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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 

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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






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