Socio-Economic Boost Needed For Africa – Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie speaks At UWI

His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie, grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie I, says despite experiencing significant improvements in key developmental areas, there is much more that needs to be done to improve socio-economic conditions for many on the African continent.

Speaking Wednesday at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, he said poverty, which has resulted in a lack of proper health care and education, still remains at the core of Africa’s problems.

Prince Ermias was guest speaker for a lecture at the Undercroft of the Senate Building at the University of the West Indies (UWI). His visit to the island was part of his Ethiopian Millennium year activities.

Historic visit

It was just over 42 years ago, on April 21, 1966, that Emperor Selassie, regarded by Rastafarians as God incarnate, made his historic visit to the island. On Wednesday, the packed audience, which converged on the UWI campus to welcome the grandson of the celebrated former emperor of Ethiopia, mainly consisted of members of the Rastafarian movement. The potent smell of marijuana perfumed the air, as the red, green and gold flag of the African nation swayed during the prince’s entire lecture.

According to Prince Ermias, African economies are predicted to grow by an average of 6.2 per cent in 2008, after a strong 2007. He said the latest edition of the Economic Report on Africa 2008, stated that growth on the continent was driven by a combination of things. These include continued reforms, increased private- capital flows, debt relief and increasing non-fuel exports.

Drawback

Despite this, however, Selassie said poverty was still a significant drawback for the continent. He told his audience that most of sub-Saharan Africa, was in the World Bank’s lowest income category of less than US$765 gross national income (GNI) per person per year. Ethiopia and Burundi, he said, were the worst off, with just US$90 GNI per person.

He said many countries on the continent, including Ethiopia, were grappling with the enormous problem of HIV/AIDS. Other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis A and E, typhoid fever and malaria, also continued to plague the continent. “First and foremost, we must educate our children and through them, their parents, to improve hygiene, health care and nutrition,” the prince said.

He said that food and health were important to Africa’s development, as “unless a person is healthy and fed, he/she has no energy or enthusiasm for anything else”.

Education

Prince Ermias further told the audience that he regarded education as the single most effective and immediate way to improve the lives of all Africans.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s 2007 report, only about a half of Ethiopia’s people above the age of 15 years could read and write. He said the report also revealed that the country’s population was growing at a rate of 2.3 per cent annually, which meant there were two million more children each year needing to be fed and schooled.

There has been some progress, however, as school building has increased and enrolment has grown from 39 per cent in 1991 to almost 80 per cent in 2008, the Ethiopian prince said. “Yet the question of the quality of education, as well as the increasing number of dropouts, is a continuing concern.”