Has Africa’s time finally come?

Africa RisingAlbert Einstein, the father of modern physics came up with the theory of relativity, which at its finest, resulted in man landing on the moon.

A simple definition of this theory in our practical day to day living is that we see things relative to the others. In other words, if the chicken crosses the road, did the chicken really cross the road or the road moved under the chicken.

Or, if Chuck Norris does push ups, is he really moving up and down or, in his awesomeness, he pushes the earth down and up?!

We have also made much of the fact that some people are light and others dark but the only reason the light ones are light is because of the presence of the dark ones and vice versa. If we were all one colour, there would neither be black, white, yellow, navy blue, etc.; we would just be human.

And this is where I drive my point home. Isaac Newton said that if he had seen further, it was because he had stood on the shoulder of giants.

We are what we are and where we are as a result of the global effort of different nationalities and races. No one race or nationality can claim credit for everything it possesses. That is why any approach that is based on segregation ultimately crumbles; we were never meant to function, as human beings in a vacuum.

Throughout history, we have seen the rise of different kingdoms, from the Jewish, Persian, Egyptian, Roman, Greek, British,Japanese, German, American and to now the Chinese Empire. The question is, which empire was better and can say all it has was a result of nothing but its own isolated technology, philosophy and science?

All these empires, kingdoms and nationalities are were they are because of what their predecessors passed on to them.

The world has become a global village and the world is moving towards integration. Every people, race, nationality and continent must sit at the global table and present what its contribution is to the advancement of human kind, but while that is happening, let not one say to the other we are better than you and we don’t need you. Remember, did the chicken cross the road or the road crossed the chicken. Wait; even if it crossed the road, another chicken gave birth to that chicken and most likely that chicken is a result of generations of cross breeds. So ultimately, does it matter that this particular chicken finally crossed the road, or the fact that the chicken race, represented by this chicken, finally crossed the road?

If we all reach out and try to find each other, and our various contributions towards our future as humanity, there would be less wars, hunger and starvation in the world.

Let us celebrate our diversity and recognise each other as equals; none superior; none inferior. If inequalities persist, they must be corrected, not because of inferiority or superiority but simply because of humanity.

The fact that I was born earlier than my daughter, who is four months old, does not mean I can brag and say I know more than her and therefore I am smarter. Maybe one day she will prove to be smarter than I am; its just a matter of time.

My last thought is this; we have learnt that a seed can withstand all sorts of punishing physical elements, without dying or germinating, but dormant because the conditions are not yet right. In this case, chronological time does not actually matter nor say anything; it’s all about the conditions not being hospitable or right for it to germinate. All it takes is one day,when the rain falls, for that same seed to turn into a tree. The trees that germinated long before this one can therefore not say, this one was weaker; it all had to do with the timing (kairos) and not the kronos (time).

This perspective is critical in understanding humanity.

It explains why empires rose when they rose and fell when they did but it was not all about who is the smarter people.

Much has been said about Africa and Africans being sleeping giant but we have not had such unprecedented focus on us before, for economic reasons. Ten of the thirteen fastest growing economies are in Africa.

We have leading innovators and some of the word’s richest people hailing from Africa. Even through the ages, our contribution to society has been remarkable already. But has Africa’s kronos finally come? Is it now the season of the rise of the African Game Changer?

And this is my understanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity, from a layman’s perspective.

African Transformation III: The Case for Change

So, having researched and acknowledged the myriad of challenges Africa faces, we have to start asking ourselves this question. Can the face and story of Africa be changed and if yes, why do we say so? And that is the question to be answered before we get to the how part.

I believe that the story of Africa can be changed and is changing. There is anecdotal empirical evidence of this change throughout the African continent but that will not do the whole continent any good if that positive change affects those few bright spots. Africa must needs be transformed as a whole for us to proclaim total liberation and success from our painful past.

I did a bit of research about nations that have changed and how they did it. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how possible it is to be transformed from a nation of poverty to one of prosperity. That alone gives me hope before we even get to the more intricate issues of the African resilience, endurance and survival instinct in the face of formidable challenges.

So let’s begin.

The Korean Case

One of the most intriguing but tragic stories of our time is that of the Korean people. It is important to note that the Koreans were really one people sharing 5000 years of history and culture, who became victims of a proxy war between the Capitalits and the Communists.

According to Wikipedia, “The Korean War was primarily the result of the political division of Korea by an agreement of the victorious Allies at the conclusion of the Pacific War at the end of World War II. The Korean peninsula was ruled by the Empire of Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II. Following the surrender of the Empire of Japan in September 1945, American administrators divided the peninsula along the 38th parallel, with U.S. military forces occupying the southern half and Soviet military forces occupying the northern half. The failure to hold free elections throughout the Korean Peninsula in 1948 deepened the division between the two sides; the North established a communist government, while the South established a capitalist one.”

