Julius Coles, former president of Africare, discussed the economic and social problems Africa has faced, as well as how the continent has improved in recent years, during his talk on Sept. 20 in the Howell Board Room.
Coles, a visiting Woodrow Wilson fellow and director of the Andrew Young Center for International Affairs at Morehouse College, presented his talk “Africa in the 21st Century,” as part of the International Studies Institute’s “Hot Spots “ lecture series.
Coles first traveled to more than 50 years ago, starting when he was a sophomore at college, and has returned many times since.
“It was an eye-opening experience that enriched me and made me fall in love with (Africa),” Coles said.
The 21 countries with the highest rate of HIV infection are all in Africa, he said.
“AIDS is changing the nature of development,” Coles said.
Many African leaders who aimed for a stabilized government died young from AIDS or malaria, creating continuous change in leadership.
Africa also faces food shortages caused by drought, improper agricultural techniques and the fact that 65 percent of the continent’s land is arid. Coles said that the continent still has some positives.
The growth trends that have happened for Africa recently are a positive turn in terms of their economics, resources and politics, Coles said.
To keep economic and government stability, Coles says that Africa needs what he calls “visionary leadership.”
Forty South African students have received $6.4 million in scholarships to study abroad and apply their worldly experience to their jobs when they return to Africa.
Two-thirds of the nations in Africa are now democratic and there have been peaceful changes of power in countries such as South Africa.
“Democracy is one of the real signs of changes in the continent,” Coles said.
In comparison to America’s 2 percent growth in recent years, Coles said that Africa has grown 4 percent to 5 percent.
Africa’s richness in natural resources and minerals is one of the reasons for its recent growth. Coles said that Africa’s oil will double in the next decade and could potentially provide as much energy as the Middle East.
“That will ring bells for lots of countries,” said Kenneth Marcus, professor of history and director of the International Studies Institute.
China, the largest consumer of industrial material, has taken advantage of these natural resources and Africa now provides half of the country’s daily oil use. Along with investing in Africa, China now provides $1.5 billion to $25 billion in aid.
“It’s an indication on how much China values the relationship,” Marcus said.
Depending on how the aid is measured, China is either the first or second largest donor, behind the United States.
“China is one of the major powers in the African continent,” Coles said. “China is doing it because they are just interested in minerals and resources. We are still far behind in how we relate to Africa,” Coles said.
Because of its population, China is leasing some of Africa’s fertile land to plant crops.
“China is playing the role of Europe about 100 years ago when it was dominating most of Africa,” said Yousef Daneshbod, associate professor of mathematics.
Coles said that in 2050, only 10 percent of Africa’s population will be over the age of 60. If Africa makes the right decisions the world can turn to Africa the way they turn to China in terms of labor force, Coles said.
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.