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A continent’s struggles: Deep hole of the Berlin Conference – Part 2

By Olumide Ijose
17 December 2020   |   3:02 am
The Biden administration will need to invest in these drivers in key countries: ending the win-at-all-cost political mentality; replacing the ethnic or tribal focus of political competition

Continued from yesterday’s back page

The Biden administration will need to invest in these drivers in key countries: ending the win-at-all-cost political mentality; replacing the ethnic or tribal focus of political competition and rule with a national perspective; enthronement of merit as the basis for seeking office; and the imposition of truly federal constitutions and constitutional arrangements.

These drivers are based on the undeniable fact that political institutions that support the emergence of individuals who are focused on the welfare of all of their people, regardless of tribe, ethnic group, religion, gender, or native language, are the crux of a competitive economic system. It is not foreign aid or bad press! It is not the activities of the World Bank, IMF, WHO, and other multilateral institutions! It is not trade agreements on paper! It is not the goodness of Christians in Western Europe or America. Nor is it the presence and work of nonprofits and global consulting firms.

In Africa, a determination to maintain exploitation meant that colonialists were not interested in investing in these drivers. The lacuna drove Nigeria towards a military coup shortly after it gained its independence and soon after a brutal civil war. Expecting a diverse and complex country comprised of French, Germans, Poles, and Basques that lacks such basic fundamentals to generate strong economic growth is baseless.

Generating ten percent plus growth in Africa is not a threat to the well-being of Europe and its way of life. Ending the colonial economic system of exporting primary products and importing finished products and some intermediate inputs, is no longer the threat Europe perceives. The knowledge industry – technology and innovation – and services are more relevant to job creation in Western Europe and America. Meeting pent up demand for the goods and services of modern living in Africa can sustain growth in Europe and America for decades.

Massive inflow of financial capital, skills, capabilities, and managerial know-how, into Africa, is required to unlock its potential. Such inflows are responsive to levels of risk and the incoming Biden administration can help change the direction of risk by working to create a political climate that effectively suppresses risk drivers.

Sub-Saharan Africa is fast arriving at a tipping point. The recent #EndSARS protest in Nigeria is but one example. There, a young population, less fearful of the willingness of politicians to use the force of bullets, confronted the government in street protests. Nigeria is at a point where poor governance and years of low economic growth has created a generation of young people who have little faith in the ability of government to create conditions for fast job growth. Nigeria is currently a tinderbox, subject to the reversal of a hard-won democracy, a revolution, or a break-up into different nations.

Europe is correct, the Mediterranean Sea and agreements with Libya and Morocco would likely keep out hordes of Africans desperate to reach the promise of a better life in Europe. But the economic consequences of seeking to maintain an exploitative economic and trade relationship is a danger to the prosperity of Europe and by-extension America. It is driving African countries into China’s orbit of geopolitical influence.

Truly helping Africans by working with progressives inside and outside African countries is humanitarian and the right thing to do. Decency demands more than palliatives that Europe, America, and China know fully well cannot create good governance and prosperity in Africa.

President-elect Joe Biden’s initial slate of nominees demonstrates that he aims to reverse much of President Trump’s agenda. His campaign demonstrated decency and a willingness to heal America. He should also seek to help Africa undo the grip of decades of hardship and suffering occasioned by the Berlin Conference! The world’s economic and environmental challenges have become so interdependent, that only real, strong and mutually respectful cross-regional partnerships can sustainably resolve them.

Nigeria is a bellwether for Africa. Ordinary Nigerians – the 99% – are looking to a Biden administration to work with partners in Nigeria and the Nigeria diaspora to force the government to rewrite and deliver a truly federal constitution and to educate political parties on the imperative of merit as the basis for seeking political office. The incoming Biden administration should seek an alliance, a strong win-win coalition, with the real Nigerian patriots and play the long game.

For Nigeria, the alternative is a continuation of poor governance, tepid economic growth, and heightened probability of a return to protests on the streets that will again be met with military might and live bullets. And as Nelson Mandela stated, as goes Nigeria, so goes Africa.

Ijose, a Professor of Strategic Management and International Business, wrote from the United States.