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Africa is too rich to be poor

By Abel Dzobo Features Correspondent
ALTHOUGH every nerve of her body was a spitfire of pain, she could not feel it any more. Hours of flailing in the vast expanse of the ocean, the giant aquatic demon trying to suck her down and she fighting to stay afloat, in a stygian black night, had taken their toll. She sighed as she looked around her, to see dead bodies strewn around her.

She heard a splash from the boat but did not even bother to turn around. Then arms grabbed her and a voice shouted: "Hold onto me". She just stared at this "mad man", what could he save her from? How many years on an empty stomach? Sick but you cannot afford drugs? You cannot send children to school?

Domenico Colapinto, a fisherman who rushed to help the 300 African refugees feared dead after their boat sank off the remote island of Lampedusa on October 3, said: "They were all covered in oil, they were sliding from our hands. I clutched hold of a woman but I was not able to keep hold of her. She fell into the water and I was saying 'grab hold of me'. She looked at me and said nothing, she was exhausted. I saw her slide away, without even a cry, as she looked me in the eyes."

Emma Bonino, Italian Foreign Minister, said the refugees flee from war and poverty. "What we see on the Italian coast is a consequence of the exodus of the desperate, because you see two phenomena: those fleeing war and those fleeing poverty. The borders to the south of Libya are difficult to control. Syrians go through Lebanon and then to Egypt, arriving in a country like ours or Spain."

As we commemorate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty today, pledges are being flaunted about, and quack remedies to end poverty being concocted. But the naked truth in all this sickening hypocrisy is that the causes of this scourge are well-known, yet fingers are pointed elsewhere.

Latin America, Asia, Africa are the hotbeds of poverty. One of the main reasons is war. The United Nations Refugee Agency says the number of Egyptians arriving in Italy has doubled, from 836 in 2012, to 1 641 so far this year. The number of Syrians has increased ten-fold.

Somalia has not known peace for decades. Eritrea drinks from the same bloody cup. Libya fell prey to the "no fly zone" by European countries, leading to its leader Muammar Gaddafi's capture and murder.

Now Libya is a free-for-all, and the US envoy to Libya, Ambassador Christopher Stevens, was gunned down by unknown gunmen who stormed the consulate on September 12 last year . The new Prime Minister of Libya, Ali Zeidan, was recently kidnapped in a hotel by a militant group and later released.

The irony of it all is that after the "democratisation" of Libya, its citizens are now a miserable lot forced to drown on their way to Italy. Rewind to the Gaddafi era. Gaddafi's welfare state was one of the best, if not the best in the world. Home was the basic right of every citizen of Libya. Free electricity, no interest for loans for the people of Libya! Gaddafi had increased the literacy rate from 25 percent to 83 percent. Education expenses in Government universities were free in Libya. Medical expenses in government hospitals were free. The price of petrol was US14c in Libya. A huge loaf of bread used to cost only US15c. The GDP per capita of Libya was very high, over US$15 000.

In 2010 Libya had a 10 percent economic growth. It had no external debts. Libya also had over US$150 billion in reserves. While unemployment is a menace in Africa, a qualified person who did not have a job would be paid US$700 per month until a job was secured. But now all that has been washed away, and here enters the water cemetery of Lampedusa.

According to the Daily Mail (UK), a pregnant mother gave birth just before she drowned in the ship on October 3. Police diver Renato Sollustri said he had not slept since he had brought up the two corpses, the baby hidden in the folds of his mother's white leggings, under pulled-down trousers. "It wasn't until we passed the body to our colleagues in the boat that they made the shocking discovery - in her leggings was a newborn baby. None of us could believe it. We all began to cry - my mask was full of tears."

It would be so unfair if the woman were Libyan, for under Gaddafi, a Libyan mother used to get US$5 000 for giving birth to a child. Now she has to deliver in her death convulsions? And the Pharaohs? Due to political poker games, now they have to be on the boats of death to Italy.

Kebrat, one of the few female survivors, who had been thought dead, told of the harrowing spectacle of people aboard a boat in the ocean lighting a fire to that same boat, just like lighting a fire under one's feet.

"There were flames that were destroying the boat," she told La Repubblica.

"We started to scream and then jumped into the water. Then I swam with all my strength. I saw many people die next to me. I thought I would die too. I'm just glad to be alive - I've reached Italy after years of desperation. I'm trying to find a better life, a job." So if the poverty is so bad, then who deserves a good night's sleep?

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says: "Eradicating extreme poverty continues to be one of the main challenges of our time, and is a major concern of the international community. Ending this scourge will require the combined efforts of all, governments, civil society organisations and the private sector."

African governments, on their own part, have to work for the betterment of their people. The Berlin Conference of 1884-85, which led to the Scramble for Africa, was to expropriate raw materials, and today nothing has changed. Africa keeps slapping raw materials on the decks of European- bound ships and then import expensive finished products. Africa itself has various regional blocs such as Comesa, Sadc and Ecowas. However, this has hampered business as some countries are members of many groupings simultaneously, causing what economists refer to the "spaghetti bowl effect".

Zimbabwe, through the land reform programme, has seen more than 200 000 families benefiting and they have made great strides in productivity, especially in tobacco farming. The country, along with the rest of Africa, should now harness irrigation and farm all year round, as global warming has led to erratic rainfall and droughts.

Furthermore, Africa has to boost agro-processing such that it does not keep on exporting jobs and then have its citizens sailing on voyages of death in search of greener pastures. Africa is richly endowed when it comes to minerals. But its mining systems, modelled along the colonial extractive model, do not incorporate manufacturing, hence the need for value addition. African governments should ensure diversification such that when minerals run out, there will be other sources of income.

In Zimbabwe the indigenisation policy has seen locals owning 51 percent of mines while foreigners have 49 percent. Also, Community Share Ownership Trusts have ensured that residents of an area where minerals are extracted benefit from their resources. It's a giant step in the right direction, and only corruption could threaten such a noble idea. The youth remain a major economic driving force, along with the informal sector, but lack of capital is their curse as few have collateral, hence cannot access funding from banks. In this regard, African governments should establish sovereign funds to assist them in setting up their businesses.

Africa is also lagging behind in ICTs, and should manufacture own cellphone brands. Many countries lack Intellectual Property Rights policies, hampering scientific innovations. The best would be to protect innovations locally and then after the product has been fully developed, spread wings to the global market. And the women! Shut them out of the mainstream economy, and the bane of poverty will be Africa's to bear.

None but ourselves can free us from the despotic yoke of gnawing poverty.

E m a i l : edzaidzobo@gmail.com;


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