Yes, on March 6, 1957, as the Union Jack of Great Britain descended and Ghana hoisted its colorful flag with its black star, hope rose across the continent for a future of endless possibilities for all of Africa regarding self-determination, political sovereignty, economic prosperity and cultural renaissance. The vistas of liberation and hope that beckoned all of Africa in 1957 were best encapsulated by the inspiring words of Kwame Nkrumah who declared that “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked-up with the total liberation of the African Continent.” It is a singular honor to be asked to deliver the 30th-anniversary lecture of Pa Willie, the Honorable William Ofori Atta whose life and political career exemplified nobility of character, politics with principle, uncommon fortitude amidst political persecution, and a deep and authentic spirituality that elevated religion to the zenith of integrity and moral rectitude. When my generation took the gauntlet of struggling against military rules and their oligarchical excesses, we were standing on the shoulders of pioneer African freedom fighters and veteran pro-democracy activists like the heroic William Ofori Atta, the man that we all gather to honor today.
My choice to speak on the Cardinal Imperatives for a New Africa implies that some things have been amiss with Africa. I am not referring here to the Africa of our ancestors, the Africa that Europeans colonized. Rather, I am talking about post-colonial Africa, the continent which, by and large, has been ruled by Africans themselves for upward of six decades now. Alas, it is a continent still substantially riddled with disease, ignorance, poverty, corruption, and superstition; all of which are symptomatic of the underdevelopment of our countries. Decades ago, Kwame Nkrumah said and I quote: “Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neocolonialism. Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich not Africans predominantly, but groups and individuals who operate to Africa’s impoverishment.” It is to the damning shame of Africans that those words of Nkrumah are as true today as when they were written more than 5 decades ago. Africa is trapped in what I call Commodity Exportation Mentality. It is cardinal for Africa to exponentially expand its economic base by industrialization.
Four African countries- Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon- are responsible for about 66% of the cocoa production of the world. This is despite the erstwhile insufficient attention to agriculture in these countries. Coincidentally meanwhile, four countries namely the USA, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany are responsible for 65% of world production of chocolate. The paradox of these two facts is that in 2017, chocolate retail sales amounted to $20 billion in the USA, $14 billion in Switzerland, $12 billion in Belgium and $10 billion in Germany. In other words, annual chocolate retail sales in these four countries totaled $56 billion in 2017. The significance of the revenues derived from chocolate sales in these four countries should grip you when you also recall that the 2018 annual budget for the national Government of Nigeria is approximately $24 billion, Ghana is $14 billion, Cote d’Ivoire is $9 billion, while Cameroon is $7 billion! The combined 2018 national budgets of these four African countries total $54 billion! Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I hope that you are struck by the fact that the combined national budgets of the three most populous West African countries plus the budget of the second most populous country in Central Africa are less than the chocolate revenues of just four other countries with which we inhabit the same planet!
As such, all of us here today can blame or even curse past leaders of Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon for not doing whatever were required to ensure that, more than five decades after independence, their respective country is among the top manufacturers of chocolate in the world. While we can justifiably blame or even curse these past leaders, we should be mindful 4 that fifty years from now, the leaders of today would be blamed and cursed should our generation also fail to fully utilize Africa’s comparative advantage in the production of cocoa, various other commodities and minerals. In any case, to avert such blame and curses, current leaders of Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon must set a target whereby each of them will produce a minimum of 10% of the chocolates sold in the world in the year 2068. If they do, they will collectively be responsible for 40% or more of the chocolates that will be produced in the world 50 years from today. Is this possible? Absolutely yes! Will this happen? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind. It is all in our hands! It is very clear that having the raw materials for manufacturing any product is not enough.
