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The plight of Africa’s children

SOLLY RAKGOMO
As the beautiful African sun rose to warm the chilly African winter morning of 16 June 2016 governments, youths and civic societies around Africa celebrated the uniqueness and diversity of the continent’s children.

The drumbeats, poems, songs, drama, sporting activities, musical festivities that characterised the somewhat carnival atmosphere masked the deep underlying structural challenges that innocent African children face in their daily lives. Without any doubt the African continent is arguably the richest continent on earth. The beautiful continent is endowed with a vast array of natural resources like gold, diamonds, platinum, copper, beautiful wild animals, tropical rain forests, scenic deltas and lakes, perennial rivers, deserts and to a large extent beautiful blue skies and a diverse culture. Yet it is in this rich and beautiful continent where children have become the endangered species who instead of being looked at as the future they are now dithering on the brink of being the disposables. It is with a tinge of sadness to realise that the rich African continent is the only one that tops the ranks in high infant mortality rates. A disturbing high number of Africa’s children have less access to health care which in many cases have resulted in many children succumbing to easily treatable diseases in other continents like Europe.

Africa’s children are more than likely to be born with HIV/AIDS related diseases and have for many years succumbed to diseases of poverty like kwashiorkor, marasmus and rickets. Despite some African countries like Nigeria being the richest in the continent, it has the highest number of children who survive on less than a dollar a day. It is a common occurrence for African children in many countries not to afford a decent meal unlike their counterparts in Europe and other continents. The continent also boasts the highest number of children with less or no access to sound educational infrastructure and information technology both at school and in the home. The situation is so depressing that trees have been turned into classrooms with poorly resourced teachers. Wars, famine and disease has turned the continent to host the highest number of internally and externally displaced children in places like Somalia, Darfur, Libya and South Sudan. When their counterparts in other continents celebrate Father’s day and mother’s days, hundreds and thousands of Africa’s children are often motherless and fatherless to celebrate these events. It is either that or their parents have been swallowed up by war, poverty and disease.  Both interstate and intrastate conflicts have drawn many of Africa’s children into the arms of savage militia men who manipulated their innocence and callously turned them into vicious child soldiers. To sadly sum this up it can truly be said that indeed Africa’s children despite inhabiting a very rich continent endowed with an array of natural resources have been subjected to a life of dehumanising poverty and a culture of rightlessness.

To get to the root cause of these problems one must take into consideration that the African continent has faced continuous socio- economic and political challenges for the past 500 years and the challenges have impacted negatively on many generations of Africa’s children. Around the 1600s the once peaceful and communitarian African societies especially from West Africa suffered an invasion of a different kind when some Western merchants captured able bodied men and women, bound them and shipped them to their continents to work as slaves in plantations under dehumanising conditions. The captured slaves were forcefully separated from their children marking the first fragmentation of solid and united African families which impacted adversely on the well-being of these innocent African children. Slavery was later to be abolished and as African children sighed with relief that the capture of their parents was now a thing of the past, another invasion of the African continent descended in the form of colonialism. In 1884, vulturous imperialist powers namely Britain, France, Portugal and others converged at the Berlin Conference where the African continent was sliced birthday cake-like among these powers. What followed was more than hundred years of colonialism characterised by

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economic, social and political marginalisation of the indigenous populations, confiscation of African fertile land which have fed African children for many years, exploitation and plundering of Africa’s resources with apocalyptic impunity.

The horrors of colonialism did not only affect elderly African people, but its savagely discriminatory policies pushed Africa’s children to the peripheral margins of socio- economic life. Instead of enjoying top class educational standards enjoyed by the children of their colonial masters, African children were forced to join their parents to labour in farms owned by colonialists to scrap a living and escape devastating poverty. The humiliating servitude suffered by African slaves was now being transferred to African children during the period of colonialism. In the 1960s and 1970s a feeling of euphoria and political excitement filled the African skies as most African countries gained independence which brought an end to brutal colonial rule. An air of optimism reverberated all over the continent as now the political destiny of Africa was now placed in the hands of Africans where children were for the first time going to have access to good education, health and other opportunities to prepare them to later take the political baton from their liberation fathers and lead Africa to a life of freedom, social justice and economic prosperity never experienced before.

However this was not to be as many African post-colonial leaders diverted from their pre- independence promises and turned the gun on their own children. A dark period of dictatorship, Stalinist one party rule ensued. Some rulers declared themselves as divine rulers for life, other countries like Nigeria descended in cruel military dictatorships. Africa’s cruel dictators not only ruled with an iron fist, they plundered their country’s treasuries to negative balances and siphoned all the ill-gotten wealth to highly secretive and corrupt Swiss banks. Developmental agendas were abruptly replaced by kleptocratic ones. Schools, hospitals, jobs, food and other opportunities for Africa’s children became a rare or non-existent commodity. It was a shocking horror for African children that instead of basking in the glory of freedom, social justice, economic prosperity, they now found themselves slumped in the agony of frustration, dejection, marginalisation, depression and again a dehumanising culture of rightlessness. Years of economic mismanagement and corruption at the hands of Africa’s dictators resulted in the economic collapse and breaking down of very few democratic institutions. In other words the African continent found itself engulfed in political bushfires and economic maladies.

These vulnerabilities and incompetency gave the United States of America a very good point of entry to wage another economic warfare that further dealt another devastating blow to the already suffering and desperate African children. Armed with the brutal and subtle weapons of economic warfare in the name of International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the USA promised and gave desperately needed loans to African countries (most of whom were on the brink of losing any form of legitimacy) who were prepared to abide by the harmful conditionalities of neo liberal Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which preached the gospel of free market fundamentalism. IMF’s prescription of neo liberal conditions (SAP’s) earned huge profits to the USA but sadly transfixed African countries in economic intensive care units.

The rolling back of the state from effective management of public goods like schools and health care and throwing them to the vagaries of the market forces meant that for an African poor child to access education and good health became an unaffordable luxury. Massive retrenchments of their parents from effective workforce meant a deeper life of unimaginable poverty and squalor for majority of Africa’s innocent children. Even up to today nothing has fared any better. Present African governments with their inept attitude and political rascality have become willing accomplices with Western powers and are hopelessly pandering to the whims of neo liberal institutionalisms claiming that Africa is part of a global village.



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