Category Archives: Africa

12 Data viz that show poverty’s biggest challenges


Here’s a collection of some of the best data visualizations on global literacy, mortality, birth rates and more that will help put some of the biggest issues surrounding poverty today into perspective. The good news: Extreme poverty is declining, and life expectancy and incomes on the whole are on the up and up. The bad news: We still have a lot of work to do!

1. Changes in Life Expectancies and Incomes

Hans Rosling’s Gapminder project has long been one of the best data visualization tools for understanding how poverty and welfare are changing. Countries’ life expectancies and incomes per person have increased significantly in the past two centuries. This is true for every single country of the world, though needless to say there are some countries that have developed more rapidly than others. Notice how in 1800 the world starts as a clump of consistent figures. But as time progresses, the inequality between countries increases.

2. The World’s Remaining Extreme Poor


Extreme poverty is most commonly referred to as those making under USD $1.25 a day. This statistic is most often brought up to address how there remain areas in the world where people suffer from extreme lack of resources, and are likely stuck in the poverty cycle.

According to a World Bank Report, the nation with by far the highest existence of extreme poverty is India, followed by China and then Nigeria. These are perhaps unexpected countries to encompass the majority of the remaining extreme poor, for they all have relatively high GDPs and boast concentrated sectors of rapid industrialization. Notice how the top ten nations listed are all in Asia and Africa.

3. The World’s Access to Energy


 Why focus on Africa? Because as you can see from the dark blue coloring, Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the region with the least access to energy. In 2010, the percentage of sub-Saharan African people who lacked proper access to energy was well over 50 percent. Limited or no access to energy has serious implications. Without energy to light up a house, heat a house, refrigerate food or recharge a phone, necessary steps towards improving education, income and health become much more difficult.

4. The Dwindling of Extreme Poverty


The Brookings Institute designed this graphic to show exactly how quickly the number of people living in extreme poverty in the world are disappearing. Starting in the early 2010s, figures turn to predictions of the future, with the green area demonstrating the worst case scenario for future levels of extreme poverty, and purple demonstrating the best. As evident, the number of people (in millions) that are living in extreme poverty is falling dramatically, and all predictions expect a continuation of that decline. Mean daily consumption here is measured in purchasing power parity to allow for a better comparison across nations and regions.

5. The World’s Literacy Rates

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What regions would you expect to have the highest or lowest literacy rates? What are the differences in men and women’s literacy rates? The graph above answers just these questions, showing how “industrialized countries” have near total literacy, where as the MENA and sub-Saharan African countries still have large sections of their population unable to read or write.

The gender gap in literary rates grows more and more apparent with lower total literacy rates. This visualization is merely one graph of a more interactive copulation of data measuring worldwide education by Gregor Aisch, a graphics editor for The New York Times. His additional graphics also depict school enrollment ratios since the Millenium Development Goals were implemented and expenditures on education versus the military.

6.  National Population Growth Rates


The world’s population is always changing drastically, with some countries growing rapidly and others shrinking in population size. The Washington Post created this map to show just which countries are growing faster and which have the most negative growth. There is indeed a trend of countries with higher GDPs growing slower or stagnating, while the poorest countries are often the ones growing most rapidly.

This is largely due to the remaining high fertility rates in developing countries even as mortality rates are falling, resulting in enormous population growth. Africa has the most countries with high growth, while Eastern Europe, Russia, and Japan all have shrinking populations.

7. Forecasts of Population Growth

This visualization is a little trickier to interpret, but it certainly shows how the world is changing. As can be seen at the bottom of the graphic, the majority of the most populous nations in 1950 were in Europe, with China and India sitting atop the list. Today, we see the South American nations of Brazil and Mexico enter the top 12 most populous nations, along with the African nation of Nigeria. The only European nation that remains is Russia.

The forecast for 2050, then, includes 3 African nations, no European nations, and India has replaced China on top. The regional percentage changes in population show how Africa and Asia are predicted to far and away lead the growth. According to the Economist and the ICEF Monitor, “more than half of the extra 2.4 billion people in 2050 will be African. India will swell to 1.6 billion people; it is on track to overtake China in 2028.” As Thomas Malthus can tell you, predictions on population can be tricky. But if the world’s growth rates were to continue as they are, the distribution of people in the world would be quite different from what we see today, and extraordinarily different from what we saw a half century ago.