There must be the primary machinery, ancillary facilities, enabling environment, corporate tenacity, requisite manpower plus appropriate supervisory and managerial skill to profitably run an industrial manufacturing plant. For example, when power supply is epileptic in any country, industrial manufacturing becomes a harrowingly uphill task, perhaps an exercise in arrant futility. Please permit me to pinpoint another terrible example of the woeful failure by an African country to fully exploit its natural endowment for comparative economic advantage. It is no secret that Nigeria is the sixth-largest exporter of crude petroleum. It is also well known that Nigerian crude oil has relatively low sulfur content. Whereas sulfur concentration in crude oil can be as high as 14% by weight, Nigerian crude has less than 1% sulfur content. The advantage of this for Nigeria is that 5 refining its oil would yield far less harmful effects such as air pollution, metal corrosion and the degradation of the catalysts used in refining oil. Despite this advantage, the Delta estuaries of Nigeria very tragically constitute perhaps the worst man-made environmental disasters in the world! Worse still, Nigeria’s brand of free-market has, for decades, comprised a cartel and mafia that export
Nigeria’s oil to countries near and far, refine it overseas, and as with its production of cocoa, import the value-added products which are then sold to Nigerians at geometrically magnified and relatively suffocating prices. After decades of Nigeria’s brand of economic liberalization, Nigeria remains the sixth largest exporter of oil in the world but the only OPEC member that imports petrol. No wonder, in 2012, whereas a gallon of petrol cost $0.18 in Venezuela, $0.48 in Saudi Arabia, $0.54 in Libya, $0.84 in Kuwait, $0.90 in Qatar, $1.14 in Egypt, $1.20 in Algeria; the pump price of one gallon of petrol in Nigeria ranged from $1.52 to as high as $2.76 depending on location and the country’s common shortages of petrol. No wonder, more than five decades after oil was first discovered in Nigeria, Nigerians now comically talk about oil doom rather than oil boom. We have long learned and mastered the habit of laughing to cry! To terminate these tears, we must abandon small dreams for very big dreams! The Imperative of Big Dreams: It is always painful to hear Nigerians gloatingly refer to themselves as the “giant of Africa” as if the world 6 comprises solely of Africans. Such gloating is tantamount to the self-adulation and delusory reign of a big fish in a small pond whereas the truly big fishes inhabit the expansive oceans of the planet.
Besides, are there substantial advantages to being a clay-footed giant? Africans must not be too impressed with being giants on their own continent. That is like coming first and being proclaimed a champion in a field with poor or no competition. A cardinal imperative for a new Africa must be to transform African countries into giants of the world. This big dream requires Africans to wake up to two compelling realities. First, Africans are not the only inhabitants of this planet. Second, the biosphere has long lumped all living things in a fierce war of the survival of the fittest. This war entails ruthless inter-specific battles with intra-specific engagements that are sometimes as equally confrontational and aggressive. When fleas, mosquitoes, tsetse flies and ticks feed on human beings and other mammals, it is not because these arthropods are intrinsically wicked, if one can borrow that anthropomorphic description of a behavior. Rather, their blood sucking habits are compelled either by their own requirements for physical development in the case of ticks or for the maturation of the reproductive system in the case of female mosquitoes. It is a mere trophic happenstance that such parasitic engorgement of blood sometimes inflicts bubonic plague, malaria, sleeping sickness and sundry hemorrhagic fevers on their respective vertebrate hosts.
Yes, Homo sapiens share the planet with myriads of other species with which they must compete for survival. In a biosphere with limited resources and putatively unlimited needs, the battle for survival includes fierce intra-specific competitions among bacteria, plants, fungi, protozoa and animals. Starkly, regardless of our sociological affirmations and theological dogmas, Homo sapiens are not exempted from the phenomenon of aggressive competition within species! As such, when stripped of human pretenses, colonialism and neocolonialism are mere examples of the predator-prey relationships and the parasite-host relationships that are all too common in the realm of nature. Therefore, the challenge for Africans is the struggle to emerge from those disadvantages that for far too long have kept us as prey and host for predators and parasites who just happen to be members of our own species but who are nonetheless largely driven by the genetic proclivities for actualizing survival advantages! The big question is: What must Africans do to liberate their countries from the stranglehold of underdevelopment? I am not a social scientist. As such, I cannot avail you of sophisticated punditry about development. But I do know that History attests to the fact that societies and countries that participated in and benefitted from the First Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were the ones that dominated world affairs in the twentieth century.
