Home Article THE PLIGHT OF THE POOREST CONTINENT: ….. WHY AFRICA IS POOR

THE PLIGHT OF THE POOREST CONTINENT: ….. WHY AFRICA IS POOR

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First, lets consider some statistics on Africa, as published by the National Geographic Association.

  • There are 54 countries and one “non-self governing territory”, the Western Sahara, in Africa.
  • All of Africa was colonized by foreign powers during the “scramble for Africa”, except Ethiopia and Liberia.
  • Before colonial rule Africa comprised up to 10,000 different states and autonomous groups with distinct languages and customs.
  • The Pharaonic civilization of ancient Egypt is one of the world’s oldest and longest-lasting civilizations.
  • African continent is the world’s oldest populated area.
  • Arabic is spoken by 170 million people on the continent, followed in popularity by English (130 million), Swahili (100), French (115), Berber (50), Hausa (50), Portuguese (20) and Spanish (10).
  • Over 25% all languages are spoken only in Africa with over 2,000 recognised languages spoken on the continent.
  • Africa is the second most populous continent with about 1.1 billion people or 16% of the world’s population. Over 50% of Africans are under the age of 25.
  • The continent’s population will more than double to 2.3 billion people by 2050.
  • Africa is the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped continent with a continental GDP that accounts for just 2.4% of global GDP.
  •  Almost 40% of adults in Africa are illiterate – two-thirds are women. Adult literacy rates are below 50% in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.
  • Over 25 million people are HIV-positive on the continent and over 17 million have died of the disease already.
  • The Second Congo War claimed over 5.4 million lives and is the deadliest worldwide conflict since World War II.
  • There are fewer people with internet connections in Africa than there are in just New York City.
  • Approximately 90% of all cases of malaria worldwide occur in Africa, accounting for 24% of all child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa

AFRICA’S POSITION IN THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY: Africa is the second largest continent (after Asia) with 1.2 billion people, speaking over 800 languages. Africa is regarded as a land of opportunities in view of its vast and limitless potentials, harbouring innumerable mineral resources including aluminum ore, bauxite, chromium, cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, iron ore, manganese, petroleum, platinum, and zinc. The geography includes deserts (the Sahara Desert is the largest in the world), rain forest jungles, mountains, grasslands, rivers and lakes ‘Colonialism’ is one word that will most probably command different thoughts in the minds of several generations of Africans for a very long time to come. The invasion of Africa by the West left in its trail tales of woes and mixed feelings about the effects of colonization.

The advent of colonialists indeed brought along with it both functional and dysfunctional roles; and functional because, Africa was opened up to modernization and civilization; and dysfunctional because the continent suffered heavy deprivations and massive assault of the rights of the populace by colonialists who shipped Africans in large numbers to the West to work for the development of the economies of advanced nations. But the truth must be told. African elites, by acts of greed, commission and omission, have also been found to be complicit in drawing the continent backward. Evidently, Africa has been adversely affected by the age-long pattern of governance, with slow reactions to issues and political developments by the citizenry. In truth, the 500 years of colonization succeeded largely because of the greed and lust for power on the part of local leaders and rulers, who clearly aided the exploiters of the continent, particularly by supporting slave trade and selling fellow Africans to slavery for pitiable remunerations.

Largely, these natural rulers and leaders sold the birth rights of their people for peanuts and minor manufactured commodities from the West. Therefore, slavery and colonialism account to a great extent, for the backwardness of Africa. But while the colonialists must be credited for dysfunctional roles, they should also be credited with functional or positive roles of bringing modernization and development to Africa.  We hardly think about how Africa would look like today without the influence of the colonialists and imperialists who provided education and trained vast numbers of Africans to attain leadership roles in their countries. The truth remains that Africa was in a Dark Age when the colonialists came. It was a period of misrule by despots and the traditional institution, whose words and actions could not be challenged by their subjects.

THE CLUB OF DICTATORS: A substantial part of the blame for the underdevelopment of Africa must be laid at the doorsteps of Africans, who failed over the years to chart the course of proper development for the endowed region. Of course, foreign interests also share part of the blame of under-development on the continent through their subtle designs to continue to manipulate political power in African nations. Africa has an age-long problem of leadership which is about the most formidable constraint to development of the continent. There are tragic examples of weak, failed and emerging states. The evils of dictatorship have combined with poverty and underdevelopment to pose serious challenges to the future of not only these weak economies but also the global peace in the context of globalization. Examples of maximum rulers that have held on the power to the detriment of the evolution of sound political cultures include Felix Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire – 34 years; Dauda Jawara of Gambia – 21 years; Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo – 31 years; William Tubman of Liberia – 28 years; Sekou Toure of Guinea – 29 years; Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia – 29 years and Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia – 32 years! (as at 2014)