8. The Relative Sizes of Africa’s GDPs


Curious which nations in Africa are the richest? Above you can see by a simple size-graphic which countries are the wealthiest measured by GDP. The relative sizes of the squares show just how much wealthier South Africa is than the other countries, etc. But fair warning, this graphic shows nothing about each nation’s measure of inequality. To do that, the Gini coefficients, which are numbers between 0 and 1 that measure the inequality of an economy, would also need to be included. Though Nigeria has one of the highest GDPs in Africa, its Gini coefficient and inequality is actually fairly high because the vast majority of wealth is concentrated among a select few.

9. The World’s Birth Rate Statistics


As mentioned above, birth rates are so important because they are some of the best predictors of population growth rates, which in turn have implications for overall welfare. Notice a similarity in the top 12 countries with the highest number of children per woman? All of them except for Afghanistan and Timor-Leste are in Africa. On this link, you can also check out similar graphics on population, education, and energy.

10. The World’s Mortality Statistics


What is another important determinant of welfare and population growth? Certainly mortality rates. While this visualization is a bit of an assault of information, there are a couple important take-aways. On the left, check out the difference in developing countries and industrialized countries for mortailty rates of children under 5, for which the 2005 data is highlighted in green. Then on the bottom right you can see the 10 countries with the highest infant mortality rates, again all of which are in Africa except for Afghanistan.

11. Mapping Internet Against Population

This map is especially cool because not only does it show internet access by the location of IP addresses, but it geo-locates internet access against population size. This shows how huge population centers such as India may be lacking proper internet access (in blue), while other places like Australia and the central United States may have total access to the internet even with small populations (red).

 12. Demographics of a 100-Person World


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This might be the most simplistic graphic of the bunch, but it is also one of the most explanatory. If we were to imagine that the world’s population was comprised of just 100 people, holding constant the demographics that exist today, we can turn the percentage data of these demographics into hard numbers. This allows us to to see how if the world were made of 100 people, 60 of them would live in Asia, 17 of them would not be able to read, and 13 would not have access to clean water. That’s astounding!

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Blitz the Ambassador


Image Source

Blitz the Ambassador just dropped his new album Afropolitan Dreams today. Blitz is a Ghanaian artist who’s now based in Brooklyn, and this new album is gold.


It’s true, this is not a music blog. But if you absolutely need this post to be about globalization, development, emerging markets, etc., the association is graspable. Artists from Africa, particularly self-proclaimed rappers, are some of the fastest growing in popularity due to the growing accessibility of their music. And because these artists are sometimes based in the U.S. and Europe, they are picked up by hit record labels that recognize their growing fan base. This means that no only to these names blow up in their home countries; their music is also growing popular in the West. The obsession that many Americans and Europeans once had with Reggae in the Marley era seems to be spreading to a more Sub-Saharan vibe, meeting a new generation’s craving for faster beats and moving lyrics.

Want proof this is what the artists have in mind? His name is Blitz the ‘Ambassador,’ spreading his sound from his country to the world. His album? ‘Afropolitan Dreams.’ Blitz isn’t feigning subtlety, he’s sending a stark message about his place in the industry.

Similarly, check out Baloji, a Congolese (french language) rapper who is smoother and a bit more melodic than Blitz, appealing to a different type of hip-hop fan. Also gold.


Links I Liked: Africa, US, Minimum Wage, and Mammoths


Image source

Links I Liked:

1. 8 Maps that change the way you look at Africa from ONE

2. Watch the United States grow before your eyes with a time-based gif from Reddit and the Post

3. The End of the Developing World – This I largely disagree with, although some good points are made about rhetoric and how it affects beliefs. But ‘lean’ and ‘fat’ still have positive and negative connotations, and don’t make much sense when describing countries’ economies.

4. Can you live on minimum wage? – an interactive program to see if you could feasibly live off of minimum wage (by US state). Lesson: something important has to be sacrificed.

5. NYTimes Magazine glosses over some pretty improbable science with The Mammoth Cometh, on how extinct species (even mammoths) may one day be brought back to life. But as a diehard Jurassic Park fan this gave me some hope.