Conversely, many countries that missed the first Industrial Revolution became the so-called Third World countries dismally lacking the giant leaps in the agricultural, medical, transportation, astronautic, military and recreational progress that humanity experienced in the twentieth century. Recognizing this, successive leaders of India dreamed big; they vowed that India will never again miss a scientific and technological revolution. Not surprisingly, as the Second Industrial Revolution ensued from the Computing Revolution in the last 60 years, India was a frontline participant and beneficiary of that epochal advancement. For quite some time now, Indians have constituted about 40% of the computer scientists in the world. Equally phenomenal is the leading role of Indians when the Computing Revolution dovetailed into the digital revolution and the Internet age. This latest epoch, now widely affirmed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, clearly shows that India has leapfrogged over the disadvantages of a country that missed out on the First Industrial Revolution. Dr. Benjamin Mays, teacher and mentor to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, often declared that in the race of life, those who are behind must run faster than those who are ahead. Otherwise, they will remain perpetually behind.
India is the archetype of a country that had internalized the truth so succinctly stated by Dr. Mays. Those of you in my age bracket might recall booklets with which students were very familiar from the fourth year of secondary school; they were called “Four figure tables”. They were used for making calculations involving high numbers. I did not encounter a single copy of “Four figure tables” in my undergraduate days at Ibadan. Instead, we had slide rules! Later, still in my undergraduate days, the wonder of wonders had surfaced on campus- the calculator! Then came the spectacle that arrested the attention of the whole world. I still remember where I was, glued to my radio which was tuned to the Voice of America, on July 20, 1969, the day that Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Six hours later, Neil Armstrong took what he described as “one small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind” as he became the first human to walk on the moon. Thanks to the dream of John F. Kennedy! Thinking back, we must be awe struck that the gigantic NASA computer that guided Apollo 11 to the moon, had what was considered the mind-boggling capacity of 76 megabytes! Today I have, in my hand, an iPhone, weighing less than 150 grams but having a capacity of 5 gigabytes which is 6,700% of the storage capacity of the computer that guided man to the moon. All these came to pass because of the interconnected web of dreams about extending the frontiers of human discovery.
Today, India is now in the league of countries with space program all because its leaders dreamed big and steadfastly committed to STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics) education! Unfortunately, unlike the phenomenal progress made by India, China, Singapore and other countries of the Far East, many African countries have been peripheral and practically insignificant participants in the on-going Second and Third Industrial Revolutions herein discussed. Very sadly, the universities and other educational institutions built during the colonial era have lapsed into galling disrepair. For example, the teaching hospital of the University of Ibadan was once ranked as the fourth best in the British Commonwealth that included Anglophone African countries, England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 10 Back then, Arab sheikhs and princes were regular visitors to Ibadan for medical consultation and treatment. Alas, Nigerians are now among the highest populations of medical tourists to India, the Middle East and other parts of the world! Since the future of countries can be predicted by the state of their schools and universities, much of Africa seem to be marching towards a bleak future. To avert this bleakness, a cardinal imperative for all of Africa is to invest heavily in the education of our youth. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
The Imperative of Well Educated Leadership and Citizenry: The human mind is the driving force and the engine room of every progress. Obafemi Awolowo called it the prime factor and sole causative agent of development. While canvassing for the presidency of Nigeria in 1978 and 1979, Awolowo repeatedly stated his readiness to spend, if necessary, as much as 50% of the resources of Nigeria in achieving, at all levels, top-drawer education for Nigerians. It is noteworthy that Awolowo’s exceptional commitment to Education had been constantly expressed decades ahead of Finland’s globally acclaimed proclamation of Education as its highest national priority. Furthermore, Tony Blair, as if he were a disciple of Awolowo, promised Great Britain that the first, second and third highest priorities of his government would be Education, Education and Education! Alas, Awolowo had died before being proclaimed by his compatriots as the best President that they never had! Africa is afflicted with the misfortune that political leadership is often denigrated into lowest common denominators such as illiteracy, ill literacy and innumeracy. Illiteracy, the inability to read or write has been called a disease.
