The Optimization Trap: Why Africa must Extricate Itself
6/20/2012 2:08:57 PM -
*The Optimization Trap: Why Africa must extricate itself from Western and Asian Development Strategies
By James Shikwati, Founder Director, Inter Region Economic Network and The African Executive Online Magazine.
The competitive quest by both the West and Asia to access Africa's natural resources and markets offers Africans an opportunity to remold themselves; to become a people with capability to creatively confront their daily challenges; to take charge of their destiny and build a united Africa.
Africans are suffering from a corrupted mindset. The West's quest to remold Africans has over the years made Africans a copy image of the West (Eurocentric worldview championed by the original 14 European countries that participated 1885 Berlin conference and the United States of America). Can Africans with the current mindset successfully address their socio-political and economic quest to actively participate in global affairs? The West's quest to modernize and mould Africans in the European image has continued to produce disoriented Africans. Of what benefit is it for Africans to have highways and skyscrapers planted in their midst but lose their personhood? The African continent is grappling with a citizenry stuck in subsistence. The West has excelled in exporting tools of destruction to Africa (especially weapons of war) as opposed to tools of productivity. A look into past history reveals why this is so. The West with the General Act of Berlin Conference of 1885 formally set out to optimize Africans.
In February1885, representatives from 14 European and allied powers in a conference in Berlin, resolved to watch over the preservation and modernization of Africans. In a manner that an Act of Parliament uses sets of laws to affect the behavior of a certain category of people; the General Act of Berlin and its latter day derivatives captured in colonial laws and the resolutions of international institutions such as The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have sustained the narrative that only the West knows best what is good for Africans. To counter this narrative, Africans must invest in cleaning their mindset by evolving their own legislation - The Act of Africa 2012.
The Chinese have demonstrated a different approach to Africa through their policy of 'Upholding the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.' One of their policies is non-interference in internal affairs of other sovereign states. Unlike the West which sought to determine the fate of Africans in their absence, the Chinese in the year 2000 jointly with Africans set up the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
The apex of the FOCAC initiative was witnessed in November 2006 as Heads of State, Government and delegation of the People's Republic of China and 48 African countries met in Beijing to cement a strategic partnership between China and Africa. The Chinese and Africans have since jointly evolved various strategic plans for example the FOCAC Strategic Plan 2010 - 2012.Under Africa's current mindset however, the decisions evolved at FOCAC may still amount to 'absence' of Africans on the negotiating table.
The destruction of the 'African software'
The African mindset analogous to computer software operates as 'African software' that determines the current predicament of people on the continent. The architects of Western incursion into Africa expressly sought to reorganize the 'African software' but yielded a faulty one instead. They dismantled indigenous institutions and created new nation-states complete with new governance infrastructure. The constitutions that were bequeathed to newly independent African states safeguarded interests of departing colonial powers at the expense of the African people.
The West reorganized African culture and religions. Individuals' and geographical landmarks' names were changed to those of the West; for example, use of names such as 'James' and Lake Victoria. African indigenous religions have continued to be submerged by Christian evangelicals from the West.
One of the most intrusive strategies that the West used to overhaul the 'African Software' was through education. The British for example, acting on Asquith Report in 1945 put in place an education system that aimed at producing skilled Africans who would serve colonial systems. Such an education did not adopt multidisciplinary approaches that enable Africans to address the challenges facing them. African children have consequently continued to be uprooted from their villages and sent to boarding schools where they are trained to fit into the Western systems as opposed to evolving homegrown systems to address African challenges.
The West's most disastrous legacy in Africa was the imposed parallel property rights regime in total conflict with indigenous ones. The West overrode existing customary property systems and introduced their own dimensions to land ownership and title, and the rights and responsibilities related to land and natural resources (UNECA 2009). Unresolved issues on property and land rights continue to haunt Africa to date. Whilst African indigenous nations lost out, the most affected were African women who found themselves disenfranchised in the new order. The continent thus 'lost Africans' as the basic unit that nurtures leadership became disorganized.
Prior to Western intrusion into Africa, the continent had civilizations complete with cities and states. The quest to recreate Africans in the image of the West at best destroyed the 'African software' and yielded a 'malware' (malicious software) that has for over a century disoriented Africans' political and economic governance. Africans consequently perceive poverty in the midst of plenty. One pointer to the warped 'African software' is the continent's readiness to export its wealth and retain poverty. The mining sector in Africa for example, has been used to develop the economies of Western nations from the colonial era to date. The continent continues to wallow in poverty and conflict despite the fact that it seats on 60% of untilled arable land. At worst, the 'malware' has witnessed close to 200 million Africans perennially threatened with famine as underutilized land attracts foreign 'land grabbers.'
Intellectually, Africans have been unable to evolve their own position on challenges they encounter because they are submerged by the West's 'evangelical' viewpoints. For example, the West through the World Bank pushed the infamous Structural Adjust Program (SAPs) agenda that increased external dependency and intensified structural weaknesses and deficiencies in African economies. The SAPs were designed to sap target countries' resources, convert their productive capacity to debt servicing and create an opening for Western transnational corporations. Donor financing was designed to make poor countries to import quantities of consumer goods and staples from the West. SAPs elicited riots across Africa over food, and increased cost of education. While I was an undergraduate student at the University of Nairobi in 1993, the institution was closed for a year due to anti-SAPs riots. We were put on probation and forced to report to government administrators to ensure we complied with the new dispensation.
The ongoing financial crisis has rudely destabilized the SAPs philosophical orientation of Western nations. Western citadels that relentlessly lectured Africans on privatization, less regulation and less government are now driving on the opposite direction through government bailouts of private corporations. For example, the United States of America government is reported to have injected USD 85 billion to bail out American International Group (AIG) in 2008.
*This essay was first published in Kursbuch 171: Besser optimierene. The English version has been republished in The African Executive Magazine with special permission from 2012 Murmann Verlag GmbH.