Challenges and opportunities (continued)
The nostalgia of the pre-colonial communal African past, coupled with apparent successes of the Soviet Union and Communist China in rebuilding their societies and feeding their peoples convinced a number of African leaders of the relevance of socialism to their own post-colonial situations.
But what kind of socialism and how to implement it were questions that confused and confounded African leadership and ruined many African economies. Five, to obtain aid, technical assistance and to attract foreign investments.
Six, was the promotion of African unity. The quest for unity precipitated controversial debates and led to the adoption of different strategies based on divergent ideological convictions and international political and economic support.
Although unity was obtained in the form of the Organization of African Unity Charter in 1963, this was achieved at the expense of confirming the colonial boundaries, and thus reinforcing the artificiality of African states and the fractious nature of their societies.
The boundary disputes were to engulf leaders in various political and armed conflicts, which consumed their energies, time, talents and resources.
And seven, to promote the decolonization of the rest of Africa was the logical imperative of Pan-Africanism. If the rest of Africa was to be freed then the anti-colonial movements and their liberation armies had to be supported.
Born and bred under colonial rule the first generation of African leaders was acutely conscious of racial domination, oppression and discrimination, and their impacts on Africans’ self-esteem and self-confidence.
Once Independence was achieved these leaders determined to ensure that the succeeding generations of Africans should not suffer the same fate as they did. Years of Arab slave raiding, and later years of European domination, had caused our people to have grave doubts about their own abilities.
This was no accident; any dominating group seeks to destroy the confidence of those they dominate because this helps them to maintain their position, and the oppressors in Tanganyika [as it was then] were no exception.
Indeed, it can be argued that the biggest crime of oppression and foreign domination…is the psychological effect it has on the people who experience it.
A vital task for any liberation movement must therefore be to restore the people’s self-confidence, and it was quite clear to us that a multi-racial TANU (Tanganyika African National Union) could never do that.
There would be to many amongst our people who would believe that any successes of the movement were due to the superiority and assistance of our non-African members. Only by creating and developing our own exclusive organization could we begin to devlop confidence in our own abilities or, in the Tanganyika of that time,, believe it was really ‘our organization’.
For these reasons TANU became a racial organization; yet it was one which, from the beginning, campaigning for racial equality.
The resistance of the Portuguese colonial authorities to orderly decolonization, and the reluctance of the major developed world governments to provide material support for African independence movements, converted decolonization from an essentially legitimate political process into a military confrontation in which the big powers were ultimately involved.
On the one hand the Soviet Union and its allies supported any liberation movement that appeared to be anti-West or critical of Communist China.
On the other Communist China supported any movement that appeared to them to be either ant-West or critical of the Soviet Union. And the West in general supported any movement that appeared, or could be persuaded, to be anti communist.
Africa then became a new arena of proxy wars and ideological competition between the big powers. This further complicated African domestic and external politics and economics.
It also involved African leaders in unnecessary global ideological struggles that consumed a considerable amount of their time and talents.
The pursuit of the various concerns demanded from the yet untested African leaders a combination of talents, abilities and skills ranging from statecraft and consensus building to diplomatic shrewdness, political manipulation, coercion and repression.
The attraction and in some cases the presumed relevance of the one-party democracy in Africa must be viewed within the context of the problems and tasks confronting the first generation of African leaders.
Overwhelmed by the endemic problems of African development critics have tended to be largely ignore or belittle the initial real achievements of the first generation of African leaders. The odds against these leaders are ignored.
There were successes as well as failures. Clearly one of the greatest successes of the first generation of African leaders is the fact that they were able to hold their countries and economies together for the duration they did.
In the midst of post-independence criticism of African leadership there is a tendency to forget that virtually all the leaders were totally inexperienced in statecraft or economic management.
They had never had managerial apprenticeship of any sort, political leadership experience or decent exposure to the workings of democracy.
The colonial rulers held tight on the reigns and rules of their colonies. The first generation of African leaders was most successful in the provision and extension of social services, particularly education and health facilities.
They built schools, colleges and universities where none existed before. They increased in multiple folds the entrance to the schools and colleges.
They built hospitals, dispensaries, and health stations of various sizes, and trained doctors, nurses and all kinds of hospital support.
They raised the levels of adult literacy, and gave pride and self-respect to those that for the first time in their lives could read the newspapers for themselves, or write replies to the letters they received from their families.
