Madi Jobarteh

(Gambia) – Yet again May 25 has come this year marking the 54th anniversary of African Liberation Day without the continental unity that was envisaged as a means to economic empowerment, security and independence.

In Europe, it took them 37 years to transform the European Economic Community to the European Union. Today the EU as a collective makes nothing less than 150 billion US dollars in trade with Africa. In the same vein the US makes nothing less than 100 billion dollars out of Africa, while China collects at least 200 billion dollars a year in Africa. Meantime the total intra-African trade amounts to only 11.3% of Africa’s total trade with the world. For example, non-African airlines account for 80% of the intra-continental market share. Consequently, Brookings Institution and other experts report that 75% of the world’s poorest countries are located in Africa. In simpler terms 408, 213, 640 people, i.e. almost half of the population of Africa lives in extreme poverty.

Nonetheless, experts tell us that one of the fastest growing regions of the world is Africa with average growth rate of 5.2%. For that matter some claim that therefore Africa is rising. Yet it is estimated that Africa imports nearly 83 per cent of its food and losing on trade with the world. For example, the International Coffee Organization reported that in 2014 Africa —the home of coffee— earned nearly $2.4 billion from the crop, yet Germany, a leading processor, earned about $3.8 billion from coffee re-exports. The reason for this anomaly is because the EU imposes tariff barriers for which non-decaffeinated or unroasted green coffee is exempt from the charges, while a 7.5% charge is imposed on roasted coffee. As a result, the bulk of Africa’s coffee export to the EU is unroasted green coffee. This means technically the EU disadvantages African farmers and consequently undermines industrialization in Africa through tariffs. This is possible because, aside of all other things the EU is united, while African leaders have failed to create such a unity.

According to World Bank, by the end of 2015 Africa imported 221 billion US dollars far more than it exports which stands at 166 billion dollars. Among the seven regions of the world, Africa’s share of global trade is only 1.91% slightly higher than only South Asia at 1.86%, which is a region composed of several tiny island nations in the Pacific. In 2016, the World Bank noted that sub-Saharan Africa exported only 28.8 million US dollars of consumer goods, while it imported a whopping 80 million US dollars worth of consumer goods. What these facts and figures indicate is that in the first place Africa is only a consumer society and not a producer of manufactured goods. Thus it merely exports raw materials as always. Consequently this points to the fact that until today the resources of Africa continue to enrich and benefit the rest of the world more than they benefit ordinary Africans so long as it exports raw materials. This has been a point that Nkrumah lamented in the 1960s claiming that if the resources of the continent were put into the use of Africa, this would have made the homeland one of the most advanced places on earth.

To understand the significance of the resources of Africa, one can recall the former US Senator Jesse Helms during the Reagan Administration in the US. This was a man who strongly supported the Reagan Administration in the 1980s to oppose any attempts to impose sanctions against Apartheid South Africa on the basis that such an action would effectively hamper American interests. He stated clearly at the time that South Africa was the source of over 80% of America’s mineral supply, noting that there is no substitute for chrome in their military and industrial manufacturing. Thus he argued that without South Africa’s chrome, no engines for modern jet aircraft, cruise missiles, or armaments could be built. He went further to say that without Africa’s chrome, surgical equipment and utensils could not be produced, and their hospitals and doctors would be helpless. A former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig further buttressed this point that the loss of the mineral output of South Africa could have the severest consequences to the existing economy and security of the world! This shows that Africa in fact has the world’s richest individual countries in almost any kind of mineral resources, and yet the African is the poorest person in the world. Hence Africa is not poor, but it is Africans who are made to be poor.

Of course Kwame Nkrumah had argued that the Congo Basin alone holds enough hydro energy sufficient to power every village, town and city in Africa. The British bank, HSBA has noted that 0.03% of the solar energy in the Sahara Desert is enough to power the whole of Western Europe. Yet so long as Africa’s resources are not in the control of Africans to be exploited for their benefit, the spectre of poverty, powerlessness and oppression shall not end on the continent. For Africa to be able to control and exploit its resources primarily for themselves would require that Africa have democratic and visionary leaders who build strong institutions and ensure good governance. Since 1963 the building of such institutions and good governance have been the bane of the continent because in most part we lacked the right political leaders and intellectuals to do so. Consequently oppressive regimes with weak and corruption leadership have come to characterize most states in Africa. The evidence of that is also glaring.

