Africa is not only a land of diversity, it is also a land of contradictions and surprises, so just put your thinking cap on and be prepared to be astonished as we journey along and evaluate my modest proposal for finally solvingAfrica’s elusive quest for economic development.
For the purposes of this article, our story begins in the early 1960s and under the belief that Africa has not always been poor. You may call this period the golden age in Africa’s developmental story. In that era, many African countries were just emerging from years of European domination, there was a renewed sense of patriotism and the opportunity to finally prove to the world that indeed ‘’the black man is capable of managing his own affairs’’.
This was a continent rich in all the necessary components for achieving economic transformation: A young and active population (at the time when human laborwas still an important factor of the production process), unparalleled agricultural and mineral resources (that was before the so called “resource curse” had attained any level of serious academic status) etc.
The general economy of the continent was at par with much of the world, and with GDP growth of about 6%, many African countries stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the Asian tigers. For example, in 1950, the GDP per capita of Ghana was bigger than that of China, Taiwan and South Korea, and Kenya was more prosperous than Indonesia, Thailand and India.
In the spirit of independence, the framework for economic transformation were laid in many parts of the continent, with ostentatious projects spanning hydro-electric dams, airlines, shipping lines, numerous factories. The continent even boasted an active nuclear research project in Ghana. Those were the days when the Bretton woods institutions and aid/debt were just incomprehensible words in the average African’s vocabulary. Citizens were passionate about creating positive change for themselves and posterity.
Positions of power were considered a privilege and an opportunity to contribute to the wave of economic and social transformation sweeping across the landscape, with the continent producing such great leaders as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, JomoKenyata, JuliusNyerere. Fast forward to the 1980s and the continent was beginning to feel like a child who was given the keys to a brand new Mercedes on his 6th birthday.
THINGS BEGIN TO FALL APART
Beginning that period, Africa had reached a tipping point in her economic transformational journey. A tipping point that could either lead to progress and prosperity for generations unborn or mismanagement, poverty and general economic retrogression. Would democracyand politics that focus on national interest instead of personal and tribal aggrandizement be allowed to flourish? Would peace reign over conflict and anarchy? Of course the evidence for where this jewel of the 20th century tipped is clear for all to see.
What went wrong? How did a continent with such potential and endowed with such abundance of resources become the poorest and most miserable among her peers? Like the perfect guinea pig, the story of Africa’s checkered economic history is well documented by pundits from every academic discipline.
Ultimately, by the end of the 20th century, the continent was not only broke but was also riddled with unsustainable debt and more than a fair share of political upheavals. Perhaps democracy was to blame for all the mess so why not give those disciplined and incorruptible men of valour the chance to lead our transformational agenda, instead of wallowing under the curse of democracy?
Between 1960 and 1970 alone, Africa would record as many as 21 coup d’états, and yet the only thing that seemed to transform was the rate of acceleration of retrogression. Ours was a continent beginning to lose her gleam, sense of patriotism and the general desire by her people to contribute to her development. The flame that began burning bright in the 60s was now turning to embers.
The so called educated political and economic elite were no longer interested in creating more educated and economic elite but were beginning to measure their own social status, not on their capabilities and achievements, but on how many people they see when they look down the economic food chain. This group was totally consumed by the insatiable greed and corruption that had now become the hallmark of their identity. The philosophy had dramatically changed from “we’re all in this together” to “each man for himself, God for us all”.
The kind of thinking that cannot even paddle a canoe to shore had become the foundation for nation building! By the end of the twentieth century, a continent that had fought and died for political independence was now under economic servitude from those same masters - in addition to the Indians and the Chinese and the Lebanese and… just about anyone who knows the value of a bribe.
Part 2 of this article will explore the myth of a rising Africa and conclude with my modest proposal for economic transformation.
Kwadwo Agyapong Antwi
The writer blogs on social, political and economic issues at www.thinkingWITyou.wordpress.com