Africa is commonly known as the ‘black continent’. With 54 independent States and a population of over 900 million inhabitants, Africa is a paradox. From the desert in the North passing through the rich mineral belts of the coastal lines to the dense equatorial forests, Africa’s old song is the same: a continent plagued by hunger, diseases, wars, human suffering, and a general degree of underdevelopment. But is Africa really that poor? How can a continent which is gifted, blessed, and endowed with the world’s most treasured, needed, and envied natural resources be said to be the poorest on earth?
Africa has been a hotbed of imperialist manoeuvres from time immemorial. In search of natural resources and raw materials for their industrial exploits, and a market for finished goods, the Western world split Africa into bits and pieces called ‘colonies’. These were vertical relationships of the master-servant format. The most annoying was the 1884 Berlin Conference wherein the French, Spanish, German, British, and Portuguese put the final nail, partitioned Africa, and imposed their various imperialist models of governance in their respective colonies. Since then, no African State has emerged as a force to reckon with in the international arena.
Wars and other conflicts
At the moment, Africa counts over 20 internal, intra, and inter-country conflicts and full scale wars. There are over five million refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons on the continent. These wars are supported by super powers who are in search of raw material – especially oil – to fuel their industries. For instance, in the Sudan, unchallenged reports by the international human rights group, Amnesty International, states that Canadian, Chinese, Russian and American companies are supporting various factions because of oil. They wish to have easy and unfettered access to huge oil reserves at no cost. They supply arms to various factions to fight and cause chaos. All this does not help the average African. And it is well known in life that where there is no peace, development is a total stranger. Other hot conflict areas include DR Congo, Mali, Angola, the Central African Republic, and the list goes on. The basic reason for these ‘useless wars’ is oil, oil, oil.
Corruption and Bad Governance
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), corruption is the main factor that impedes development in the world particularly in third world countries, including Africa. Most African countries are governed by heartless dictators who consider their countries ‘private estates’. Most African countries do not have any development plans or working manuals of operations, let alone periodic road maps. Power does not alternate as the army is at the mercy of the ruling class. Parliament is a rubber stamp institution and the judiciary is hardly independent. Under these circumstances, the voices of the citizens, the marginalized and down trodden are never taken into consideration in the formulation of development programmes. Most leaders have huge fortunes in foreign bank accounts. Lack of infrastructure, empty hospitals, and schools created on paper, uncompleted projects, high death rates, and a total lack of a common development paradigm are the hallmark of such countries.
End of the Tunnel?
World Bank statistics indicate that in Africa oil revenue alone fetches above $20 billion a year. Will African leaders use these resources to generate a prosperous and self-sustaining future for her citizens? Will African leaders use the collective revenue from timber, gas, oil, and other minerals to create industries that add value to their economic and industrial development? And what amount of refining, processing, and manufacturing will exist in Africa in the future? These are the burning questions. However, it is worth noting that Africa’s growth rate within the past decade has been estimated at slightly above 5%. But this growth is not bringing any meaningful development. Generally, development is synonymous to industrialization. If economies in Africa do not move out of dead-end activities that only provide diminishing returns over time like primary agriculture, logging, and fishing, and turn to activities that provide increasing returns over time like manufacturing and services, then development will continue to remain an illusion, and political rhetoric. The Way Forward? To me, any meaningful attempts to reverse the current trend must start with moral re-armaments. We need leaders with foresight. We need strong institutions, not strong leaders. We need patriots and innovators. We need to reduce high level corruption to minimal levels. And above all, we need to embrace the challenges of globalization and industrialization. Failing which, we are bound to fail, and we shall remain the ‘dark continent’.
Mukete Tahle Itoe, Secretary General of the Global Network for Good Governance (Cameroon)