We live in an age of unprecedented prosperity, but also unspeakable deprivation in some parts of the world, particularly in Africa. All over Africa, there is concern about unfulfilled hope and broken promises of independence. This resource-rich Continent is classified as the world’s poorest inhabited continent. After more than sixty years of independence, without visible benefits of independence, many Africans feel that economic and political freedom is unattainable and that colonialism they purportedly buried still rules them from the grave. Most Africans look up to their leaders to save them and the succeeding generations of Africans from the scourges of poverty, diseases and illiteracy. Because Africa is the source of valuable natural and human resources, many countries in Africa should never, never be classified as poor, but for misplaced priorities.
I recently visited many countries in Africa to see, firsthand, the progress, if any, toward achieving the African Union sustainable development agenda aimed at building a more prosperous Africa in 50-years. From what I saw, Africans need a complete change of focus and redefinition of the concept of development that would move Africa from the current “basket case” status to a prosperous Africa. Talking to educated elites who have studied and understand the concept of development, I found that their concept of development is Eurocentric. Imitating the European style of socio-economic development is inappropriate. Many of the elites I talked to hold the view that what is good for Europe is good for Africa. I vehemently disagree. African countries should not try to be like the European or North American countries. Given the disparity in the level of development between Europe and Africa, Africans need to look internally to understand what is holding them back and improve upon them, rather than copycatting Europe. You are your choices and the consequences of your choices.
During my recent visit to Dakar, Senegal, I was disappointingly impressed with the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar. Standing on the twin hills known as Collines des Mamelles, outside Dakar, is a 49 meter (160 ft) tall bronze statue. The statue is popularly known as the “Monument de la Renaissance Africaine;” translated, “The African Renaissance Monument;” a pet project of the former Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, which he characterize as “…heralding a new era of African Renaissance and a symbol of Africa’s long walk to freedom from want and dependency.” In his speech at the launching ceremony of the statue, President Wade said the statue “…brings to life our (African) common destiny.” “Africa,” he said, “has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands." He describes the man in the statue as “a symbol of Africa which freed itself from several centuries of imprisonment in the abyssal depths of poverty, ignorance, intolerance, and racism."
The African Renaissance Monument was unveiled in Dakar on 3 April 2010 in a ceremony attended by 19 African heads of state, including President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi who was then the Chairperson of the African Union and Mr. Jean Ping, a Gabonese Diplomat, then the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. Also present at the inaugural ceremony were representatives of North Korea and Jesse Jackson, the US Civil Rights icon. The President of Malawi, without stating whether he was representing Malawi or the African Union, praised President Wade for “constructing a monument that represents Africa;” adding, "The monument does not belong to Senegal, but belongs to the African people wherever we are." In his remark before thousands of Senegalese waving Senegalese flag at the foot of the lighted monument, Rev. Jesse Jackson said the statue was “…dedicated to the journey of our ancestors, enslaved but not slaves."
African Renaissance Monument
Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine
This monument costs Senegalese taxpayers US$27 million (£17 million). There is no wonder why it was vehemently opposed by many Senegalese. Mr. Ndeye Fatou Toure, a member of the Senegalese Parliament, described the statue as an “economic monster and a financial scandal in the context of the current economic crisis in Senegal.” Another reason for the opposition is that the statue was designed by a Senegalese Artist (Mr Pierre Goudiaby Atepa), but the contract for its construction was awarded to Mansudae Overseas Projects, a North Korean company. Many Senegalese think such a deal was “self-serving” on the part of President Wade. Whatever “self-serving” means is left to the readers’ conjecture. What cannot be disputed is that Senegal is among the poorest countries in Africa. Investing $27 million in the construction of a statute is a waste of resources that could have been used to improve the health and educational infrastructures and, of course, projects to tackle food insecurity. Giving the contract to the North Koreans rather than to the Senegalese, makes the Koreans and the Senegalese $27 million richer and poorer respectively.[i]
Another monument that shocked the world's conscience was the Roman Catholic Basilica in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire, the largest church in Christendom, with the fewest worshippers, built between 1986 and 1989 by Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the first President of Cote d’Ivoire at an estimated cost of $300 million. The Basilica’s gigantic dome dwarfs that of Saint Peter’s in Rome and rises to a height of 489 feet (149 meters), with the capacity to hold 18,000 worshipers, while the esplanade can accommodate a crowd of 300,000 people. The population of Cote d’Ivoire (2016 census) is about 24-million people; out of which approximately 33% (about 8 million of the
population) are Christians of various denominations. Only 19% of the population (about 4.5 million people) are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church nationwide. Islam makes up the largest religious group (about 42.9% of the population), while about 23% of the population are either irreligious or practice indigenous religions. Houphouët-Boigny decided it would be a good idea to clone Catholic Basilica in the outskirts of his hometown of Yamoussoukro, surrounded by poverty and at a time his country was in dire financial straits.