Perhaps a worse disease is ill literacy, a condition whereby literate men and women are still chronically so impaired that they habitually fail to correctly contextualize the realities and modalities of their own existence. Quite often, this failure arises because of innumeracy, the inability to internalize simple mathematics. This invariably results in profane projections and outrageous expectations. And here, let me emphasize that I am not talking about the grasp of complex mathematics such as calculus, complex algebra or even simple algebra. What is remiss is a failure to internalize the implications of simple arithmetic of contemporary limitations. Only soundly educated leaders can steer the necessary shift in societal paradigms to foster new and proper attitude. Even so, society can neither be built nor sustained solely by the ingenuity and efforts of its leaders. To the extent that knowledge is power, African countries must never again be circumvented by ignorance. Regardless of the type, direction or speed of advances in science and technology Africans must never again lag. Having thus emphasized the cardinal role of education, it is pertinent to note that in 2018, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Education has been allocated less than 4 billion dollars. By contrast, the State of Ohio in the USA owns 14 universities. The largest of these, The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, has total revenues of 7.1 billion dollars in 2018.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please think about the figures that I have just provided you. The total budget of Nigeria for running its Ministry of Education, plus all its Federal Universities, all its Federal Polytechnics, all its Colleges of Education, all its Federal Government Colleges and Unity Schools, all its seemingly endless parastatals are, put together, far less than that of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Please do not weep for Nigeria. In this Internet Age, you can easily confirm that the annual budget of Ohio State University in Columbus exceeds the combined budgets of all universities in West Africa. Even so, I have no interest in our weeping for West Africa. Rather, our task is to rise to the challenge of moving African countries from Third World to First World, just like Singapore has done in our lifetime! Such a rise demands visionary and upright leadership. The imperative of visionary and upright leadership: Visionary dreams transcend mere wishful thinking. They are the passionate burdens that propel leaders. By and large, the history of nations is the account of the actualized or failed dreams (the exploits and failures) of their leaders.
The dreams that leaders have at night, guide like a compass, their daily toils. Big dreams, beautiful and noble are the stuffs that heroes are made. While some dream small, or not at all, heroes dream big and bigger still till they print their names in history with ink of gold. In ancient Egypt, it took a Moses to demand from Pharaoh, “let my people go!” Bishop Aggey of Achimota dreamt of an Africa for which only the best is good. Benjamin Mays, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X and numerous others envisioned a new American order, in 13 which African-Americans can partake of the fruits of civil rights. John F. Kennedy looked beyond the orbits of our planet; he envisioned traveling to the moon. Singapore’s history of superlative Post-Independence success was orchestrated by the exemplary leadership of Lee Kuan Yew and his team. Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, David Ben-Gurion, John Kennedy, Pandit Jawaharial Nehru, Golda Meir, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Idi Amin Dada, Mobuto Sese Koko, Nelson Mandela and many others bestrode the pages of history with either epochal advancements or with tragic calamities for their respective countries. The education of African citizenry must include the history of human civilization and technological advancements, civics and social studies so as to inculcate rational criteria in the discharge of civic responsibilities, particularly shunning the election of political leadership based on ethnicity or religion.
