A spirited debate recently took place in a regional capital around issues pertaining to economic development, or rather the lack of it on the African continent, despite the huge human and natural resources at the continent’s disposal and the crying need for these to be translated into drivers for heaving the continent out of the mire it wallows in.
The interrogations attached to the mega-question of why Africa lags behind other continents despite the endowments it has been asked perennially, and the inability to arrive at some sense of denouement trumps many people I have a chance to engage with thereon. On this attest occasion, again, thinkers from the region did not sound as if they had moved closer to an answer they could all live with. After a day and a half, dissentions seemed unbridgeable, although the desire to seek greater understanding was all too clear.
Seeking to nudge the conversation ahead, a senior and venerated leading light shared his view that the two questions any society should ask itself about development – what? and how? – had found answers from the innumerable research reports, think-tank recommendations and treatises. Now, he posited, it was the issue of “correct” implementation that was still eluding our leaders and experts.
Not out of the woods yet
The liveliness of the arguments that ensued reminded one of the difficulty of identifying the most pressing problems to solve and the most potent and productive agents to mobilise for the effort. It seems we are not out of the woods yet.
Soon after our “flag” independences, the French agronomist, Rene Dumont, diagnosed our ills in L’Afrique noire est mal-partie, (False Start in Africa), detailing the wrong choices made by our rulers at the dawn of our national governments and the wrong decisions we made in how we treated rural development, our investment choices, the environment and our neglect of the kind of education that would re-energise our poor to contribute more efficiently in their own self-actualisation against poverty and for development and progress.
At that time, I remember Julius Nyerere took the book as a personal mini-bible, alongside Paulo Fereire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, on the need to anchor our education in the critical thinking of our people instead of on the “banking system” of piling up facts in the brain of the learner, only to offload it when examination time comes. These books, among others, of course, greatly influenced Mwalimu’s thinking in many matters development.
In 1985, Edem Kodjo, former prime minister of Togo and former secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) wrote Et demain l’Afrique, in which he heralded the advent of an Africa free from the clutches of Apartheid in South Africa, working to conjugate its economies to enable it to impose its voice and influence on the world stage as an equal partner. Importantly, Kodjo’s book came five years after the OAU had adopted the Lagos Plan of Action (1980), in which our best economists had taken stock of Africa’s economic praxis since Dumont and found it still badly wanting and made concrete recommendations for renewal.
In these and many of other major works, books and papers by intellectual heavy-lifters relevant to our continent’s needs and circumstances kept reminding us of many basic requirements for developments such as the need to set the greatest store by our own efforts instead of depending on the will of benefactors from rich countries.
Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid and Severin Mugumamu’s Lethal Aid brilliantly demonstrated the mortal stranglehold handouts from donor countries and agencies can have on our economies.
With all the twists and turns, punctuated by lamentations of things that don’t work — which we cling onto as if they were Moses’ tablets themselves from time to time — Africa throws to the fore a few of its sons and daughters, who light up the path and show a way that seems so clear that we wonder why we had not seen it all along.
At the dawn of this millennium, we thought that moment had arrived when Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki, et al launched Nepad — New Partnership for Africa’s Development — clothing it in the “African Renaissance,” complete with a peer review mechanism (APRM) designed to help Africans speak truth to fellow Africans in power.
But soon even this turned into a catwalk, as governments, after volunteering to be peer-reviewed, were now negotiating with reviewers to flattering assessments!
Still in mark-time mode
So, seriously, we are still in mark-time mode, and many of our erstwhile comrades have seriously beaten the retreat, embracing corruption and venality that has covered the entire continent, almost without exception.
We do not even need to delve into the high-sounding formulae prescribed by highly paid international consultants. Primum non nocere, as the medical practitioners are taught: First do no harm.
Is this too hard for our rulers to comprehend?
First, do not steal from your people, who are paying you handsomely. Their taxes are meant for their development, not for the enrichment of you and your spouses and children to grow fat on.
Second, do not kill, main or jail those who disagree with you.
Let’s start there, and let’s keep talking. I will be back.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]