Stars of Africa

by Anthony Bruton

Africa is big. It’s the second biggest continent.

Given it’s vast size, why does any discussion of the place often differentiate no further than “Africa” and sweep everything from the Canary Islands to the Drakensberg into one mental compartment labelled “poor” and “AIDS”? Overlooking the staggering variety of this continent is a fairly unflattering display of our ignorance. We should bother to make sure we know whether Guinea borders Ghana or Equatorial Guinea and have a rough idea of the state of the individual countries: is Guyana’s per capita income $700 or $7000? Stats-lover Hans Rosling does a good job of showing that Africa is not a country and explaining the pitfalls of assuming it is with his groovy animations of demographic data. This kind of factual grounding is vital if we’re to make a positive impact on people’s lives on this emotion-evoking continent.

Stars of Africa is a simple representation of countries’ locations, populations, life expectancies and HIV prevalences. It boldly shows where people are – the east and west are more crowded than the north and south – and how long they’re expected to live. The stars’ points represent life expectancy; each point is one expected complete decade of existence. So in most countries, the big 5-zero is expected to be the last -zero. The lowest life expectancy, 48, is in Sierra Leone. North Africa fares generally much better, with the highest life expectancy, 75, achieved by pre-revolution Libya.

The stars’ shapes represent HIV prevalence in adults: the more pointy, the more HIV. At a glance, South Africa (18%) is a lot worse off than Nigeria (4%). HIV is most common in the south and is not a continent-wide disaster as we often assume it is.

Guinea borders Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Atlantic Ocean. Ghana’s on the other side of Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea is 2,000 km to the south east. Guyana is in South America, its GDP per capita (PPP) is $7,000!