Ethnicity is conferred by the ragtag lottery of the accident of birth while religion ought to be primarily a matter of private convictions and preference. Political leadership, on the other hand, should be chosen primarily for the ability to judiciously husband a country’s resources to meet its needs. At this juncture, let me say that visionary leadership does not in any way connote an assemblage of infallible and all-knowing humans. Africa’s history is replete with the ascension and coronation of demigods who act as if they are infallible but ultimately denigrate their countries into fragments of hell. Visionary leaders are those with sufficient mental magnitude to analyze a country’s problems however intractable, and thereafter assemble all necessary human and material resources to solve them. Such visionaries are persons who combine exceptionally strong work ethics with incorrigible optimism and commonsensical pragmatism. Of necessity, they must eschew the seven deadly sins enunciated by Mahatma Gandhi including: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Politics without principle, Knowledge without character and Commerce without morality. Indulgence in these are the woes of nations! Very sadly, governance in much of Africa has been turned into a “corruptocracy” i.e., a government of the corrupt, by the corrupt, for the corrupt! One is not saying that corruption is found solely in Africa. Across the world, access to the corridor of political power does pave way for private opportunities and advantages. This is so in the liberal capitalist democracies as well as in the highly regimented socialist countries. What is amiss in so many African countries is that such access to power becomes the dominant means or, in the worst cases, the sole means by which Government business is transacted. This leads to square pegs being placed in round holes and vice versa.
As cronyism, nepotism and tribalism get elevated, merit is dethroned with an attendant loss of confidence in the Government. It is impossible for the leaders of any country to motivate and mobilize the general citizenry whose trust they have lost. On the contrary, such disenchanted citizenry employ pernicious and diabolical means in the pursuit of personal wealth, all to the detriment of societal wellbeing. African countries 15 must slay the dragon of corruption or it shall continue to incapacitate or slay us. The Imperative of global perspective: No African, least of all a Nigerian, thinks of Norway either as a global superpower or as a giant of Europe. For many years now, the Federal Government of Nigeria has had less than $200 to spend per year on every Nigerian. Here, we are assuming that Nigeria’s total budget of about $24 billion will be implemented by a band of celestially sanctified angels who will not allow one naira out of the budgeted trillions of naira to be embezzled by themselves or others. If, however, the implementers and overseers of the budget comprise of a stochastically mixed population of demons and angels, then the actual amount available per person would be inversely proportional to the subpopulation of demons. By contrast, Norway would spend 159 billion dollars (1,325 billion krones) this year for its capital projects and recurrent expenditure. In other words, a country with a population of 5.2 million (less than that of Oyo State, one of Nigeria’s 36 States), has a budget that is about seven times that of the entire Federal Government of Nigeria.
Yes, whereas the Federal Government of Nigeria would spend less than $200 on every Nigerian in 2018, the Norwegian Government would spend over $30,000 on every Norwegian! The Norwegian government will spend more in three days on each Norwegian than the Nigerian Government will spend in a whole year on a Nigerian. Meanwhile, the truth is that when the average West African thinks of Norway, the first thing that comes to mind is stockfish! Very few are 16 cognizant that Norwegian fish export revenues totaling $7.4 billion in 2017, exceeded the 2018 national budget of $7 billion for the Government of Cameroon. Most Africans are probably oblivious to the fact that Norway is the world’s third-largest exporter of gas, it derives far higher revenues from oil and gas than Nigeria. My fellow Africans, what I am emphasizing is that African countries cannot take their rightful places in the comity of nations, until we free ourselves from perspectives that are self-limiting, parochially blurred and chauvinistically distorted. Our thinking must be global in scope. The Imperative for African models of Progress: Every advancement of human civilization and progress has come from one nation leaping ahead of its neighbors. In antiquity, Egypt, Persia, Rome and Greece at different times served as epicenters from where advancement radiated to neighboring nations or kingdoms. The same can be said of the countries that steered the monumental leaps of the last two centuries.