They brought piped water to isolated towns, and improved the quality of drinking water to the villagers. They extended electric power to a much wider circle than was the case during the colonial period.
They built impressive transport and communication network. They improved the postal services. In their enthusiasms to serve their peoples, post-colonial governments moved into manufacturing and the supply of basic consumer goods, like soft drinks, beer, cigarettes, textile, detergents, cereals; and so on.
The first decade of independence was in many ways exhilarating; partly because independence itself was a novelty and partly because there were many things Africans could now have or do which in the colonial period they could not.
Nation-building and economic development was the major pre-occupations of the first generation of African political leaders. They were obsessed with the fears of ethnic and racial conflicts and the loss of the mobilization momentum achieved during the anti-colonial struggles.
In the process and due to various other factors many problems were created. These were incrementally accumulated and became visible towards the end of the second decade of independence.
By then the novelty of independence had worn off, the crudities and hardships of the real world, the abuse of power and mismanagement clearly manifested themselves. It is note-worthy to recall that some of these leaders were the best products of their times, some of whom were educated and trained in the West.
They thus carried with them into power their share of the then prevailing Western conventional wisdom in matters related to economics and politics.
Some of them espoused Fabian socialism and others Keynesianism, and a scattered few were intrigued, though not quite seduced, by Marxism-Leninism.
But all of them believed in the primacy of import-substitution industrialization, a strong central political authority and the state as the engine of economic growth. In all these the contemporary leading development economists and modernization theorists … including those of the World Bank -- supported them
The first generation of African leaders assumed all the attributes of the colonial state. In spite of the elections and promises of more freedom for the people that preceded independence, the state continued to be authoritarian, unresponsive, unaccountable, lacking in transparency and in most cases repressive.
In response to the rising expectations triggered by the promises of independence, the post-colonial government was forced to extend social services to areas where they did not exist, and expanded them in places where only a few existed.
In the process the state became the main provider of social and other public services, thus involving government in a much wider circle of economic and social activities; and inevitably their control.
Gradually the state became not only very powerful but also the supreme source of rent, and those who controlled it … the leaders… also manipulated its flow in the form of bribery and other illegal means of acquiring incomes.
During the colonial period there was very little training in the transition to power or socialization in the democratic process and practice in good governance.
The most vocal African nationalists were called agitators; and those who resorted to mass political education and mobilization were considered rebellious and dangerous to peace, order and good government of the colony.
Hence, to the first generation of African political leaders, political power was won by a combination of actual physical struggles, mass political mobilization, mutual threats and propaganda between the colonizer and the colonized.
It was not the product of civilized discussions and debates between equals committed to common objectives. It was the consequence of prolonged struggles and arguments between those who had the power and those who wanted to take it away from them.
There were a notable few exceptions where for various reasons the transition to independence was characterized by discussions and mutual understandings between the colonial powers and the African nationalists.
On the whole however independence was the result of bitter and prolonged power struggles. And those were the perceptions of politics and democracy the first generation of African leaders carried with them when they assumed independence.
This also explains why they tenaciously held on to power. There was thus very little time or patience for multiparty politics, democracy or good governance to take roots. The first generation of African leaders failed in some broadly related areas.
One was their inability to respond positively to the domestic and global changes that had taken place since independence. Two, they failed to creatively utilize the inherited colonial state as an engine of economic growth.
The colonial state per se was not an obstacle to growth. It was clearly not a democratic state. In its specific African manifestations the colonial state was oppressive and repressive to the majority of the people, while at the same time beneficial and responsive to the interests and needs of the few most of whom were foreigners.
However, creatively and purposefully utilized the inherited colonial state could be a very efficient intermediate engine of economic growth.
In the hands of dictators and tyrants it could be an effective instrument of regimentation, coercion, repression and exploitation. And this is what took place in many African countries.
Leaving aside for the moment questions of meaning and interpretations of colonialism, it is untrue to say that colonial status is incompatible with material progress, and that its removal is a necessary condition of economic development.
Some of the richest countries were colonies in their earlier history; and these countries were already prosperous while they were still colonies.
Nor has the colonial status precluded the material advance, from extremely primitive conditions, of the African territories which became colonies in the nineteenth century.
Many of these territories made rapid economic progress between the second half of the nineteenth, when they became colonies, and the middle of the twentieth century, when most of them became independent.
