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COVID-19 — THE WORLD AT CROSSROADS – Time for Africa’s leaders and citizens to reason

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The Federal Republic of Germany has officially gone into recession. No thanks to ravaging Coronavirus that has spared no part of the world. It strengthens expectations that Germany, the strongest economy in Europe is facing its deepest recession since World War Two. And economists say the worst is yet to come. To many, it looks like a dream that the whole world is confined indoors by an unseen enemy that has virtually brought the global economy to its knees.  Financial markets, corporate offices, businesses and events have suffered incalculable harm. A study bt Peterson Ozili reveals that the increasing number of lockdown days, monetary policy decisions and international travel restrictions severely affected the level of economic activities and the closing, opening, lowest and highest stock price of major stock market indices. These are indeed hard times, especially for Africa.

GLOBAL PROBLEMS: Even as COVID-19 continues to run berserk, UNAIDS, the UN agency fighting against the deadly HIV/AIDS virus has given indications of its receipt of a petition from global leaders requesting that when a successful COVID-19 vaccine is developed, it be made available free of charge to all. Additionally, reports indicate that a halt to all debt repayments (both principal and interest) would be required for one year, or until debt restructuring packages are worked out as a result of COVID-19. This is essential because as much as $1.6 trillion of developing country external debt is due to be repaid in 2020, with a further $1.1 trillion due in 2021. Where will that come from at this critical time?

Generally, the developing world is unable to cope alone with the devastating crises. A number of factors have drawn African backward, particularly avoidable crises, strife and rancour. Therefore, most African nations continue to rely on foreign financial assistance, aids and grants, without very cogent plans detailing how to get out of embarrassing situations. This writer one though about the dignity of African nations with the United States, United Kingdom and the Peoples Republic of China shipping Africa’s leaders to their nations for talks on development. When will it be the turn of Africa to host all European, American and Far-East countries leaders in Addis Ababa or Abuja for similar purposes? May be we could agreed to be shipped to those major capitals because we need money and other forms of assistance. G-7 and similar bodies are okay.  Economic and diplomatic experts may have answers to these posers.

THE PROBLEMS OF AFRICA The natures of sub-regional conflicts have been described as strange and peculiar. “These conflicts are cruel, protracted, make no distinction between combatants and civilians, often have no discernable political agenda (unlike the Cold war insurgencies), and are relatively resistant to external pressure” (Hutchful, 1998, 1). Different types of conflicts have arisen in Africa in the past 100 years. The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Aide-Memoire equates conflict in Africa to civil war and describes four dimensions of a civil war. For example, Salim Ahmed Salim (1999) classifies conflicts in Africa to include ‘’Boundary and territorial conflicts, civil wars and internal conflicts having international repercussions, succession conflicts in territories decolonized, political and ideological conflicts, and others, including those real ted to irredentism. ‘’During the four decades between the 1960s and the 1990s, there have been about 80 violent changes of governments (Adedeji 1999, 3) in the 48 sub- Saharan African countries.

During the same period, many of these countries also experienced different types of civil strife, conflicts, and wars. At the beginning of the new millennium, there were 18 countries facing armed rebellion, 11 facing severe political crises (Adedeji 1999, 5), and 19 enjoying more or less various states of stable political condition. And some of the countries in the last two categories have only recently moved from the first category. A Report of the World Economic Forum paints the picture in these terms: ‘’A snapshot of explosive conflict in today’s Africa presents a worrying picture: of Eritrea and Ethiopia; of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, the last with the longest-running civil war on the continent; of Sierra Leone with gruesome atrocities against civilians; of Somalia, Burundi, Guinea Bissau and Lesotho, the latter reeling from South Africa’s recent intervention.”

COST OF CONFLICTS: The World Bank puts the annual global cost of conflicts at US$100 billion; the African Development Bank estimates that on average, states affected by conflict and fragility, have missed out on half their potential GDP since 1980. Countries in conflict suffer a rapid decline in cross-border trade and do not attract foreign investment. They often suffer extreme devaluation of their currencies. Their infrastructure is destroyed or damaged; hospitals and schools may be used as camps for displaced people; children miss out on years of education. More consequences include poverty that is afflicting millions who also lack access to basic healthcare. They are vulnerable to climate shocks and price volatility, leading to food and nutrition insecurity which has been described as a ‘’serious obstacle to long-term stability and development for Africa’s people, its institutions and its businesses. When will Africans adopt the posture on non-confrontation? When will we Africans realize that: ‘’That man is a hero who can make a friend out of a foe”.  Easy to say; hard to do.

