Africa has been struggling over the years to achieve the development necessary for meaningful economic growth and distribution of wealth to address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The Human Development Index shows that the quality of life in most African states is below acceptable standards (Andreasson, 2010). Africa’s development challenges, legacies and shadows of the past that hinder the advancement of the continent are well documented in literature. The analyses on Africa’s challenges have tended to take a defeatist point of view which depicts a continent caught up in a vicious cycle of global plots and conspiracies aimed at undermining the continent’s political, social and economic systems. True as this view may be, it has however created a sense of hopelessness and victimhood which has seen Africa struggle to experience a paradigm shift from being victims to champions of development.
In recent years, scholars and politicians continue to accurately demonstrate how under the sophisticated and subtle neo-colonial system resources continue to be looted out of the continent. It appears that the shadow of the colonial master continues to haunt the rest of Africa, including countries like Ghana that were the first to receive independence (1957) from colonial rule. African states are not engaged in meaningful and fair trade but remain suppliers of raw materials to the so called developed world. The millennium development goals set by the UN remain elusive, as poverty, hunger, inequality and unemployment reign supreme throughout the continent notwithstanding the progress by some countries (Waage et al 2010). Mills (2010:2) states that ‘in a half a century of independence Africa has not realised its potential’.
Most African leaders, though sounding radical in speech, are advancing the cause of the colonialists by allowing the continent to degenerate into a state of perpetual instability, poverty and underdevelopment. The common argument often heard is that the instability of the continent is being caused by external global forces or former colonial masters which are beneficiaries of crises such as civil wars, corruption and political upheavals. The problem with this statement is not its truthfulness but the acceptance that as long as such forces exist Africa is doomed or helpless to chart its own path of development. The statement seems to assume that all nations that have succeeded in overcoming their development challenges such as East Asia that reduced poverty from 60% (1990) to 3.5% (2016) have done so without any obstacles or forces to contend with.
The general outcry by conspiracy theorists is that Africa is a victim of economic hit men, multinationals, the IMF and other foreign agencies from the most powerful countries (mostly in the West) who continue to destabilise the economies of the continent, experimenting with all sorts of defunct theories and structural adjustment programmes. The fact that there are other countries that managed to move out of the trap of poverty means that Africa can do it too. It is most important not to remain a victim but to learn about the principles and steps taken by such countries to reach their success. Mills (2010) indicates that good examples of development can be drawn from East Asia, South and Central Asia, and Central America.
Some African leaders, especially in the African Union (AU), have delivered critical speeches in which they outlined causes of Africa’s economic miseries, underdevelopment and challenges which have mostly been centred on its painful colonial past and the continuation of such legacies in the present. The problem with the above approach is that it does not address the actual issues but only serves to make the victims feel better knowing that the problems are not of their own making but that of an external force. True as this may be it is important for us to realise that some of the problems created by colonialists were worsened by lack of good leadership and accountability from the continent itself.
There is sufficient body of literature to demonstrate that some percentage of Africa’s problems are as a result of its past and painful colonial history, whereas others are internally generated even long after the colonialists left the continent (Mills, 2010). Africa has no choice but to find solutions to her problems if she wants to overcome the scourges of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment.
Change and development in Africa should not depend on the benevolence of the rest of the world. This has proved to be unattainable in the current world order with developed countries viewing Africa as a beggar for development aid. The main issue should not be about convincing the West or global media that we are better or human like them but to chart our own development path that will make even the worst cynic or racist ashamed to write a negative story about us. When Africans are no longer running all over the world as refugees or immigrants due to wars, depravation and poverty, their dignity will be enhanced. There will be no need to react to stories that degrade Africans, because Africans will not be victims any more but masters of their own destiny. There will be no need to sail the dangerous seas because Africans will have opportunities within the continent.
These issues should preoccupy the African Union instead of their wasting time reacting to racists who have no respect for the continent. Some people ingenuously believe that writing positive stories about the continent can change the negative perception – but this can only have a short-term impact. However it is not positive narratives but action that will transform our continent politically and economically.
It is worth noting that although learning from other continents remains important, Africa’s challenges can be addressed by focusing on herself. While there is nothing wrong with pursuing a global approach to issues, it is important to take an inward approach focusing on strengths and weaknesses (internal) before dealing with opportunities and threats (external). The approach taken by the African continent has tended to be exogenous rather than endogenous. The key question that needs to be asked is why a continent rich in natural resources has the highest poverty levels in the world, while countries with limited resources are prospering. It is clear that there is something lacking in the area of finding a winning strategy.
