Week 5: Will. Kam., Clean Water and Highways, Freedom in Africa

The “Cheetah” generation, those that educate themselves and promote the modernization of African society without governmental corruption, are important figures to the development of the continent. One such cheetah in Malawi, William Kamkwamba was only 14 years old when he began. Despite his youth, William showed intuition and skill as he constructed an electric mill. “He built his family an electricity-generating windmill using blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials collected in a local scrap yard, and working from rough plans he found in a library book.” (Emerging Africa, 134) William has continued to build useful structures including two more similar windmills and a “solar-powered water-pump that supplies the first drinking water in his village of Wimbe” (Emerging Africa, 135) His work even inspired a greater effort to continue construction, in particular to rebuild the school in his village.

As I have read and educated myself about the issues facing the African continent, I have been familiarized with major factors impeding development. It is important to note that these are my opinions about these factors, not what those that could be considered ‘experts’ would necessarily put forth themselves.

For me, there are several issues that have not been given the appropriate attention. First is clean water. Much of Africa is comprised of the Sahara desert, where, unsurprisingly, there are few large lakes and rivers. Without fresh water, clean water can be more difficult to find as they have to rely on oases, natural aquifers below the surface, and other groundwater sources. “The WHO (2006) stated that, in 2004, only 16% of people in sub-Saharan Africa had access to drinking water through a household connection (an indoor tap or a tap in the yard).” (Lewis, thewaterproject.org)

But even when water is available, the sources could be contaminated. Effective sanitation is limited due to a lack of funding and oversight. Water tests are performed fewer times than is appropriate. Providing a source of water for a large number of Africans is also impractical because surface water sources are often tainted and actually getting the water to dryer areas would present a significant financial burden.

This lack of sanitation is also a health issue, as many in Sierra Leone have died from dehydration. Even though they could acquire water, it often contains parasites and bacteria from human and animal waste which can cause diarrhea. Unfortunately, due to the fluids that these ill-fated people lose from diarrhea, a number of them simply can’t replace those fluids in time to spare their lives. Such a situation requires a greater effort on the part of those attempting to assist these nations. This can be through education of which water sources to utilize or proliferation of clean water technologies, such as desalination.

A second issue that is hindering African aid is the lack of a truly effective highway system. Highways already exist in Africa, leading, seemingly, to all parts of the continent. However, this is not the whole story. For certain, these 9 roadways exist, but they are hardly ubiquitous. A number of locations throughout Africa are not within a reasonable proximity of any of them. In addition, many of these highways are in poor conditions (leading to a greater number of accidents), lack bridges and tunnels, or have been destroyed by weather conditions or war.

The necessity of these roadways is immense. Aid comes in many forms. Aid can be direct funds, supplies, or even vehicles. After being paid for, how does the aid reach the village in Uganda for which it was intended? By going along the highways. Although progress has been made, there is still more work to be done. According to Infrastructureafrica.org, “Road freight will continue to be costly and inefficient until competition in the trucking industry is increased and barriers to trade are lifted”, “Africa’s rapidly growing cities groan under the mobility problems caused by too few paved roads and inadequate public transportation systems”, and “Road traffic crashes are the third leading cause of death (after malaria and HIV/AIDS) and present a major public health concern”. (infrastructureafrica.org)

As a general overview, “Road conditions have improved in most African countries in recent years, as governments have strived to increase the density of their road networks and carry out institutional reforms. Tremendous progress has been made in establishing institutions to manage and maintain Africa’s roads, for example, but still only one in three rural Africans has access to an all-season road. Unable to reach urban markets, millions are trapped in subsistence agriculture. In cities, road construction has not kept pace with urbanization. In many countries, road maintenance remains inadequate. Even the Trans-African Highway, the symbol of modern Africa, has long gaps.”

Map of Trans-Africa Highway Network
Map of Trans-Africa Highway Network

Democracy is difficult. Particularly in SSA, this can be the case. Although in many of these countries, free elections have been held, they are no longer true democracies. This is due to a significant insufficiency in the protections and institutions that make up a democracy. These are comprised of a secular parliament (or similar ruling body), civil liberties, adequate representation based on informed opinions, and accountability. Many of the elected leaders gave little effort to implementing these notions as they are typically too incompetent to serve as an elected official. Malawi and the Republic of the Congo rank as #126 and #170 respectively. (heritage.org). Each of these nations faces issues when it comes to freedom (including human rights, economic openness, and the rule of law.)

Bibliography:

http://thewaterproject.org/water-in-crisis-rural-urban-africa

http://www.infrastructureafrica.org/sectors/roads

http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking

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