TIMELY ENGAGEMENTS:  Rigoberta Menchu a civil rights activist declares that: ‘’the effects of al these conflicts on the development of Africa have, to say the least, been devastating. In his address to the 9th Convocation Ceremonies of Covenant University, Ogun State, Nigeria, delivered on June d, 2014; its Chancellor, Dr. David Oyedepo took a cursory look at the cost of some major wars in Africa, and pointed out how foolhardy it is to go to war’’. In the paper titled: The Way out for a Nation on Trial,’ Oyedepo painted a gory picture of destruction, disruption and desolation of lives and property, and pointed out that there is the need for introspection on the part of Africans.  He noted that ‘’All of the statistics in the paper presented by him should ideally ‘’commitments of timely engagements in a quest to finding solutions to this looming danger, by finding the way out of our current events before it degenerates to a calamitous situation.’’

  • Sudan
  • Nature of Conflict: Ethnic and religious
  • Duration: 1955-1972; and 1983-2005 (almost 50 years of conflict)
  • Casualties: About 500, 000 killed; over 2million displaced
  • Sudan/Darfur
  • Nature of Conflict: Religious and ethnic (Darfur Genocide)
  • Duration: 2003-Date (9 years of conflict)
  • Casualties: Over 400, 000 kill
  • ed; 3 million displaced
  • Somalia
  • Nature of Conflict: Religious and ethnic
  • Duration: Ogaden War, 1977- 1978; CivilWar, 1991-2003; Islamic War, 2003- Date (22 years of conflict)
  • Casualties: 550, 000 killed
  • Ethiopia
  • Nature of Conflict: Power struggle
  • Duration: 1971-1984 (12 years of conflict)
  • Casualties: 500, 000
  • Rwanda
  • Nature of Conflict: Ethnic
  • Duration: April-July 1994 (just within 100 days)
  • Casualties: Over 800, 000 killed
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Nature of Conflict: Power tussle among political gladiators, and resource struggle
  • Duration: 1996-Date (6 years of conflict)
  • Casualties: 800, 000 killed
  • Liberia
  • Nature of Conflict: Ethnic and political (class, personal; ambitions of warlords)
  • Duration: 1990-1995; 1999-2001 (7 years of conflict)
  • Casualties: 220, 000
  • Sierra Leone
  • Nature of Conflict: Political, resource (diamond) struggle, ethnic
  • Duration: 1991-2000 (9 years of conflict)
  • Casualties: 200, 000
  • Uganda
  • Nature of Conflict: Power struggle, class and personal ambitions of Political leaders.
  • Duration: 1969-1979; 1989 (11 years of conflict)
  • Casualties: 300, 000; 30, 000
  • Nigeria
  • The Civil War, an ethnic induced conflict of only 30 months claimed over 800, 000 lives.
  • ld: ‘

SENSELESS DISAGREEMENTS-TIME FOR ELITE & POLITICAL CLASSES TO STEP IN: I interpret timely engagements as pleaded by Bishop Oyedepo to include adopting mostly preventive steps over and above reactive options. Who leads the way? We – elite and political crises, who are the roots of all the crises must lead the way and manage the docile civil society properly. From the pre to post colonial era till the present, Africa continues to be haunted by political instability and crises occasioned by wars and conflicts, most of them orchestrated and provoked by avoidable conflicts. Peace has continued to elude several nation-states with the result that enormous resources that could have otherwise been expended on development are wasted on armaments and the prosecution of civil and religious wars. The giant of Africa, Nigeria has fought a bitter and fratricidal civil war that commenced in 1967, and lasted till 1970. It was provoked by political intolerance which almost tore the nation apart. Before the Nigerian debacle, a very fierce war, engineered by foreign interests had been fought in Congo Democratic Republic. Additionally, Somalia, Chad, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia and the Maghreb nations have all tasted civil and military disturbances. From available indications, all these conflicts have slowed down the development of Africa.