Should it emerge that Africa is subjected to an unfair world where trade favours the developed countries or where resources are being looted out of the continent, it is the duty of Africa to find a radical approach to correcting this anomaly. The tendency to complain helplessly about such anomalies is not helping the continent to move forward. To suggest that the forces responsible for creating problems and challenges in Africa are more powerful than the continent itself, is to place the continent in a position of paralysis – where Africa will remain underdeveloped for life.
A paradigm shift is needed for Africa to take its place in world development by avoiding and handling certain issues as champions rather than victims of the modern world order. Issues that Africa must avoid in its quest for a new development trajectory include a fixation with the past, dependency and corruption. Fixation with the past without shaping the future The history of the African continent has been characterised by stories of invasion by colonial forces which plundered and looted its resources. Africa was also divided into countries and borders that suited the colonial powers. In The scramble for Africa Thomas Pakenham (1990) indicates how the white man conquered the continent from 1887-1912. This trend has not stopped as African economies continue to be dominated by the former colonial powers that once ruled the continent. The worst of the stories about the conquest of Africa are captured in a racist book titled Heart of Darkness by the novelist Joseph Conrad. Furthermore, the disruption of African social life by the colonisers is clearly depicted by Achebe (1994) when he writes that ‘…he has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart’. In the light of the above reality it is important that the African must not fall victim notwithstanding the painful past but must rise beyond merely condemning and describing what colonisation has done and develop strategies that will take the continent out of the mud.
The question is how long is the route that African countries must pursue before they can take their people out of poverty and depravation? How many years is ‘many years’? Are we helpless? For instance, if the colonialist took 130 years to colonise Africa does it means that we need 130 years to correct the anomalies bedevilling the continent? The above questions must be answered by us not the colonial powers that have physically left the continent. It is sad that the colonial presence continues to be perpetuated ideologically and economically through leaders who by their actions are looting from this continent while remaining militant in their words. Some of them have opened bank accounts in the countries of the former colonisers. Some of these crooks have delivered the best speeches in condemnation of colonialism while they themselves have connived with the same powers to ruin the economies of the own countries and reduced Africans to refugees and immigrants to be ridiculed by rest of the world. It is common for some of these leaders to even shop and seek medical care in the countries of their colonisers.
The idea that it will take us the same number of years of the colonial damage to restore the continent is not an African but a colonial construct or discourse which some Africans have internalised in order to prolong the underdevelopment of Africa. Beneficiaries of colonialism are in fact enjoying the delay in restoring the continent as it is easy to steal from an underdeveloped country as the internal systems and governance tend to be weak. The issue is that Africans are the ones who are suffering and they urgently need to break away from the syndrome of a victim and fight for their place in the world. To fight does not only mean to deliver critical speeches at the AU done but to ensure that the economies of Africa are functional in order to reduce the number of people living in poverty.
A defeatist mentality is the one that says that Africa is not moving because of external factors without putting measures and structures to address the issues and challenges on the ground. It is criticising the international community without striving towards creating your own effective structures. It is saying that the International Criminal Court is only prosecuting African leaders without working towards creating our own institution that will deal with criminals who connive with anti-African forces to butcher our own people throughout the continent. It is these type of people that have taught the world that African life is cheap and then complains when Africans are ill-treated and insulted. The world will respect Africa when she takes charge of her own future rather than crying foul about the world order which is not likely to change to accommodate Africa.
Even more challenging is the fact that colonialisation has taken a new form (neocolonialism) which is more sophisticated/subtle than the earlier version which involved soldiers and guns. The current approach entails sophisticated means through the media, donor funding, technology and trade which are used to control the former colonies. For instance, former colonies continue to supply raw materials to former colonial powers in what appears to be trade on the surface. These materials are often processed and sold back at higher prices to the same former colonies. The relationship between the former colonial powers and their colonies has taken new forms which are manifested in trade, media, cultural exchange, funding or certain NGOs which continue to entrench the agenda of the countries of origin.
We have to address the complex nature of current neocolonial relations in the modern world by developing strategies to counter the ongoing exploitation of and scramble for the continent. Africa is not speaking and acting with one voice. Hence it has created loopholes that many continue to exploit. It may be that the thinking is that the colonial wars are over as the guns have died down; however the current ones are silent, sophisticated and more lethal. Trying to fight the above by merely expressing anger won’t help as such forces can only be countered through developing effective strategies.
