Africa is credited as the cradle of humanity, cradle of civilization and a mother continent. In the 19th century, out of ignorance, Africa was referred to as the Dark Continent by the Europeans. Little did the world know that on the surface of this dark continent there were empires, kingdoms and centers of learning, and underneath the dark continent, there were shinning objects—gold, diamond, crude oil, etc. The discovery of these minerals led to the scramble and colonization of the Continent by the Europeans in the late 19th century. The Europeans took all that they could (and they are still taking in the 21st century) to develop their countries, leaving African countries impoverished. Todate, Africa remains the fountainhead of natural resources that move the entire world. The bad side of this is that Africa is the poorest continent in the world despite abundant resources. What has gone wrong? Or what are the leaders of African countries not doing right? African countries have the “Africability,” i.e. the capacity, from the abundant natural and human resources, needed to develop their countries. In all fairness, some African countries have tried to develop their countries with less than satisfactory results because colonialism they buried in the 1960s still rules them from the grave.
There are no shortage of agreements, declarations and resolutions signed by individuals, organizations and governments all over the world in support for socio-economic development in Africa. This support is not only cosmetic, but modern-day colonial tactics to keep African countries under the yoke of neo-colonialism. Unfortunately, African leaders are still sleeping or gullible, perhaps, to think that their past “masters” are their friends. No, they are not. There is no free lunch in international relations, nor is there friendship in a globalized world. National interest is still the basis of international relationships.
In Africa today, we have two forms of colonialism operating pari passu—north-south colonialism and south-south colonialism. The developed countries of the North may have signed certificates of independence for African countries, but their hegemonic roles have not diminished. The south-south colonialism is the 21st century form of colonialism instigated by China, India, Brazil and the rich oil Gulf states. Presenting themselves as the friends of Africa, these Third World countries with deep pockets are buying the entire Africa, including the lands, resources under the lands and human beings. Like the 19th century colonialism, the 21st century colonialists are using the same economic, political, cultural, financial and global hegemonic pressures to control African countries to their advantage.
Yes, African countries have flags in the United Nations buildings everywhere in the world signifying their freedom from colonial rule. But what difference does it make if they are free on paper and cannot exercise their right to self-rule. African countries continue to serve the economically powerful countries as the sources of valuable mineral and raw materials and marketplaces for European products. Crude oil is drilled in many countries in Africa and exported to industrialized countries; tea, coffee and cocoa are cultivated by African farmers and the raw products exported to metropolitan countries where they are processed and re-exported to Africa and sold at high prices. Some African farmers that grow cocoa beans for export have never tasted chocolates. If the developed countries want economic development and reduction in poverty in Africa, the sensible assistance would be to construct facilities to process the raw agricultural products, e.g. tea leave, into consumable products for local consumption and export purposes. This would provide employment to local people and embolden them to take farming more seriously.
It’s time for African countries to redefine independence and act as free people. Most African countries are over 60-years of age since independence. If these countries were human beings, they would have gone through formal education, became professionals, married with children, own properties and assume leadership in national and international institutions with responsibility to take decisions that affect humankind. Leaders of African countries need to possess their possessions and stop blaming the colonialism for their misfeasance. It may take another half-a-century to get these colonialists out of Africa. But Africans have the obligation to start the process now. Here are the five things Africans need to do to regain their freedom from foreign predators:
Food security - Farming
The road to development in Africa is through the stomach of the citizens. Hunger breeds anger and political cynicism. When people are hungry, they are easily exploited by local elites and foreigners who act on mercenary motives, without regard to honor, right, or justice. To solve food crisis, Africans must return to small scale farming. Remember, our forebears relied on farming to feed their children. Our parents followed their footsteps. Food crisis started in Africa when Africans suddenly embraced Eurocentric lifestyle and left farming communities in search of white-colour jobs in cities. Today, there are more people in African cities walking around with three-piece suit and tie, without any contribution to economic development. These urban dwellers expect the poor rural population to grow food and export to the cities for their consumption.
Throughout its history, Africa has been short of cash, but not land. Agriculture can be the key to sustainable development in Africa. Most of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihood. This means, agriculture has the potential to become one of the growth engines of the continent. Africa can be the breadbasket of the world with increased food production and would, in turn, reduce dependence on the service or mineral resource sectors, which currently drive African economy. The Europeans were unable to uproot Africa’s fertile lands and shipped to Europe. Today, the south-south colonialists, that lack fertile lands in their countries to grow food to feed their ballooning population, are grabbing land in Africa.[i] In tandem with the local greedy elites, foreign investors are buying lands at a give-away price. One investor is quoted to have said he could obtain an acre of land simply by giving a bottle of Johnny Walker to local chiefs.[ii]
Fertile lands are plentiful in Africa, and there is no shortage of manpower to cultivate the lands. African leaders need to initiate “bottom-up” approach to solving food crisis in Africa. First, stop dispossessing local farmers of their lands and transferring them to foreign investors. Second, provide enabling environment and resources to encourage local farmers to continue producing enough food to feed their families and selling the surpluses in the local market. Third, make agriculture attractive to the youths by subsidizing farming industry. Fourth, create social facilities and life-sustaining amenities—schools, hospitals, electricity, water supply and road—in the rural areas to keep the population in the rural area and prevent mass rural-urban migration. Food security is the answer to African problem. Food is the language spoken by humans and non-humans alike and the only universal thing that has the power to keep peace in the family, community and the country.