If countries were to wait for one another, they might end up waiting forever! Therefore, when it comes to the pursuit of progress, African countries must not subject themselves to the obscurantism of waiting for others. We applaud Ghana for not waiting for other African countries before seeking its own independence from British Imperialism. And as if destined to serve again as a pathfinder for Africa, during their 4th and current republic that began in 1993, Ghanaians have thrice peacefully and democratically changed their government. Even where the election had been very fiercely contested, with 17 results being extremely close, Ghana has showcased to the rest of Africa the virtue of elevating patriotic and national interests above partisan political interests. It is becoming increasingly obvious to many within and outside Africa that Ghana and Rwanda are the likely giants to soon emerge on the world stage. Rather than wait for others, let them serve as internal models to motivate others. Yes, a few countries must emerge to serve as models of good governance, economic prudence and technology-driven progress. The imperative of synergistic interdependence: As much as we want African models of success, the truth is that no country is an island unto itself. Life itself is a complex web of interdependence.
African countries having to play catch-up with the rest of the world must offer each other every possible assistance to enhance fundamental human rights, educational opportunities and economic productivity. Never again must African leaders hide under the excuse of not meddling in the internal affairs of each other’s countries to allow the likes of Mobutu and Idi Amin turn any African country into enclave of wanton tyranny and unbridled dehumanizing of fellow Africans. By faith, we must hear the voice of Julius Nyerere, our exemplary Nwalimu, insisting that vicious tyranny in any part of Africa is a collective assault on all of us. Yes, African leaders must begin to hold each other accountable. When power is patently misused to commit endless atrocities such as were the case in Mobutu’s Zaire, Idi Amin’s Uganda and Charles Taylor’s Liberia, the rest of Africa must unite to oust such a regime. 18 As it were, Africa has missed out on the benefits of the first three Industrial Revolutions to the extent that although Africans are about 17% of humanity, we are responsible for only 4% of global GDP. As a recent article in Forbes magazine pointed out, Africa is home to less than 1% of the world’s biggest companies. If we must catch up with the rest of the world, we must face the bitter truth that individual African countries do not possess the necessary capital, infrastructure, technological capability as seeds for developmental leapfrogging.
Fortunately, scattered within Africa and all over the world are African men and women of phenomenal achievement and proven capability. These must be encouraged to get involved in a cooperative project for a new Africa. South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya have shown that Africans do not need to go to Amsterdam to get those who can supervise the smooth running of our airports. Indeed, Adebayo Ogunlesi, an African, is the principal owner of London City Airport, London Gatwick Airport and Edinburgh Airport. He and others can also be persuaded, as part of their corporate social responsibilities, to help in superintending the modernization of African airports. Such cooperation must also be encouraged in all areas where development can be fast-tracked by taking mutual advantage of African expertise. Despite some hitches, MTN, the South African telecommunication giant, is successfully operating and providing services in other African countries where skills are inevitably being learned. As for the hitches, these can 19 be effectively handled by a committed and visionary leadership. One other arena where cooperative synergy is most mandatory is in developing an integrated approach to the management of agricultural pests (like the cassava mealybug) and the possible eradication of some arthropod-borne diseases such as malaria. Arthropods are oblivious of the geographical boundaries between countries. An Anopheles mosquito in Ghana neither seeks nor obtains any visa before flying westward or eastward to Cote d’Ivoire or Togo, respectively. These mosquitoes have no concern about diplomatic barriers between Anglophone versus Francophone African countries. A holistic regional, (or better still continental) strategy to combat such pests is far more likely to succeed than isolated efforts within individual countries.
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the imperatives highlighted in this discourse are by no means exhaustive. Adetutu, my mother, taught me that there is more wisdom in all of us than in any of us. As such, I am confident that If African countries collectively do whatever is necessary for their own advancement, when the twenty-first century ends, it may be called, in retrospect, the Century for African Renaissance. So, let it be!
Being text of a lecture delivered by Senator (Prof) Olusola Adeyeye, former Chief Whip of the Senate Federal Republic of Nigeria at the 30th William Ofori Atta Public Lecture at the British Council Hall, Accra, Ghana (2018)