Africa’s nightmare of underdevelopment

20 Apr

Zambia is the continent’s top Copper producer and the world’s 7th largest. It also is the world’s second largest producer of Cobalt. It has a substantial amount of Southern Africa’s water

Nigeria is one of the largest oil producers on the continent and globally. It also has huge reserves of natural gas.

Tanzania is the only country in the world that produces the precious stone Tanzanite in the world.

The list is longer and we can go country by country to see what the beautiful continent is endowed with.

What is the common thread?

These countries represent the disturbing picture of a rich continent. Africa has the resources from water to minerals, the weather and population necessary for growth. Further, these resources are not only needed by Africa itself. Even other nations and continents have an appetite for what Africa has to offer.

However, when we assess the countries above and even more others, these are nations grappling with poverty, under-development or no development at all. Corruption, abuse of resources, governance failures and service delivery breakdown are a norm in Africa’s development story.

How can a continent so rich and well endowed with resources be the least developed, drowning in poverty and miserable failure?

None of the nations on our continent is classified as developed. In fact 34 of the African nations are least developed countries. None of the global economic powerhouses is from Africa. Even huge economies such as South Africa are developing nations.

How did we get here or did we move at all?

I have always struggled with the thought of whether other nations started at the same level as Africa and we lagged. Or perhaps, we were never in the race.

For purposes of this article though, that is not the history I want to dwell on. Instead, I would like to analyse some areas I am convinced have contributed to the state we find ourselves in. From there, we can explore what Africa may need to do for a turnaround in order to be the force she potentially is.

I will break my thoughts down to expand on this.

1. Lack of self belief- In the days of old, we had a system of existence that defined our societies. People provided for their homes and communities, none lacked. Every village and community ensured there was enough for everyone and this was pursued with collective energy. This is a model that had the potential to ensure Africa developed itself with its resources, linkages and people. Even with what each community had, they could trade with another that lacked. However, a complete departure from who we were served to derail us.

2. Westernisation, capitalism and bondage- On account of the failure to keep our identity and systems, we exposed ourselves to the influence of the west. The west needed what we had, the same way our communities needed what another had.

What the west took, they added value to and even resold to Africa. While they developed, we lagged and looked on as they used our resources. In the end, as they sold us what we did not have, they must have become richer while we remained in no better state. It became a relationship based on money, wealth accumulation and we realised we did not have what they did. To have it, we wanted to be where they were and borrowing set in for we did not have the money needed. The end result? Debt.

This does not mean all we have from the West is bad. It does however show that we embraced everything and could not integrate these ideas into our own homegrown models. Models that characterised our societies and communities before Africa was taken over.

3. Political will vs “hungry leaders”- we have had a fair share of exemplary leaders that have yearned and worked for a prosperous continent. However, the seed planted has not borne fruit in most left behind after their departure. In most cases we have seen, when these leaders have tasted power, those ideals and aspirations expire.

How many leaders do we all know that start their terms so well only to be hounded out of office? Leaving their economies in tatters, state coffers stripped and their legacies steeped in failure to prosper their people?

How do we explain the cases we have where so many leaders end tenures in corruption, theft and millions of dollars in foreign countries outside Africa? We have had highly educated leaders that have failed the continent. We have had hints of well intentioned leaders that have failed their peoples because of the trappings of power. Just take a look at our history and we will see how littered it is with such examples.

4. A complacent people- Africa is in a mess and I hold that it is a mess we deserve. People get what they deserve in a case like this. We tolerate non-performance from our leaders. We accept mediocrity whether it is from those that lead, service providers or any areas of our lives. As a result, even when we have ushered leaders in office or we have in our individual lives been given responsibility, quality and integrity are not a part of what we do. Posterity bears witness to what we have come to accept as the norm.

How many times do we accept shoddy performance, poor service and let it slide? It is that mindset and attitude that is replicated at national and continental level.

5. Planning to fail- Have we as a continent and people progressed by mistake? Is the development we can point to a result of comprehensively planned frameworks? Or can we attribute this to inherited development?

Africa seems to be stuck in poor planning or a lack of follow-through on what is set. As a result, we have entangled ourselves even more in debt as we keep borrowing or depending on donor support from the West. Without this, it appears we fail to draft any progress or survival plan that works to wean us from this dependence on the West.

An assessment of almost all African countries reveals how adverse our condition is. Where we have resources, we see poverty. Where we had the opportunity for a solid take off, we have lagged so far behind.

Look at Nigeria for instance. With all the oil resources, there is a huge disparity between minimum wages of the population and fuel price per litre. Fuel or oil prices are higher than wages and the recent protests are a reflection of this.

In contrast, when we look at Kuwait, Qatar, Venezuela or Saudi Arabia. This is on a straight line analysis without the debate of population size, other factors etc. This is a reflective condition of how planning (or the lack of it) has spiralled out of control resulting in a failure to let resources provide benefits to the local economy and its people.

Further, Nigeria is a perfect example of where Africa’s ball is dropped. 50% of its 2012 budget is to be spent on the Presidency, pensions and parastatals. The expenditure on power, health and education is lower than debt service. The National Assembly election commission will get a higher allocation than health.