SELF-SEEKING INTERESTS & THE ECONOMIC ANGLE: Former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari notes that:  “If you address the root causes of conflict, and if you accept that conflict and wars retard development — in no continent is this more true than in Africa, because one of the main reasons Africa is behind the rest of the world is precisely because it has the largest number of conflicts. People are not going to invest in countries of conflict, and without investment, both domestic and foreign, as they are not going to have production; they’re not going to have employment, and it’s a vicious circle.”  Delivering a lecture at the London School of Economics, Deputy-Governor, (Financial Systems Stability) Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Kingsley Moghalu (2014) asserted that ‘’Governance and leadership determine to a large degree how much progress a country can make on the economic front. If the governance of an African country is based on the search for the economic progress of citizens and the effort is well directed and managed, economic transformation can occur. But if governance is based on rent-seeking and competition for the spoils of public office, the resources of the state will be drained far more than real wealth can be created, in which case the dividends of democracy become questionable.’’

LEADERSHIP QUESTION &  CONTINENT OF BEGGAR NATIONS: Speaking at the 25th Founder’s Day anniversary of the University of Ibadan in 1973, Obafemi Awolowo identified six points why Africa continued to flounder in poverty. Among these,: ‘’Africa is today a beggar-continent. At all times and at every turn, we beg for aid. However, like beggars, we are in a class by ourselves. When we beg, we do not grovel.  Instead, we assume an air of superciliousness and demand that the donors should attach no strings to the gifts. And when strings are attached, as they invariably are, we pretend to ourselves that they do not exist. But our budgets always tell the true story. Awolowo went further to state that: ‘’Since the attainment of political independence by African countries, a terrible monster has been stalking the face of Africa, and threatening to hold full and permanent rein on the continent to the detriment of the masses of our people. It is the monster of TENACITY OF OFFICE.

LEADERSHIP QUESTION &  CONTINENT OF BEGGAR NATIONS: Speaking at the 25th Founder’s Day anniversary of the University of Ibadan in 1973, Obafemi Awolowo identified six points why Africa continued to flounder in poverty. Among these,: ‘’Africa is today a beggar-continent. At all times and at every turn, we beg for aid. However, like beggars, we are in a class by ourselves. When we beg, we do not grovel.  Instead, we assume an air of superciliousness and demand that the donors should attach no strings to the gifts. And when strings are attached, as they invariably are, we pretend to ourselves that they do not exist. But our budgets always tell the true story. Awolowo went further to state that: ‘’Since the attainment of political independence by African countries, a terrible monster has been stalking the face of Africa, and threatening to hold full and permanent rein on the continent to the detriment of the masses of our people.

It is the monster of the TENACITY OF OFFICE. The chief characteristics of this monster are inordinate and shameless love of public office; and morbid desire for its own sake, even when the legitimacy for such power does not exist or has completely disappeared’’  The AFD’s 2019 Africa Economic Outlook shows that Africa’s debt is rising. Africa’s gross government debt-to-GDP ratio reached 53% in 2017. And out of 52 countries, 16 (including Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, and Mali) have a debt-to-GDP ratio below 40% while six (Cabo Verde, Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Mozambique, Sudan) have debt ratios above 100%.

AFRICA AS A FOLLOWER CONTINENT:  In what seemed like an endorsement of the Awolowo observation, Prof. Sam Aluko, a reputable economist, had in a 2001 paper argued that: ‘’One of the most evident characteristics of the African continent is that it has always been a “follower continent”; that it continues to remain a “follower continent”; and, unless it finds faith and independence in its own peoples, action, and governments, Africa’s continuing economic decline, its financial and moral crises, will not only increase and deepen but will also ultimately constitute a threat to the peace and stability of the entire world. This is because the enormous economic and natural resources of the African continent will continue to invite the competitive and  exploitation of today’s world’s most developed nations, as their diminishing resources recede further and further while their insatiable appetites grow more gargantuan by the day, and the financial and economic crises which are beginning to manifest in their countries deepen and defy solution.

Aluko continues: As one of the privileged Africans, who have had the benefit of education and close and sustained interaction with Europe and America, I lay the main blame on my own African peoples. First, the blame on my African ancestors who, for a little inducement of gunpowder, money, and materials, sold our young and vibrant Africans into slavery and colonialism, and now, for money, wealth, and power, continue to sell the conscience of the continent to the ideas, philosophies, and inducements of the West—to the extent that the whole of the African continent today owes the West and its finance capitalists, debts that are almost thrice the gross domestic wealth of the continent. Africa has reached the present lackluster morass because its leaders have always been blind followers of the West, which is why I have called Africa, the “follower continent.”