So that’s how one people became divided into two mortal enemies to the present day.

In his book, “The Shackled Continent” Robert Guest paints a horrendous picture of the dire straits Korea found itself in.
“Korea, for example, was annexed by Japan in 1910 and freed only when America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While they ruled Korea, the Japanese colonists tried to destroy the local culture and to cow the population into servitude. They banned the Korean language, barred from universities and systematically desecrated the country’s most sacred hilltop shrines. They shipped young Korean men to Japan to provide forced labour in mines and munitions factories, or conscripted them to serve the Imperial army. They drafted more than 100,000 Korean women, some as young as twelve to serve as sex slaves in military brothels. And the ordeal did not end with liberation. Soon after the colonists left, Korea was plunged into a civil war that cost a million lives and split the country in two.”

That really is a tragic story but here is the interesting thing; at the end of the Korean Civil War in 1953, South Korea was as poor as Ghana, which declared independence from Britain in 1957. As at 2004, South Korea was twenty times richer than Ghana. Just fifty years made that much difference!

The point I am trying to make is that no matter how oppressed and plundered we might feel as Africans, we have no excuse for not rising out of the ashes and quickly too. It’s really up to us to formulate policies and implement programs that are carefully thought out and that can bring true transformation to our continent. The South Koreans did it.

Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore are all ex-colonies of Japan that have gone on to become spectacular success stories. What is our excuse?

What is even more interesting is that fifty years after the end of the Korean civil war, South Korea is at least ten times richer than North Korea. The problems of North Korea are well publicized; famine, hunger, dictatorship and the list goes on. While South Korea adopted a Capitalist approach, North Korea adopted Communism and the results are there for all to see. Whether Communism or Capitalism works is neither here nor there.

Whether in Africa, Europe or Asia, ultimately, it is in the power of citizens to pull themselves out of the quagmire of failure and into prosperity through the kind of philosophy, values and culture that they inculcate into their thinking and implement.

Congruently, change is possible in Africa but we have to change the way Africa thinks.

The Case of East and West German

As a result of the Cold War, Germany was split into East and West. Fifty years later, West German was four times richer than East Germany.

The Case of Botswana and Zambia

At independence in 1960, Zambia was Africa’s second richest country and Botswana had virtually nothing until the discovery of diamonds after independence in 1967.
Nationalization of copper mines and bad economic policies resulted in Zambians progressively becoming poorer after independence as compared to before.

“When diamonds were discovered in 1967, a year after independence, Botswana was among the ten poorest countries in the world. Now, because it supplies 22% of the world’s total output (in value) of rough diamonds, it is a middle-income country with a GDP of nearly $14,000 a head at purchasing-power parity. Diamonds produced by Debswana, a joint venture between Botswana’s government and De Beers, the world’s biggest rough-diamond trading company, account for a third of the country’s GDP, half of its public spending and three-quarters of its foreign earnings.” http://www.economist.com/node/14707287

And it can be argued that the secret was good governance and efficient fiscal and monetary policy implementation.
So there we have it; two countries in Southern Africa with completely different economic trajectories. I know this is a very simplistic view of the issue but globally it supports my argument that through implementation of sound policies, the story of Africa can change.

The Case of Israel

As late as the 1940s, Jews had no country of their own. They were scattered throughout the world and in most cases were not wanted there.
In order to fully comprehend the miracle of the resurrection of Israel, we have to take a crash course in the history of its troubled past.
According to the Torah, God promised land to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. On the basis of scripture, the period of the three Patriarchs has been placed somewhere around 2000 years BC.

The first Kingdom of Israel was established around the 11th century BC. Subsequent Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently over the next four hundred years.

After the fall of the Northern Kingdom, the Muslims conquered and occupied Israel for a period of over 1500 years. After that, the region came under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanid, and Byzantine rule. In the year 635, the region, including Jerusalem, was conquered by the Arabs and was to remain under Muslim control for the next 1300 years. Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads, Abbasids, and Crusaders throughout the next six centuries, before being conquered by the Mamluk Sultanate, in 1260. In 1516, the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and remained under Turkish rule until the 20th century.

Because of persecution and rejection wherever they went, Jews longed to return to the land of their inheritance. The nation of Israel was indeed founded but not before the Holocaust claimed over 3 million Jewish lives. To fully understand this atrocity and its effect on the Jewish nation, consider that the population of Israel stands at just over 7 million today. You can be sure in the 1940s, it was a lot less.

On 29 November 1947 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union as Resolution 181 (II).

On 14 May 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency declared, “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”

In 60 years, Israel has had to endure 7 wars including one a day after declaring independence. But just 60 years later Israel has risen to become the regional superpower in the Middle East, is a nuclear power and is at the forefront of technological advancement.
Israel is producing the highest number of patented innovations annually in the world, more than twice what even the USA is producing. All the big technology companies want to be or are in Israel, including Google, Microsoft and Intel. Even warren Buffet, the apostle of risk aversion and one of the wealthiest men in the world has invested in Israel.

