Thursday, September 10, 2015

The wealth of the past

Africa is rich in natural resources yet Africa’s share of global trade remains less than 3%.  Between 1990 and 2010 the number of people in poverty increased from 289 million to more than 413 million. It need not be.

When Portuguese explorers first arrived on the east African coast at the turn of the 16th century, an anonymous recorder on the voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral noted of Kilwa (off the coast of present-day Tanzania): “This island is small, near the mainland, and is a beautiful country. The houses are high like those of Spain. In this land there are rich merchants, and there is much gold and silver and amber and musks and pearls. Those of the land wear clothes of fine cotton and of silk and many fine things and they are black men.”

Two centuries earlier, the Muslim king of Mali, Mansa Musa, made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 with a stop in Cairo. The Arab historian Chihab al-Umari, who visited Cairo 12 years later, wrote that Mansa Musa “left no emir or holder of a royal office without a gift or load of gold, he and his company gave out so much gold that they depressed its value in Egypt and caused its price to fall”. This was at a time when two-thirds of the world’s supply of gold came from west Africa. Mansa Musa’s extravagance brought Mali to the attention of the world and Mali would appear on the map of the world drawn by Angelino Dulcert of Majorca in 1339 and on subsequent maps. There was a time when the economic actions of Africa’s rulers had worldwide consequences.

Africa’s knowledge base is expanding. Africa could still ultimately reclaim the position it occupied when the Portuguese explorers first arrived. The revolution in the worldwide web, social media, and the proliferation of mobile phones are accelerating the pace of Africa’s development. Ghana’s hiplife music, for example, represents the indigenisation of American hip-hop. Youth activism continues to play a key role in the democratisation process that is sweeping through Africa. Their embrace of social media signals a new energy that is finding expression in the creative arts and popular culture.

Adapted from here

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