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African Transformation: The Problem with Africa II

12 November 2012, 08:45

The Problem with Africa

The way Africans live now is not much different from the way most Europeans lived until the Industrial Revolution, just over a hundred years ago.

What this says to me is that Africa is in a far better position to catch up with the rest of the world faster due to better technology and information sharing. We do not need to reinvent the wheel in many instances; we just need to appropriate the relevant technology to advance to the next level.

But first the possible causes of Africa’s present dilemma.

The role of geography

Rich nations tend to have temperate climates i.e. 93% of the people in the world’s 30 richest nations live in temperate zones.

Tropics tend to be poor; of 42 World Bank classified Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) in 1999, 39 were either in the tropics or largely desert areas. The remaining 3 HIPCs (Malawi, Zambia and Laos) were land locked.

It can be speculated that this is due to conducive conditions for the emanation and spread of tropical diseases that devastatingly afflict both people and livestock e.g. the notorious Ebola virus from the Congo region.

The only problem with this theory is that Israel is a tiny desert country with no natural resources yet it’s at the forefront of technological innovation even though it was only founded in 1947. It has also become a regional super power in the Middle East.

Slavery

The slave trade of the 18th and 19th century resulted in millions of Africans being shipped off to the West under inhumane conditions.

The transplanting of Africans to Europe disrupted African society’s progression immeasurably.

According to Van Sertima and Kaluli Nengo, in Reclaiming Africa, Africa lost 7 sciences as a result of the disruption caused by the slave trade. These are Communication Sciences, Metallurgy, Astronomy, Navigation, Mathematics, Architecture and Engineering, Agricultural Science, Medicine and Writing Systems.

Only recently have archaeologists begun to find clues as to how these sciences were developed by the Africans. That disruption virtually stopped the development of the African continent dead in its tracks.

It didn’t help matters that the Arabs had already been trading slaves with African chiefs who themselves had held between 30% to 60% of their subjects as slaves before the Europeans arrived. Thus for a long time, Africans were just commodities for trade. This was the same concept of serfs or bonded labourers in Europe about 30 to 40 generations ago.

Colonialism

We know that the division and colonisation of Africa started with the 1884/85 Berlin conference and lasted until 1994 when South Africa, the last African country to be decolonised was granted independence.

However, the first country to gain independence was the then Gold Coast, now know as Ghana in 1957Others followed in the 1960s and 1970s often after protracted and vicious liberation wars as in the case of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Colonialism kept the African suppressed and in arrested development. That point is out there for all to see. What is less obvious is the effect of colonialism on the African psyche. And this is where the real problem in the present lays.

There is a pattern of post colonial governments treating their subjects as badly as their colonial masters. This points to deep seated inferiority complexes that suggest that it’s acceptable to treat a fellow African as inferior because there must be something wrong with us Africans for us to be treated the way we were by the Europeans. This somehow makes it okay for those now in power to suppress their opponents even though both are Africans. I can’t understand how this works, honestly. Also, the fact that Europe developed faster than Africa and conquered Africans with relative ease somehow means Africans must be inferior. This kind of thinking is very dangerous and detrimental to the development and emancipation of Africa.

Steve Biko calls this phenomenon “Colonisation of the mind”. As long as we consider ourselves inferior to other races and accept that it is okay to treat like skinned people in the same way that colonial masters treated us, we will not develop as a continent. It is imperative that we put our efforts and resources together in order to surge forward.

Another legacy of colonialism was lumping people together, of incongruent cultures, languages and values. This was a result of the Berlin Conference. Suddenly these ethnic tribes had to share resources and somehow co-exist. The equilibrium in those societies was disturbed, in some case, permanently.

For fear of sparking new conflicts, African countries have decided not to tamper with these borders.

So even though colonialism is long gone, the effects are very much with us to this day!

Bad Governance and Economic Policies

“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hall marks of true leadership.” Chinua Achebe

Bad management and disabling policies to would-be investors are rife in many African countries. These include lack of freedom to seek own fortunes without official harassment, absence of the rule of law, lack of contract enforcement thus creating a huge political and commercial risk, absence of solid property rights, corruption and so forth.

One dilemma that young African governments found themselves in just after independence was satisfying the impatient but euphoric masses that expected to see change overnight. This placed a formidable burden on these young governments. To cope, they borrowed from banks and multilateral institutions to spend on free healthcare, education, agriculture, prestige projects like dams, steel mills, conference halls and so forth. Since most of the investment was social, many of these young governments eventually found themselves being unable to service their loans and began to default.

This meant that their credit rating has since been downgraded, which affects access to credit and foreign direct investment (FDI).

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