Just sixty years to establish a country from scratch to a success story the world over!

Conclusion

I believe I have made my point.

To change Africa, we have to change the individual blocks building it; yours and my country. If we can change our way of thinking as blocks building individual countries, we know the transformation of Africa has started in earnest.

Many countries have changed their story. A people, based on attitude, culture and ideology,can either harm or enhance the destiny of their nation. Africa’s countries are no exception.

The call is for citizens to seek greater participation in influencing policies that shape the future of their nations instead of leaving it to politicians. A lot is at stake here. If we can transform first, countries and second regional blocks, we can, third, transform Africa.

South Koreans changed their story out of the ashes of civil war. West Germany is presently Europe’s economic superpower. Botswana is one of the most stable countries in world. Israel has built a superpower out of nothing in just 60 years and South Africa has cast aside the throngs of apartheid and maintains its status as the economic powerhouse of Africa, contributing more than a quarter to Africa’s Gross Domestic Product and leaving the rest of the 50 plus nations to share the balance.

Africa can be changed. But our countries need to change first. And for them to change, Africans need to change the way we think.
What happens at the microcosm can be projected and can happen at the macrocosm.

African Transformation: The Problem with Africa II

The Problem with Africa

The way Africans live now is not much different from the way most Europeans lived until the Industrial Revolution, just over a hundred years ago.

What this says to me is that Africa is in a far better position to catch up with the rest of the world faster due to better technology and information sharing. We do not need to reinvent the wheel in many instances; we just need to appropriate the relevant technology to advance to the next level.

But first the possible causes of Africa’s present dilemma.

The role of geography

Rich nations tend to have temperate climates i.e. 93% of the people in the world’s 30 richest nations live in temperate zones.

Tropics tend to be poor; of 42 World Bank classified Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) in 1999, 39 were either in the tropics or largely desert areas. The remaining 3 HIPCs (Malawi, Zambia and Laos) were land locked.

It can be speculated that this is due to conducive conditions for the emanation and spread of tropical diseases that devastatingly afflict both people and livestock e.g. the notorious Ebola virus from the Congo region.

The only problem with this theory is that Israel is a tiny desert country with no natural resources yet it’s at the forefront of technological innovation even though it was only founded in 1947. It has also become a regional super power in the Middle East.

Slavery

The slave trade of the 18th and 19th century resulted in millions of Africans being shipped off to the West under inhumane conditions.

The transplanting of Africans to Europe disrupted African society’s progression immeasurably.

According to Van Sertima and Kaluli Nengo, in Reclaiming Africa, Africa lost 7 sciences as a result of the disruption caused by the slave trade. These are Communication Sciences, Metallurgy, Astronomy, Navigation, Mathematics, Architecture and Engineering, Agricultural Science, Medicine and Writing Systems.

Only recently have archaeologists begun to find clues as to how these sciences were developed by the Africans. That disruption virtually stopped the development of the African continent dead in its tracks.

It didn’t help matters that the Arabs had already been trading slaves with African chiefs who themselves had held between 30% to 60% of their subjects as slaves before the Europeans arrived. Thus for a long time, Africans were just commodities for trade. This was the same concept of serfs or bonded labourers in Europe about 30 to 40 generations ago.

Colonialism

We know that the division and colonisation of Africa started with the 1884/85 Berlin conference and lasted until 1994 when South Africa, the last African country to be decolonised was granted independence.

However, the first country to gain independence was the then Gold Coast, now know as Ghana in 1957. Others followed in the 1960s and 1970s often after protracted and vicious liberation wars as in the case of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Colonialism kept the African suppressed and in arrested development. That point is out there for all to see. What is less obvious is the effect of colonialism on the African psyche. And this is where the real problem in the present lays.

There is a pattern of post colonial governments treating their subjects as badly as their colonial masters. This points to deep seated inferiority complexes that suggest that it’s acceptable to treat a fellow African as inferior because there must be something wrong with us Africans for us to be treated the way we were by the Europeans. This somehow makes it okay for those now in power to suppress their opponents even though both are Africans. I can’t understand how this works, honestly. Also, the fact that Europe developed faster than Africa and conquered Africans with relative ease somehow means Africans must be inferior. This kind of thinking is very dangerous and detrimental to the development and emancipation of Africa.

Steve Biko calls this phenomenon “Colonisation of the mind”. As long as we consider ourselves inferior to other races and accept that it is okay to treat like skinned people in the same way that colonial masters treated us, we will not develop as a continent. It is imperative that we put our efforts and resources together in order to surge forward.

Another legacy of colonialism was lumping people together, of incongruent cultures, languages and values. This was a result of the Berlin Conference. Suddenly these ethnic tribes had to share resources and somehow co-exist. The equilibrium in those societies was disturbed, in some case, permanently.

