Whichever way the Russia-Nato conflict in Ukraine goes, it has important lessons for Africa. But the outbreak of the war that temporarily “solved” crises like Covid-19 could open new problems for us.
Don’t be surprised if debt-dealers shove new lines of credit down African throats “to mitigate the effects of the Ukraine crisis...” They may call it “the global crisis” and delude African Finance ministers that they must borrow more to overcome the crisis.
Some African states can thoughtlessly jump at the “offers” like a lazy man who begs for food from neighbours when he has a lot of untilled fertile land showered by plentiful of rainfall and bathed with sunshine the whole year.
Lazy men don’t want to look at the resources they have because it might require them to flex their muscles a bit to exploit them. They would rather even ask the neighbour to till their land and give them a tiny fraction of the yields. Until Africa recognises the real value of its resources, the hopeless existence and excessive dependence on outsiders might last for more generations to come.
African languages have wise sayings that teach the need for one to take responsibility for their needs and problems.
Mine has several such sayings like, “When carrying a corpse, the next-of-kin holds the smelliest part,” and “no one will unpluck your nostril hair for you” (clearly the ancestors had no grooming salons and barbers). And in modern Kampala, when gyms were all the rage in the early 2000s, a common saying there during painful workouts went: “Even Sudhir can’t hire another person to do his fitness drills for him.” (Sudhir is a rich guy who, incidentally, owns the finest gyms in Kampala.)
The problem with African proverbs is that they were not written and, clearly, schools of economics don’t refer to them. How else do you explain our default tendency to run to other continents seeking help with our most basic responsibility of building our countries?
But, going forward, how can the Ukraine crisis be beneficial to Africans? Many Africans were offended, hurt and shocked by the behaviour of (Eastern) Europeans blocking African victims of the conflict from leaving Ukraine with other fleeing people. Africans were even more offended than Arabs at the blatant racism of Western journalists who expressed shock that blonde Ukrainians with blue eyes could face the type of mess meant for Iraqis and Afghans. But this should be a wakeup call for natives of what others called “the dark continent”. We must till our fertile, naturally irrigated land and stop begging neighbours for food.
It may sound tedious to say such obvious common sense things but it is our conduct that gives ammunition to those who regard us with contempt.
In Uganda, for example, it is barely two decades since a prominent journalist, Andrew Mwenda, tried to warn against excitement over debt forgiveness, which would breed irresponsibility. Mwenda campaigned his voice hoarse against abdicating our responsibility to pay debts but he was labelled “unpatriotic” and crazy”. The debt was forgiven and, like the biblical demons that get expelled briefly from a man only to return with more of their vicious accomplices and torment the victim to incurable levels, the country sank into a borrowing frenzy until it crossed the threshold beyond sustainable debt, now owing over 50 percent of GDP. The story is not different in our neighbourhood and some Kenyan citizens take legal action against their government’s reckless borrowing.
Some African policy makers might be tempted to claim that America is the biggest borrower. They won’t add that the US borrows at its own terms and does not go begging the lenders, but leverages its technological and economic might to issue papers that others find irresistible to buy, thus becoming lenders to their superior, who continues to borrow from them to pay them.
Africa is teeming with resources, including minerals that are essential for the world’s next level of industrialisation. If it doesn’t harness them for its industrialisation, our children will continue selling our real estate for tickets to go complaining of mistreatment abroad.
This earns our countries maximum contempt, not respect.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]