BBC correspondent ,Mark Doyle went on the road to ask that question across the continent. He’s come back with three documentaries. Part one – Africa and the world- airs Monday on the BBC World Service Radio. Mark will join us on WHYS do discuss the issue and share some of the things that he has come accross during his visit. Read on and have a look at Mark’s first post from Liberia. Why, do you think, is Africa poor? Also, post any questions you have to Mark here.
Here’s the first of Mark Doyle’s blog posts while on the road
I’m in the mountains of Liberia, west Africa.
It’s a place of towering forests and tangled greenery. There are majestic mountains and fast-flowing rivers. I love being here; the air is clean and the views are amazing.
As I look north from Mount Tokodeh I can see Liberia’s neighbour, Guinea, shrouded in low cloud. To the east of a forested plateau is another neighbour, Ivory Coast.
Everything looks green and verdant and pure.
Two days ago I was in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. What a contrast! Monrovia is built around a swamp and is, architecturally at least, an ugly little city. But I have always liked visiting the place – even during the years of Liberia’s war in the 1990’s – because Liberians themselves are almost unfailingly friendly and frank. Journalists like that.
“Africa is not poor; it is poorly managed”. The quote is from an interview with the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who I met two days ago to help answer the question I am posing in the forthcoming BBC radio documentary series with the (admittedly rather provocative) working title “Why Is Africa Poor?”.
Mrs Johnson Sirleaf was on her usual form during the interview – she was coherent and convincing.At this point I should declare an interest. I rather like Mrs Johnson Sirleaf. I knew her as an opposition leader and I have followed her progress to power.
I like her plainspoken style in interviews. I admit to not knowing enough about internal Liberian politics to know whether she has full control over the Bad Guys – of which there are many in Liberia – but I freely admit to thinking she is one of the Good Guys. End of declaration.
As Africa’s first elected female head of state I reckon that her take on poverty – as a former international banker, exiled opposition leader and, today, as a President, matters. If you listen to the interview in my series (to be broadcast from August) you may agree or disagree with her views. Or indeed you may disagree with my questions to her.
I’ve come to the mountains of northern Liberia to look at a huge foreign investment project here in the iron ore mines in Liberia’s Nimba County.
My question here is – will big foreign companies like the one planning the iron ore extraction in this region help stop Africa being poor? Is it investment or exploitation? Who wins?
Below is Mark’s original post :
We were putting the world to rights, as one does, as we cruised atop what was – at the time – a nice new tarmac surface.
Our conversation turned to Africa and my travelling companion let forth a litany of woes about poor leadership, corruption, etc etc. Then he put his head in his hands (don’t worry – I was at the wheel doing the driving) and he meboaned; “Oh, what is wrong with us Africans?!”.
Since I knew there was nothing wrong with my intelligent, dynamic, driving companion I said: “Well, there’s nothing wrong with you!”. To which he retorted: “So why are we all so poor then?”
For some reason I never forgot that conversation and now I’ve just started work on a three part series for BBC World Service Radio with a ridiculously ambitious title – “Why is Africa Poor?”. I don’t expect to answer the question completely – if it were that easy, I guess, Africa wouldn’t be poor any more. But I do intend to have a stab at it – to try to formulate the question creatively, at least, and to illustrate some of the possible answers
The programmes won’t be broadcast until late August but BBC Producer Neal Razzell and I have already made one reporting trip for the project – to southern Sudan – and we’re planning a second trip now, probably to Liberia and somewhere else.
I first proposed the title to BBC Editors in 2007 but it didn’t get past the competitive “commissioning” process BBC journalists have to go through to get their ideas on air. This year, it did.
Neal has been trying to give the ridiculously ambitious idea some shape by defining the conflicts – political, military, social, economic, even psychological – which may be part of the answer to the question. He’s come up with three subsections – which may end up being the thematic balast for the three programmes.
It’s all on the drawing board, and the programmes will ultimately be dictated by what we find on our travels, but Neal has identified three sets of conflicts:
Africans Versus Africa:
This is the daily struggle Africans have in a naturally hostile environment. We might end up looking at endemic tropical diseases, for example. Personally, I sometimes think it’s a miracle anything gets done at all in some places – what with half the population suffering from malaria at one point or another. Some places are just so hot…or so flooded…or so dry, or just such downright steamy, pestilential swamps that my hunch is they automatically make people poor. Maybe we will find out if my hunch is correct.Africans Versus Non-Africans:
Here’s where we might get into colonial exploitation, slavery and the rest of it. What are the financial implications of this? What are the psychological scars and how can they be measured, if at all? In this category we may also look at foreign actors – are they “investing” in Africa or “exploiting” her? Or both? Africans Versus Africans:
It seems pretty clear that war makes most people poor – although of course some people benefit from it. But conflicts of all sorts might come in here – bad leadership, for example, and corruption are a form of conflict imposed by one set of people on others. Personally, I haven’t met an African yet who will not say bad leadership is one of their major problems. But if that’s the case why is African leadership so bad? Is it something to do with “Big Man Politics” or “Tribe” or Ethnicity? Do any of these things actually make people poor?
Wish us luck. We’ll need it – these are big questions.
Luckily for me, most of my job is to ask questions – not to answer them. But this time round I seem to have saddled myself with a bit more responsibility than usual with that absurdly ambitious title.
But maybe you know the answers? If you do, please, please let me have them on the back of an envelope as soon as possible because the day when I have to start writing the scripts is looming….