Piranhas, Super Powers, Ivory, South Sudan; LIL

Photograph by Rennett Stowe

Links I Liked:

In the Chris Blattman style I have decided to add to this blog the occasional posted links that I have found interesting, informative, or simply beautiful. And as always a photo from the natural world will be included at the top.

1. Borrowed from Blattman’s page: The Truth about Piranhas

2. Most Beautiful Villages from Around the World

3. Super Powers Illustrated Chart

4. China Destroys 6 Tons of Illegal Ivory

5. The Best Article on the Current Conflict in South Sudan that I have read thus far.


World Population Changes


The Washington Post, using data from the UN population fund, posted a map and related article that I found highly telling of the global population trends.

“Countries need to grow in order to stay healthy and successful, but not too quickly or they risk problems like political instability.”


‘Blue countries have growing populations; red countries are shrinking. Purple are growing slowly or not at all. Data source: United Nations Population Fund.’ The numbers include data both births, deaths, and migration. The estimates naturally do not account for wars, natural disasters, etc.

What this article is quick to point out is that the most important region here is Sub-Saharan Africa, which you can see is noticeably darker than the rest of the map. What the Post also points out is that a high number of the births in Sub-Saharan countries are from mothers between the age of 9 and 15, which proves often to be too young an age to support a child because of the health risks, and the mother is usually giving up an education.

For some reference to where these population changes may lead, particularly in that very blue continent, check out this post on The African Spring. Then see below the info-graphic on trends by continent (mostly predictions).

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The African Spring

Cheetahs running. Namibia

You may notice a trend of this page focusing on fertility rates and population growth. While there isn’t quite the same ‘sky is falling’ syndrome that may have gripped Thomas Malthus’ writing, he was not crazy to worry. Population is increasing at a rate like it never has in human history. In the roughly 5-6 million years that hominini have existed on earth, never had the population exceeded 1 billion until the early 1800s. Since then – explosion. We’ve now rounded 7 billion.

There are expert hopes and reports of a plateau to this growth curve. I would agree with them, for as developing countries have shown, once certain levels of healthcare, social security, and quality of life are reached then fertility rates usually drop to very near replacement levels (2.1). But you can bet there are going to be some bumps in the road before the world reaches stability. Where are these bumps going to come from? The biggest one may be Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Arab Spring (which lasted much longer than a spring) erupted almost entirely unexpectedly to the international community. While politics and deep-seeded resentments helped fuel the region-wide uprisings, it was ultimately the energy, resentment, coordination, and chaos of the youth in these countries that allowed for such tumultuous insurgencies. Often these youth were un- or underemployed and fed up with their nation’s current system of governance.

Because of my current residence in Uganda, it will unfortunately be made the example of. Out of Uganda’s population of roughly 37 million, 60 percent is under the age of 18. Teen pregnancies, recorded for those between the ages of 13 and 17, are at 24 percent. And fertility rates show little sign of slowing, staying steady at 6.4 children per woman. These are astonishing figures. And while relatively high, they won’t sound shocking to most Sub-Saharan Africans. Need more confirmation? Visit Lagos. Then you may start to see into the future.

Africa’s population of over a billion is expected to double in the next 40 years, accounting for half of global population growth. Meanwhile, Sub-Saharan Africa is still home to some of the world’s most questionable and corrupt leaders, many of whom do not strike hope into their citizens for the future.

Economic and social development are absolutely occurring in Uganda and many similar countries in SSA. But currently it seems children are aging faster than progress can spread, resulting in massive unemployment due to lack of proper infrastructure and industrial development. This year the IMF research conference made a point of showcasing the damages and long-term effects of large scale unemployment. The conclusions were that they are severe.  So what happens in Uganda and similar countries in 2020 when these now adults all enter the job market and the crickets are chirping? If government structure doesn’t drastically change to accommodate, then the prediction here is something very similar to the Arab Spring. But on an even greater scale.

It is true that some nations are more vulnerable than others, and in repetition this page is not attempting to say that the ‘sky is falling’ on an entire region. Sub-Saharan Africa has proven to be innovative and surprising when it comes to transitional periods. But expect a few chaotic blips on the radar as half a continent’s youth grow up to a very unfair global division of wealth and powers.