By Wollor E. Topor, Ph.D.
President Obama is meeting over 50 heads of state from Africa, the first of its kind by a sitting president on the American soil. USA team comprising of government officials, corporate executives, and civil society is to interact with African leaders for three days in Washington, DC in finding ways on how to make Africa catch-up with the rest of the world. It is against this backdrop I that decided to revisit my article posted on July 5, 2005 entitled “Fair Trade Is What Africa Needs And Not Much Of Aid” I indicated in the article that Africa has to dismantle this donor-and-beneficiary relationship that is so cemented or oiled with Grants and Aids, and for the most part, the Tied aid philology (goods and services must come from the donor country). In my very acute point of view, aids to Africa from the developed world have always ended in “red marks” on development report cards. Meaning, it has little to show for the beneficiaries’ wellbeing. Instead, most aids are always with strings attached, of course there is ‘no free lunch’ in the Capitalist World, and associated with corruption, and poor governance. This constant and precarious dependence on the West for decades could partially explain why Africa is the least and slowest developing Continent in the civilized world. Here is what a World Bank’s African reviewer had to say in the early 1990s, “Sound policy prescription itself does not produce economic growth or poverty reduction. It is good governance, consisting of strong leadership to carry out policies and capacity for sound development management that produces the results on the ground. Africa lacks good governance.”
The catching phrase in the reviewer’s synthesis is ‘Getting Governance Right.’ The Western education has always been used as a standard institution to drive Africa to ‘civilization’ and liberate it from ‘African indigenous wisdom’ from my perspective. But over a century of Africa’s acceptance of the Whiteman’s educational system, it still finds itself yoked in mental slavery or colonial mentality and is not ‘Getting Governance Right.’ Are we confused between these two schools of thought–western education and indigenous knowledge? It is late and no turning back to only our ‘indigenous knowledge;’ what is needy is to find a common ground where both (indigenous knowledge and western education) can reconcile with open minds in using these bodies of knowledge to work for the common good and survival of humanity.
After all, there are places like Stonehenge-prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England found all over the West today. Can we say that these cultural heritages and their philosophies associated with them are irrational? The fact is that international conservation bodies like the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the International Union for the Conservation of nature (IUCN), and the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) have acknowledged that indigenous knowledge has been playing pivotal role in the conservation of biodiversity. The truth is that indigenous conservation is far more cost-effective in preventing forest destruction and degradation as compared to the conventional Protected Areas (PAs) and Multipurpose use-Areas (MUAs) approaches.
The emancipation from the current mental slavery is in the supreme interest of Africa. Therefore, Africans (scholars, policy-makers, civil society, and traditional leaders) should foster its radicalization but with precautions.
To the African delegates at this all significant Summit, please consider this Gathering as a golden opportunity for Africa. Take note that America is a capitalist nation whose economic system holds to the Market economy. Firstly, production of goods and services are done by private ownership with certain division of labor. Secondly, these private owners are allowed to make profit but pay their employees with decent compensation for services rendered as well as everyone (corporate entities and workers) pays its rightful Taxes. Thirdly, the commodities produced are for market, where the invisible hands of supply and demand determine the free price system for the produces and services. Fourthly, and very important, the government is responsible to improve the market such as the making sure to train its citizens in skills that match the job market demands, the provision of basic infrastructure (improved transportation systems, electricity, etc.), creating credit incentives, and established legal structures that protect individuals and their properties. The point here is that the invitation extended to African leaders to sit around the Table with the Americans should not be seen in the context of the current geopolitical tension building up between the West and Russia or a bipolarity situation between the USA and a world power wherein United States is looking for African allies whose leaders are to be appeased with ‘free lunch or dole-outs’ and to be promised of making them ‘little dictators’ to oppress the governable as the case was during the Cold War period. I would think President Obama means serious business for Africa. It is left with African leaders to lead this New Market Economy. This should emancipate Africa from economic enslavement of borrowing from western institutions and forever being indebted. Meanwhile, these loans benefit corrupted leaders and their western cohorts -‘it takes two to tangle.’ Example, Tied aid accrues benefits to companies from donor countries.
There is no need to start pointing fingers as to who is responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment. Instead, let us take time and be more positive in clearly identifying Africa’s urgent needs such as functional and relevant education, improved medical services, better roads and communication networks, etc. Progress is being made each year for economic “takeoff” despite of the odds like the uncontrolled Ebola virus in West Africa, civil wars in Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, hostages taking in Nigeria and Cameroon. Countries such as South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan development models are good examples for study and possible replication of suitable aspects into Africa’s development agenda. Japan and China were worse off than most African countries in terms of development less than one hundred years ago. Their development focus was on agricultural development before industrial advancement, today they have succeeded.
If Africa wants to grow economically, its governments need to decide to build their economy based on science and technology (committing a good percentage of their GDP in this direction), particularly in agriculture, and for that to happen, governments need to gear their educational system towards enticing young minds with mathematics and science, as well as other subjects that help youthful minds become inquisitive and trained in the analytical thought processes. Within a short period of time, Africa could be feeding itself and exporting, thereby reducing poverty.
Human capital development is Africa’s most dire need to effectively and rapidly respond to the current global economic activities. With the necessary human capacity, domestic production is to provide decent jobs and bring about Inclusive Growth. If Africans produce more goods and services, they are able to take care of themselves and improve their standard of living with respect and dignity, rather than relying on dole-outs from donors. With the technical knowhow, Africa could be in a better position to negotiation say carbon trade and a Fair Price for its raw resources and/or convert them by adding value. Example Liberia’s iron ore could be turned into pellets/metal sheets as well as manufacturing and exporting of tires from its rubber, a manufacturing factory making Côte d'Ivoire’s cocoa into chocolates on its homeland would provide jobs, while petrochemical industry, when well developed in Nigeria could get more people busy, and perhaps could help reduce Boko Haram’s activities. The mainstream of this New Market Economy is that the local people involvement in creating the national wealth and receiving their fair compensations. Also, better human resource should enable the Continent to better respond to climate change and its vulnerabilities and other crises that are plaguing it currently.
Africans need to be well trained, capable, prepared for self-sufficient to handle outbreaks like the Ebola virus that is killing hundreds of people in West Africa, before they occur, and not to depend on its international partners in a time of crisis. Often times, these outside assistances come a bit late when the damage has already been done. The Africa indigenous knowledge has within oral traditional codes of governance which could be studied, codified and incorporated in the governance systems. Perhaps, such could help in ‘Getting Governance Right ‘ in terms of commitment, honesty, efficiency, equity and social justice.