One issue that has always intrigued me and which I have always tabled at any discussion about my African continent is which comes first, Africa as a continent or the individual African countries, when developmental issues are discussed. Put in another dimension, should African countries, given their peculiar situations, concentrate attention on developing the individual countries before attempting to focus on continental and regional development or vice versa?
This question becomes germane in view of the fact that it has become obvious that Africa, in the last three decades or thereabout, has not made any appreciable progress. Social strife in its different dimensions occasioned by political intolerance and greed compounded by corruption, disease, poverty and illiteracy has combined to encumber the continent’s march towards any form of meaningful development. Sadly, this phenomenon is subsisting in view of the continent’s enormous human and material resources. From academics who become accomplished when they travel to Europe or America to labour leaders, writers, activists and students the consensus is that Africa still has a long way to go in the quest to establishing a credible course of action that may launch it on the path of a true Renaissance.
Entrenching this ‘course of action’ entails (as the poser raised in the first paragraph implies) an examination of the nature and structure of both the internal requirements (individual country) and external demands (the continent as an entity). To make African countries viable, the organs of government must be strengthened, the social structures purified, and an unalloyed sincerity in the distribution of the resources accruable to the people must be ensured. It would not baffle me if certain African countries have started implementing social security scheme as obtained in the developed worlds given what they realize from aids, grants, and dollars from their exported natural resources—Nigeria comes to mind. But one can understand the African countries’ inability to cater for Africans. Graft of the most unimaginable proportion is celebrated all over the continent with brazen valour. So the collective wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few opportuned individuals who are close to the seat of power or the sycophantically inclined.
Because internal cohesion is unattainable, resulting from unbridled corruption and graft, the success, progress and prosperity of external (regional) groupings in form of (ECOWAS, COMESA) etc and continental groupings like (AU) has remained a mirage. So, what African countries and nations should do in earnest for a strong external posture, is to ensure an affective internal structure, an arrangement that imbues hope in the people. A system that guarantees equitable distribution of the collective wealth based on the equation of fairness, openness and need would go a long way in entrenching the much expected near egalitarianism. A pact that sends the youths to justifiably kidnap oil workers for ransom is a retroactive paradigm. An agreement whereby a section of the populace is repressed and permanently impoverished while other sections are positioned to plunder and ravaged the common wealth with impunity will only continue to create unnecessary human slums in the continent.
One glaring factor that has continued to accentuate this downward trend is insensitive, incompetent and largely corrupt leadership. The core of African leadership, to say the least, is so bereft of the minimal grain of sound headship that it has sunk to the abyss of skullduggery, buck passing and pretension in the course of discharging the noble responsibility of leading.
One instance of such oddity in Africa’s political tumbling is the current president of Zimbabwe, Mr. Robert Mugabe. I have had the unfortunate opportunity to read the quality of terror he has unleashed on Zimbabweans, the quantity of intolerance the opposition has to endure in the hands of his misguided police. However, the histrionics and sophistry he displayed in the night of May, 23, 2007 while he was erroneously allowed to deliver the vote of thanks at the closing ceremony of the 12th meeting of COMESA, (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) held in Kenya was an abuse of freedom of speech. The meeting which was attended by Heads of State and Government, clapped and cheered Mr Mugabe on as he odiously contradicted himself and embarrassed the continent of Africa. As soon as the monster of Harare mounted the podium to deliver the vote of thanks, he left no one in doubt about the direction of his rant as he launched his usual harangue against his imaginary enemies, the international community, exemplified by the US, Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Britain in particular has been the major beneficiary of his tirade. His most ridiculous assertion was that his acquisition of white-owned farm and distribution of the farm to the local farmers was inspired by Kenya’s pre independence Mau Mau movement.
The sickness I felt when Mr Mugabe made the comparison was heightened to the point of nausea when the nineteen Comesa leaders present at the meeting applauded the lopsided claim. For the sake of sanity, I think the most effective antidote to senility is resignation from elective political office. For how can an elected person compare the hurried type of post independence take over of farm land in Zimbabwe with the pre independence struggle of Mau Mau in Kenya? And that was the kind of argument the likes of President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Jakaya Kikwete the Zambian president and seventeen other Comesa Heads of state and Government applauded? It is so clear that the difference between Mau Mau uprising and Mr Mugabe’s arguably irrational and ill-executed take over in Zimbabwe is as wide as the distance between Harlem and Harare. While the former resulted from a genuine need to see the colonists out of Kenya initiated by the Kikuyus and supported by other Kenyan tribes, the latter was a subsidiary of Mr Mugabe’s body of human rights abuse.