With all this natural wealth, we see that Nigeria has limited refinery capacity thus petroleum products are expensive when refined and exported back into the country from abroad.

How many more African countries do we know that have resources and export to other continents only to import the finished products at high cost?

What is the writing on the wall?

Africa has resources the world needs. The Eurozone is in crisis. America is struggling after the crunch. China has risen to economic prominence and made several inroads in trading with Africa.

All these factors combine to provide opportunities for Africa to rise out of its doldrums. There is a realisation that our future can be so much brighter than the past as developing nations and south to south trade takes root. The challenge now is exploiting what is unfolding for the benefit of the continent.

What needs to happen?

Thought revolution- Africa must start thinking differently. Africa must smell the coffee. The west and our favourite partner China, all are focussed on their development. The natural rule is that they will take care of their own first before any other.

There is no debate about that. Let us look at Bretton Woods institutions and the recent appointment of the World Bank president. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a seasoned and renowned economist, was clearly the better suited and qualified candidate in the race. Alas, what the US of A proposed passed as gospel and Dr. Jim Yong Kim,a physician, is the World Bank head. This is no surprise since the Americans are the largest shareholders in the institution.

Africa can only be as influential as its wealth. For as long as we are in debt or depend on donor funding, we will have no place at such a table. No bargaining power.

This makes a case for Africa to review and refine its development agenda and strategy. It is time for Africa to define her own path, set her own agenda and use her natural wealth for the good of her people. It is time for Africa to think differently.

Anything other than that is a perpetuation of the status quo.

The numbers game- Africa has 54 nations and a total population of over a billion. Even though the pangs of poverty have ravaged the continent, the numbers must now work for Africa. This is a population from which Africa can draw for its labour and skills requirements.

To attain this, education is paramount and health a necessary pursuit. An educated and healthy population with a significant proportion being youth represents a rich pool to drive this aspiration and also defeat the perverse poverty that Africa grapples with.

This will then make the empowerment of our people a reality, thus creating the able mass that the continent needs to stimulate growth and development.

Made in Africa by Africans- We must restore our pride. We must be the drivers of our progress and destiny. To achieve this, we must believe in ourselves, then act on this belief and faith in who we are.

All we have and need can be found in Africa. Ghana imports 70% of its rice at a cost of $500m*. Is there not a country in Africa that can supply this rice?

Madagascar is currently working on an $80m Wind power project to generate 50MW of electricity*. Do we not have countries that can facilitate hydro and alternative energy supply?
We have large oil or mineral producers on the continent. Can we not aim to develop the infrastructure necessary to refine or produce finished petroleum goods and other products for supply within the continent?

We can continue on this trajectory to see the possibilities for Africa within the continent. Opportunities that can fuel growth from within and even produce excess for intercontinental export.

This is surely not as easy as it may sound or seem on paper. Then again, it is not as impossible as it appears today.

It must and has to start somewhere. That somewhere is now.

Value addition- This calls for a comprehensively different approach. We must jealously manage our resources as we offload raw materials. It must not come back to Africa as expensive finished goods when we can add value in Africa.

This calls for deliberate and strict planning coupled with resource allocation for infrastructure development to support this.

Ethiopia is an example of a country undertaking to boost its export capabilities. It now offers incentives such as tax holidays, duty free privileges and a 70/30 financing scheme. The scheme has government financing 70% of start-up costs for companies investing in the export sector. This has led to about 25% growth in exports since 2002*.

Calling the Diaspora- The African Diaspora reportedly has $50bn of savings in western bank accounts gaining negative returns*. Only recently, we heard that Africa’s infrastructure budget is $100bn annually and governments only raise $57bn of this**.

With the knowledge, expertise and labour that Africa has exported outside the continent, can we not mobilise and develop our beloved motherland through these resources seemingly developing foreign lands?

A far fetched aspiration?

In 2011, about half of 78 mobile money ventures launched worldwide came from Africa, spanning more than 20 countries*. This is just one example of the potential Africa represents.

Whichever sectors we analyse from Telecoms, Technology, financial services to trade, the continent stands in a place where development is extremely possible.

Africa must take stock of her untapped resources, wealth and its able population. It then must take steps to address the inherent weaknesses of our ineffective planning, deficient structural frameworks and governance failures. Accountability and capable leadership must be paramount catalyst factors to steer the continent in totally different direction.

That will be the journey that will present the opportunity for Africa to perhaps pay off her debt to the West. Or use the debt or donor aid to invest in sectors that will pay the debt off.

Who knows, one of the notable and proud results could be an African Financial Institution strong enough to finance the continent’s infrastructure development leading to the elusive economic prosperity.

Africa can do it. Africa must do it.

1 Comment

Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Economic


One response to “Africa’s nightmare of underdevelopment

  1. Yen Waterson

    July 12, 2012 at 16:09

    Alternative energy should be the focus of our governments and every private contractors in the market today. Alternative energy is non-polluting and of course very renewable. .*”`” With appreciation health issues page


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