A 2017 report by Amnesty International have revealed that human rights defenders, journalists and protesters in West and Central Africa are facing ever-higher levels of persecution, intimidation and violence. It says there is a growing onslaught of attacks against brave individuals standing up to injustice. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2016 governance report stated that over the past decade, i.e. from 2006 to 2016, the continental average score in overall governance improved by only one point. But the report noted that two-thirds of the countries on the continent, representing 67% of the African population, have shown deterioration in freedom of expression over the past ten years. It says further that 11 countries, covering over a quarter (27%) of the continent’s population, have declined across all three civil society measures – Civil Society Participation, Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association & Assembly – over the decade.

According to Heritage Foundation in its ‘Freedom in the World 2017’ report, Africa is beset by entrenched autocrats and fragile institutions. Consequently more than 75% of Africans live in ‘Not Free’ societies thanks to weak and corrupt leadership of the continent. Transparency International noted that even countries that have been noted to be models of stability, the incidence of corruption has risen significantly. In its Corruption Perception Index 2017, the organization noted that it was the rampant corruption in Ghana that led citizens to voice their frustrations through the 2016 presidential election, resulting in an incumbent president losing for the first time in Ghana’s history.
Consequent we have seen that despite stable governments with free and fair elections and peaceful change of power in Ghana and Senegal as examples, the dividends in terms of social and economic progress are quite low. In the UNDP Human Development Index 2016, both Ghana and Senegal rank as least developed countries at 139 and 162 respectively. Life expectancy in Ghana is 61.5 years while at 66.9 in Senegal while poverty rates stands at 45.4% in Ghana and 53.3% in Senegal. One may therefore ask, what has democracy brought to the people of these countries? The answer lies in their weak and corrupt leadership, which are not pursuing the relevant social and economic policies that should have transformed their countries after 20 years of stable democratic experience. Even the biggest economy of Africa, Nigeria life expectancy stands at 53 years while 88% of the population are below the poverty line and ranked at 152 as a least developed country thanks to poor leadership!

Weak and corrupt leadership has therefore severely defrauded Africa and thereby deny the continent huge opportunity to transform itself into a modern advanced society within a generation. The effect of such weak and corrupt leadership can now be seen in the level and amount of illicit financial outflows from the continent. A 2015 report by the High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa established by the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) puts the average financial losses at between 50 billion and 148 billion dollars a year through trade mispricing. This is more than the combined foreign direct investment and aid (ODA) to Africa thereby proving that Africa indeed has the capacity to finance its own development if indeed the continent has democratic leadership and strong institutions of good governance.

The incidence of such weak leadership is attested by the fact that as of today, 16 African countries have presidents who have been in power for more than 10 years. Some of the most corrupt and brutal dictators on earth can be found in Eritrea, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Mauritania, Cameroun, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Sudan, Congo and DRCongo. Others such as the presidents of South Africa or Kenya are notorious for corruption and vanity.

The effect of such poor leadership can now be seen in the levels of poverty, deprivation and oppression across the continent. Consequently such weak leadership and poor governance environment generated all forms of conflicts that have produced more than nine million refugees and internally displaced people. The situation further deteriorated into a high rate of brain drain and illegal migration where the youth of the continent embark on dangerous journeys only to perish in the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea or trapped in the conflict in Libya.

What is to be done?

The masses of Africa must be angry and impatient. The increasing military and economic presence of America, Europe and China among other players in Africa in their quest to dominate and control the continent’s resources is a direct threat to the security and future of Africa. There is no doubt that the continent is now a leading theatre of international rivalry thanks to its poor leadership, which must be reversed. For far too long Africa has been at the mercy of outsiders who invade the continent for their own benefit at the detriment of the continent’s benefit. This has been largely possible because of fragmented and weak leadership. The lessons of African history clearly show that its lack of unity was the fundamental disadvantage that enabled Europeans and Arabs to enslave and colonize the continent and continue to dominate the region until today. So long as Africa fails to engage in self-examination in order to restructure and reposition itself it shall remain weak and dominated as the wretched of the earth.

