BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL

Early years

Independence came with high hopes on the part of many African states as the "winds of change" began to blow through the continent nearly half a century ago. But while other parts of the developing world have seen rapid economic growth, Africa is the only continent to have become poorer in the past 25 years. By the year 2000, half the world's poor were in Africa compared with 10% in 1970.

Many states experienced periods of political instability in the past four decades or so, involving coups, military rule, civil wars and regional conflicts. Some of this was a direct result of the Cold War, when rival ideologies courted allies in Africa and often backed corrupt dictators. One consequence was vast flows of refugees and displaced people. More than 4m refugees still remain outside their own countries.

Foreign borrowing left many countries with huge debt repayments and economies declined. Corruption deepened and was estimated in 2002 to cost African nations almost $150bn a year. Africa is also the continent worst affected by HIV/Aids; this is having a devastating effect on societies and their economies.

development rates in Africa from 1975, comparing with Asia/Lat America
life expectancy rates


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific