HARARE – Most, if not all efforts at stimulating the accelerated economic development of Africa hinge on the narrative of an Africa making rapid progress on the back of its vast natural resources and improved trade with the rest of the world.
Two other ubiquitous narratives among Africans are that Africa is underdeveloped because of Europe and that, even after tens and hundreds of years after the end of colonial rule, Europe and America are still responsible for Africa’s slow economic development and its failure to close the development gap between Africa and the developed world.
The typical African politician, years after the end of colonial rule, still uses the “we versus them” political spin as a political trump card.
“Them” in this are refers to the white colonialists and their African “puppets”. These three narratives are taken for fact by many and any attempt at challenging them still often receive a brutal fight back that include the challenger being labelled a puppet of the west.
The refusal to take opposing views within stride and provide a counter argument without being angry and without venomous attacks on intellectual adversaries remains one of biggest invisible soft power extremely powerful barriers to Africa’s accelerated economic development.
While the rate of economic development is increasing in other parts of the world, Africa’s economic development remains sluggish and piece meal. Ravaged by hunger and disease and exposed to a myriad of environmental threats, the majority of its people still struggle to live decent lives.
First, while Africa still holds on to its belief of a massive, accelerated economic development based on vast natural resources, evidence in Africa and elsewhere does not support the theory.
From America to Australia, from Cape to Cairo, from Brazil to Canada, from Africa to Europe both east and west, the correlation between the levels of economic development and the possession of natural resources is weak if at all it exists.
In other words, the major difference between economic prosperity and wealth is a difference in philosophy, theory and mindset and not the physical resources. Here are a few examples: Nigeria has vast oil resources and so is the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.
If the major determinant of economic prosperity and economic development were oil, one would expect Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates to have the same levels of economic development.
Contrary to this, the United Arab Emirates is years away from Nigeria in terms of economic development.
What is the major difference that makes the biggest difference between these two oil rich countries?
The Democratic Republic of Congo probably has more natural resources than Japan.
However, Japan is by far developed than the Democratic Republic of Congo. What is the major difference that makes the difference between the levels of economic development of these two?
Zimbabwe has vast mineral resources. The country also recently discovered significant deposits of diamonds at a time when it was on its economic knees if not in its economic intensive care unit. Despite all its minerals and fertile agricultural land, the country has not succeeded in using the vast mineral resources to come of its stall in economic development.
Given this situation, can one still argue that possession of vast mineral resources and natural endowments is an automatic passport to economic development and prosperity?
The narrative that it is Europe that underdeveloped Africa must be critically re-examined and dealt with decisively.
First, by arguing that it is Europe that underdeveloped Africa, one is also implying that, where it not for Europe, Africa would have been more developed than it is today.
Europe has power over Africans which power it uses to control Africa’s economic state and development.
Since Europe is better developed than Africa, then it has the power to develop Africa.
Africa has neither the power nor the capacity to chart its own economic destiny.
There are questions that beg answers in relation to this narrative.
First, if Europe underdeveloped Africa, how come years and years after independence the rate of Africa’s economic development has not increased under African governments?
How come economies in some parts of Africa have nose-dived post-independence?
By many standards, the reverse, that it is Europe that ignited and perpetrated Africa’s economic development until African States became independent from colonial rule appears to have more evidence, given by the steep economic deceleration as well as the deterioration of infrastructure and services in many post-independence African countries.
Even given the argument that Europe developed by plundering Africa’s resources, that plunder never depleted those resources and what resources remain in the Africa country’s is way more than what was plundered. Except for very few cases, the core of African economies is what was built during the colonial times with very little additions post-independence. Many African countries have never been able to build brand new cities and create brand new economies post-independence. They have remained heavily dependent on rapidly deteriorating economies built during colonial times.
This is not what to expect from a continent that asserts that Europe was responsible for its under-development, whether or not that assertion is true.
The disparity between assertion and reality has led to counter proposition that Europe actually ignited and kick-started Africa’s economic development and that it is Africa itself that has failed to take advantage of the head start it got from colonisation to catch up with, or even outperform, Europe in economic development.
Asked about why, years after independence from colonial rule, Africa remains at the bottom in terms of economic development, with, for example, many of its poverty stricken, innocent citizens perishing in the Mediterranean high seas escaping to Europe in search for a better life, some Africans will propose another narrative that Europe and America are still waging an economic war against Africa. While this kind of blame gaming is a great political explanation to exonerate African leaders from taking Africa out of its economy abyss, the same narrative, regrettably affirms a very debilitating theory that Africans have no real power to create a more desirable future for their continent, and that it is up to America and Europe to decide what kind of economy and hence progress, development Africa must have. This implies that while Africa chants mantras of self-determination and of being in control of their economic development, the reality is that the Africa’s economic development is in both form, speed and direction determined in America and Europe and not even at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
I would argue that, as part of waking up and taking full charge of its economic destiny, Africa must actually be embarrassed to be a continent with vast natural resources and immeasurable endowments but with nothing much to show for it. The continent must also now realise that the narrative of natural resources as the main driver for its economic progress is a flawed one that must be immediately dropped from the African mind and permanently destroyed. Second, Africa must take a clear position regarding the extent of its power for determining the form, pace and direction of its economic development. It’s either it accepts without any shame that it has no control over its economic destiny and surrender to foreign help in developing the continent or the continent must embrace a new narrative that it is completely responsible for all of Africa’s economic results good and bad and completely stop blaming both the past and Europe and America for its economic situation and success. In addition, Africa must focus on the future and not the past. Hopefully, Africa will choose the narrative that it is fully responsible for all its economic performance and results. It is only when it embraces this narrative that it will be able to accelerate its economic development.
Bere is one of Zimbabwe’s leading economic analysts and critics. He can be contacted on [email protected]