poverty in abidjanUntil the 1990s, Côte d’Ivoire was West Africa’s most stable and prosperous country. Its capital, Abidjan, offered opportunity to domestic migrants and refuge to immigrants from Côte d’Ivoire’s war-torn neighbors. But even before Côte d’Ivoire descended into chaos in 1999, the Ivorian capital saw poverty spike as the economy began to falter. In the turbulent years since 1999, Abidjan has seen its poor population placed under ever greater economic pressure. With more than a third of Abidjan’s population living in slums, the situation for Abidjan’s poor remains dire even as calm is restored in Côte d’Ivoire.

After gaining its independence from France in 1960, Côte d’Ivoire quickly stood out as a paragon of good governance. With its economy boosted by cocoa and coffee exports, the country retained strong relations with the West (particularly the U.S.) and never flirted with socialism. Côte d’Ivoire’s capital, Abidjan, became the focal point of the country’s export-oriented economy and thus attracted migrants from around the country: its population tripled between 1965 and 1975. The city also attracted refugees who fled poverty and war in Côte d’Ivoire’s neighbors, with foreigners comprising about 20 percent of the Ivorian population in 1999. Abidjan’s residents made remarkably good livelihoods, with poverty rates in the city below 5 percent until the early 1990s.

This rosy scene began to deteriorate in 1986 when the economy entered a protracted recession. Economic conditions slid further in the 1990s as cocoa and coffee prices fell. By 2000, GNP per capita had fallen a third from its 1980 level. With the national economy in a tailspin, poverty in Abidjan and the nation spiked. According to MIT sources, the poor formed 20 percent of Abidjan’s population in 1995, up from under 5 percent two years prior. Abidjan’s poor suffered disproportionately in the late 1990s from cuts to foreign aid in response to government mismanagement. More recently, the poor have borne the brunt of the intermittent civil conflict that has engulfed the country since 1999. By the time national reconciliation efforts began bearing fruit in 2008, many Abidjan residents considered two daily meals a rare luxury, and school fees proved wholly unaffordable for many families.

As in many commercial hubs of developing nations, the poor of Abidjan live largely in slums. According to recent estimates, more than one-third of Abidjan’s population resides in slums, up from 13.8 percent in 1988. The slum population is just as cosmopolitan as the city as a whole, if not more so: as of 1994, only 40 percent of slum dwellers were born in Côte d’Ivoire – most slum dwellers were born in nearby West African states. But Abidjan’s slums offer none of the promise that these immigrants and domestic migrants alike sought. According to Ivorian government surveys, more than two-thirds of slum households reside in the slums for lack of means to live elsewhere.

Recent civil calm in Côte d’Ivoire should offer solace to the poor of Abidjan – at long last, their country is on the mend. But only time will tell if Côte d’Ivoire will ever regain its reputation as a beacon of prosperity in the world’s poorest region.

– Leo Zucker

Sources: Bureau National d’Etudes Techniques et de
MIT IRIN News Global Edge-Michigan State University Abidjan US Embassy BBC BBC Skyscraper Cit
Photo: Needpix

ticking clockAs the expiration date for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of 2000 approaches in September, members of Congress are calling for a rapid-fire renewal process to protect the work that AGOA has accomplished so far.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sander Levin (D-Mich.) have introduced The AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act of 2015 that will renew the act for ten years.

Originally signed into law in May of 2000, the AGOA was a bipartisan initiative intended to strengthen economic relations between the United States and Africa. By creating trade preferences for African products that allowed for duty-free entry into the United States, the AGOA sought to provide an exclusive economic partnership with budding African industries and American consumers. The Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think tank, estimates that the AGOA has created several hundred thousand direct s in Africa—particularly in textiles.

Under the agreement, eligible African nations would receive “unlimited duty free and quota free access to the U.S. market for apparel made in Africa from U.S. fabric and U.S. thread.” Several African nations saw unprecedented growth in exports to the United States. For example,  Kenya saw a 1,375% increase in exports to the U.S. between 2000 and 2001.

