Africa remains the zone of turmoil and the world’s poorest inhabited continent. It is a place blessed with every type of mineral resources, including coltan used in mobile phones, copper, forming 75% of the brass casings of allied shells fired at Passchendaele and the Somme in the WW1, uranium for the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki coming from mine in south-east Congo, petrol etc.
Yet Africa is home to countries that are the least developed of the less developed and consistently rated lowest on the UN Human Development Index, where even the more fortunate live in grinding poverty, anarchy and unimaginable violence.
Much of African contemporary history is one of war, slavery, colonial oppression, poverty, corruption, dysfunctional government and presentation of “horrible horrible story to the world” (apology to the narrator of Cry Freetown). The billions of Dollars our minerals have generated have brought nothing but misery and death to the very people who live on top of them, while enriching miniscule elites amongst us and foreigners, and underpinning technological innovations and development in the developed world. We are utterly cursed by our very natural wealth.
What could have delivered us into this irony of emptiness in the midst of fullness and lack in the midst plenty?
Our apocalyptic history is a product of choices made in the past centuries, and even till now, by imperialists and Africans. Years of slavery and colonialism, consolidated by our own endogenous forces have prepared ground for the limitless problem Africa would face.
When Europeans came in the 15th century, they realised they had stumbled upon a land of vast natural wealth, rich in resources – material and human. Africa was a source of seemingly inexhaustible supply of strong, disease-resistant slaves hunted down and sold by fellow Africans as well as material resources that would form spurning force for development in Europe and the New World. The Europe quickly found this supply would be easier to tap if much of the continent of Africa was in the state of anarchy; distinct ethnic nationalities were forced together, setting up history statehood without nationhood and peaceful co-existence and instigating ethnic distrust and mutual hatred (e.g. Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda and Burundi and Nigeria); brutal, barbaric form of rule was set up.
Then, there was sustenance of rule meant with little or no interest to develop the continent and forge an attitudinally unified entity from arrays of ethnic groups that constitute each country by keeping Africa at a base level of development that suited the rulers and the comprador bourgeoisie and, and in some cases, making sure that when independence came there was no home-grown elite who could run the country. For instance in the DR Congo, pre-independence, of 5,000 government jobs, just three were held by Congolese and there was not a single Congolese lawyer, doctor, economist or engineer. Thus, when chaos ensued, Belgians left within weeks leaving the country with nobody with skill to manage the government and the economy, and so power got to the hand of Mobutu Sese Seko who consolidated the tragic experience Congo and its people.
But we must not make mistake about it and delude ourselves with self-defeatism – AFRICA HAS BROUGHT ITSELF TRAGEDY; WE HAVE NO EXCUSE NOT TO SWIM AGAINST THE TIDE AND REPLICATE THE MAGIC IN SOUTHEAST ASIA.
Regimes of corruption and bad government have meant freeing up of developmental funds for private use. Our leaders, some supported by the West for Cold War strategic reasons, have all deliberately stifled the development of a strong state, army, judiciary, civil society and education system, because to remove any blockade of their primary focus, making money from what lies under the Earth, off the sweat of citizens, and perpetuation of power. Politicians have bled the continent of trillions of dollars. Just as we talk, the Niger Republic leader just acquired a 40 million USD jet in a country whose citizens are always seen in my country Nigeria begging for clothes. Nigeria has wasted trillions on power supply that would never be up to 4,000 mega watts for over 160 million people.
Even, if our colonial experience created for us a story of being disadvantaged, we have worsened the situation by participating in the very process of developing our underdevelopment. We have not resolved to climb up developmental platform like countries of East Asia like Singapore and China; Middle East like UAE etc. that were also underdeveloped. For how long do we blame our woes on exogenous forces at a time we ourselves have refused stop presenting developmental tragedy? We do not invest in education, research and innovation in the same proportion as we fatten pockets of public officers. We don’t spend on economic infrastructures that will spurn development. We don’t improve our human capital and socio-economic environment, thereby we make our countries fertile for recruitment into armed struggles and insurgency. We don’t make bold and pragmatic policies that run in consonance with our internal realities.
Africa is what it is today – tragedy and embarrassment – partly because of choices the West have made of us and mainly as a result of our own refusal to set ourselves up on the path of development. Singapore with miniscule population and traumatic beginning after humiliating ejection from Malaysia and no material resources, as well as other hitherto less developed countries of the Global South, has made it clear it is possible for a Third World country to even rival the West in terms of development, albeit skewed global order and history of colonialism. But let me ask: Is there something, naturally, wrong with the black race? Consider that hardly is there any black country in the world that is prosperous and even the Arabs in the North Africa are not so less developed as blacks are.
Adebayo Taiwo Hassan-Justice.