For fear of sparking new conflicts, African countries have decided not to tamper with these borders.

So even though colonialism is long gone, the effects are very much with us to this day!

Bad Governance and Economic Policies

“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hall marks of true leadership.” Chinua Achebe

Bad management and disabling policies to would-be investors are rife in many African countries. These include lack of freedom to seek own fortunes without official harassment, absence of the rule of law, lack of contract enforcement thus creating a huge political and commercial risk, absence of solid property rights, corruption and so forth.

One dilemma that young African governments found themselves in just after independence was satisfying the impatient but euphoric masses that expected to see change overnight. This placed a formidable burden on these young governments. To cope, they borrowed from banks and multilateral institutions to spend on free healthcare, education, agriculture, prestige projects like dams, steel mills, conference halls and so forth. Since most of the investment was social, many of these young governments eventually found themselves being unable to service their loans and began to default.

This meant that their credit rating has since been downgraded, which affects access to credit and foreign direct investment (FDI).

African Transformation: The Problem with Africa I

The African story is a tragic one. Africa’s problems are well publicised. A lot of people, Africans and non-Africans alike have asked themselves this question, “Is there hope for Africa?” I am one of those people. We carry the unenviable title of being the poorest continent with the richest natural resources. African countries have so far been the fodder for other countries’ astronomical growth for the past couple of centuries.

The African story is a painful one for me as I am irretrievably woven into its DNA by reason of descent. So troubled am I by this story that though I am not a political scientist, I have started off on my own journey of redemption. I want to play my part in contributing to the emancipation of this great continent.

It’s simple really. You accept that Africa is hopeless and live the rest of your life with the albatross of working in vain believing that all the hard work that fellow Africans are putting into constructing Africa will come to naught. Alternatively, you acknowledge the myriad of challenges Africa faces but refuse to let those in themselves enervate you to the point that you fail to lift a finger to try and change the status quo.

And this is my own story, born through a comprehensive thought process meant to shape me into the best candidate to carry, with like minded people, the developmental cause of Africa. And my departure point is asking questions; the right questions.

Let’s start with the problems. And let’s call a spade a spade.

When you think of Africa, you think of war. And there are two kinds of war that have ravaged our continent; liberation wars and civil wars. Liberation wars were very necessary because African countries had to liberate themselves from colonial masters and fight for the emancipation of the black race. It is not in the nature of the oppressor to grant freedom to the oppressed but the oppressed must take up arms and fight for their freedom. So that was very necessary though it came at the expense of many lives and resources.

Civil wars on the other hand are heart wrenching because it’s African against African slaughtering each other on account of ideological differences, ethnicity and control of resources. These really are unnecessary but a creation by us Africans.

With wars come famine and pestilence. The story of Somalia is a very sad one. The famine and disease that killed countless Somalis was completely man made. So intense was the hatred between the feuding parties that relief from well meaning donor organisations, among them the Red Cross, could not reach the affected civilians. People died.

Here are some more summarized facts that will awaken you to the African reality.

As at 2005, Sub Saharan Africa had grown poorer over the last 30 years despite virtually every African country being independent and power being in African hands.

Almost half of sub Saharan Africa live on US50 cents per day. That is equivalent to R4 a day.

The median African country has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$2 billion, which is roughly the output of a small town in Europe. Gross Domestic product is defined as the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period, usually annually. It includes all of private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports less imports that occur within a defined territory.

40% of Africa’s privately held wealth is offshore. In other words, wealthy Africans shun Africa as an investment destination!

Africa contributes about 10% of world population but controls 2% of world trade.

According to Robert Guest in his book The Shackled Continent published in 2004, more than 30 million Africans were afflicted by AIDS, 75% of the world’s AIDS related deaths occurred in Africa and 5 Africans died every minute from AIDS related sicknesses.

Robert Guest goes on to make a startling statement to the effect that the AIDS death potential in Africa was equivalent to all of Africa’s wars multiplied by 10 in the early 2000s.

We know that in this regard, some African countries have really stepped up the fight against HIV-AIDS, a case in point being Uganda. In 1992 the HIV prevalence rate in the country was 30% of national population but by 2002 it had drastically dropped to 5%.

Nigeria and Angola earn over US$100 million a day from crude oil imports yet in 2004 they were ranked among the 30 poorest countries in the world by BBC News.

I could go on and on about the challenges that Africa faces and all I would manage to do is depress you more and more. But we have to face facts.

Naturally, we would all want to know why Africa is where it is in comparison with the rest of the world. Are we a cursed continent? If we are, then who cursed us, why did they curse us and how did they do it? Did God curse us? Did we curse ourselves through shading our fellow brother’s blood? Or did the Europeans curse us more than a hundred years ago?