afrol News, 9 November - As the UN today released its Human Development Report for 2006, the top (Scandinavia) and bottom (Niger, Sierra Leone) positions had changed little from last year. This year's report more than ever demonstrates West Africa's poor development. Out of the world's 30 least developed countries, 18 are West and Central African and 28 are African. Perceived power houses as Kenya, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal are among the bottom-30.
The UN's development fund UNDP annually releases its controversial Human Development Report, which lists the world's countries after a set of indicators important to the well-being of their citizens. In addition to economic factors, great weight is given to the availability and quality of health and education services.
During the last few years, West Africa's most impoverished nations Niger and Sierra Leone have occupied the last places in the report's Human Development Index (HDI) - which has developed into a much-used reference of a nation's standards. Also this year, Niger occupies the very last position, achieving an index value of only 0.311 out a possible 1.00.
Following on bottom places are 22 further African nations, mostly West or Central African. War-ravaged but reconstructing Sierra Leone is second-least developed, with a score of 0.335. Up the ladder, on 175th place, one finds Mali (0.338), Burkina Faso (0.342) and Guinea-Bissau (0.349). Even West African nations perceived to be better off are among the bottom-30: Côte d'Ivoire (rank 164, value 0.421), Nigeria (159th with 0.448), Senegal (156th with 0.460) and The Gambia (155th with 0.479).
Rather than blindly focusing at the ranks and values, it is more interesting to study how so many West African nations got be placed so low on the HDI. Indeed, there are very big differences among West African nations when it comes to their basic development factors. The HDI includes variables such as life expectancy, literacy rate, school enrolment at different levels and GDP per capita, measured in average purchase power.
The reason Niger is found at the bottom of the HDI this year again, is that the poor Sahelian nation is the only to score poorly on all indicators: purchase power and life expectancy is low, while education remains out of reach for most citizens. Interestingly, Niger is not worst off in any of these variables, it is just a combination of poor or under-average performance in all sectors that penalises the nation. Life expectancy is just below the African average; GDP per capita is well below average but the education index is almost at bottom place, beaten only by Mali and Burkina Faso.
Also Sierra Leone performs under the African average on all variables, but it is the country's extremely low GDP per capita value that places it at the bottom of the HDI list. Sierra Leone's education sector is decent, measured in a regional context. Mali and Burkina Faso score much better on their citizen's purchase power and life expectancies are over the African average, but failed investments in education reveal an extremely low literacy rate (at about 20 percent) and school enrolment rate (26 to 35 percent).
It is mostly the combination of low GDP per capita and a very poor performance of the education sector that gives West and Central African nations a bad rating. Very many West African countries have life expectancy rates over the African average of 46.1 years. Only a very few exceptions stand out with very low life expectancies: the Central African Republic (39.1 years) and Sierra Leone (41.0).
But newborn Senegalese and Gambians can expect to get 56 years old, and babies born in Ghana, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Togo, Mauritania, Guinea and Benin on average will live far more than 50 years. While still possible to improve, this shows that the health situation for most West and Central Africans is better than in Southern Africa, which is plagued by the AIDS pandemic. Even Malians and the Burkinabe now live longer than South Africans, who have a life expectancy of 47.0 years.
West Africa's perceived power-houses have different reasons for appearing on the bottom-30 list. Côte d'Ivoire surprisingly scores under the African average on all variables, by now even on economy. Nigerians are even poorer and live even shorter, but have a relatively decent education system. The Senegalese have an excellent health, are just a little bit poorer than the African average, but are very poorly educated - even worse off than troubled nations as Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and the Central African Republic.
But not all West African nations are listed within the "low human development" category of the HDI - which includes 28 African nations and Haiti and Yemen. The large bulk of medium developed nations, with a score between 0.500 and 0.800, also include many African states. Just within this category, we find Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville. Further up are Ghana, São Tomé, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and in the middle of the bulk is Cape Verde, with a West African top score of 0.722.
In particular Ghana and Cape Verde are demonstrating serious development out of their own efforts during the last years. Cape Verde, very poor on natural resources, has had a very steep improvement since 1990, while overall development for Ghana has stagnated since its good progress until the end-1990s. But Ghana stands out for a high life expectancy and good education rating, documenting an investment in its people. The same is the case for Cape Verde, where these investments now also are bearing fruits in a relatively high GDP per capita.
These positive examples contrast the region's oil producing nations, some of which have reached high positions due to their very high oil revenues. Equatorial Guinea stands out negatively, with a GDP per capita equal to the European average, but with a scandalously low life expectancy of 42.8 years and a school enrolment rate of only 58 percent. In oil-producing Chad, only a quarter of the population is literate, and other long-time oil producers in Africa and beyond have made little progress.
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.