Granted, the Zimbabwean white farmer’s acquisition of farm land was largely questionable and faulted. One would have expected Mugabe’s redistribution of the farmland to bring economic succour and prosperity to the Zimbabwean black farmers. But what do we have: eighty per cent unemployment figure coupled with more than three thousand per cent rate of inflation. Talk about illogical comparison!
Furthering his spate of fallacies, Mugabe said, ‘I have been wanting to know which part of Britain tea is grown and up to now I have not found it. Nobody ever recognizes us for that although the products play a great role in economy where they are sold.’ This was in consequence to his earlier position that, ‘tea and other produce from Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe and other African countries were being sold in Dubai using foreign labels.’
Is Mr Mugabe claiming that tea, a major produce of East and Southern African is being repackaged and mislabeled by European traders for the purpose of attracting quick sale in European countries? Reports have repeatedly shown that is in Africa, perhaps plagued by a complex, that finished products are foreign-labeled in order to attract buyers. From the nooks and crannies of Lagos, Accra, Lome, Entebbe, to the cities of Harare, Nairobi and Khartoum not only tea but other articles of dress and tools manufactured informally by Africans in Africa are being foreign-labeled. The logic behind this socio-economic crime is the belief that an average African takes pride in owning foreign materials at the expense of the locally made ones even when it is obvious that the foreign material cannot match the quality of the one made in Africa; the practice has buoyed the call for an African Renaissance in recent times.
Concluding his vote of thanks, Mugabe said, ‘We will slowly become as great as they are. We will be on equal economic position. They will not call the tune any more. We will also add value to economy and attain political growth.’ Each declaration of Africa’s irredeemable backwardness as enumerated by Mr Mugabe was vociferously applauded by the plenary of wise African leadership from Southern and Eastern Africa.
The cruxes of the willingness expressed by Mr Mugabe are that, Africa would,
(a) become great as they (the West) are;
(b) be on equal economic position( with the West)
(c) start calling the economic tune;
(d) also add value to economic and grow politically.
It means Africa has not been able to achieve the four longings Mr Mugabe ironically wanted us to regard as the bashings Africa has received in the hands of the West. The first African country south of the Sahara to wrestle independence from the West fifty years ago is Ghana; the last is South Africa thirteen years ago. Zimbabwe got her independence in 1980, a whooping twenty seven years ago! What Mr Mugabe is implying is that, an African family whose eldest child is fifty years old and the youngest is thirteen years old, should complain and blame their woes on their parents? What has African political leadership done with the billions of dollars in revenues, aids and grants generated and received from the West over the years? For any African ‘elected’ leader to will the four wishes enumerated above is to nullify the call and clamour for an African Renaissance because the four wishes ought to have been established before the struggle for independence was embarked upon. To now grumble about the absence of the four points like Mr Mugabe did on behalf of other comesa leaders, is tantamount to begging the question.
The import of this piece may suggest a disorganized, unplanned and jumbled Africa. The answer is no. We hold rigged elections in Africa. We form governments in Africa. There are ministers in Africa. Cabinet meetings are held. Cheques are signed; money paid out to workers and contractors. Africans live in beautiful houses. They own houses in Europe and America. They think. They are reasonable. Many of them are professors and top-notch professionals in the developed world.
The worrisome poser is why, in spite of these qualities, has the continent remained impoverished, compared with other continents? Why did Malaysians take palm kernel from Nigeria in the 1960s, planted it in Malaysia and develop it, and today Nigeria imports palm oil from Malaysia? Why it is that Africa swallow the principles of democracy but refused to practice it in such a way that common Africans benefit from the gains of democracy? Apart from a less than twelve hours of military intervention in 1982, Kenya has enjoyed a relatively peaceful democracy. However, the country is still snared in all of the underdevelopment indices. Is it that Africans find it difficult to govern themselves effectively? Why would a president, minister, local government/county chairman sign and approve money for a project and would not bother about the quality of the job done? Millions of dollars in aids, grants and loans flow into the continent on daily basis yet jiggers, tuberculosis, guinea worm, cholera and other minor ailments already eradicated in other developed continents are festering in my continent? What are the impacts of the millions of dollars sent to African families by Africans in the Diaspora?
I need to understand.