African Economy Overview
Placing the African economy in the general paradigm of underdevelopment means making a simplification that does not correspond to reality: in fact the “African model”, as well as being extremely composite, is above all different from any other that may fall within that paradigm. The origins of this diversity are to be found in the territorial structure prior to the colonial period, in which the communication routes were much more extensive and connected than one might think today, both in Saharan Africa and in black Africa, and therefore the mobility of much larger population, with the formidable incidence of nomadism; and the political organization was based not on “national” states, but on numerous empires (from the Sahelto Zimbabwe) with fluctuating borders, inevitably open to multi-ethnic influences and centered on cities, with religious, military and emporial functions, located in inland regions. Colonialism, in the span of just a century, has completely overturned this structure: the need to draw clear political borders has built an irrational mosaic, while the opportunity to drain resources to transfer them to colonizing countries has determined the shift of urban centers of gravity. along the coasts, splitting the communications network into a series of trunks (in particular railways) of penetration towards the areas of mining exploitation and plantation agriculture. As a result, with the progressive sedentarization of the population, that strong push towards urbanism which, exploded after decolonization, it stole huge human masses from the subsistence economy (which guaranteed diets that were certainly not rich but sufficiently balanced) to generate, in return, an artificial swelling of the tertiary sector, made up of vicious circuits of retail trade in the suburbs of large cities and, above all, of bureaucratic and military apparatuses at the service of unstable governments, turned discontinuously to pursue collectivist models extraneous to the local culture or the opposite, but in more rare cases, liberal models without productive bases. The large plantations and mineral deposits were, in the first case, nationalized, with evident losses of efficiency, and, in the other, they remained in the hands of the remaining European minorities, continuing the drainage of resources. sahel, accelerating the processes of desertification and accentuating the tendency to overpopulation, highlighted by the relationship between demographic growth and stagnation – or even contraction – of production. The same interventions aimed at creating irrigation systems (for example, in northern Nigeria), at promoting the stabilization or transfer of rural populations (Ethiopia, Tanzania) or at setting up economic planning (Zambia, Zimbabwe) have failed to come into contact with local realities. The change in the global geopolitical framework, between the 1980s and 1990s, also led to a decline in interest in the strategic role of some central African states (from Angola to those of the Horn of Africa, to the Democratic Republic of Congo; see COUNTRYAAH), while the world economic crisis also contributed to reducing the commitment to cooperative activities. Expectations of industrialization, an essential condition for rebalancing the trade balance and satisfying the demand for consumption coming mainly from cities, continue to be frustrated by negative factors such as the scarcity of capital, the obsolescence of existing plants, the weak capacity for initiative of governments and the lack of skilled labor. Therefore, in addition to the simple first processing of agricultural and mining products, the assembly plants with imported component parts continue to prevail which, due to the high procurement costs and the practical impossibility of entering international competition, must address only the internal market, too. weak to allow innovation and expansion.
Conversely, the dramatic situations in Somalia, constantly victim of a continuing civil war, of Mozambique, where at the beginning of the nineties the capital agreement was signed between Frelimo and Renamo, the two factions that animated one of the most bloody civil wars on the continent, and, later (1996), of the Democratic Republic of Congo (ex Zaire), with the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of refugees, rejected in Rwanda, and of this same country which, again in the nineties, experienced the appalling genocide of the Tutsis carried out by people of Hutu ethnicity, created a vacuum in the center of the continent, destroying the few points of reference that international cooperation, with all its limitations, had tried to establish. Fracture that extends to Guinean Africa with the resumption of exasperated nationalisms (Liberia) and border conflicts (between Nigeria and Cameroon); Nigeria itself is still consumed in a torn civil war in the Niger River Delta area. Black Africa, having lost the areas of Western and socialist influence, is increasingly lacking a geopolitical point of reference, even if, in recent years, China has been trying to hegemonize the area, especially in view of the exploitation of the enormous natural resources , which not even the big states are able to represent: not Nigeria, torn apart by an unlikely federalism that has dramatically multiplied the number of internal political units; not the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has begun to resume development in a liberal sense which, however, risks involving it again in the logic of the unequal exchange of raw materials for semi-finished and finished products; not Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, drawn into the South African orbit. While hunger continues to represent the most immediate problem and the stiffening of political barriers the greatest obstacle to regional integration, new interpretations of African underdevelopment emerge which, alongside the colonial legacy of an unbalanced and losing role in the international division of work, underline the formidable natural and cultural potential of the continent.