We Africans as nations have for long envied the West. We have changed our languages, culture, names, history and future to be like them.
We have often measured development by how less African we are becoming, as if African-ness was our main obstacle to development, as if being African was incompatible with development.
Now, the irony is that the IMF is not worried that any African country is going bankrupt but rather Europe.
There is a country with a war-ravaged history, with a history of coups, the last one in the 70’s. A country where corruption is endemic, where people don’t pay taxes, where a millionaire pays $10,000 in tax after asking for a “new estimate” and where government workers are never in the office.
Where people get a bonus just for coming to work and not for performance, where people stop for lunch have a 3 hour nap and return to work for one hour then go home. No this is not an African Banana Republic- this is Greece, the cradle of western civilization.
We have aspired to be like European countries and their model is failing. The post-war model of mass-welfare, subsidies, cheap credit, big government, healthy pensions and a high-spending lifestyle has left a massive deficit in the economies of the EU.
Greece was the first to show symptoms, Spain and Portugal have caught the disease as well. Even Britain has huge deficits but they have much bigger revenue generating power than Greece.
We were told that if we copied their model, reformed our economies and tightened our belts then we too could have that lifestyle. Now we will have to review our aspirations, to live within our means, not to aspire to a life on debt waiting for the demographic time-bomb to explode.
The West is a mature economic market, the population is declining, the work-force is aging and soon the over-50’s will be the majority. The debt cycle is also spiralling, and debt that has been hidden from view is now coming to light.
The African renaissance is here to stay, it has even been brought forward, and we have to take advantage of the European crisis. The level of debt will mean budget cuts and tax rises, this will make Europe less favourable to invest in, China would be the main benefactor, as would India but Africans will also benefit.
The other question affects our plans for an East African single currency; Greece cannot devalue its currency because it is in the Euro. This has exacerbated the problem but the real cause was the deficit spending.
These are lessons for young African countries in our road to maturity and development. Maybe soon Rwanda will be sending consultants to Greece to show them how to balance a budget.
It is ironic that the shoe is on the other foot, that the IMF is commending African countries and bailing out Western nations. The bitter pill of structural adjustment will be hard for Greece to swallow but we Africans are so used to the medicine that it tastes sweet.
I believe that by the time I am an old man, Africa will be an aid-donor to the West. My dream looks like it’s coming true.
Rama Isibo is a social commentator