Development in Africa


By David Alton
Universe Column for June 8th 2003
One of the top priorities for the Evian Summit of the world’s most developed countries – the G8 – is to discuss development in Africa. They are focusing on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (which goes under the inelegant acronym of NePAD). This is a welcome commitment to Africa and a response to a partnership that has been forged among African countries by African countries.

Perhaps its top priority should be to see the link between ending Africa’s many conflicts and the possibility of inward investment and development.

Without resolution of conflict it will be very difficult to ensure the success of NePAD and bring about development. In the Congo alone the number of deaths has now reached a staggering 3 million over the past five years.

The deteriorating situation in Darfur in western Sudan – where there has been real hope that the Machakos peace process might end the war – also jeopardises the possibility of development

In some respects the situation has been going backwards. The ending of the mandate of the special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan has created a vacuum in the human rights monitoring mechanism; this is very depressing.  In Sudan human rights generally also continue to be flouted in the name of Sharia Law.  In the past few days a 14 year-old girl in Sudan, who is nine months’ pregnant, was sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip for alleged adultery. The Sudanese Government have not ratified and do not adhere to the convention against torture. Torture and violation of human rights have played their part in fomenting many conflicts in countries throughout the continent, such as Rwanda, during the past few years – and everyone is painfully aware that Zimbabwe could go the same way.

Conflict leads to refugees and displaced people. A few months ago I visited the shanty town of Kibera, a sprawling slum close to Nairobi. It is said to be the biggest slum in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rootless, drifting young people, pose a massive challenge to development.  With 1 million orphans, often living rootless and disaffected lives, and their number rising exponentially, Africa is awash with feral children, many faring little better than vermin. They deserve to be at the top of NePAD’s agenda.

Orphaned children are the sharp end of the AIDS pandemic, but urban drift, civil war, a collapsing education system, human trafficking—and corruption are all playing their part.

UNICEF’s report, Children on the Brink, spells out the scale of that disaster. In 88 countries studied:

“More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million”.

The consequences of a vast, dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children, if it is not tackled properly and fundamentally, will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope or prospects are migrating. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some Islamic groups.

So what can we do? Clearly we do need the international community to act. But  we can assist sustainable development straight away.