None of the speakers at the launching of the African Renaissance Statue mentioned the economic benefit of this statue. Perhaps it would generate income as a tourist attraction. But how many Africans and other people around the world would fly to Dakar to see the Statue? Given the poor maintenance culture in Africa, one wonders how long this statue would stand strong and in good condition to attract tourists. What is critical is that given Africa’s quest for sustainable economic development, it leaves much to be desired whether building monuments would enhance economic development in Africa. Below are our prescriptions.
Paradigm for African Freedom from Want and dependency
Since independence, African leaders have focused on blaming external factors—the lingering effect of colonialism, an unjust international economic system, the predatory practices of multinational corporations, fallen prices of raw materials in international markets—to explain the lack of socio-economic development in their countries. While it is true that external factors have contributed to economic stagnation in Africa, it does not justify the tendency to put all blames, shortcomings and failures, on outside forces. It is contended that underdevelopment in Africa is not due to lack of resources, but due to lack of political will, systemic corruption, misguided leadership, mismanagement of resources, capital flight, ethnic jingoism, senseless civil wars, political tyranny, human rights violations, military vandalism, emerging and re-emerging diseases and poor system of education, the list goes on.
When crossing the road, the conventional wisdom is to look both sides of the road before crossing to avoid being ran over by a vehicle. African leaders should learn from this adage and look both sides—internal and external—for factors that negatively impact their development programmes. Statue is a work of art, inanimate, and does not appreciate nor create jobs. Building monuments will not pull African countries out of the valley of poverty and dependency. Freedom from want and dependency will be unattainable in African countries unless the basic engines of development (i) a new form of leadership—electing servant leaders to run the affairs of the nation, (ii) investment in education, (iii) improved healthcare system, (iv) security of life and property of the citizens, and above all (v) ensuring food security, become their national priorities.
Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call for self-aggrandizement and profiteering. Serving the population is the very purpose of leadership and is the price leaders pay for being elected to the top positions of the land. True leaders understand that leadership is not about them, but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but maximization of their citizens’ potentials, knowing that they would be judged, not so much by how many monuments they have built or the amount of gold and silver in their foreign banks, but by how well they serve the masses. Leaders must be the agents of change they wish to see in their countries.
Many Africans are fleeing their countries because of the feeling of insecurity and neglect by their governments. The unintended consequence of the current exodus of people from Africa to Europe is the wide floodgate of human trafficking, of which, like traditional slave trade, Africa is the main supply chain. This is the tragedy African leaders need to address with a view to turning distant dreams of their citizens into immediate possibilities. As Mother Teresa once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” This is what leaders do, not building monuments.
The baptismal experience in nation-building begins with the education of the citizens. Unfortunately, most African countries began their journey of independence with an education deficit at all levels. No country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in human capital. Education cannot only unlock the golden door of individual freedom, but with education, distant dreams can be turned into immediate possibilities, to both the citizens and the country. Therefore, increased access to and improved quality and relevance of education cannot be over-emphasized.
