Africa: Progress Or Stagnation?

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

The United States should have no role in the current Liberian imbroglio. Let Liberians and other African countries and governments deal with this problem that is in our backyard. If African countries can’t govern themselves, well, they should say so and allow the West to take over the day-to-day administration of their countries. It is getting to be old and tired news: we mess up our countries and our institutions and then ask France, Britain or the USA to bail us out. What is happening in Liberia and in three-dozen other African countries is man-made – not natural disaster. We broke it; we should fix it! If we couldn’t govern ourselves – why did we ask for political independence?

It is nauseating and it is shameful to be an African in a progressive and globalizing world. What is it about us that make us incapable of getting anything right? A cursory look at all the indicators of human development points to the fact that we are at the bottom rung of human, socio-economic and political development. Granted most African countries only became independent state within the last four-decades; still, we seem not to be making any measurable progress. We remain stagnant.

Infant mortality and morbidity rate is very high, and life expectancy very low; Aids/HIV is ravaging our children and women; we have no sense of urban planning so much so that it seems the vast majority of the continent is one sprawling ghetto and rolling slums; we lack adequate public and private infrastructures to support research and development; we have no sense of public policy planning and implementation; and it doesn’t seem we value quality education. In a world that is increasing becoming literate, we raise pools of uneducated children which make them disadvantaged in a highly competitive world.

What’s to be said about our universities and so-called research institutions? Damn! Those are like bad jokes. When was the last time an African university – utilizing local resources – invented, developed or discovered any thing of any importance? In Nigeria for example, university education is a shaggy dog story. Whether at the University of Benin, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, or at the University of Lagos – the story and the conditions are the same: all are poorly staffed, vastly under-funded, and are home to browning and dilapidating buildings. We have computer science departments without computers, or at best, laboratories that are equipped with few antiquated computers that were manufactured over 10-years ago; we have lawyers with poor communication skills; medical doctors that were trained in run-down medical schools equipped with 19th-century medical equipments. Belize, Honduras, Bangladesh, Czech Republic and Venezuela all have better schools and infrastructures!

I have said it before – in private conversations – and I will say it again: it will take fifty years for 90% of African countries to get to where South Korea, Singapore or Indonesia is today; and one hundred years for the same group of African countries to get to where Germany, France, Australia or New Zealand is to day – even if those non-African countries stagnate. What are our problems? What is it about us that make it difficult or impossible to manage our affairs? Why have we allowed maleficent and misfits to rule us? Why do we condone illegality and unethical behaviors? Why do we have toothless institutions? What is it about our culture that has become stumbling blocks? Why are we so resigned to fate, voodoo, mirage and magic?

It wasn’t too long ago that teenagers were reminded to remember the “son of who you are”, to not bring shame and dishonor to one’s family and community. It wasn’t too long ago that reputation, family-ties, and hard-work was highly valued and sought after. It wasn’t too long ago that we, as Africans, were our brothers’ keepers. It wasn’t too long ago that the word of an elder was valued more than a sack of gold. It wasn’t too long ago that, overall, chiefs were chiefs and kings were kings; and teachers were our parents away from home – and we looked up to all of them.

I am not easily given to introspection, or crave for the “good-old-days”. I don’t. We’ve always had our problems and uncertainties; but they were minimal and manageable. But today, especially in Nigeria, to be a vagabond, a thief, a crook, or a lowlife is in vogue. Reputation, honor, or anything noble no longer count for anything; for all you need is a sack full of euros and dollars, and a shifting reputation to be considered honorable. What a life!

Year after year, African leaders go overseas, cap in hand, begging for handouts and economic aids and military assistance. At the sight of any political upheaval, French-speaking African presidents fly into Paris, and on bended knees ask the French to come rescue them. These zombies usually get what they want after they’ve sold a piece of their soul and much of their land to France. As for the English-speaking African leaders, well, they are not that much different from their French-counterparts: with their tails between their legs, and shuffling their Agbada, they crawl to London and in perpetual prostrating posture they beg for leftovers and stale food. They do all they can, shamelessly, to remain in power and remain in the good grace of the West (in total disregard of their citizenry)?

African leaders can’t even decide — on matters of global importance and global ramification — unless they get permission from Canberra, Ottawa, London, Paris, Tokyo, or Washington D.C. Their domestic and foreign policies are constrained, not by the usual time honored constraints – but by the whims and wishes of the West. Perhaps the time has come when we address our leaders as “deputy to the deputy president of” or “deputy to the prime minister of” …well, pick a country.

What is it about us that makes up incapable of solving our own problems? Why must we always look to the West or Asia for solution to our headaches? Come to think of it: it is not as though we Africans lack the human and natural resources to take care of us own affairs. Most likely, we have more human and natural resources than Western Europe and Asia combined; yet, we live in misery, abject poverty, squalor, and under rotten environmental conditions – all of which contributes to our low life expectancy.

We caused, or allowed the mess in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Sao Tome and Principe, Ethiopia, Congo (Kinshasa), Rwanda & Burundi, Uganda, Congo (Brazzaville), and countless other places to happen. It is our mess; and so it is ours to clean and straighten up. We act like panhandlers begging for crumbs and shelter. Our infantile behavior must stop. And we wonder why the rest of the world looks at Africa and Africans and shake their heads in pity and disbelief.

We can do it. We can solve our own problems. We can put our houses in order. Therefore, we should stop looking to the West to solutions to our every one of our problems. It is messy out there – from Western Sahara to Monrovia and from Abidjan to Mogadishu. I know it is; just as I know that some of our problems are as a result of the lingering effects of colonialism and modern-day exploitatory tactics being employed by the West. But why cry over spilled milk? What was done was done. It behooves us as Africans to map our own future, and stop looking to the outside world for help when we can help our self. If we are unable to, well then, let’s stop pretending we are nation-states capable of independently running our affairs….this dependency must stop!

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