There are no integrated continental approaches other than a general understanding that colonialism has been a problem that needs to be continuously critiqued. It is sad that after many years of independence, nothing dramatic has happened thus far as Africa is still divided in terms of the borders and languages of the former colonial powers. Intra continental trade and movement of goods and people is still a challenge as the necessary infrastructure (rail or air) has not yet been developed. Transportation and connecting the citizens of the continent is important for stimulating trade and interaction. Xephonobia and ethnicity is still rife as intended by the colonialists. It is these critical issues that must be addressed as a matter of urgency rather than being preoccupied about what the rest of the world think about us and how to respond or react to distortions.
Some leaders have exploited challenges such as land to score political points as was the case in Zimbabwe where the leader’s interest was not really to correct the legacy of colonialism but to score political points at a given period for short term gratification. The past challenges are often evoked when it suits some leaders in order to incite the emotions of the public for the attainment of personal political goals.
It is worth noting that although the past is important it should not be a stumbling block for moving to the future. Other nations, especially in Asia, who were faced with similar challenges have done their level best to move with speed in addressing the painful legacies of the past and today they are ahead of the African continent. Fixation with the past to the point of being paralysed by it is an impediment for progress and sustainable development. There is a need to keep history intact for the purpose of learning from it while strategising on how to make the future better: ‘The tragedy of Africa is that the African has never really entered into history … they have never really launched themselves into the future’ (Andreasson 2010).
The theory of dependency is founded on the notion that resources are flowing from the periphery of the so called poor and underdeveloped states to the core of the so called wealthy states. The developed states are often enriched at the expense of the poor states (Paul, 1997). The reality in most African countries is that they continue to supply raw materials to the developed countries, especially former colonial powers which in some instances exploit them due to the imbalanced nature of trade between unequals. The relations between the developed and African countries are based on exploitative interactions.
The beneficiaries in this type of unequal encounter are usually the developed countries. It should be noted that if this kind of arrangement is not corrected the exploitative colonial relations will perpetuate themselves. The only difference is that the colonial powers are no longer occupying the colonies. In the context of globalisation African countries are integrated as producers of raw materials or providers of cheap labour. Accessing the markets of the developed countries has proven difficult for some due to challenges of meeting some of the stringent requirements that are often placed on them. It is therefore important that when poorer countries are entering into trade it should be on the basis of mutual benefit rather than exploitation which isthe situation in some African countries which continue to be suppliers of cheap raw materials to the developed countries.
Corruption is a serious challenge that faces the African continent and the world in general. It is important not to justify it by appealing to cultural or geographic differences. As a civilised continent where education started, we should strive to deal with barbaric acts such as crime and murder decisively rather than debating whether our statistics are better than that of Europe or not. I think Africa can do better and show the rest of the world that Africans are sophisticated people who can run their own countries without being supervised by any world power. In countries where there is corruption, money intended for development is often diverted to projects that are not within planning and budget. In addition to cases of corruption the flow of money out of the African continent through illicit means remains a challenge. According to the Mail & Guardian South Africa is ‘losing roughly R147 billion per year to the illegal movement of money out of the country’.
Trade: In order for Africa to experience a paradigm shift from being victims to champions of development the following basics are worth implementing as a matter of urgency: strengthening intracontinental trade, establishing own structures to deal with critical issues, improving transport and cross border movements. Structures within the African Union should deal with the above issues within specified timeframes. An action plan should be developed in order to address issues that need attention. Africa should monitor itself through the AU and report on critical matters across the continent on a continuous basis. There is no need for Africa to wait for the UN to come up with millennium development goals as these can be addressed within the continent and reported to the relevant structures. Some of the key issues worth addressing are outlined below: Africa’s focus in terms of trade has been with developed countries abroad rather than among themselves and then with the rest of the World. There is a need to strengthen trade within countries located within the African Union. Given the high level of poverty in Africa, the African Union should be preoccupied with economic rather than political issues. In cases where political issues are involved, there is a need to confront them as honestly as possible rather than wait for an external force to meddle in African politics. African leaders must tell each other the truth when they are meeting at the AU. Dictators and all the leaders who are giving Africa a bad name must be tackled at the level of the AU rather than waiting for a Western leader to comment about bad leadership in Africa. Likewise more humanitarian missions must originate from Africa to assist the less developed parts of the continent. The power of African countries will be enhanced if they are operating as a block not as separate entities. They should consider forming an effective continental structure with economic focus similar to the European Union.
The African Union may have to review or broaden its mandate. The reason why the continent is being exploited by foreign agents is simply because when it comes to economic matters African countries are not operating as a united front notwithstanding the fact that they are all members of the African Union. The division between the Anglophone and Francophone Africa should be resolved as a matter of urgency. There is no use in African countries displaying unity when at the AU while they know that the languages of the colonial masters continue to divide them. The issue of having a common currency within the continent is also worth exploring as this could assist in facilitating trade and interaction among African countries and citizens in general.