“The legislation [AGOA] has helped transform the economic landscape for Sub-Saharan Africa by stimulating new trade opportunities for African and Americans businesses, creating new jobs, and investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” wrote a U.S. Administration 2002 report.

The AGOA was initially set to expire in 2008 until a new round of legislation pushed the expiration date back to September 2015.

In addition to the African jobs created by the AGOA, there are many American jobs dependent on the trade network that this legislation has formed. The United States Trade Representative has estimated that exports to Africa are responsible for more than 120,000 American jobs. The AGOA has provided a level of security that have lead to a four-fold increase in exports to Africa—something that helped to pay thousands of salaries stateside.

“This legislation will promote American trade and strengthen our economic ties with important countries,” said Sen. Paul Ryan in April. “It will encourage our friends in Africa and Haiti to pursue free enterprise and solidify the rule of law. This legislation demonstrates that more trade can create opportunity at home and promote our economic values abroad.”

Brookings has argued that uncertainty over the act’s renewal could halt the progress made so far by the AGOA. Without the stability of the legislation, textile factories are less likely to receive orders in enough time to produce clothing for a new season of shopping. In the void left by the AGOA, competing manufacturers like China will be eager to step in and soak up the businesses that were once protected by the AGOA.

Emma Betuel

Sources: WPI, IB Times, Brookings
Photo: Global Vison

healthcare and income inequality
While Ebola continues to spread in West Africa, one of the main dialogues focuses on the disconnect between the rural poor and accessible healthcare. Though this is not uniquely an Ebola problem nor a West African one, the rural poor populations have exacerbated this epidemic.

Many rural Africans, particularly in regions of East Africa, are still treated by local healers, many of whom are not certified and perpetuate myths about illnesses. With these healers, who are affordable for many lower income families, improper health care treatments are provided. Thus healthcare and income inequality spur one another on in turn.

Without access to the more costly but effective doctors, illnesses like Ebola and HIV/AIDS run rampant due to misdiagnoses and improper courses of treatment. Even with hospital care, the cost of travel to medical centers (usually over long distances), compounded with the cost of treatment and prescriptions, is often too great for people to pay.

Instead of getting proper treatment, poor populations are forced to settle for secondary, substandard care. In the cases that they are able to get free assistance, the demand is often too great to be supported by rural clinics, which are often sporadic in nature.

Part of the problem of such pandemics is the inaccessibility of rural patients. Because of the lack of money these people have for travel to the cities, doctors are instead forced to go out into the rural regions and try and find the people affected with the disease. But because newcomers are unfamiliar, villagers meet the doctor at times with hesitancy and confusion.

With the increase in medical technology and quality healthcare, poverty still remains a barrier to access – for both sides. The inability to access and properly treat a large proportion of the infected public has caused epidemics to be much worse. In order to help prevent future outbreaks, global health officials are reevaluating how to prepare and eliminate the poverty barrier in future cases.

Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Reuters, Southern Times Africa
Photo: knowledge.allianz

In recent years, many people have thought of Africa as a poor continent with many poor individuals or as a place for humanitarian aid. The fact about Africa is very different from these perceptions. Even though it is true that Africa is still a poor continent, Africa has a lot of potential to be a good investment for many companies.

Africa has a many natural resources such as gas, oil and minerals.

In the next decades, the world fuel consumption is expected to rise by 25 percent. Along with the increase in demand for natural resources, the price for these commodities has also increased significantly from $25 per barrel in 1999 to more than $245 per barrel in 2008.

Taking advantages of its reserve in natural resources, Africa has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

With the growing economies, African countries are attracting many companies from different industries from oil and gas companies to telecommunication, banking and retailing. However, Africa countries are still dealing with many serious challenges such as poverty, diseases and high infant mortality.

With the help of other nations, these challenges are being resolved in a timely manner to make Africa a more attractive investment for people around the world. One of the biggest indicators for Africa’s long term success is the decrease in its inflation rate for a lower inflation rate means a more stable economic environment and a safer investment.

Africa might carry a high short term risk at the moment, but its long term profit is undeniable by anyone.

Phong Pham

Sources: McKinsey & Company, The New York Times
Photo: Borgen Project