FEATURE ARTICLE

Ibibia Lucky WorikaWednesday, June 4, 2008
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Port Harcourt, Nigeria

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Are Rich Nations Blocking Africa's Growth? (I)

frica's destiny is neither in the constellation of stars nor some mysterious interplay of the celestial. It is neither in the hands of the white man nor rich nations. Africa's destiny rests squarely with its own people (Africans), and in its own hands. This assertion comes from deep introspection, given that this topic has elicited much controversy between proponents of some grand conspiracy theory against Africa and those opposed to it. Between these two extremes, however, is a middle-ground where honest and sincere leadership could steer Africa's ship of state towards sustainable development.


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Reports from Yokohama, Japan, where over forty heads of African states participated in a three-day conference to discuss economic growth, stability and climate change published in The Guardian on Thursday, May 29, 2008 re-echo conventional thinking, making excuses for the continent's marginalisation. Titled, "African leaders accuse rich nations of blocking continent's growth", it quotes President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso as saying that: "Pursuit of unfair trade practices by the big powers as well as difficult access for African products to markets of developed countries continue to penalise our states and significantly destroy their performance in the creation of riches." Others have blamed Africa's backwardness on centuries of slave trade, arguing that if all those healthy and able-bodied men and women had not been enslaved, perhaps, Africa's destiny would have taken a different, but better course.

The notion that there is some grand conspiracy by rich nations to keep Africa perpetually underdeveloped because it serves their interest is one that has gained forceful currency. To be sure, rich nations led by the U.S. continue to push poor countries to take steps towards stimulating business through privatization, restructuring and repositioning the banking sector while generally improving financial management, embracing free trade and acceding to the World Trade Organization, whose rules had long been settled lopsidedly by rich nations. Ironically, while encouraging an economic laissez-faire philosophy for poor countries and the world in general, rich nations impose protectionist policies and measures that cater to powerful special interest groups in their respective countries, especially in the agricultural sector, where poorer nations generally and otherwise have comparative advantages. A report by Edmund Andrews of the New York Times as far back as September 30, 2002 was critical of rich nations for enforcing trade barriers. The then president of the World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn accused wealthy countries of "squandering" $1 billion a day on farm subsidies that often have devastating effects on farmers in Latin America and Africa.

Others point to rich nations providing safe-haven for laundered money from poor developing countries of Africa. Some of the monies laundered by past African Heads of States and Presidents and in very recent times including provincial, regional or State governors amounting to billions in hard currency that should otherwise have been channelled towards productive ventures in Africa have been fairly documented and need not be recounted here. The argument that the rich nations are aware of these illicit transactions and simply turn a blind eye because of its benefits to their economies while conversely depriving Africa of much needed development finance is appealing.

There are those who point to racism as proof that, rich nations especially the U.S. and its other Western allies do not, particularly, like Africans and, would do anything to ensure that Africa remains perpetually underdeveloped or 'developing'. This argument posits that even when there seems to be something of interest in Africa, it is always an interest that benefits the Western powers rather than Africa or Africans. The World Investment Report 2007: Transnational Corporations, Extractive Industries and Development provides some proof that when foreign direct investment to Africa rose by 20% to $36 billion in 2006, twice their 2004 level, the surge was in large part related to investments in extractive industries, not health, education, housing, agriculture or even IT. Again, in the pursuit of their interest especially in the extractive industries such as mining, oil and gas exploration and exploitation, there is some evidence that, it does not matter if Africans are impoverished thereby or their environment is devastated. The 'blood diamonds' of Sierra Leone, which partly fuelled the Liberian civil war, oil and gas exploitation in Nigeria's despoiled Niger Delta environment are a few examples in West Africa. The Angolan civil war, which was formally brought to an end in 2002, and in which an estimated 500,000 people were killed was one of the largest, longest and most prominent armed conflicts of the Cold War. Both the former Soviet Union and the U.S. considered it critical to the global balance of power and to the outcome of the Cold War. Underpinning this 27 year old conflict were oil and gas as well as diamonds. The brutal suppression of blacks in South Africa for centuries and the institution of the apartheid regime were equally linked to South Africa's enormous resources, which the invading colonial forces could not do without.

Anyone conversant with John Perkins' New York Times Bestseller, "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" cannot but admit some "magu magu" as we say in Nigeria, in the global political economy. John Perkins writes that,

"Economic hit men are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as Empire but one that has taken on terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization." Admittedly, Perkins' book has been subject to much controversy and intense criticism and when put under the spotlight, he himself was forced to make a calculated retreat in these words: "Although unconscious, deceived, and-in many cases-self-deluded, these players were not members of any clandestine conspiracy; rather, they were the product of a system that promotes the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever witnessed."

There are, indeed, endless examples or instances that seem to justify this grand conspiracy theory against Africa. While this writer does not accept hook, line and sinker the grand conspiracy theory, this article does not intend to dwell on these arguments and examples nor is it intended to counteract every shred of evidence or argument. This article proceeds from the premise that, what if these were true - have Africans been honestly and sincerely committed to their own socio-economic and political development? That answer, clearly, is a resounding NO! The degree of contributory negligence of Africa in its own underdevelopment effectively wipes out any suggestion that it remains underdeveloped because of some grand conspiracy by rich and industrialised nations. The next part of this serial will reveal how Africans have contributed in no small measure to their own underdevelopment and continue to do so in ways and means that marvel even its 'enemies'. The concluding piece will articulate a way forward for Africa. There is, however, no pretence to overriding wisdom regarding these matters, which have long attracted the attention of development scholars in citadels of learning all over the world. In so far as the objective is to chart the trajectory towards Africa's sustainable development, the writer welcomes rejoinders.

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