By the close of the 1970s, some countries in Africa were still under colonial rule. South Africa was still struggling to eliminate apartheid and, in what is now Zimbabwe, a liberation war was raging against the minority government, which had pronounced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain in 1965. South West Africa, now Namibia, was also yet to achieve independence. Elsewhere in the region, the territories of Western Sahara and Eritrea were fighting for self-determination.
Civil and political strife in Africa were taking a large toll on human life and on natural resources, which were being plundered to finance wars. In Mozambique, for example, the civil war intensified in the 1980s, forcing millions to become refugees in the neighbouring countries of Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. At the height of the war, Malawi was host to more than 1 million Mozambicans—about 10 per cent of the country’s population.
Since independence, many African countries have persistently faced social and economic challenges. Economic growth for most African countries has been sluggish or negative, impacting heavily on the welfare of the people, especially the rural population. In the 1980s, Africa underwent many economic experiments, such as economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), which have been blamed in some countries for exacerbating poverty. The region’s continued dependence on external aid, and increasing external debt, illustrate the complete failure of some of its social and economic policies, a number of which were prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). SAPs in the region led to, among other things, the removal by governments of subsidies on essential services, such as education, health and transport; and a severe reduction of jobs in the public service sector. These policies have resulted in: a reduction in real income and purchasing power; an increase in the importance of the informal economy and family labour; an increase in the relative price of many basic goods and services; and a reduction in the quality of public services.
The negative impacts of SAPs have been heaviest on: the urban poor, who rely most heavily on employment, consumer subsidies and public services; and rural smallholder farmers, who relied on subsidies for their farm inputs. In urban areas, wages and job opportunities declined considerably following the introduction of SAPs.
The external debt problem in Africa heightened during the 1980s. The decade between 1985–87 and 1995–97 saw 41 sub-Saharan countries sinking deeper into debt (see Table 1.2). In some cases, the debt rose by more than 150 per cent, as in the case of Angola, Chad and Lesotho. Debt-related issues in the region are covered in more detail in Chapter 3 of this report.
|Table 1.2 Percentage change in indebtedness by African countries|
|Source: UNDP/UNEP/World Bank/WRI 2000|