There are lessons for Africans to learn from the experiences of US, Europe and China. The case of China is particularly instructive. Starting in 1949, the Chinese have shown that with determination and visionary leadership, despite all the shortcomings, a vast nation like Africa can also uplift itself to become a major power in the world. Today china has become a leading political, economic, social, cultural, military and intellectual power in the world thanks to their leadership. Both China and the West offer a lesson to Africa that every country has to identify its supreme interests to pursue them uncompromisingly and to depend on itself in order to build its own capacity. This is the lesson of history that Africa must learn to embrace and put it into practice.

On 5 May 2017 China launched its first passenger aircraft. Already they have built their own naval aircraft carrier while their divers reached the deepest levels of the ocean as their astronauts shoot up to the highest points of space. China is already a nuclear power. In 2013, Pres. Xi Jinping launched his ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, a visionary blueprint for global economic development in the 21st century for China. Taking reference from the historic Silk Road, which transformed the nature of international trade links in ancient times, the Belt and Road Initiative is essentially a strategy of the Chinese for global dominance. For that matter they are building roads, railways and sea routes from China across to Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa covering more than 60 countries carrying merchandise from and to China. The first of such routes already opened between China and UK on 19 January 2017 when the first ever-direct freight train service from China arrived in London after an epic 17-day journey spanning ten countries on its 7456-mile trip.

One may not agree with the system of governance in China and certainly it has a horrible human rights record. However the facts also speak of a determination of a people who are prepared to stand on their own in the world. Africa does not have to copy the political system of China but certainly Africa has to learn from the experience and determination and initiatives of not only the Chinese but also of the Europeans and Americans as peoples and regions who are committed to the upliftment of their peoples by any means. History has confirmed that no one can develop another people but all peoples develop themselves based on their conscious ideas and actions. Until now, Africa has not proved that it is prepared and committed to produce its own ideas and put then into practice.

Even when those ideas exist, the vast majority of African leaders and intellectuals ignore those ideas for foreign ideas. For example there cannot be a better, more relevant and pragmatic ideas for African progress, security and power than those of Kwame Nkrumah. Yet since the 1960s many African politicians and intellectuals completely ignore and ridicule his ideas even though he was the first and only leader to propose a clear strategy, actions and timeline for a unified Africa. Despite ignoring his ideas, yet since then until now both the OAU and AU continue to refer to his proposals in a half-hearted manner. Furthermore there cannot be a more relevant blueprint for African integration and development than both the OAU Lagos Plan of Action 1980 and the OAU Abuja Treaty 1991. Yet these documents were also completely neglected as the AU went ahead to development its own Agenda 2063 without any bearing on the Lagos and Abuja documents. It is clear that if Africa had the right leadership at the time that pursued to the letter the Lagos Pan of Action to be followed by the Abuja Treaty, today the face of Africa would have been different.

Unsurprisingly, the African politicians and intellectuals completely ignore these relevant and instrumental tools as they opt for the more irrelevant World Bank and IMF-inspired ideas such as their Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) and the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). These strategies, programs and initiatives promoted the idea of foreign investment, privatization, limited public spending and unregulated or liberalized economies with no agenda for industrialization when it is clear that none of such ideas were ever used by the US, Europe and China to develop and reach where they are today. But the African politician and intellectual allowed these foreign entities to impose such programs on their countries only to produce more poverty, corruption and high cost of living in Africa.

As we mark the 54th anniversary of African Liberation Day, the average African must seriously reflect on these issues in order to take a definitive position that Africa demands and deserve democratic and visionary leadership and strong institutions of good governance. This must be the position of each and every African if we are going to transform this most endowed continent into one of the most advanced places in the word in our lifetime. Let Africans demand a New Africa. This current Africa is decadent and wretched. It must be killed for a New Africa to emerge. For that to happen, each and every African must be a new citizen as defined by Kwame Nkrumah,

“Africa needs a new type of citizen: A dedicated, modest, honest, informed man and woman who submerge self in service to the nation and mankind. A man and woman who abhor greed and detest vanity. A new type of man and woman whose humility is his and her strength and whose integrity is his and her greatness”.

Forward To One Unified Democratic Africa Now!

By Madi Jobarteh