The lack of infrastructures for quality education makes children the sacrificial lamb of foreign investors. All over Africa, children have little or no passion for education because of lack of basic facilities, e.g. electricity, water, qualified teachers, etc. In some schools, children sit on dusty floor to receive lectures from unmotivated teachers. Under these conditions, children drop
Illegal use of children by the Chinese in the gold mining
activities in the Galamsey Region of Ghana. Photo by Albert Ansah
out of school and the predatory foreign investors exploit the situation by recruiting these children to work in their mines in return for a few nickels per day. Many children defy heavy traffic on major roads hawking petty items to raise money to support themselves and their families. This is not what the children should be doing. At young age, children’s place is the schools. Children are the future of any nation. We have heard this a million times from African leaders. It's indisputable. During its recent meeting at the African Union HQs in Addis Ababa, the Heads of State stated:
“In the bid to “create” a new African citizen who will be an effective change
agent for the continent’s sustainable development as envisioned by the AU
and its 2063 Agenda, the African Union Commission has developed this
strategy driven by the desire to set up a “qualitative system of education and
training to provide the African continent with efficient human resources adapted
to African core values and therefore capable to achieve the vision and ambitions
of the African Union. Those responsible for its implementation will be assigned
to “reorient Africa’s education and training systems to meet the knowledge,
competencies, skills, innovation and creativity required to nurture African core
values and promote sustainable development at the national, sub-regional and
It is hoped that this is not one of those declarations and resolutions that are taken, signed, beautifully bound and let on the shelf. African countries need to commit themselves to human capital development. A strategically designed system of education is the vehicle for human capital development. Human capital does not refer to the number of citizens with diplomas and degrees. Human capital is the measure of the economic value that citizens provide, through their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Sadly enough, school system all over the world are producing “educated illiterates,” that is, people with degrees without skills or ability to think.
Child Labour – Young girl hawking tomatoes on bicycle
Photo by Albert Ansah
For the citizens to be valuable assets, them must be nurtured, cherished and protected against exploitation by their parents and foreign predators. The children of the well-to-do families are not affected by the ineffective system of education. Parents who can afford send their children to the best private schools locally or abroad. This may be good for the children but bad for the
Young girl selling fresh coconut on roadside rather than being in the school
Photo by Albert Ansah
country. Sending young children abroad denies them an opportunity for cultural assimilation to their natal home. They rarely return to Africa, which explains the growth of Africans in the diasporas and brain drain. The disparity in access to education leaves underprivileged kids to rot and engenders inequality, which in turn, stifles any effort toward equalitarian society.
Health Services infrastructures
Health infrastructure development, unfortunately, is rarely a priority in most African countries. Yet health is wealth and a healthy population is a productive population. With the emerging new diseases and viruses (HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Coronavirus, etc.) and the re-emerging of older diseases (malaria, polio, etc.) the productive capacities and potentials of the African population have been considerably decimated. Ignoring the health of the population is the worst form of violence and injustice against the citizens. The lack of development of health services infrastructures backfires on the country, in the long run, in the form of lower productivity and untimely death of the productive segment of the population. The lack of basic infrastructures for the practice of medicine and inadequate rewards, are some of the reasons African countries are losing their best world-renowned medical practitioners, including nurses and pharmacists.[iii]
The leaders seem to care less since they can fly out of their countries to a foreign country for medical treatment for themselves and their family members. This kind of attitude is a white-collar crime that needs to be dealt with ruthlessly if African countries are to make any progress. No one talks about this for fear of losing their lives in the hands of corrupt government agents. What would historians say? Does it matter what they say? Should we be worried about our children and grandchildren? These questions are thrown in here for individual conjecture.
You can’t preach freedom to someone who hasn’t had a decent meal in days. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Poverty is the worst form of violence." Poverty, in terms of hunger, could be reduced by boosting agriculture—a sector that supports two thirds of all Africans. About 50 percent (roughly 450 million hectares) of the world’s uncultivated land, which is suited for growing food crops, is in Africa. In addition, Africa is blessed with water and rainfall all year round but uses less than two percent of its renewable water sources, compared to a world average of five percent.
Africa could feed itself but for the governments’ lack of interest to support local farmers to produce enough food for their families. Rather than embarking upon self-help food security program, African governments are forcing local farmers to sell the farmlands they inherited from their forebears to foreign governments to grow food and export to their countries to solve problem of food insecurity.[iv] Some farmlands are converted from the production of food for human consumption to the production of nonfood items, e.g. Jatropha tree and sugar cane needed for ethanol production for export to the investors’ countries. Foreigners obtain these lands at very low prices.[v] One foreign investor is cited to have bragged about obtaining a hectare of land for the price of a bottle of Johnnie Walker.[vi] Ridiculous. Land grabbing has exacerbated food shortage and hunger in Africa. Deprived of their lands, families become dependent on imported food, the cost of which, according to World Bank recent report, is worth US$313 billion and likely to become one trillion-dollar food market by the year 2030. While African leaders cannot prevent earthquakes, droughts or the old and new diseases that pop up without notice, they can prevent or reduce hunger by empowering their citizens through training, financial sustainability and the provision of adequate tools to help them embark upon “feed-Africa” campaign. Poverty will always be with us but doing nothing to alleviate it is a crime against humanity.
