Although there was some economic and social progress immediately after independence, from the 1980s most economies saw little or no growth for a prolonged period. Investment and the creation of new jobs failed to keep up with population growth. Increasing numbers became trapped in poverty.
The burden of debt - much of it accumulated in the 1970s - spiralled and became a major obstacle to development. Between 1980 and 1995, Africa's external indebtedness almost trebled, according to some estimates. Annual repayments to creditors on this sum - put at $295bn at the end of 2002 - now exceed the amounts many countries spend on health and education. Trade with foreign countries failed to take off, but African leaders complained of unfair barriers.
Development of basic infrastructure - vital to economic activity as well as improved health and education - also suffered, particularly in rural areas where most people still live. It is estimated that overall just over 20% of the 682 million or so people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity and that the continent produces about 3% of global output.