Others include Muamar Ghadaffi of Libya, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Jean Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic, and Mathieu Kerekou of Benin Republic. Many of these leaders gained notoriety on account of their holding on to power almost endlessly in an autocratic manner, with an almost insatiable appetite for looting the treasury and elimination of political opponents. Regrettably, a report released by the African Development Bank in conjunction with the Global Financing Integrity at its 48th general meeting in Morocco (2013) states that US$1.3 trillion illicit funds were transferred out of Africa between 1980 and 2009 alone.

THE LEADERSHIP QUESTION: CARDINAL ONAIYEKAN: Addressing the 2014 edition of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Nigeria’s highly cerebral Cardinal John Onaiyekan, a member of the prestigious 17-man Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith of the World Economic Forum noted that ordinarily, the quest for political power ought to be driven by a strong desire to serve the people. ”The question of values in leadership boils down to why people seek leadership positions in the first place. Put very simply, if people want to win elections so they can improve the lot of the people and serve the nation, obviously they will take decisions along those lines. The Survey on the Global Agenda tells us that people in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa are particularly worried about this challenge, and speaking for Africa, I can say we’ve seen too many people who seek power in order to make money, exert influence and spread money to their friends and cronies.” In reality, said Onaiyekan, ”It is more complex than that, as most people are neither one thing nor the other; so, it becomes a question of degrees; to what extent do African leaders want to serve for the common good, and how much can that become tainted by the desire to do well for themselves and their families?

The more shortsighted leaders fail to recognize that the common good is actually the only real way to prosper in the long term. Because no matter how well I do, I couldn’t feel secure in a country in which the majority of people are struggling. In a country like that, nobody is secure. ”Young people tend to have the strongest feelings on this issue; Respondents under 40 told the Survey that they’re not at all satisfied with the attention governments give to a lack of values in leadership. And they have every reason to be critical. They look around them, they see where the nation is heading and they don’t want to go there. And yet they find they have no way of changing that direction because they are considered too young and inexperienced.

SELFISHNESS & GREED: Onaiyekan accused leaders of caring more about their personal interests rather than public interest for which they were chosen or elected to protect. ”We expect leaders not to just stick to what they know, but to be driven by something that moves us forward and brings people together. And so, in reality, the concern is that there’s not enough sharing of views, values and vision. ”It may be impossible for leaders to know the interests of all, but I think the best leaders look to as wide an audience as possible. It is important that we don’t just look to maintain our own interests, or those of our immediate neighbours. ’’Knowledge becomes relevant when responsible global decisions come from leaders who can draw upon a global knowledge base.” We cannot expect all leaders to be saints, or to have no interests of their own, or know everything about everybody — that is clearly impossible.

But, in terms of developing a positive global vision, the sharing of information is key. We must work hard to present people with a different range of ideas, interests and visions, and introduce different types of people, information and values in an attempt to bring about understanding. There’s always room for learning. Leaders must not stop learning. Without any doubt, these oddities have reduced Africa to a passive observer in the last half of the century while the rest of the world advanced economically and technologically. The Punch Newspaper, an influential Nigerian tabloid in its editorial of Thursday June 6, 2013 highlighted the fact that ‘The quantum economic leap of Brazil which overtook the United Kingdom to emerge the world’s sixth largest economy, Malaysia, which has a US$16,900 per capita income; and Singapore, with US$61,000 per capita income underscores the fact that African leaders have not lived up to expectations”.

Statistics from Global Finance, in 2012 showed that 27 African countries with per capita income ranging between US$364 and US$1969, were among the poorest globally. These countries include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Eritrea, Niger, Guinea-Bissau, Togo and Uganda”. (Punch Newspapers of June 6, 2013) Opinions may differ, but largely, the Economic Community of West African States, the Economic Community of Central African States and the Common Market of Southern and Eastern Africa, that all came into existence between 1975 and 1994 as intervention mechanisms for regional economic integration are still trying to find their feet, and are yet to effectively key into the larger continental network. Within the past two decades, the United Nations approved about US$6.1 billion for the African Union Peace Keeping programme in 8 out of the 54 African Union member- nations, stating that cost-effective and preventive measures were needed to enhance human security in the region and help establish conditions for sustainable economic development.

There is always a way out. Good governance and sound implementation of democratic ethos would appear the recipe.

May the good Lord bless our dear continent.