CONCERNS FOR AFRICA: In Africa, a staggering 1.2 billion people continue to live on under US$2.0 dollars a day. Experts in economic and international relations like former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku,  eminent political scientist, Prof. Tunde Adeniran and African Development Bank Group’s President Dr. Akinwumi Adesina have at various times spoken about the dangers inherent in inequality.  Poverty and inequality are very dangerous and cancerous issues.  It has been established that inequalities in income and wealth are often compounded by inequalities in access to power, and disparities in health and education Poverty has been identified as one of the greatest banes of political development in Nigeria, with the affluent dominating directly and indirectly, the political arena. Anyaoku over two decades ago warned that: there are, in absolute terms, more hungry people in the world today than ever before; and the numbers are increasing. ‘’The gap between the rich global North and the poor South is widening on current estimates, and there are little prospects of this trend being reversed”.

petitive exploitation

 REDUCE SPENDING ON DANGEROUS WEAPONS:Prof. Tunde Adeniran has postulated that:  “when citizens are subjected to the pangs of hunger, when they have no access to education as a right and means to self-development, when they lack basic means of livelihood and they can be pushed around with ease and at will for the sake of survival, they can hardly be relied upon to promote or defend a democratic culture. Poverty must therefore be tackled for democracy to be. With this should be instituted the rule of law, due process, transparency and accountability without which no democratic culture can be sustained”. Menchu, cited earlier points out that: instead of giving a rifle to somebody, build a school; instead of giving a rifle, build a community with adequate services. Instead of giving a rifle, develop an educational system that is not about conflict and violence, but one that promotes respect for values, for life, and respect for one’s elders. This requires a huge investment. Yet if we can invest in a different vision of peaceful coexistence, I think we can change the world, because every problem has a nonviolent answer.

INCOME INEQUALITY INCREASING: From this point of view, the instability witnessed in Africa over the years, most certainly, is one of the strongest contributory factors to the stunted growth of the continent. Peace connotes peaceful and harmonious co-existence of the various peoples of the world. Some other important factors have been fingered as contributors to Africa’s poor economic growth. Opening up the African economies to market forces of trade and technological diffusion is also important. A Report of the National Bureau of Economic Research argues that: ‘’While African governments could do a lot to open their economies, Europe, Japan, and the United States could also contribute by facilitating the access of African products to their markets and by reducing subsidies to their agricultural products. Income inequality exists whether one looks at between-country or in-country measures. That is because richer nations on the continent have grown faster and because rich citizens within each country have benefited more than poor citizens.

 WOMEN AS A FORMIDABLE FORCE: All over Africa, as in all parts of the world, there is serious inequality between the rich and the poor, as the gulf continues to widen with attendant threats to the dislocation of public peace’’ The Report notes that: new initiatives may be needed. For example, more research could be focused on the continent’s devastating health problems. Africans themselves have neither the resources nor the expertise to discover vaccines that prevent AIDS or malaria. Yet rich countries have little incentive to invest in these lines of research because the discoveries will help people with little ability to buy the products..  Rigoberta Menchu, a two-time presidential candidate and founder of Guatemala’s first indigenous political party, said much more needs to be done to improve women’s access to land. Globally women make up nearly 45 percent of the agricultural labor force but less than 20 percent of landholders are women, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Menchu, a Nobel laureate nominee for peace points out that: ‘’Peace cannot exist without justice, justice cannot exist without fairness, fairness cannot exist without development, development cannot exist without democracy, democracy cannot exist without respect for the identity and worth of cultures and peoples’’

WHAT IF THERE IS NO UNITED NATIONS?  A paper presented Baroness Valerie Amos, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief (now Director of SOAS of the University of London) states that ‘’Governments, state and regional institutions, and community-based organizations, all have a part to play in preventing conflict and reducing its effects. The private sector has a particular interest in driving change, building resilience and protecting fragile development gains. The private sector in Africa should be playing a leading role in helping to address the high rates of poverty and unemployment that underpin economic and social fragility and vulnerability. Investment in people, in training and education, is an investment in stability, growth and profitability. Just as business is driving Africa’s growth, business can take a lead in supporting investment in social development and resilience within countries and communities.’’ Africa must be grateful to the architects of the United Nations, particularly United States President Harry S. Truman whose immense support created Official Development Assistance. However, the recommendations in the Thabo Mbeki Report on the rape of Africa’s resources are worth implementing.

