TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

50 years later: Where did Africa go wrong?

Saturday, 06 August 2011

Source: The Southern Times (Southern Africa)

The power and efficacy of a popular engagement by a people in strategic self-development, though quite challenging and requiring enormous resources and sacrifice, is not as dependent on material capital as we Africans have constantly been told and have come to believe.

In being so persuaded to believe otherwise, our very knowledge of our relative deficit in capital has come to serve as more of a tool for psychological self-handicapping, given especially the fact that we have been castigated ceaselessly by this and similar 'facts' ad nauseum, creating and deepening our sense of weakness and dependence.

This is the very opposite of the confidence and will that we felt and had at independence when we knew and believed that there was nothing we sought to achieve as a people, a nation and a continent that we could not accomplish with our own sweat and blood, especially since many had already shed the latter in order that we might become free.

The question is, 'What happened to that will, that self-confidence, that hope and that dream?'

A Compelling Clarion Call

In addressing this critical African development dilemma I have said that there comes a time in the lives of a people when, no matter how embattled, they must find the courage and the will to take their destiny in their own hands.

And armed with their own resources, no matter how seemingly miniscule, strike out to build their own future and legacy consistent with their own dreams.

They must do so with the help of friends, if possible, but alone if inevitable.

The African train must leave the station now and you are either on it or you are not.

I believe that this is a clarion call that we must heed now, not tomorrow, and that had we done so a long time ago, Africa would be somewhere else, somewhere more advanced, more globally competitive, eminently nobler, more gratifying and reinforcing than where we are today.

But there is no undertaking of critical importance for which time is too late to start.

As we review our experience and performance over the last 50 years, if there is one conclusion we must come to, it must be that it has not been well with us, not as well as it could have been, the noble and well-intentioned Pentecostal reassurances we console ourselves with notwithstanding.

We must find the courage to review our history and legacy of leadership, governance and administrative management of public affairs, processes, assets and hopes, and commit ourselves to effect a paradigm shift of enormous import, no matter how potentially scary it might seem.

This is the process that I believe we should jump-start today.

Several days ago, US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, in a major US policy statement made significantly right here on African soil, specifically next door in Lusaka, Zambia (during the AGOA Summit in June), warned Africa of the creeping threat of a new colonialism.

'We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave,' she said, 'and when you leave, you don't leave much behind for the people who are there.

We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa.'

She repeated the warning in Dar es Salaam a day later.

The irony of Mrs Clinton's statement which happens to be valuable in fact even if questionable in intent, is the fact that everybody is exploiting Africa, everybody, and the reason is that we have failed to craft a coherent strategy and set of rules and regulations of engagement that protect our material, intellectual and cultural property and that enable us to build our own globally competitive capacity and human resource so that we can one day, sooner than later, take our strategic, social and economic offensive to the world outside Africa.

In just about every case we have set no limits or made no demands on what people can do or not do in Africa, take or not take, and what they must give us in return, on a fair, equitable and mutually empowering platform.

In making her statement, Mrs Clinton, in what must be one of the greatest ironies of contemporary political history, was borrowing from and invoking perhaps the most important strategic warning against premature post-independence relaxation of vigilance handed to Africa by the one African leader whose dream for the continent the United States vehemently obstructed.

Visionary leader

That visionary leader was none other than one of our legendary intellectual political leaders of all time, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the founding president of the Republic of Ghana.

Dr Nkrumah, in his famous 1965 book, 'Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism', stated that: 'The essence of neo-colonialism is that the state which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty.

'In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.'

He continued: 'The methods and form of this direction can take various shapes. For example, in an extreme case the troops of the imperial power may garrison the territory of the neo-colonial State and control the government of it.

'More often, however, neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means. The neo-colonial state may be obliged to take the manufactured products of the imperialist power to the exclusion of competing products from elsewhere.

'Control over government policy in the neo-colonial state may be secured by payments towards the cost of running the state, by the provision of civil servants in positions where they can dictate policy, and by monetary control over foreign exchange through the imposition of a banking system controlled by the imperial power.'

Looking back over the last 50 years, few of us never expected that these words would come to haunt us today.

But the evidence is glaring and unless we find the courage, discipline and will to stop the clock and go back to the drawing board, we run the risk of their ringing true for our children and grandchildren 50 more years from now.

Biting the Bullet: Making Tough Choices

Although Mrs Clinton's red flag was motivated by an American effort to address America's decline in its competitive edge against China, a throwback to the Cold War era that cost Africa so much for something we hardly knew, understood or cared about, it should trigger a need for us in Africa to take a close hard look at our post-colonial past.

We need to revisit our hopes and most articulate dreams, goals and objectives as we forcefully declared them at independence, and find the courage and wherewithal to start afresh, if necessary, to craft and build a more sophisticated strategy for self-development, one predicated on becoming self-sustaining and globally competitive in the shortest time possible.

If we sit down as a continental people and undertake this serious retrospective, deploying our best minds, we will surprise ourselves with what we come up with.

But in order to do so, we must find the resolve to call time out and, of necessity, close our doors and have a frank and sober no-holds-barred soul-searching African conversation.

We cannot be afraid of offending our friends as we seek the privacy to seriously solve our own pressing problems and manage our own future and fortune without distraction.

If you have a family problem, you learn to ask your friends to excuse you as you close your doors so that you can talk freely, truly and in earnest to find solutions.

When the crisis is over, you call your friends, apologize and invite them back in for a drink.

Africa has lacked the courage to do something so routine and simple, and we continue to pay a high price by not addressing our glaring strategic problems and we, instead, outsource our development and governance while we and our people wallow in growing insecurity and increasing anger.

Such a continental soul-searching exercise , given the spread of the African population on the continent and globally, can take immense advantage of the enabling facilitations of contemporary science and technology, especially Information and Communications Technology, and specifically online technology or the Internet.

The Internet can enable us to carry out a massive programme of continental and global African consultation, with the capability to manage, analyze and co-ordinate such vast input as well as collate and disseminate the outcome.

The Courage To Think Bold And Act Big

Over the last 50 years, we have been told again and again even by our friends how we must learn to think small, or, if we must, think big but act small.

And through the years we came to believe and accept this most disingenuous and self-handicapping advice hook, line and sinker.

But no country or people have achieved greatness by thinking or acting small. We must now begin to return to thinking big, because that is the only way to succeed and achieve greatness.

The difference is that first we must think clearly, freely, honestly, intelligently, creatively and innovatively. We must think for ourselves, and act boldly, making the most use of the knowledge, talent and genius of our best and brightest.

We must have the courage to make mistakes as they are inevitable in all serious undertakings.

Alongside this, we must also have the tenacity and fortitude not to expect results in a day, a year or sometimes even in a decade.

We must think, plan, act and expect in long-term strategic terms.

Some things come about quickly, others take time. Furthermore, African development cannot be a miniscule undertaking.

It cannot be predicated on small and incremental gains that most often are outstripped by the evolution of new problems and challenges, resulting in a net loss. Small goals will not solve Africa's problems.

Even the globally promoted Millennium Development Goals or MDGs will not develop Africa.

They will simply make poverty less obvious, less visible, less painful and less embarrassing, and that is not good enough for a continent of such smart and richly endowed people.

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