Part Two: We live in a world of continuous changes. Change is a fact of life. But changes create fears and insecurity as well as challenges and possibilities. What has distinguished the successful countries from those that failed is the existence of leaders with the capability to anticipate changes and to respond to them positively.
Historically, the successful countries have been those whose leaders had the capabilities to identify or anticipate important changes in the global market-place of goods, services and ideas and responding to them timely and effectively.
Problems confronting Africa are very complex and deep-rooted in history. It is the contention of this paper that Africa is poor and underdeveloped primarily because it has failed to respond effectively and timely to changes, challenges and opportunities in the domestic and global market-places.
Africa has failed because it has lacked the requisite capabilities, the political will, or both, to effectively respond to the changes, challenges and opportunities that have confronted the continent in the course of its modern history.
The world has been in continuous shifts of major changes in science and technology, scales and types of production, organizational principles, invention of new goods and services, and in various forms of social development.
Those who were actively involved or participated in those changes acquired the capabilities to respond positively and timely to the challenges and opportunities generated by those changes, as well as to predict and prepare for future changes, challenges and opportunities. For various reasons Africa failed to participate in these changes and exchanges in the global market places of goods and services, of ideas and new ways of doing things.
There is no way we Africans could, by some freakish leap, transcend our realities and land into someone else is ready-made future. In themselves, such slogans as Here comes the 21st century computer revolution; Africa should be there! are fine.
But are they not mainly useful as advertisements for new electronic hard ware? Computers can be of immense helping in the creation of communications facilities serving a system of education for all.
But unless Africans can learn to handle necessary maintenance, and train programmers to come up with software tailored to the specific needs, in particular the socio-cultural standards of Africa, our entry into the computer age will only mean more of the same old dependence on external reference points.
It is just not possible to cash a cheque drawn on someone else’s cultural bank account. Such cheques are sure to bounce.
Only an authentic education will enable us to draw on the capital of knowledge and values stored up by all humanity, thus equipping ourselves to put even future time to good use.
A couple of hundred Africans here, a few thousand there, may become computer wizards, but unless all sectors of national life, in particular those using state-of-the-art technology, are resolutely focused on the recognized needs of those majority groups most disadvantaged in the distribution of past, present and future knowledge, their expertise will have no impact whatever on the process of education for all.
The cumulative consequences of the inability or unwillingness to respond to changes have incrementally tended to isolate Africa and Africans from the major global events.
Africa became progressively isolated, ceased to be an active participant in the global market place and instead became victim or casualtlity of the global changes and challenges; in effect, a recipient of other peoples’ ideas and ways of doing things, and of their goods and services.
Africans have to be involved and participate as free agents in the global market place. The survival of Africans as a distinct people with their own cultures and civilization values to enjoy, nourish, promote and defend, will depend on their capabilities to respond to the global changes, challenges, possibilities and opportunities as the 21st century is unfolding.
The persistent negative images of Africa, as a continent in deep troubles and of Africans portrayed as a people unable to solve their problems is unhealthy and damaging. If these images are not challenged they may not only continue to mislead the rest of the world, more seriously they may cause young Africans to doubt their own capabilities and self-esteem, and thus undermine their role as levers of change for an alternative better future for Africa.
It is imperative that Africans begin to build now the requisite capabilities to respond to these changes otherwise the marginalization of Africa from major world activities, like trade and politics, science and technology, would accelerate.
At a time when not only the developed countries, but also the developing countries, are racing towards the 21st century, Africa has actually been sliding back into the Fourth World of its own.
Not only has Africa been losing its share of global markets and losing out in the scientific and technological race, but it has been declining economically and socially, and has also become increasingly dependent on external food aid and food imports; increasingly poor and increasingly unable to satisfy the basic needs of its inhabitants.
Moreover, many countries in Africa have actually retrogressed into a pre-underdeveloped state of ethnic anarchism and conflict and of struggle for sheer survival. How can a continent with such attributes not be marginalized?…How can we ensure that Africa in the 21st century will not continue to be forever preoccupied with survival and would become a viable partner in global affairs? No body is going to bail out Africa.
African problems must be solved by Africans; and this of necessarily requires rethinking, followed by imaginative and bold answers.
To acquire the capabilities to respond to the challenges and opportunities in the market places of the 21st century, Africa must mobilize its resources by facilitating the release of the energies, talents, skills, enterprise and entrepreneurship of its peoples.
Only competent, honest, visionary and committed leaders are likely to create the enabling environment within which such liberalizing process could take place.