The history and the present state of contemporary Africa and the apparent quagmire that Sub-Sahara Africa has found itself in, in terms of political and social orientation, development and occupying a dignified place among the comity of nations confound the observer and present a challenge to those who honestly believe in the potentials of its un-harnessed unified capacity to improve the conditions of lives of its people and to contribute to world development.
Despite its historical claims to being the birthplace of the human race, Africa in the twenty-first century is still confined to and kept at basic survival levels more than five million years after the first African added reason and logic to instinct. Why is Africa still grappling with survival, when others on the same planet, having taken this level for given are focusing and working untiringly on improving the quality of their existence? Where does the problem lie? Who is to blame?
The primary duty of the collective, under any pretext connoting an organized entity lies in enhancing the chances of its own survival by drawing on the collective effort and resources to provide conducive environment for individual survival. Survival thus becomes a crucial social responsibility of the collective towards individual members. In this situation, the individual, unhampered by inconsequential trivialities of life, feels free to harness his creative resources towards improving the quality of his existence and by extension, the quality of existence of the collective.
In Africa, it appears that the reverse is the case. The struggle for survival appears to have been left on the shoulders of the common man in a socio-political environment that does not only limit possibilities, but is also inherently hostile to potentials. The role of the state becomes an ethereal mystery only decipherable by god-politicians while the existence of government in its present form actively counteracts and subjugates the aspirations of the common man. This noxious cloud that hangs over the most basic needs of the African reduces any discussion (by African politicians and their foreign masters) of improvement of quality of life to a puerile daydream in a self-deluding trance of nebulous political discourse.
The question of an African contribution to world development on equal platform with other nations, not as individuals in the service of different institutions of the world or as unconnected independent individuals, becomes distant particles of a dream unintelligible to the visionary eyes of the most politically progressive of telescopes. Africa has to move unaided from basic survival stages in order to give any relevance to its intention of contribution to world development.
It does not suffice to romanticize the role of individual Africans who have excelled in different aspects of human endeavor or the forced, despicable contribution of slavery to the industrial revolution in Europe and North America as African contribution to world development. It is the unified contribution of Africa as a continent of diverse peoples and resources, making a mark predicated on its experience, its context and in its own manner, as per universally acceptable parameters that would liberate Black Africa from prejudices. That Africa has what it takes in terms of its abundant human and natural resources, the bedrocks of any cultural, industrial and technological revolution, is not in doubt even in the mind of the most cynical critic. Africa is not however known in the world to have harnessed any of these resources to the betterment of the conditions of its citizens and the world at large, rather it is known as a compliant profligate source of its human and natural resources.
The ease with which Africa parts willfully with its resources or is manipulated into doing so informs the view and the behavior of others towards African resources. African resources have taken the hue of god-given gifts, which should either not be paid for or underpaid for. From cotton prices to African footballers’ fees in Europe, the underlying concept has been the same since the first contact of the African with the foreigner. These gifts, either offered willingly by the African, or spiraled away under manipulation or in some cases by bullying have informed the nature of the relationship of foreigners with Africans. Unlike the African, foreigners recognize the importance of the enormous human and natural resources available in Africa as crucial in their march away from survival level to quality level. Winston Churchill, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, lent credence to this view when he said “the safety of the North and its industries is contingent on how it is able to control or manipulate the raw material base which is in …Africa particularly” (Tariff Reform – Winston Churchill’s Address to Textile Workers. Lancashire, 1909.)
The continent, still unsure of the potentials of these resources and not having any social, technical or even political infrastructure in place to put them to use, has taken the easy route of asking the beneficiaries of its profligacy for all forms of assistance – assistance in finished products and fractions of GDP. As a chosen or imposed policy Africa seems to have sentenced itself to a beggarly status, an inveterate recipient of aid, with all the attending contempt.
The direct consequence of this is a near irreversible damage to the psyche and dignity of the African. Yoweri Museveni, Ugandan president, at the African Union Conference titled “Africa in the 21st Century: Integration and Renaissance”, held in Dakar in October 2004 confessed that “aid has failed to transform Africa. Whatever aid Africa received since independence has been wiped out several times over by the losses we have suffered in trade. The greatest subversion to Africa’s development has been …the protectionism in EU, Canada, USA and Japan”.
One is inclined to ask from the point of view of a common man and at the risk of unleashing the fury of pundits, both local and international that if the words of Mr. Museveni were true, (which I believe they are), why then do African leaders continue to solicit and to accept unsolicited aid, being conscious of its nefarious effects on Africa? Why have they actively participated in making aid a major industry in Africa? Why have they consciously allowed aid to transform into potent instruments of manipulation as was the case with mirrors, guns, trinkets and alcoholic drinks during the slavery period? African history appears to be going round in circles. The age-old vulnerability of the trusting African is still the same, only the price with which he sells changes with times.
The incessant appeals to the international community for aid by African leaders constitute a contradiction of the romanticized bravery and valor of the African man. In many black African cultures, manliness is first and foremost defined by the ability of a man to put his house in order and to act as a responsible head of his household by providing for, and protecting his family. It is an abomination to see an African man lamenting the failures of his manliness in the market place. While people may empathize with the consequences of his failures, he has lost the right to be called a man.
Arrogant Western ideology and restless social activism have however taught African leaders that there is a duality to manhood. It has become acceptable and fashionable for an African leader to lament his failures in the international arena. He attributes these failures to someone else’s making and plays the helpless victim to get some morsels from his Western superiors. And back at home he uses these morsels or concessions to exercise “manliness” through outright oppression of his people. He plays the Almighty at home and Lazarus once outside his own shores.
The unrelenting re-echoing of “problems” of Africa by political and social do-gooders in other cultures and their deliberate and conscious portrayal of apparent helplessness of the continent have in some ways helped to institutionalize ineptitude of African governments and a helpless attitude in the people. Firstly, it has succeeded in convincing the African peoples and their leaders that their problems are insurmountable and that solutions have to come from outside in the form of concessions, aid and development. Secondly, it has also taught the international community to “concede” to handing out morsels of aid with one hand, and with the other hand subvert any attempts by Africa (not that there are any concerted moves to do so by Africa) to liberate itself from these shackles by convincing African leaders to entrench themselves and their citizens in the ever deepening hole of debts debt servicing and dependence on imported development. Thirdly, it has made the Black African what no one wants to be or look like (even those who share the same color of skin but were born elsewhere outside the continent). Fourthly, the continent, sub-Sahara part is stigmatized, excluded and traumatized.
Henry Kissinger, the former American Secretary of State in his book, “Does America Need a Foreign Policy” declared that it is only the “moral commitment of the American people and the international community” that could save Africa which he described as “the festering disaster of our age”. Mr. Tony Blair, the British Prime minister in Davos, Switzerland and on numerous other occasions declared Africa to be a “scar” on the conscience of the world in need of major plastic surgery of debt relief and more aid. In order to soothe the festering wound or conduct a keloid-inducing plastic surgery on the scar, Mr. Blair’s Commission for Africa Report released in March 2005 recommended that “….the developed world must increase and improve its aid……”
For how long Africa?