The more you think about matters of development and transformation in Africa, the more you realize that it is all about correcting certain distortions.
For Africa is a place of contradictions possible due to our tragic history of slavery, colonialism and the current system based on unequal patterns of exchange.
Think about the abundance of food crops in a continent that many people go without food. Cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, yams, beans and a plethora of fruits grow in abundance yet we do not deliver these food crops to all parts so that all people have enough to eat and store for the future.
It’s tragic really that our food production alternates between feast and fast. During harvest time there is so much that goes to waste, yet a few months later, we go without food.
Early this year, dairy farmers in Kenya were featured on TV pouring their milk because of overproduction. Yet in the same country, there are people who had not drunk milk for the last one month. Imagine the amount of water we receive during the rainy season and how most of it runs off to waste.
Yet we can easily tap this resource for irrigation and other uses. Harvesting such water would free our people (especially women) to engage in productive pursuits instead of walking long distances for water.
Actually correcting most of these distortions does not require donor aid or any new technology.
It’s a matter of deciding and then doing. The field of Information Communicative Technology (ICT) offers more contradictions. Today, there is technology that can allow us to access markets for our goods all over the world. Yet we are not harnessing these tools. There are young people with good ideas yet lack money to make their ideas into reality.
In the same continent, there are millionaires and billionaires who can fund these ideas and gain more from them. But they would rather keep the money in the bank rather than sponsor others to grow their ideas.
Think of people whose lives can be changed with very small loans yet we’d rather buy two cars than help such people. Rwanda’s Girinka program of giving a heifer to peasant families has the potential to profoundly uplift their lives.
Such practical policies should be replicated all over the continent. What we need are solutions that are direct, practical and simple (not simplistic). Unfortunately many development experts in this continent would not agree. They believe that academic papers, seminars, workshops and endless consesus building is the way to feed our starving masses.
Corruption too will have to be curtailed. For every million stolen from public treasuries, several families have their future stolen from them. Plugging such holes is a big correction to the distortions I am talking about.
That’s why I propose that most of the poverty in Africa is preventable and can be surmountable in a very short time.
This is applicable even for labour. Which African country does not have an army of idle jobless youth who complain day in day out of lack of jobs?
This is a distortion that can be corrected by organising this labour for much needed projects including road paving and building dams. The problem is that we value jobs at the expense of work – the latter is available while the former is scarce.
In Africa then, good leadership may simply be less about new ideas and knowledge and more about balancing the contradictions.