Africa also has to deal with many other problems and concerns in addition to the political turmoil briefly looked at in my last post.
One big part of it is catching up in the 21st century after having been isolated, exploited and war torn for so long. Infrastructure has often been related only to resource extraction and was there for the convenience of mining and oil interests and for specialty farming such as cocoa; for those exploiting the continent. The planning was not necessarily done with the well being of the people in mind. Telecommunications is jumping from pre-modern to wireless in 30 years. Workers were often recruited with the lure of more money than subsistence farming could provide and then were displaced from traditional homes and family supports to work 100’s of miles away in mines or oil fields.
This severely impacted the social structures and values. Men worked long hours, lived in subsistence conditions and had little in the way of diversion, not being with their families more than once or twice a year. This led to considerable prostitution and drinking as the primary forms of entertainment. After the onset of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980’s, this proved to have dire consequences still affecting the complete social, economic and spiritual fabrics for the continent.
Concurrent with the resource extraction and people displacement came industrialization and urbanization at a faster clip than most of us in the west have experienced. Again, people left traditional lifestyles with the promise of jobs, money (often unrealized) and a “modern” life in new cities, but often ending up in nothing more than shanty towns such as in Nairobi and Soweto, with all the social and psychological displacement and distress that comes with extreme slum dwelling. Prostitution was and often still is rampant as it often was/is the only way women can earn a living to feed their kids.
Land use changed with industrialization and mining. Monoculture farming compromised fertility, increased soil erosion and changing weather patterns impacted water distribution. Lakes dried up in some areas and desertification brought the Sahara south at a clip of many miles each year for many years. Some of these problems are finally being addressed with some success by changing farming practices to be less intensive, more based on native crops and appropriate mixes of trees and crops in the sub Saharan region.
Fast population growth during the past 50 years has just added to the negative impact of the above influences.
All this development has also had great impact on the diverse and spectacular wild life of Africa from the Mediterranean to the southern tip. Land use for industrialization and expanded farming to feed the growing population encroached on many animals’ rich feeding grounds and migratory routes that have nurtured them since before time was recorded. As we know in the Yukon, Quebec and Alaska, disrupting migration routes for oil pipelines and hydro electric lines has devastating effects on the indigenous fauna. Climate pattern change also does as we know with the news of the polar bears’ feeding and migratory changes. Africa is seeing a lot of this. Big game can now often only be found on nature reserves and have to be protected from poachers by armed patrols, usually at great risk. Many animals are on the endangered species lists; like the white rhinoceros shown here. Many are losing ground to increased hunting to feed the larger population. Endangered animals are frequently sold as meat in village marketplaces. The non-African world contributes to the slaughter with our often ignorant wish for trinkets, ivory and animal parts for medicine and trophies, although the good news press tells us this is contained. The current strife in the Congo on the Rwanda border is endangering the last survivors of the gentle mountain gorilla.
Animals are often in direct conflict with people trying to eke out a living. With impoverished soils and population growth, there is greatly expanded use of the land for farming, the same land animals have grazed for millennia. As farms produce, the animals come to eat, and most of us have seen the stories of elephants easily breaking through protective barriers – at their peril as the hungry people try to scare them away, at times killing elephants so they can save their crops for harvest.
Tourism is a strain. The wealthy hunter seeking a trophy for his wall – or whatever hunters do with their gruesome prize - is another challenge for African governments now seeking to preserve their natural riches and heritage. Some see the growing ecotourism industry as an alternate way to provide continuing income and much needed currency, while nurturing the precious resource that attracts so many like me.
I am describing the challenges that Africa faces, one to recognize that the place of my youthful fantasy does not and maybe never did exist, and secondly to raise awareness. The motivation that I have to go there is my fascination with the continent and my passion for equality, advocacy and justice. I seek to contribute in my own little way, much as I do in working my passion here in Vancouver, but now I get to fulfill life long dream at the same time. Hopefully, I will be allowed to leave something useful behind.