Why Poverty: Stealing Africa

Updated Tuesday 20th November 2012

We show you how to use the UN Development Programme’s explorer tool to see how Africa is the poorest continent on Earth despite being abundant in natural resources 

Let’s start by exploring the poverty of Africa’s people and the richness of its land. First visit  the UN Development Programme’s explorer tool then click on the World Map tab at the top. The default is the situation in 2011. Run the time animation at the bottom of the map. 

This shows the level of development in the countries of the world. Countries are colour coded according to their human development scores where development is made up of values for income, education and health. As you can see, in 2011, Africa had the largest number of countries coloured pale green, indicating it scored the worst for human development. 

Screen shot World Map view

If we look back to see how the picture has changed over the last 31 years, what we notice is that there has been little change in the central belt of Africa. These countries are still at the lowest development levels. The most noticeable changes have been that many countries that were coloured grey in 1980, which meant no data was available from those countries, are now reporting, and that at the top and bottom of the continent there has been improvement. 

One indicator of the resource richness of Africa is to track development and natural resource exploitation together over 31 years using the UNDP data set. To do this, click on the Data Explorer tab in the UN Development Programme’s explorer tool which you should have open.

A new screen appears with a scatter diagram with HDI on the Y axis across the top and expenditure on public health on the X axis. Change the X axis to ‘natural resource depletion’ (a sub-category of 'sustainability' right at the bottom) by going to the list on the left. You will be prompted to select the X axis.

A new scatter appears. On the left, tick Congo (not the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is its neighbour to the East). Now play the animation. 

Screen shot Congo view

This shows how resource exploitation can dramatically increase while the level of development remains the same or even declines. As you watch the animation, notice how Congo moves dramatically to the right indicating rapid and extensive natural resource exploitation.

But its position on the Y axis, which represents human development, changes very little. In fact, it actually declines for some years which means human development worsened. 

This shows that while Congo’s natural resources are being exploited, the majority of its population isn’t seeing any benefit. So what can be done?

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is an organisation that rewards African politicians for exercising good governance and great leadership of their country. It provides a prize of $5million for former African leaders in recognition of their positive legacies on the continent. 

To date, the award has gone to three leaders, Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique, Festus Gontebanye Mogae of Botswana and Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires of Cape Verde with an an honorary prize awarded to Nelson Mandela. 

Tackling this problem requires good governance by leaders who put in place a grassroots system for ordinary people to demand fair and decent treatment. By starting at the top and bottom of society, these issues can be tackled. 

  • Credit: Data from the UN Development Programme Data Public Explorer tool
  • See videos using the UN Development Programme’s explorer tool via our main Why Poverty? page
  • What do you think about the subjects discussed in this article? Use our Comments facility below to share your views

 

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

The database development life cycle Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 3 icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

The database development life cycle

No idea how relational database systems are constructed? Did you know that they underpin the majority of the managed data storage in computer systems? This free course, The database development life cycle, has been designed to give you an overview of the developmental lifecycle for a database system, explaining the importance of data analysis and highlighting how database development differs from traditional software development.

Free course
12 hrs
Hans Rosling: How to compare countries using statistics Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wingspan Productions video icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Hans Rosling: How to compare countries using statistics

Statistician magician Hans Rosling shows you how to collate and animate the data of different countries in these short videos that depict our changing world.

Video
1 hr
Your guide to the Visible Trade data visualisation tool article icon

Money & Business 

Your guide to the Visible Trade data visualisation tool

Our data visualisation of the UK's trade with the world can seem a bit daunting at first - so we've got this video and text guide to show you how to get the best from it...

Article
Rough Science 5 Zanzibar: Video extras: Beneath the Waves Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team video icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Rough Science 5 Zanzibar: Video extras: Beneath the Waves

How will Kate be able to use the Rough Science equipment to breathe underwater? Part of the fifth BBC/OU TV series Rough Science, based in Zanzibar

Video
5 mins
Rough Science 5 Zanzibar: Jonathan Hare's diary: Beneath The Waves Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Rough Science 5 Zanzibar: Jonathan Hare's diary: Beneath The Waves

Jonathan Hare's diary about the challenge for the Beneath the Waves programme, part of the fifth BBC/OU TV series Rough Science, based in Zanzibar

Article
OU on the BBC: Timewatch - More Timewatch programmes Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Timewatch - More Timewatch programmes

Between 2006 and 2009, The Open University joined with the BBC history flagship Timewatch to uncover the past in more depth.

Article
OU on the BBC: Romans in Britain Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Romans in Britain

Explore more evidence of life in an occupied nation - including a trip along Hadrian's Wall from end to end.

Article
Open Advice on... getting set to study Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: OU audio icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Open Advice on... getting set to study

Join Paul as he gets ready to study for an Open University course. How will he manage to organise time and space to study, while holding down a full-time job as a hospital porter?

Audio
5 mins
OU on the BBC: Andrew Marr's History of the World - The Word and the Sword Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Andrew Marr's History of the World - The Word and the Sword

The third episode of Andrew Marr's epic story charts the spritual revolutions between 300 BC and 700 AD 

Article