Two decades on from the first concert, have the continent's fortunes improved?

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The Independent Online

1985

1985

Poverty

Ethiopia became the focal point of African famine when drought and civil war swept through the continent in 1984-85 killing more than one million and leaving many others disabled and homeless. In 1987 hunger returned putting more than five million at imminent risk of starvation from yet another famine, the fourth to strike the country since the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie by a military coup in 1974.

War

In the 1980s Africa was spending proportionately more on its military than any other developing region except the Middle East - about 4.3 per cent of GNP in 1987. Africa's poorest country, Ethiopia, spent nearly 9 per cent of its GNP on arms - more than twice that spent on education and eight times that spent on health care. Angola and Mozambique spent up to half their public budgets on war efforts.

Trade

Unfair trade practices, tariff barriers and agricultural subsidies have long been blamed for Africa's under- development. Trade barriers and agricultural subsidies in the West affect exports such as cotton, peanuts or groundnuts, tobacco and beef. Ivory Coast, Mauritius and South Africa export manufactured goods which encounter trade barriers in the West.

Democracy

From the diamonds which Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic, gave the then French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, to the antics of the late Sani Abacha, who ran Nigeria from 1993 to 1998, corruption has been endemic in many African regimes. More than £1.5bn of Abacha's and other Nigerian leaders' ill-gotten gains turned up in British banks, only a fraction of which ever made it back to Nigeria.

2005

Poverty

Drought, Aids and preventable disease are putting more than 38 million Africans at risk of starvation. Southern Africa and the Horn of Africa stand to suffer most. In the Horn of Africa, in the east, about 17.9 million people face severe food shortages, and in southern Africa, 16.41 million are at risk.

In Zimbabwe alone, five million people face a lingering death from a lethal combination of hunger and Aids.

War

With the exception of the Darfur region of Sudan, the landscape of war in Africa has improved immeasurably. The most significant changes are in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbours. Rebel Mayi-Mayi organisations agreed to join Congo's transitional government and integrate their armed members into the national army, while Uganda has almost entirely crushed the Lord's Resistance Army.

Trade

Tony Blair has pointed out that the European Union's farm subsidies are a disaster for Africa. Farming accounts for some 70 per cent of employment on that continent, but most of the farmers there are desperately poor. Subsidised products dumped on their markets by exporters from the United States and the EU unfairly undercut their prices. But the underlying problem is that the rich nations set the global trade rules.

Democracy

Human rights are under threat across Africa, from the practice of female genital mutilation to arbitrary arrests of opposition politicians and human rights workers. In Zimbabwe, opposition MPs have been beaten and activists tortured and in Congo thousands have been killed in ethnic conflict. Impoverishment and impunity have fuelled a pattern of extreme violence in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

The solution

Poverty

Britain is urging wealthy nations to double their aid to the continent, raising it by £30bn a year over 10 years. But aid can only be effective if it is accompanied by a cancellation of debt. That would enable further spending on health, especially dealing with HIV/Aids, which is having a massive effect on economies. But the only long-term path out of poverty will be via education, starting with free primary schools.

War

Peace is suddenly breaking out across Africa and many more conflicts have been resolved than new ones have started up. Since 2003, no new civil conflict started anywhere in Africa. The West should take one straightforward step to ensure that the increasing stability can be maintained: stop arms sales to conflict zones. The second step would be to direct aid into African peacekeeping operations.

Trade

Urgent action is needed to scrap trade-distorting subsidies paid to farmers in the developed world, and allow the creation of a level playing field. In some of the most impoverished African nations, fewer than half of the children are in primary school, fewer still go to secondary school. The UN has devised a cure for such economic stagnation. It includes a massive rise in direct financial aid, something that the G8 has yet to support.

Democracy

Democracy, the UN says, is the only political arrangement that guarantees political and civil freedoms. In addition, it helps protect people from economic and political catastrophes such as famines. The Africa Commission report calls for rich countries, and particularly their financial services industries, to do more to fight corruption. African leaders also need to root out corruption and promote good governance.

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