News / Africa

Arab and Sub-Saharan Countries Share Issues of Poverty, Unemployment


Joe DeCapua

Sub-Saharan African countries are closely watching developments in North African and Middle East countries, according to a South African foreign policy analyst.

Thomas Wheeler, who’s with the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, is a former ambassador.

In Libya, where violence has perhaps claimed hundreds of lives, Wheeler says, “It certainly is in one sense unexpected because up until now they’ve managed to avoid becoming involved like so many other countries in the region.  And now they seem to be deeply into it and it’s come about really rather quickly.”


He says some of the issues that sparked the spreading protests in Arab countries are similar to those in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

“One of our more prominent commentators here has opined in one of the major newspapers, Business Day, that South Africa could soon have its own Tunisia moment.  Now this doesn’t refer to Libya, but it refers to the whole situation because in South Africa we have some of the similar problems that the Arab countries have.  We have a great deal of poverty and a great deal of wealth in the same country.  There’s a lot of discontent about local service delivery,” he says.

That discontent has been playing out in the small, poor South African town of Wesselton, east of Johannesburg, where riots lasted for days.  Residents there are angry over high unemployment, poverty and a lack of basic services.

“And also about the candidates,” he says, “who will be standing later this year, about May I think, in a local government election.  And they feel that the candidates are being imposed on them from above and they are not being consulted,” he says.

Wheeler says the incident is by no means on the scale of what’s happening in Arab countries.  Nevertheless, he says, “You have some of the same sort of characteristics that play here, that ordinary people are fed up with governance and they’re taking to the streets to show their dissatisfaction.”

United States of Africa

During his more than 40 years in power, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has tried to exert influence on sub-Saharan countries.  He once proposed a United States of Africa.  But Wheeler says Gadhafi’s influence has been minimal.

“In fact,” he says, “former (South African) president Thabo Mbeki was very strongly opposed to this idea.  There’s a sort of pan-African sense that you should have a closer union in Africa.  But he (Mbeki) certainly didn’t agree to the idea of a United States single government for the whole of Africa, which was Gadhafi’s idea.”

Other sub-Saharan leaders were also lukewarm to the idea.  “Who gets the big car? To sum it up in one sentence. If you have one president of Africa, what happens to all the other 53, who don’t happen to become head of state?  They lose all their perks.  And, of course, none of them are going to agree to that,” says Wheeler.


While poverty and high unemployment are helping to fuel the Arab protests, religion may play a role as well.  The analyst believes it would have less of a role in most sub-Saharan countries.  But he says it could be a factor in Ivory Coast and western countries with large Muslim populations.

“It’s certainly not an issue in southern Africa.  South Africa has freedom of religion.  It’s a secular state.  And we have the lowest level of anti-Semitism in the world allegedly, even though we have a large Muslim community here.  So there is a great deal of tolerance on religious grounds in southern Africa,” he says.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs