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 In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs