Why Africa Roars
By Manuel Yepe*
According to historical evidence, the slave trade was responsible for the alarming underdevelopment of Africa today.
Slavery caused ethnic fractionation and undermined states constituted as such.
During the 19th century, the majority of slaves were taken from the most politically-developed areas and that are now the most fragmented ethnically.
Recent investigations have been conducted by Nathan Nunn, assistant professor of economy at British Colombia University in Canada until July of 2007, and now at Harvard where he published his book “Long Term Effects of the Slave Trade in Africa”. His recently released book suggests that, had it not been for slave trade, the difference today between the average economic development of countries given the title as developing and those of Africa would not exist.
The differential would be approximately 72% less between African incomes and those of today’s developed countries.
Much has been written trying to explain the tragedy of the poor economic achievement of Africa, one of the most disconcerting questions for scholars of the economics of growth and development.
Historical evidence demonstrates how the slave trade caused political instability, weakened states, caused political and social fragmentation and the deterioration of local legal institutions in Africa.
Between the years 1400 and 1900 the African continent suffered four simultaneous routes of slaves. The largest and best-known was the Atlantic crossing during the early 15th century when slaves were taken from Western, Central and Eastern possessions to the European colonies in the new world. The other three were the trans-Saharan, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
In the first, slaves were taken from the southern desert of Sahara to Northern Africa. During the second, slaves were led across land to the Red Sea and sent, aboard ships, to the Middle East and India. In the third slaves were taken from Eastern Africa to the coasts of the Indian Ocean where they were placed in ships to the Middle East, to India or to work in plantations of the islands of the Indian Ocean.
Studies made by professor Nathan Nunn entitled “The Historical Origins of African underdevelopment” that has been digitally published (VoxEU.org) in London demonstrate that the African areas which are the poorest today are those where, proportionally, the most slaves were taken in the past.
Some argue that the reason could be that the slaves were taken from areas which were poor in natural resources and continue to be so today, but investigations have shown the contrary. In other words, the largest number of slaves were taken from areas that enjoyed, at the time, the best economic conditions. Now they are in the worst condition, confirming that the growing extraction of slaves by European slave traders has been the main reason for African economic and social underdevelopment.
The areas where most slaves were taken are equally the most fragmented ethnically today.
In the African continent, the outbreaks of inter-ethnic and religious conflicts as well as conflicts between states which are the result of a worsening of the consequences of underdevelopment, paradoxically, are where the policies of development in the region are of relative and ephemeral value.
In Africa, more than anywhere else on the planet, evidence of constant threats of hunger, disease, repression and varied crises or sudden problems of daily life are of lesser value than the problems of growth and economic and social development.
Two decades ago African life expectancy at birth was 24 years less than in a person born in a rich country and the breach was shortening. However, now the breach is 33 years and on the rise.
According to the United Nations World Food Program, Africans of 33 from 50 nations are the poorest in the world; in other words, more than two-thirds of the nations of the world are in this situation. One of every three persons live in a world where conditions of extreme poverty exist is in sub-Saharan Africa.
If between 1980 and 1990 only four African countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zambia experienced a reversal of human development, between 1990 and 2003 thirteen countries jumped back (Botswana, Cameroon; Rwanda, Republic of the Congo; Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
What is most serious is that Africa's situation is worsening. In 2001 there were 313 million poor; in 2005 345 million people were poor and in 2015 it has been estimated that poverty would affect 431 million persons on the continent if the unfair economic order and current tendencies are maintained.
Weighing on the conscience of the world are the 600 years of suffering caused by the hunting down and trading in human beings which generated the enormous wealth plundered by the colonial powers at the time, leaving behind underdevelopment and extreme poverty of a martyred continent.
The slave trade has been for the African continent what now constitutes, for all the countries of the third world, the evils of unequal exchange, brain theft, foreign debt and other neo colonial modalities of capitalist slavery.
*Manuel E. Yepe Menendez is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana, Cuba
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