A suitable currency may be adopted from one of the African countries or a new one may be created. This may also start with countries within a particular block (e.g. SADC) which may agree on a common currency Establishing own structures to deal with critical issues Changing the world involves action rather than just words. It is important that Africa must not just be critical of structures or world bodies that are not functioning well or are biased against them. The time for establishing an African court that will deal with crimes against humanity committed by African leaders is overdue. It is important to note that even if we withdraw from the ICC those African leaders who killed our people still remain criminals that must be pursued and prosecuted by our own court in an African Criminal Court.
There are leaders who are killing our own people in the continent that we must deal with even when we may not necessarily be members of the ICC. Even when we talk of our own structures there must be an understanding that we are going to make them effective and robust in the manner in which they will deal with issues. There is a need to agree from the onset as there might be differences on the definition of justice and good governance. Statements which are made by some African leaders that ‘corruption is a European thing’ should have no place in the African agenda. In fact they are insulting the African values of justice that protect the weak and vulnerable who are always victims of despots.
Existing African structures such as the
African Union, SADC, ECOWAS etc. need to be strengthened so that they are able to deal effectively with pressing continental issues. The failure by the African Union to proactively deal with continental issues has led to wars that could have been avoided. The delay in action by the relevant African structures often leaves loopholes for intervention by foreign agencies in the form of NGOs or governments. It is during these interventions that some NGOs take advantage and carry out some missions which are not in line with their work but that of their governments. The African Union must avoid shielding despots and bad leaders who continue to turn African people into refugees. True African brotherhood/ sisterhood will occur when African leaders are truthful to each other. Most of the problems affecting the continent could be dealt with within the confines of the African Union if leaders were honest and passionate about the development of Africa. It should be noted that the enemy is not always from the West, but could be fellow African leaders who do not care about the welfare of their own people.
Transport and cross border
Movements In order to facilitate trade among African countries it is important that the continent is connected through rail, roads and air network. A development of the rail network within Africa will go a long way in stimulating intercontinental trade. This project may start at the regional level where each region will ensure that it is connected within itself and this will ultimately lead to an advanced system that will cover the whole continent. The AU must deal with bread and butter issues that are likely to benefit the continent. Time is not on our side. The issue of managing Africa’s borders effectively must be attended to as matter of urgency to ensure that Africans enjoy smooth but controlled movement throughout the continent. The issues of abolishing VISAS among African countries needs to be looked at provided the borders are well managed. A free flow does not mean opening a passage for criminals to engage in their activities. Those of us who are advocating for one Africa must know that it comes with responsibilities and resources that will ensure that movement of people is well managed, smooth and efficient. Transportation must be urgently improved to ensure that Africans enjoy easy movement throughout the continent. For instance to fly to some African countries one still has to go via the former colonial powers. Addressing matters of safety and security: Issues of safety and security are critical for the development of Africa. Business (local and international) cannot invest where there is rampant crime, wars or serious political instability. African leaders must attend to these issues as a matter of urgency. Some African countries are security risks which continue to endanger the lives of ordinary people and tourists. An environment better than that of Europe can be created in Africa given the necessary dedication, love for the continent and political will. A functional state can be judged by its ability to make its citizens feel safe and secure within its borders. Democracy cannot function properly without this.
The ability to exercise all freedoms granted by any constitution is dependent on safety and security. The ability to pursue livelihoods is determined by the safety of the environment. In some cities and townships, business is often forced to close early due to fear of crime. People’s health is often at stake as ambulances cannot reach certain areas, especially in the townships. An unsafe country cannot claim to be a democratic country given the limitation of practice of most rights and freedoms granted by the constitution in an unsafe environment.
In the flat world of globalisation where competition is tough, it is clear that no one will grant or create the ideal conditions for Africa’s development. In saying the above, one is not undermining the impact of colonial history and the development challenges facing Africa but merely stating the truth as clearly captured by Mills, (2010:2) ‘No one disputes that leaders face big governance challenges in Africa. Yet in other parts of the world they are regarded as obstacles to be overcome, not as permanent excuses for failure’. It is a colonial narrative and construct that confines Africa into a box of permanent victimhood with no capacity to address its own problems and challenges. Africa does not need sympathies or apologies from the rest of the world but a bold heart and partners within continent and the international community who can collaborate to turn the situation around.
BY ISAAC NKUNA