Speaking of: : Sub-Saharan Africa, Continent in Crisis

Images of drought, famine and bloody civil unrest coming out of Sub-Saharan Africa make it difficult to believe a brighter future is possible there.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 32 of the 47 nations on the United Nations' list poorest countries. Many hard won gains in health and education, living standards, and hunger abatement acheived during the 1980s have been erroded in past several years.

Without some dramatic recovery, up to 300 million people--roughly half the region's population--will be living in poverty by the turn of the century, according to Oxfam, an international relief organization based in Oxford, England.

But there is hope. In a report last month, Oxfam officials analyzed the region's major problems and called for a modern-day Marshall Plan, similar to the American effort to assist war ravaged Europe after World War II, for social and economic development.

"The road to recovery can be taken if efforts of local people at grass-roots level are supported by the international community," they said. This page represents highlights of their report.


* A crushing burden of foreign debt that drains the region of over $10 billion annually, diverting resources needed for investment and alleviation of poverty.

* A hostile trade environment in which falling prices resulted in the loss of about $50 billion during the second half of the 1980's.

* Insufficient foreign aid and investment to support recovery.

* World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programs that have failed to create a framework for sustained economic recovery, or for enabling the poor to benefit from market reforms.

* Inadequate financial and political backing for U.N. peacemaking and peacekeeping operations.


* Reschedule or write off much of Africa's foreign debt, releasing resources for investment in its people and economic recovery.

* Increase aid flows to support peace, democracy and recovery.

* Improve Africa's trading prospects by reducing protectionist barriers, among other steps.

* Reform structural adjustment programs by providing in investment support for the poorest producers, notably women; promoting self-reliance through smallholder agriculture and de-emphasizing production of commodities for already saturated worl markets.


More than nine million people are expected to fall below the poverty line each year for the rest of the decade, making sub-Saharan Africa the only developing region in which the proportion of the population in poverty is expected to rise.

The region also is the only one in which child welfare is expected to deteriorate. According to UNICEF, by the year 2000 African children will account for 39 percent of infant deaths worldwide, compared with 29 percent in the mid-1980s.

Poverty in the developing world, 1985-2000

(Percentage of population below the poverty line)

Region 1985 1990 2000* All developing countries 30.5 29.7 24.1 Sub-Saharan Africa 47.6 47.8 49.7 South Asia 51.8 49 36.9 East Asia 13.2 11.3 4.2 Middle East and North Africa 30.6 33.1 30.6 Eastern Europe 7.1 7.1 5.8 Latin America and the Caribean 22.4 25.5 24.9

* Projected Source: World Bank - World Development Report, 1992

Growth of Real Per Capita Income in Industrial and Developing Countries, 1980-2000

(Average annual percentage change)

Region 1980-1990 1990 1991 1990-2000* High-income countries 2.4 2.1 0.7 2.1 Developing countries 1.2 -0.2 -0.2 2.9 Sub-Saharan Africa -0.9 -2.0 -1.0 0.3 Asia and the Pacific 5.1 3.9 4.2 4.8 East Asia 6.3 4.6 5.6 5.7 South Asia 3.1 2.6 1.5 3.1 Middle East & North Africa -2.5 -1.9 -4.6 1.6 Latin America & the Carribean -0.5 -2.4 -0.6 2.2

* Projected Source: World Bank - World Development Report, 1992


At the heart of sub-Saharan Africa's trade crisis, and thus economic stagnation, has been a protracted depression in world commodity markets. More than any other developing region, sub-Saharan Africa depends on primary commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and copper,to generate the foreign exchange needed to buy imports.

Oxfam officials believe that every effort must be made to reduce Africa's dependence on commodities.

Major Commodity-Dependant Countries*

Country % of total export earnings derived from commodities (1982-86) Mauritania 99.9% Zambia 99.7 Rwanda 97.9 Niger 97.9 Burundi 951 Uganda 95 Namibia 95 Somalia 94.7 Malawi 93.4 Ethiopia 90

* Top 10 from among the countries of sub-Saharan Africa in which Oxfam operates

Top Commodities

Country Commodity Mauritania Iron ore 45%, fish 42% Zambia Copper 98% Rwanda Coffee 73% Niger Uranium 85% Burundi Coffee 87% Uganda Coffee 95% Namibia Diamonds 40%, urnaium 24% Somalia Live animals 78% Malawi Tobacco 55%, tea 20% Ethiopia Coffee 66%


The low income countries in sub-Saharan Africa rely foreign aid, on average, for 11% of their gross natinal product--significantly higher than in Latin America or Asia. The figure varies widely from nation to nation.

Development Aid as % of GNP--1990-91 Sub-Saharan Africa Low Income Countries Total: 11.0% Mozambique: 98.2 Tanzania: 40% Somalia: 33.8% Madagascar: 17% Ethiopia: 15.9% Zambia: 14.% Rwanda: 13.6% Uganda: 13.5% Kenya: 13.4%Ghana: 12.8% Congo: 8.8% Zaire: 7.2% Ivory Coast: 6.9% Sudan: 6.7%Zimbabwe: 6.3% Cameroon: 4.4%Nigeria: 1% Latin America: 0.5% Asia: 1%

Source: OECD 1992 Development Cooperation Report

AWASH IN RED INK Foreign Debt as % of GNP

The last decade has seen explosive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa's foreign debt. Now the region actually owes more than it earns. Although Latin American, for instance, has more total debt (about $446 billion versus $183 billion), sub-Saharan Africa is far more "debt-stressed" because its economy is weaker. With so much money servicing the debt, little is left for development.

1980: 29.2%

1985: 56.1%

1986: 74.5%

1987: 97.4%

1988: 97.1%

1989: 103%

1990: 106.7%

1991: 109.6%

1992: 108.8%


Middle East and No. Africa: 54.9% (1992)

Latin America and Caribbean: 37.6%

South Asia: 36.3%

Europe and Central Asia: 29.2%

East Asia and Pacific: 27.9%

Source: World Bank World Debt Tables 1992-1993

Note: This entire graphic is derived from a recent Oxfam report titled "Africa, make or break: action for recovery."

Source: "Africa, Make or Break: Action for recovery", a report by Oxfam, April, 1993 Source: World Bank World Debt Tables 1992-1993


The Oxfam relief group works in 27 sub-Saharan developing nations, plus South Africa. Last year, it managed grants worth about $35 million, funding 1,200 emergency-aid and development projects on the continent. It emphasizes self-reliance and involvement of local people, especially women.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World