FEATURE ARTICLE

Ibibia Lucky WorikaWednesday, June 11, 2008
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Port Harcourt, Nigeria

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ARE RICH NATIONS BLOCKING AFRICA'S GROWTH? (II)

hile admitting that the global political economy, especially its international trade rules are skewed in favour of rich nations, the reason why Africa is poor is not because of some evil conspiracy headed by rich nations. One of the comments on the earlier version of this article was from James Chikonamombe, who in his email posited that:


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"Countries do whatever it takes to further their own national interests. There are no such things as "unfair trading practices". If the trading practices are unfair, it's either because the African officials allowed themselves to be leveraged into such lowly positions, or they simply slept at the wheel of high officialdom. International trade is a VICIOUS, ZERO-SUM GAME of advancing your own country's interests, and African officials must leverage what WE HAVE to get more out OF THEM (Westerners, Indians Chinese), than what they get OUT OF US."

One cannot agree more with James to the extent, however, that Africans should not necessarily advance at the expense of other races. This writer maintains that Africa is poor because of the absence of sincere and caring leadership that puts the interest of Africa and her people first.

Again, contributory negligence on the part of Africa's leaders effectively wipes away any notion that it remains underdeveloped because of some grand conspiracy by rich and powerful industrialised nations. Walter Rodney's thesis on "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" is all too familiar to students of African history. A great work it was, no doubt, but failed to take account of the fact that large parts of Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean were similarly colonized. However, subject to very few qualifications - relativity of political freedoms, gender and human rights issues, countries in these other regions are developing faster than those in the Africa region. The why and how of Africa's backwardness continues to be the subject of this serial.

Conventionally, "development" that Africa so desperately needs is often so narrowly misconstrued to mean "economic growth" without more; yet, it has several components. Its objective is to create an enabling environment for human well-being. Writing on human development, Mahbub ul Haq, Founder of the Human Development Report opined that:

"The basic purpose of development is to enlarge people's choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and can change over time. People often value achievements that do not show up at all, or not immediately, in income or growth figures: greater access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services, more secure livelihoods, security against crime and physical violence, satisfying leisure hours, political and cultural freedoms and sense of participation in community activities. The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives."

Since 1990, under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) the Human Development Report has published the human development index (HDI) which looks beyond GDP to a broader definition of well-being. The HDI provides a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy), being educated (measured by adult literacy and enrolment at the primary, secondary and tertiary level) and having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income). Admittedly, the index is not in any sense a comprehensive measure of human development, but it does provide a broader prism for viewing human progress and the complex relationship between income and well-being. What is noticeably missing in this calibration of human development is "safety and security". Indeed, so fundamental is this quotient that without it all other dimensions are bound to fail. The Human Development Report 2007/2008 indicates that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is at the top of the index, followed closely by Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Latin America and the Caribbean region come third, while East Asia and Arab States are more or less on the same index in fourth place. South Asia is in the fifth category with sub-Sahara Africa coming last.

To think that over half a billion people in Africa do not have access to electricity and, that where it is available, most countries suffer from erratic supplies, while the River Congo (formerly Zaire) with proven potential of supplying all the power that Africa needs and more remains largely underutilized; to think that, over 130 million people in sub-Saharan Africa also rely on firewood, cow dung and crop residues for their cooking and heating needs with enormous health implications and no escape route from the poverty cycle in sub-Saharan Africa, when they could easily have had access to electricity whether grid or off-grid as in other parts of the world; to think that with the exception of Asia, Africa has the world's largest landmass, but is largely unable to feed itself; to think that some African countries' spending on the military as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) is higher than that of the United States of America and other rich nations, whereas Africa is least able to defend or feed itself; to think that some African leaders live much more affluent lifestyles than their compatriots in richer nations, while their own people wallow in abject deprivation and poverty; to think that a continent, mostly in need of peace is actually replete with strife, armed conflicts, civil wars and lately genocide, is quite frankly, not just a vexation of the spirit, but baffling and confounding to the sentient soul. Worse still, the excuse that Africa is in this wretched state because of some grand conspiracy by rich nations is to say the least, disgraceful, a disgrace that stems from the easier tendency to shift responsibility rather than assume it. What responsibilities have others towards Africa, if Africa's leaders do not accept sincere responsibility towards Africa and their own people? Where is sincerity and caring leadership in Africa?

