Africa and the Politics of Possibility.

Author:Segesvary, Louis S.
Position:Essay

To entice tourists and quell the fears of the naive, Africa is often presented in travel books as a magical destination, where sweeping savannahs and imposing mountain ranges serve as a backdrop to an exotic assortment of vegetation and wildlife and lithe men and women with rhythm in their veins and dancing in their feet.

Of course, in these agreeable books little or no effort is made to acknowledge the less pleasant scenes of endemic poverty and sporadic violence that disfigure the physical landscape with endless rows of flimsy shanties and piles of garbage in its cities while weighing down its people with wounds so brutal and burdens so great they are hardly imaginable in today's industrialized world.

For when we take an honest look at Africa today, we see a vast region of nearly 12 million square miles with a population of well over one billion people that despite its extensive natural and wildlife resources and cultivable land is far from realizing its economic and social promise.

And when we consider that the median age of its youthful population spread out over 50 nations is astonishingly low at some 20 years, it is only natural to wonder what trends lie in store for this generation of Africans, as disparate as they are, and those to follow.

In taking a more watchful look at Africa, at its borders and coastlines, we can catch a glimpse of one such trend, a disturbing trend, which is receiving scant attention in the public domain. For among the many hundreds of thousands of migrants setting out on rickety boats and dangerous overland routes to European destinations, there are increasing numbers of native born Africans.

Notwithstanding the encouragement extended to migrants from some European leaders, they face increasingly uncertain fates. To stem the tide of Africans seeking to enter Switzerland illegally, for example, Swiss authorities expelled over four thousand would be migrants in July of 2016, with most of them coming from the African nations of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, and Nigeria. Others, including those from Somalia, were stuck for many months in a makeshift camp in Calais, France, near the Eurotunnel, and denied entrance to Great Britain.

But unlike the refugees from Syria, most of these African migrants are not fleeing internecine warfare but extreme poverty. According to the IMF, the 2016 GDP per capita estimate for Eritrea was only $771 per annum; for Ethiopia $739; for Gambia $435; and for Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa's most populous country with major petroleum reserves, it was $2,930, or around $244 a month.

A World Bank study documented a distressing history of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, noting that from 1993 to 2008 the average per capita income of sub-Saharan African economies "almost did not grow at all," only increasing from $742 to $762 per year. And if South Africa and the Seychelles are excluded, there was actually a decline from $608 to $556 over the period.

According to a comprehensive report prepared by the African Development Bank Group, the number of impoverished people in sub-Saharan Africa had doubled from 1981 to 1998, with the number of people living on less than US $1 per day in the region, "reaching 290 million in 1998, which is over 46% of the total population."

In surveying the region's recent economic scene, the Economist succinctly concluded that "global poverty is increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa."

Not surprisingly, African sentiment to leave the continent and seek a better life elsewhere has been growing dramatically. A survey conducted by Gallup of 135 countries between 2007 and 2009 found that residents of sub-Saharan Africa were "most likely to express a desire to move abroad permanently. Thirty-eight percent of the adult population in the region--or an estimated 165 million--say they would like to do this if the opportunity arises."

In comparison, Gallup reported that residents in Asian countries were "the least likely to say they would like to move--with 10% of the adult population, or roughly 250 million, expressing a desire to migrate permanently."

Current indicators suggest that the number of Africans wishing to leave the continent is not by any means diminishing despite the very real dangers associated with migration. The coast of Libya has been a favored departure point for boats loaded to the tipping point by smugglers with would be African migrants, even though more than 2,000 perished in the high seas in this year alone according to the International Organization for Migration. And now, compounding one misery with another, a crackdown by Coast Guard authorities in Libya has resulted in stranded Africans auctioned off as slaves by smugglers, drawing international outrage.

While the poverty driving emigration from Africa remains endemic, with the United Nations' Human Development Report for 2016 ranking 16 African nations in a row at the very bottom, there has also been some noteworthy economic growth. As the African Development Bank Group has reported, "in the 2000s, six of the world's ten fastest-growth countries were...

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