War and armed conflict are a major cause of poverty in Africa. They have many effects such as displacing populations, destroying crops and forcing people to move from their land. Due to armed conflicts in Africa there are millions of refugees, who live on the edges of society, often in abject poverty.
With some conflicts having lasted for 20 or 30 years, some of these refugees have been living in camps for decades with no hope of leaving them. This situation means they have to think only about surviving rather than being able to make long-term plans for their futures and getting themselves out of poverty.
Another cause of poverty in Africa is the problem on land rights and ownership. Many African countries have a history of a one-crop production system and these crops are not suitable for feeding the population. These crops are non-essential crops intended for a ‘dessert economy’, such as tobacco, sugar, coffee, and tea, which are consumed in the West for pleasure.
It is not just that the countries cannot feed their own people but that they have little or no power in the trade cycle. With so many countries producing and selling these goods and only a few buying, it is the buyers who can decide what price they pay. The poor countries are forced to sell as they have to repay the loans even when the prices are not fair. As these large industrial farms cover most of the fertile lands it prevents the average family from subsistence farming, so the average person cannot feed his family in the bad times such as times of unemployment. When you think that in some African countries unemployment is over 70% you can easily understand how so many people are forced to live on less than $1 a day.
Lack of education is a major cause of poverty but poverty is also a major cause of lack of education. Africans are poor so they are unable to have access to education. In many African countries schools are so poor that the children have pay rent of their own desks and seats. Then there is the cost of basic school necessities such as pencils, paper, books, blackboards, chalk, etc. So many children are unable to attend school because they can’t afford it and others have to stay at home because they have to work to help support their families or look after younger siblings so their parents can work.
There is also the problem of AIDS. There is more likelihood of being exposed to the AIDS virus when you are poor as you have to take care of the sick with no sanitation, no medication, no education, etc. Poverty can be caused or made worse by AIDS for many families. If the sole or major breadwinner in the family becomes too ill to work, loses their job because people find out they have the disease or dies then the family could be left without any income at all. Many AIDS orphans have to live on the streets and take care of themselves because their relatives think that by looking after them they will bring a curse on them or they are worried that they might be exposing themselves to the disease or it could be that they just can’t afford to take in any more children.
Many families in Africa are large. As there is virtually no birth control for women this leads to high birth rates in Africa. They need the children to work on the farms and to help care for the family, especially where one or both parents are ill. Combine this with the chance that many children die before they reach their fifth birthday and you have yet another contributing factor to the causes of poverty in Africa – over population.
Last but not least is the lack of sanitation. There are millions of people across Africa who just don’t have the most basic necessities in life – clean water and toilets. Even before you can think about having enough food to eat, you cannot leave poverty unless you can meet your basic need for clean water. A mother cannot possibly raise healthy children unless she has clean water to wash them in, to cook their food or simply enough for them to drink. Lack of sanitation causes increased infant mortality. Contaminated water increases the risk of illness and death through communicable diseases such as cholera.