The notion that the West owes Africa reparation for centuries of slavery inflicted on the African continent and its people have been canvassed by no less a personality than Nigeria's Chief Moshood Abiola of blessed memory. At the time, this writer was empathetic, but on second thought, it called to question the role of Africa's chiefs in selling fellow Africans as accomplices in this highly reprehensible human traffic across the Atlantic during the pre-colonial slavery era. Even at that, it is instructive that both the decline as well as end to slave trade was imposed upon Africa by its European conquerors. This leads one to imagine what would have happened had Europe led by Britain and Spain not decided to end slavery and slave trade. Is it not shameful that, in some traditional African societies, intra and inter-communal slavery exists till this day?

In colonial times, Africa could have made the argument with some persuasion that its land and people are underdeveloped because of colonial rule. For students and scholars of Africa, colonialism, and social theory including Africa's political elite of the late 1950s up to the 60s, this was the quintessential argument against colonialism. Over forty years later, those who lived and witnessed the pan-African nationalist movements and uprising must be wondering if we were not better under colonial rule. This sentiment though sounding defeatist is most certainly strong, so strong, indeed, that Dinesh D'Souza's Defence of Colonialism in the Chronicle of Higher Education Colloquy Live maintained that: "Much of the analysis of colonialism comes from scholars in anti-colonial or postcolonial studies, classifying these arguments as "irrational prejudice" against colonialism. He specifically argues that there is nothing uniquely Western about colonialism, that the West did not become wealthy because of colonialism, and that the descendants of colonialism "are better off than they would be if colonialism never happened" even if the colonial powers were not seeking such betterment.

Sometime in 1985, one Major Jimmi Wangome of the Kenya Army authored a book titled, "Military Coups in Africa - The African "Neo-Colonialism" that is Self-Inflicted". In it, the author pointed out that, with the advent of independence in the late 50's and early 60's euphoria, new hopes swept through Africa as nation after nation attained self-government. Being an insider, his testimony must be given the seriousness it deserves:

"There were new dreams and expectations as the colonial masters packed their bags and handed over the instruments of power to the indigenous peoples. To most Africans this was the end of a long freedom struggle in which so many had suffered. It was the end of slavery, human degradation and exploitation. However, these dreams were soon shattered as government after government fell victim to the coup d'etat across the continent. The new military rulers accused the civilian government of everything from corruption and incompetence to mismanagement of the national economy. However, experience in Africa has shown that the military are no better than civilians when it comes to running governments. Rather than solve African contemporary political and socio-economic problems, military coups d'etat in Africa have tended to drive the continent into even further suffering and turmoil. This has been the case in Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Congo and several other African states. The future trend is that coups in Africa will remain a common phenomenon as long as political and economic instability prevails.

To ask if Africa's political class or its military drove the spanner of under-development through the works either tantamount to circumlocution or simply begs the question because the political class will blame the military, while the latter will blame the political class that ushered in a reign of political and economic instability in the first place. Whether it is the latter or former, what cannot be denied is that both institutions are African, not rich and powerful industrialised nations.

The ruthlessness and dictatorship of the military in politics was only equalled by the rapacious audacity of civilians in political power in Africa. From Cape Town to Cairo and from Monrovia to Mogadishu, Africa's 'do or die' politics has been characterized by brazen election-rigging, selfishness, greed, intolerance, unforgiving spirit, failure to have short, medium and long-term vision encapsulated in improper planning, implementation and enforcement strategies fused with nepotism, tribalism and monumental corruption, all combining in varying degrees to cripple Africa's development, now wrongly placed on the door-steps of rich nations. Africa risks unprecedented destitution, proliferation of failed states, emigration and more armed conflicts absent sincere and caring leadership that serves the interests of her people rather than a coterie of the political class that has been in power and continues to be recycled whether in military, ex-military or civilian gab. The Nigerian Tribune of June 9th 2008 reported that, three of Nigeria's ex-military Heads of State absolved one of their members, the late General Sani Abacha of looting the national treasury, warning that probing past administrations would not yield anything positive for the country and should, therefore, be discouraged. There may be a point in suggesting that focusing exclusively on probing past administrations as a witch-hunting exercise would not necessarily be productive; however, to publicly exonerate the late General Sani Abacha of diverting public funds into his personal overseas' accounts despite the weight of evidence is a failed attempt at revisionism and demonstrable of the unseriousness with which Africa's leaders approach the subject matter of leadership! Even at that, this writer is convinced that all hope is not lost if only Africa's leadership would take the steps necessary in moving Africa's ship of state towards sustainable development to be articulated in the next and final serial.

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