More than 100 bags of "fake rice" believed to have been smuggled
in from China were seized by the Nigerian Food Safety Agency.
The same economic imperialists that are grabbing lands from local farmers are dumping “plastic rice” (otherwise known as “Wuchang rice”), made from mixing white potatoes, with sweet potatoes and synthetic resin, in many African countries in tandem with unscrupulous local elites and traders. Health experts warned that the fake rice is a health hazard and could cause serious damage to the digestive system if consumed. Many Africans, even the educated ones, do not have access to health information of this kind. There is no wonder, therefore, most enigmatic diseases that hit humankind are always traced to Africa.
Security of life and property
Citizens of any country expect their governments to provide them security of life and property as part of social contract. Most bad behaviour from citizens come from a feeling of insecurity. “Patriotism,” said Mark Twain, “is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” True sense of freedom cannot exist if the citizens are terrorized by their governments. Political instability, ethnic jingoism, discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, religion, language and social status, are threats to peace, security and wellbeing of the citizens. “Give people affection and security,” says Abraham Maslow, and “they will give affection and be secure in their feelings and their behavior.” Countries with constant coup d'état have been noted to experience higher human capital flights than countries with staple political system. People want to be sure they are safe in their own homes, on the street and that their children will go to school and return home unmolested. When it comes to human dignity, it is dangerous to make compromises. The prevailing wisdom is that it is the lack of security for life and property that Africans in the diasporas do not return home permanently, because they enjoy personal security (though not absolute) in Europe and North America.
Freeing Africa from “centuries of imprisonment in the abyssal depths of poverty, ignorance, intolerance, racism and dependency,” is a noble cause and is achievable. But that will not be achieved through building of monuments and engaging in stadium diplomacy. Post independent African leaders promised their citizens fundamental human rights; to save them from the scourge of war, and to promote social progress and better standards of life irrespective of ethnicity, language or religion. These promises have not been fulfilled. There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept.
Africans have long suffered from mental enslavement, cultural imperialism and colonisation of the mind. In a world, particularly in Africa, with so many problems that need solution, leaders with vision, who are both able to see old issues in a new light and to inspire citizens to add to the strength of their nation, are more needed now than ever before. Where there is no vision, the people perish. Africa’s burdens are heavy, but leaders with the gut to end or mollify these burdens are lacking. Africa needs leaders that invest in and/or rebuild the foundations of development—infrastructures, education, health services, access to energy and more importantly, security of life and property of the citizens. Africa needs transformational leaders with hawk-eyes to recognize and harness their citizens’ energies and potentials, particularly their intellectual capital, underscored by demographic diversity of the population and cultures which are the bedrock of development. With the abundant natural resources at their disposal, Africans can industrialize Africa, build banks and get rid of colonial institutions by putting them out of business.
As the world stands at the door of a new millennium, Africans should be ready to unlock the mysteries of the global system, to free their citizens from the miseries of disease, hunger, dependency and desist from acts that would engender distrust of their government. It is of paramount importance that leaders know how to harness positive forces within their countries to build a new national pride. The way forward for Africans is to drive the change they want to see in their countries by themselves. Because if they don’t, they will continuously remain colonized and lose their place in the annals of history.
[iii] “Brain Drain in Africa Facts and Figures.” Retrieved from: http://aracorporation.org/files/factsandfigures.pdf
[iv] “Causes of food insecurity in Africa.” Retrieved from: https://greentumble.com/causes-of-food-insecurity-in-africa/
[v] Lorenzo Cotula (2013). International Institute for Environment and Development. ‘Land grabbing’ in Africa: Biofuels are not off the hook” Retrieved from: https://www.iied.org/land-grabbing-africa-biofuels-are-not-hook
[vi] Oakland Institute (2011). Hedge funds 'grabbing land' in Africa’. Retrieved from: https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/hedge-funds-grabbing-land-africa-0