal left-over


The agriculture sector accounts for about 60% of African workers. Three-fifths of them are
subsistence farmers, trying to eke enough food from their plot to feed their family. The rest work
for large multinational industrial farms, or labor on huge export-crop fields.
Cash-strapped African governments try to squeeze every last penny out of their agricultural
sector, imposing export taxes and commodity taxes on production. This drives up prices and
drives down wages, increasing poverty rates. Meanwhile the governments of European nations
and the US do the opposite: they subsidize farmers to the tune of $300 billion US per year.
In addition, African governments often are forced to sell their crops for bargain prices, in order
to remain current on their foreign debt load. Importing nations in the developed world know that
the producers have to sell at whatever price, so offer artificially low amounts for their produce.


The very poor can't get a bank loan or a credit card with which to make basic purchases that
could help lift them out of poverty. While they may need only a tiny cash infusion, between $20
and $300 U.S. to buy a cell phone, some livestock, a sewing machine, etc., this is often
impossible for people in poverty. They don't have any collateral, or income, and they don't have a
credit record.
Increasingly, micro-lending organizations are addressing this problem by specializing in loans to
the very poor. However, micro-lending is still centered in Asia, and is just getting started in
Africa. As it grows, it may cause substantial improvements in the lives of many of Africa's
poorest people.
The unemployment rate in some African nations is more than 70%. Zimbabwe's unemployment
rate is now 85% and rising. Even in South Africa, one of the most developed African nations,
unemployment is around 36%, significantly higher than that in Europe or North America.
With so many people out of work, it's little wonder that economic productivity is low, and
poverty rates high.
A UN survey in 2000 found that only 58% of school-aged children in Africa were actually
enrolled in school. Somewhere between 40 and 45 million African children will never set foot
inside a school building.

Across Africa, most schools have to charge the students fees in order to operate. Even if the fees
are as little as $20 or $30 US for a child to attend for a year, the price of basic education can be
out of reach for many poor families. In addition to school fees, parents also have to buy
uniforms, books, and possibly lunch for their students, and many families simply can't afford it.
Children who don't have even an elementary-school education have little hope of finding steady
work when they grow up. If they join the ranks of the chronically unemployed (or
underemployed), their children too may miss out on schooling, and the cycle will continue.
According to the UN, about 2 million African people die each year just from AIDS, and 24
million more get infected with HIV. Deaths from malaria also total about 2 million, although a
higher percentage of those killed by the parasite are small children. Each disease costs Africa
about $10-12 billion US every year in lost GDP, and plunges more families and whole
communities deeper into poverty. Africa also suffers from epidemics of cholera, measles, and
polio disease and poverty is easy to see. Workers who are weakened by AIDS or malaria miss
work, and they typically don't have paid sick leave. Their employers lose their productivity,
decreasing profits. Other family members also have to stay home from work or school to take
care of the ailing person, so the loss expands. In many villages, elderly grandparents who have
lost several adult children to AIDS are working to feed 8 or 10 orphaned grandchildren. It's
almost impossible for them to feed all those mouths and scrape together all those school fees.
Poverty in Africa is a complex problem, born of many interlocking causes. It will be difficult to
solve, but the world must continue to try. It's unconscionable that so many people continue to
live in such grinding poverty.