MOBILIZING FOR DEVELOPMENT:  President Bill Clinton (2011) once submitted that: We live in the most interdependent age in history and people are most likely to be affected beyond their borders, and their borders are increasingly open to both positive and negative crossings: ‘’Travellers, immigrants, money, goods, information, communication, and culture; disease, and trafficking in drugs etc’’ Other issues are the fact that the modern world is too unequal in incomes and access to jobs, health and education  at a time that the global community is witnessing ”rapid spreading of the financial crisis, economic insecurity, and political upheavals’’ Evidently, we must educate our youths and the general society. Famed Nelson Mandela once asserted that: “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.”  Bill Clinton, in his address to the inaugural edition of the Mandela Lectures said: ‘’Now is a good time to be aroused. Now is a good time to be fired up. ‘’Equality and dignity and democracy and solidarity and kindness, those of us who remain young at heart, if not in body – we have an obligation to help our youth succeed’’. We ask again, whose responsibility is it to arouse young people? There is a defined target audience that must do the mobilization.

UNTAPPED RESOURCES & WASTED POTENTIALS: A Report of the World Economic Forum of Africa asserts that: ‘’It is quite lamentable Africa currently has the lowest percentage of intra-regional trade in the world at 18%, compared with 70% in Europe, 55% in North America, 45% in Asia and 35% in Latin America. ‘’The need for greater African economic integration is ever urgent. In addition, by carefully calibrating growth-enhancing policies, African countries need to work together to promote peace and stability while addressing trade obstacles, climate change, corruption, cybersecurity and the opportunities and challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. (Pityana; 2019)  President of the African Development Bank Group, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina has not stopped preaching the message about the endowments of Africa.  Adesina says every so often that: ‘’Every time I pass through rural parts of African countries – where the agriculture engine is or should be unlocked – I see nothing but wasting potential. They sit on 65% of the uncultivated arable land left to feed the world, but can barely feed themselves. ‘’They hear of rich farmers in Europe and America and wonder why they themselves languish in poverty.’’ Certainly life must be better than this. Why have we forgotten them? We reason that millions of people are not aware of social development programmes and how they could benefit from these.  Private sector revolution would succeed and have their programmes directed at the target population, which is why those floated by government must go back to the drawing table and be evaluated periodically.

CHANGING OUR MINDSETS FROM SELFISHNESS TO SELFLESSNESS:   Many advanced countries run capitalistic economies. But the rich in those societies freely give away much of their wealth to assist their societies in programmes that overlap into the developing countries. For instance, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet who at one time occupied the leading position as the world’s richest personalities agreed, alongside and Mark Zuckerbergs on an idea termed: ‘The Giving Pledge’ that is a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to giving back to the society what they realize from their businesses. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, through a family philanthropy programme devote as much funds to global health, as the World Health Organization. In the case of Warren Buffett, he has planned it that more than 99% of his wealth will go to philanthropy during his lifetime or at death. But government too must be aware that giving by the wealthy people is relatively easy abroad because those societies take care of the future of their societies; hence there might be no need for people to go hide money and their wealth in the advanced world with stable economies to take care of the future of their offspring.

MOVING FORWARD:  Joaquim Alberto Chissano served as the second President of Mozambique for 19 years, from 1986–2005, and won the Mo Ibrahim prize for good governance. He asserts that: ‘’Good governance is our best hope against these challenges. Governance entails choices. It demands a visionary leadership that will set enlightened priorities and redeploy resources and retains skilled talent. Compassionate and committed leaders can and must create the policies and invest the necessary resources in infrastructure and services, empowering people to improve their conditions and safeguard their children’s lives, thus accelerating progress towards the MDGs. An excerpt from the Inaugural Address of United States President George W. Bush (2001) comes in handy:  ’We are bound by ideals that teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these ideals. Every citizen must uphold them.  I ask you to be citizens.   Citizens,  not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens building communities of service and a nation of character.”  This is not the time to situate blames because it wouldn’t help. Rather, it is the time for introspection and the coming together of stakeholders to evolve enduring solutions. A lot of public enlightenment campaign and true collaboration among the stakeholders are required. It is definitely not an easy task; but it is also not a mission that cannot be accomplished with proper understanding and cooperation. In the words of Nelson Mandela,  ‘’As long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest’’

May the Good Lord Bless Nigeria!

May the Creator open our eyes to what we need to do to develop Africa and free Africans from poverty.