While African political leaders insist that they are transforming the continent in terms of socioeconomic development, many citizens disagree forcefully. References are made to key challenges that confront African leaders as they struggle to address problems such as low levels of economic development, crushing poverty, high unemployment, poor quality of higher education, awful standards of healthcare, erratic supply of electricity, and decrepit infrastructure such as roads, rail, and ports (air and sea), not to overlook stuttering public transport. It is against this background that the people and the press mock the poor achievement record of African political leaders.
Long before now, the late Julius Nyerere, African statesman and former President of Tanzania, acknowledged the hopelessness of the African situation when he said that while the industrialised world was travelling to the moon with ease, on the platform of their technological advancement, African leaders were still grappling with the problem of how to reach their people in the villages. This must be taken as a metaphor for the failure of African leaders to provide the basic needs of their people.
Everyone agrees that there should be marked improvements in Africa’s economic performance, including more investments in science, technology, and development of human and natural resources, before Africa could make positive impacts on the lives of the citizens. Unfortunately, over the past decades, things have continued to fall apart. Is Africa cursed? Many people refer to African leaders mockingly as “the sick men” of the global community.
Everywhere on the continent, you will find crises of sorts. Many countries are riven by poor governance that is powered by endemic corruption and sheer lack of direction by leaders. There is also the food crisis, aggravated by periods of drought that wreck farmlands and agricultural products, as well as low priority accorded to the agriculture sector.
Internecine conflicts, fuelled often by foreign interests and powers, constitute the greatest disaster that has taken a heavy toll on Africa’s youth. Engagement in wars has stunted the intellectual growth and development of African youth, and their ability to contribute to their countries’ economy. These violent but pointless conflicts drain limited resources and consume valuable lives.
The underlying causes of these problems are heavily contested. African scholar Ali Mazrui believes that balkanization of Africa by European colonial administrators sowed the seeds of internal political unrest in various African countries, many years after they attained political independence.
Mazrui argues that: “It was… in Africa that Europe practiced the art of partition at its most elaborate. Where Europe attempted to unify those who were distinct, it left the seeds of future separatism, and Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in a secessionist province. Where Europe divided, it sometimes left behind latent passions for reunification, and political killings at the grassroots level have resulted from such division. In short, balkanization is a breeding ground of political violence, including the phenomenon of assassination. And balkanization is what Africa is burdened with for the time being.”
Mazrui’s views seem to draw support from the literature. As far back as 50 years ago, Pearson (1970) said: “We should never forget, in short, that the developing peoples do not start from scratch in a new world but have to change and grow and develop within a context unfavorable to them, because in the past their position has been largely determined by the interests of other nations. If we forget this historical context, we will not understand the problems that now exist.”
Valid as Mazrui’s and Pearson’s arguments might appear, they cannot be sustained on a long-term basis. We are in the 21st century, not in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s when many African countries emerged from colonial rule. It is tragic that, 60 years after African countries gained political and economic independence, the influence of European colonial rule is still being used as a basis to explain Africa’s lack of socioeconomic development. Those kinds of thoughts fly in the face of modern reality. The beliefs are baseless and cannot stand scrutiny, particularly in the context of documented evidence that shows how previous and current African presidents, prime ministers, and public officials ravenously pillaged their countries’ natural resources and plundered their treasuries.
When reference is made to the crises that undermine Africa’s development, people easily forget the impact of brain drain. Africans in the Diaspora are frequently accused of abandoning their countries to migrate legally and illegally to overseas countries in search of wealth and luxurious lifestyle while continental Africa suffers from shortage of skilled professionals in medicine, science, nanotechnology, biosecurity, big data management, computer technology, and other spheres.
While it is true that exodus from Africa of talented and educated professionals has undercut Africa’s quest for rapid socioeconomic development, that practice must be placed in context. There are push and pull factors. Professionals who migrate to Western countries are often compelled by internal conditions within their countries to do so. Some of them did so to escape political and religious persecution. Others left their countries because they were presented with better offers by foreign countries and business organisations. There are other factors that cannot be discussed here owing to space constraints.
The question has been asked: How can Africa develop when the educated class and skilled professionals are dashing to Western countries to contribute to the economic development of the West? This is one question that everyone must confront.
Within the continent, we must not forget the widespread abuse of the political process by sit-tight African leaders. Some of them have since departed but others are still in power. These included: Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire who governed for 32 years; Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who ruled for 37 years; Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s 33-year vice-like grip of Cote d’Ivoire; Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia whose dictatorship lasted from 1930 to 1974; Paul Biya’s endless authoritarian hold on the presidency of Cameroon; and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who has been ruling for the past 34 years.
Associated with these dictators were/are atrocious human rights abuses and ethnic and religious cleansing that forced some highly qualified African citizens to seek protection or asylum overseas. The unfortunate ones were eliminated through regular rounds of extra-judicial killings.
Surely, the evidence is all laid out in various parts of Africa. Should we continue to blame the West for the misfortunes that have gripped the continent for decades? Or should we look inwards for the roots of Africa’s problems? Whatever happens, these issues constitute a part of the agenda for moving Africa forward.