Module Nine, Activity Ten

Summary

You have survived nine learning activities on African economics! Here is an attempt to summarize what you have learned.
Poor ManMost of the learning activities have presented a troubling picture of the economies of Africa. However, the intention is not leave you with the impression that Africa’s economic present and future is hopeless such as is depicted in the cartoon image to the right. As you have learned in this module and in earlier modules, such as Module Six: African Geography, and Module Seven A & B: African History, the African continent is rich in natural resources, mineral and agriculture, and human resources, two of the key components for economic growth, development, and prosperity.

Please take some time to click on the thumb-nail photos below. These photographs will present different images of Africa’s economy than the image depicted in this cartoon. What types of economic activity are depicted in these photos? What is the over-all image of economic activity in Africa do these photographs depict?

Act 10 1 Act 10 2
@Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison @Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Act 10 3 Act 10 4
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Act 10 5 Act 10 6
@Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison @Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Act 10 7 Act 10 8
@Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison @Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Act 10 9 Act 10 11
@Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison @Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Act 10 10 Act 10 12
@Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison @Africa Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Which of these images are representative of economics in Africa today? The short answer to these questions is that all of images represent part of the reality of African economics. African economies do have great potential, but they also face serious difficulties as you learned in activities four through nine.

However, as you have also learned, Africa has great economic potential. Activities two and three demonstrated the rich diversity of African economies. Just as in Asia and Europe, up until the 17th and 18th centuries CE, African peoples acting on basic economic needs and wants, used their rich natural and human resources to expand ways of producing goods and services through a process of specialization and diversification. Moreover, African societies enjoyed the benefits of short, medium, and long distance trade that helped in the development of strong economic and political systems in all regions of the continent.

Economic historians of Africa point out that up until the 17th century CE, African economies were developing in a manner similar to developments in Europe and Asia. If this was the case, what happened to Africa? Why aren’t African economies as vibrant and developed as economies in Europe? As demonstrated in learning activities four through nine, the continent of Africa became increasing integrated into a global economy. While the process of economic globalization benefited European economies, its impact on Africa was for the most part negative.

Here is a brief review from this module of the impact of global integration on African societies over the past four centuries.

  • Slave trades: The Atlantic and East African slave trades resulted in the destruction of many African societies and their economies between the 16th and 19th centuries. Slave raiding severely disrupted social and economic systems and infrastructure. Moreover, the slave trades robbed many African societies of strong able-bodied young adults.
  • Colonialism: The economics of colonialism was centered on taking advantage of Africa’s rich agricultural and natural resources for the benefit of European economies. Colonial governments supported the export of raw materials with minimal compensation to African workers and farmers. Profits were not re-invested in African economies to help them develop, but were taken out of the colonies by the international companies who controlled the trade of raw materials. Moreover, very little money was spent by colonial governments to support education, health care, and transportation infrastructure, all of which are necessary for economic growth and development..
  • Globalization: The economies of all countries in the world have been increasingly integrated into the global economy during the past three decades. For most African countries, globalization has been an economic disaster. The economies they inherited from colonialism did not allow them to be competitive in the global economy. Indeed, as activities eight and nine demonstrated, globalization has resulted in slow economic growth and a heavy debt burden for most African countries. The prices they receive for the export of raw material, with the exception of petroleum, has declined while the prices they have to pay for industrial imports have dramatically increased.

In spite of these problems, Africa’s wealth in natural and human resources provides a basis for economic hope. African governments are looking for new approaches to promote growth and development. Pressure is being put on international economic organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and on governments of rich countries in North America, Europe, and Asia, to institute policies that will relieve Africa’s debt and that will provide a fairer and supportive global environment–an environment that will foster economic growth and development throughout the African continent.

This is the final activity in this module. Return to the curriculum, go on to Module Ten, or select one of the other activities in this module.