Where is Africa in the new world?
As forces of globalisation, disruptive and innovative technologies are shaping country and global competiveness, it is pertinent to ask African leaders and public intellectuals where Africa, some emerging market gurus say is rising, will eventually find itself.
Today, the world is focused on the fourth industrial revolution centred on robotics and artificial intelligence. Previous revolutions in modern history, namely, industrial revolution powered by the steam engine and the second, often known as the age of science and mass consumption, which focused on the production of intermediate and capital goods; and the third that sired the information and communication technology and transformed the world into a global village have passed the continent without its people seizing the moment. Hence, this new global turn calls for reflection on what we are not doing correctly and what to do for us to be significant part of the global community.
Truly, the peoples of Africa have been subjected to historical oppression by other races. First, it was object of raids by Arab slave drivers and later unequal exchange and exploitation by European mercantilists and subsequently to complete subjugation through colonisation in the 19th and 20th centuries by the latter. These processes had consequences for Africans. By some estimate, over nine million persons were transported to the Arab world through trans-Saharan trade route and another 11-20 million were shipped to the Americas into trans-Atlantic slave trade. A lot more died in the process.
To be sure, the economy of the continent was not only disarticulated but was completely undermined to the extent that today Africans consume what they do not produce and produce primary products for the external markets whose dynamics are beyond their control. The sum of these exploitations has engendered what is known in scholarship as primary and secondary uneven development. The former being the inequality, which created the deleterious effect of slave trade and colonisation while the latter articulated in the ‘Patrons of Poverty’ as those policies that continually ensure that the initial inequality occasioned by primary uneven development persist.
The foregoing historical realities and their continual reproduction through neo-colonial relations with the dominant powers in the global system, have ensured that the continent remains in the woods. Its underdog status has sired sundry stereotypes. Some have classified the continent’s statehood as merely juridical as it enjoys the sovereignty and equality of state guaranteed by the United Nations Charter while lacking in other elements of statehood such as legitimacy derivable from the consent of the governed and absolute control over its territoriality. Equally, the continent is bracketed in the fragile state category underlined by the absence of efficient government, ‘capable economy’ and ‘strong national communities.’
Besides, the continent has been under debt overhang and subject of various financial recipes from agencies of global governance, a loop seemingly insurmountable. In the late 1990s, over two-thirds of the countries in the continent were placed under the canopy of heavily indebted poor countries initiative (HIPCs) being considered for debt forgiveness in terms with the reality that the debt was ‘mathematically unpayable.’ As far as the world is concerned the continent is becoming more and more irrelevant due to its unrealised potentials despite a mesmerising rhetoric of ‘Africa rising.’
In spite of decolonisation, the continent is mired in mental slavery while a majority of its transformational leaders have been hacked down by a convergence of internal and external contrivances. The list of victims includes Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Murtala Mohammed, Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara among others. Majority of those running the affairs of their countries at the moment are hardly able to define their national interests other than selves. Thus, governance outputs have only reproduced impoverishment and enclaves of instability. In fact, capital flight was put the other day at about $16 billion per annum by the Thabo Mbeki Committee. Libya has been destroyed by forces of imperialism. Somalia has become an incurable failed state. Madagascar inclines towards the same status, and Western Sahara is under occupation by Morocco. The Congo DRC was the centre of what is called Africa’s ‘world war’ with interference from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and sundry interested forces within and outside the continent.
Currently, Africa’s total debt stock is about $514 billion while indebtedness to multilateral institutions is put at about 35 per cent of the total debt stock while 20 per cent is owed China alone. Between 2006 and 2017, the latter lent the continent about $132 billion. Africa’s GDP is $2.19 trillion of the world’s total put at about $80.5 trillion in nominal terms.
Described as the last resource frontier, Africa is at the centre of a new scramble by the leading global powers. Resource extraction per square kilometre in Africa is put at about 20 per cent of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average. And its extraction is projected to grow fivefold while increased price and new discoveries would result in a boom that can transform the continent into “regions of prosperity.” Given this reality, it is intelligible that the continent is still at the centre of geopolitical struggles. Curiously, China has made incursion into several African countries and has rebutted that it has imperial ambition other than co-prosperity with the people despite evidence to the contrary.
The U.S. has also fashioned a so-called ‘New Africa Strategy’ aimed at ensuring ‘lasting stability.’ ‘prosperity,’ ‘independence’ and ‘security’ on the African continent – all in pursuit of its (U.S.) interest. Europe is locked in a partnership under the toga of ACP-EU agreements while Russia is also engaged in cooperation with the continent supplying military hardware to countries that can hardly pay for such supplies.
However, the continent has not shown a consciousness of a thought-through and strategic engagement with these foreign powers in ways that continental interest can be mainstreamed and the cycle of exploitation avoided. In the pre-colonial past, Africa fed itself; it produced what it consumed up to the point of its insertion into the colonial capitalist economy. In the past, it exported manufactured products to Europe. For example, in about 11th century AD, soaps from West Africa were exported to Portugal. In the glorious past, it produced leadership that was bureaucratically innovative. For example, the Alafins of Oyo, the Obas of Benin, rulers of Kanem-Bornu, Sokoto Caliphate, Songhai, Mali, Ethiopia and Zululand were all administratively savvy and resourceful.
Sadly today, the quality of leadership is so low that it fits into a characterisation allegedly uttered by Russia’s Putin that, ‘Africa is a cemetery for Africans,’ they loot the continent’s resources, buy Chinese goods, buy homes in Dubai and deposit huge sums of illicit funds in Swiss banks. Be it uttered by Putin or not, this characterisation speaks to the external consumption orientation of the African elite and the capital flight resulting from their mis-governance nurtured by corruption.
Even with regional organisations, the continent is not united. There is tension between the Arab and Africa. With unity, it was possible for the Africa to fight colonialism and rally the world behind the decolonisation project. Today, the continent apart from neo-colonial strictures is not free. Western Sahara is occupied by another Africa country—Morocco. South Cameroon is under siege and there is widespread human rights violation across the continent. Many of the countries are fragile with illiberal institutions of state.
Amidst these challenges, there is intense scholarship by aliens trying to master the African space. For example, the ‘Africa Multiple’ seeks to focus African Studies on “the continental and transcontinental entanglements of cultural, linguistic, social, religious, political, economic, and ecological processes” to gain comprehensive understanding of them. Some are apprehensive that these new researches may reify divisions within the continent and further the goal of subjugation. Obviously, these constitute unfinished business, and the pertinent question is what is to be done?
No doubt, therefore that Africa needs re-wakening and re-evaluation of its potentials and should deploy them in ways that it can deal with its predicament, enhance the wellbeing of its people and become a compulsive international player. This calls for investment in human capital development, embrace of technology, leveraging of soft power resources, especially entertainment over which the famous theorist and historian Walter Rodney remarked that in the field of music, Africa was the roots of rhythm and percussion. Also, it calls harnessing of its Diaspora resources, and the continent needs to trade within and build the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the movement of peoples, goods and services. To achieve all these, the continent needs a crop of dedicated, culture-savvy and afro-centric leadership. This is where Nigeria has some comparative advantage to lead the continent. As the iconic Nelson Mandela once noted: “The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence….”. All the political parties now seeking to recruit leaders for Nigeria from 2019 should reflect on this significant challenge by Madiba.