So, having researched and acknowledged the myriad of challenges Africa faces, we have to start asking ourselves this question. Can the face and story of Africa be changed and if yes, why do we say so? And that is the question to be answered before we get to the how part.
I believe that the story of Africa can be changed and is changing. There is anecdotal empirical evidence of this change throughout the African continent but that will not do the whole continent any good if that positive change affects those few bright spots. Africa must needs be transformed as a whole for us to proclaim total liberation and success from our painful past.
I did a bit of research about nations that have changed and how they did it. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how possible it is to be transformed from a nation of poverty to one of prosperity. That alone gives me hope before we even get to the more intricate issues of the African resilience, endurance and survival instinct in the face of formidable challenges.
So let’s begin.
The Korean Case
One of the most intriguing but tragic stories of our time is that of the Korean people. It is important to note that the Koreans were really one people sharing 5000 years of history and culture, who became victims of a proxy war between the Capitalists and the Communists.
According to Wikipedia, “The Korean War was primarily the result of the political division of Korea by an agreement of the victorious Allies at the conclusion of the Pacific War at the end of World War II. The Korean peninsula was ruled by the Empire of Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II. Following the surrender of the Empire of Japan in September 1945, American administrators divided the peninsula along the 38th parallel, with U.S. military forces occupying the southern half and Soviet military forces occupying the northern half. The failure to hold free elections throughout the Korean Peninsula in 1948 deepened the division between the two sides; the North established a communist government, while the South established a capitalist one.”
So that’s how one people became divided into two mortal enemies to the present day.
In his book, “The Shackled Continent” Robert Guest paints a horrendous picture of the dire straits Korea found itself in.
“Korea, for example, was annexed by Japan in 1910 and freed only when America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While they ruled Korea, the Japanese colonists tried to destroy the local culture and to cow the population into servitude. They banned the Korean language, barred from universities and systematically desecrated the country’s most sacred hilltop shrines. They shipped young Korean men to Japan to provide forced labour in mines and munitions factories, or conscripted them to serve the Imperial army. They drafted more than 100,000 Korean women, some as young as twelve to serve as sex slaves in military brothels. And the ordeal did not end with liberation. Soon after the colonists left, Korea was plunged into a civil war that cost a million lives and split the country in two.”
That really is a tragic story but here is the interesting thing; at the end of the Korean Civil War in 1953, South Korea was as poor as Ghana, which declared independence from Britain in 1957. As at 2004, South Korea was twenty times richer than Ghana. Just fifty years made that much difference!
The point I am trying to make is that no matter how oppressed and plundered we might feel as Africans, we have no excuse for not rising out of the ashes and quickly too. It’s really up to us to formulate policies and implement programs that are carefully thought out and that can bring true transformation to our continent. The South Koreans did it.
Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore are all ex-colonies of Japan that have gone on to become spectacular success stories. What is our excuse?
What is even more interesting is that fifty years after the end of the Korean civil war, South Korea is at least ten times richer than North Korea. The problems of North Korea are well publicized; famine, hunger, dictatorship and the list goes on. While South Korea adopted a Capitalist approach, North Korea adopted Communism and the results are there for all to see. Whether Communism or Capitalism works is neither here nor there.
Whether in Africa, Europe or Asia, ultimately, it is in the power of citizens to pull themselves out of the quagmire of failure and into prosperity through the kind of philosophy, values and culture that they inculcate into their thinking and implement.
Congruently, change is possible in Africa but we have to change the way Africa thinks.
The Case of East and West German
As a result of the Cold War, Germany was split into East and West. Fifty years later, West German was four times richer than East Germany.
The Case of Botswana and Zambia
At independence in 1960, Zambia was Africa’s second richest country and Botswana had virtually nothing until the discovery of diamonds after independence in 1967.
Nationalization of copper mines and bad economic policies resulted in Zambians progressively becoming poorer after independence as compared to before.
“When diamonds were discovered in 1967, a year after independence, Botswana was among the ten poorest countries in the world. Now, because it supplies 22% of the world’s total output (in value) of rough diamonds, it is a middle-income country with a GDP of nearly $14,000 a head at purchasing-power parity. Diamonds produced by Debswana, a joint venture between Botswana’s government and De Beers, the world’s biggest rough-diamond trading company, account for a third of the country’s GDP, half of its public spending and three-quarters of its foreign earnings.” http://www.economist.com/node/14707287
And it can be argued that the secret was good governance and efficient fiscal and monetary policy implementation.
So there we have it; two countries in Southern Africa with completely different economic trajectories. I know this is a very simplistic view of the issue but globally it supports my argument that through implementation of sound policies, the story of Africa can change.
The Case of Israel
As late as the 1940s, Jews had no country of their own. They were scattered throughout the world and in most cases were not wanted there.
In order to fully comprehend the miracle of the resurrection of Israel, we have to take a crash course in the history of its troubled past.
According to the Torah, God promised land to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. On the basis of scripture, the period of the three Patriarchs has been placed somewhere around 2000 years BC.
The first Kingdom of Israel was established around the 11th century BC. Subsequent Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently over the next four hundred years.
After the fall of the Northern Kingdom, the Muslims conquered and occupied Israel for a period of over 1500 years. After that, the region came under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanid, and Byzantine rule. In the year 635, the region, including Jerusalem, was conquered by the Arabs and was to remain under Muslim control for the next 1300 years. Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads, Abbasids, and Crusaders throughout the next six centuries, before being conquered by the Mamluk Sultanate, in 1260. In 1516, the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and remained under Turkish rule until the 20th century.
Because of persecution and rejection wherever they went, Jews longed to return to the land of their inheritance. The nation of Israel was indeed founded but not before the Holocaust claimed over 3 million Jewish lives. To fully understand this atrocity and its effect on the Jewish nation, consider that the population of Israel stands at just over 7 million today. You can be sure in the 1940s, it was a lot less.
On 29 November 1947 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union as Resolution 181 (II).
On 14 May 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency declared, “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”
In 60 years, Israel has had to endure 7 wars including one a day after declaring independence. But just 60 years later Israel has risen to become the regional superpower in the Middle East, is a nuclear power and is at the forefront of technological advancement.
Israel is producing the highest number of patented innovations annually in the world, more than twice what even the USA is producing. All the big technology companies want to be or are in Israel, including Google, Microsoft and Intel. Even warren Buffet, the apostle of risk aversion and one of the wealthiest men in the world has invested in Israel.
Just sixty years to establish a country from scratch to a success story the world over!
I believe I have made my point.
To change Africa, we have to change the individual blocks building it; yours and my country. If we can change our way of thinking as blocks building individual countries, we know the transformation of Africa has started in earnest.
Many countries have changed their story. A people, based on attitude, culture and ideology,can either harm or enhance the destiny of their nation. Africa’s countries are no exception.
The call is for citizens to seek greater participation in influencing policies that shape the future of their nations instead of leaving it to politicians. A lot is at stake here. If we can transform first, countries and second regional blocks, we can, third, transform Africa.
South Koreans changed their story out of the ashes of civil war. West Germany is presently Europe’s economic superpower. Botswana is one of the most stable countries in world. Israel has built a superpower out of nothing in just 60 years and South Africa has cast aside the throngs of apartheid and maintains its status as the economic powerhouse of Africa, contributing more than a quarter to Africa’s Gross Domestic Product and leaving the rest of the 50 plus nations to share the balance.
Africa can be changed. But our countries need to change first. And for them to change, Africans need to change the way we think.
What happens at the microcosm can be projected and can happen at the macrocosm.