African leaders need to redefine education. They cannot afford to join the rest of the world to produce “educated illiterates” by turning out graduates after three or four years of “schooling” without skills. Also, gone are the days when Africans thought education obtained in the metropolitan countries was superior to education in Africa. Wrong. The only advantage schools in the advanced countries have over schools in Africa is the availability of funds and resources. Intellectually, African students are known to be among the smartest in educational institutions anywhere in the world. Education for development would require African leaders to: (i) create a two-tract education system—vocational and academics and encourage students to choose courses that would give them skills, (ii) stop sending their children to foreign countries because they are not learning anything substantive that would be useful on their return to Africa, if they would return at all, and (iii) reward teachers handsomely to energize them to give their students of their best. Teachers should not wait till they reach heaven to receive their rewards.
A healthy population is a productive population. There will be no development in Africa until the leaders take steps to improve health service facilities and make them accessible to all citizens. Many medical students, doctors, nurses and pharmacists are migrating to Europe. The lack of health personnel in Africa, and health facilities have contributed to people dying from preventable and curable diseases. To stem the tide of migration, African leaders must examine the causes (push factors) which are often cited as: lack of opportunity for professional development, unavailability of equipment and supplies, heavy workload, low wages, low job satisfaction, and insecurity of life and property due to constant political instability and conflict.[iii] In Europe and North America, most hospitals, clinics and old people homes are staffed with African skilled workers. This is colonialism by other means. To improve the health of Africans, the leaders must (i) create health facilities both in the rural and urban communities, (ii) make health services affordable, (iii) pay doctors and other health workers salaries commensurate with the cost of living in the country to prevent them from migrating to foreign countries, and (iv) don’t stop training more doctors, nurses and allied health personnel.
Socio-economic development is the brainchild of political stability. Countries with constant political instability would naturally experience reduced private investment and low speed of economic development. This will lead to poor economic performance, which in turn may lead to political unrest and collapse of government. As Franz Fanons[iv] once argued, African leadership is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labour; it is completely canalized into activities of the intermediary type, such as, diverting funds meant for socio-economic development for weapons. Political instability promotes corrupt rulers, repression, ethnic rivalries, electoral violence, weak/insufficient political structures and weak democratic fabric.
No government can effectively carry out the business of the nation under condition of instability. Of more consequential is that political instability in Africa directly affects the pace of migration. Insecurity of life and private properties, real or apparent, has contributed exceedingly to the massive exodus of both highly qualified and low skilled populations in Africa to the developed countries. It has also led to internal displacement forcibly or voluntarily, or inter-state migration to escape civil wars, hunger and other related conundrums associated with political instability.[v] Those who have the courage to remain are unable to do anything for fear of armed attack. Therefore, for development to take place, leaders must intentionally work toward maintaining stability in the country.
Reject foreign aids and loans
A debtor is a slave to the lender. Foreign aid/loan is a trap. They come with strings. In 2018, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping invited more than forty African leaders to Beijing for economic assistance conference. During this meeting, President Xi announced $60 billion in aid and loans for Africa with an assurance that the money came with no expectation of anything in return. In addition to this aid, President Xi further warmed his guests’ hearts when he informed them that Chinese companies will be encouraged to invest at least $10 billion in Africa over the next three years.[vi] How is it possible that China would give such a huge sum of money to African countries without expecting something in return? That’s an outright lie. The Chinese President didn’t say how much of the loan package would be used for the construction of stadiums (“white elephants” constructed by the Chinese government all over Africa, otherwise known as “stadium diplomacy”) and roads using Chinese materials and Chinese citizens. He did not say whether the flight tickets, hotel bills, food and other expenses incurred by his guests would be charged to this loan package. Only nincompoop would think otherwise.
Africans should be wary of predatory philanthropists. Most African countries are victims of predatory lending practices which include unscrupulous actions carried out by individuals and governments with deep pocket to entice, induce and assist them in taking a loan that carries high fees, a high-interest rate, strips them of equity or places them in a lower credit rated loan to the benefit of the lender.[vii] According to IMF, forty percent of African countries, including Chad, Eritrea, Mozambique, Congo Republic, South Sudan and Zimbabwe are either in “debt distress” or downgraded to "high risk of debt distress."[viii] Foreign aids and loans are weapons of neocolonialism. Military equipment and fighter jets are common forms of aids given to African countries. Weapons don’t produce food, they are meant to destroy. Why would poor African countries amass weapons that destroy lives? Whose lives are they destroying other than their citizens? The money for weapons should be used for agricultural development to fight hunger rather than self-destruction. Beware, some rich countries use aid as a bait in order to have access to the country’s mineral resources. “Caveat emptor” should be Africa’s credo moving forward.
[i] African Renewal (2012). “Africa’s priorities for sustainable development.” Retrieved in: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2012/africa%E2%80%99s-priorities-sustainable-development
[iii] Popper, Annelien, et al. (2014). “Why sub-Saharan African health workers migrate to European countries that do not actively recruit: a qualitative study post-migration.” In Journal of Global Health Action, Vol. 7. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3402/gha.v7.24071
[iv] Fanon, Frantz (1967) Black Skin, White Masks, London: Pluto Press.
[v] Aisen, Ari & Francisco Jose Veiga (2011). “How Does Political Instability Affect Economic Growth?” IMF Working Paper (WP/11/12). Retrieved from: https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2011/wp1112.pdf
[vi] Fifield, Anna (2018). “China pledges $60 billion in aid and loans to Africa, no ‘political conditions attached.” Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/china-pledges-60-billion-in-aid-and-loans-to-africa-no-strings-attached/2018/09/03/
[vii] Investopedia. “Predatory Lending.” Retrieved from: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/predatory_lending.asp
[viii] IMF News (2018). Retrieved from:https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2018/10/09/NA101118-external-risks-threaten-sub-Saharan-Africa’s-steady-recovery