Cold War movie

The darkest continent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 October, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 1995, 12:00am

IT should serve as a salutory lesson to Asia to observe how its rise to prosperity and international prominence has been mirrored by Africa's descent into poverty and neglect. Of all the continents we survey in this week's series of leading articles on how the world has changed during the 50 years since the founding of the United Nations, none has fared as badly as Africa.

While real incomes steadily rose throughout the rest of the world, only Africa ended the 1980s poorer than it began the decade, with the combined gross domestic product of all countries south of the Sahara, excluding South Africa, less than that of tiny Belgium.

Almost all of the continent has suffered from civil wars that severely disrupted economic development, and which still linger in many countries. Most originated from tribal conflicts exploited by the superpowers, which pumped in military aid and fought battles by proxy, at the height of the Cold War. The international community tried to stem some conflicts. UN troops were sent to Africa more often than any other continent, all too often to retreat in despair, as from Somalia this year, leaving the world with an image of a dark and savage continent that was best typified by the recent butchery in Rwanda.

Yet the end of the Cold War has brought hope, facilitating the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, and the emergence of Nelson Mandela as President, whose path of national reconciliation and economic pragmatism has inspired many of his neighbours. Across the continent, corrupt regimes such as that in Zaire, have found their former superpower patrons no longer willing or able to support them unless they embrace democracy and market reforms.

For the first time since independence, many African countries are now on a path to prosperity. But it will still be a long and painful process - with the continent still suffering the effects of the 50 years in which it let Asia race so far ahead.