By Chambers Umezulike
Despite over five decades of self-rule, Africas desires and hopes remain largely unattained. On poverty, the new figures confirm that sub-Saharan Africa has been the least successful region of the world in reducing poverty ($1.25 per day). According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report of 2015, the bottom 17 ranked nations (151st to 175th) were all African. 400 million Africans out of the population of 1billion live on less than 1 Euro a day whereas every cow in Europe receives a daily subsidy of 2.50 Euro.
There have been deep concerns about the cataclysmic state of economic development in a lot of African countries despite that these countries have huge deposits of natural resources and vast arable lands. Questions have dominated the worlds airwaves on why despite these fortunate necessaries, Africa has failed to develop and carter for her people, but rather has been marred by seasonal and concurrent conflicts; with the highest rates of dependency on foreign aid, food importation; high rates of income inequality, hunger, child mortality, unemployment, corruption; poor governance; infrastructure deficit; lack of quality health services; and does not look set to tap the advantages of globalization or to industrialize.
The emergence of some countries in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong), Latin America and countries like UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Iran, Israel etc that a lot of African countries were at par with (considering GDP, HDI, Per Capita as measurements) and got independence at almost the same time with, has deepened the concerns about Africas economic development backwardness. Most of these countries with little or no mineral resources, and less arable lands for agriculture, have transformed themselves from third to first world countries with high per capita(s), HDI(s), low unemployment rates, low rate of hunger, political stability and have been able to industrialize. And few of them with mineral resources have maximized revenues from their resources to develop and cater for their people. So why have most African countries failed to achieve these feats too? Few decades ago, Dubai, a city in UAE was a desert. Today, it has been transformed into one of the best cities in the world with more than 200 skyscrapers, the tallest building in the world; and one of the best shopping centres in the world. The technologies of building these skyscrapers on an unsuitable desert soil, sustaining these skyscrapers from the terrible desert wind, going miles away to access water which is then pumped to these skyscrapers because of the desert sun are all wonders of this century. Iran today is talking about nuclear weapons, and has one of the most diversified economies in the world, two decades after a terrible war with Iraq that left them devastated. Brazil today has diversified her economy, and is today one of the worlds producers of private jets.
Why are most African countries still within the third world status while most of their peers in the 60s have left this status?
A lot of factors have been pointed out to be the causes of Africas economic development backwardness. These factors range from corrupt, preparedness-deficit and vision-deficit governments, failed central planning, high levels of illiteracy, frequent fractionalization crisis (ranging from guerrilla warfare to genocide), acute corruption, bad governance, economic mismanagement and embezzlement to having been colonized. Although African countries have continuously blamed the colonialists for these terrible trends in most of them, in 1998, Kofi Annan, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations from Sub-Saharan Africa asserted: It is time for Africans to hold their political leaders — and not colonialism — responsible for the civil wars and economic failures that ravage their lives . . . Where there is insufficient accountability of leaders, lack of transparency in regimes, inadequate checks and balances, non-adherence to the rule of law, absence of peaceful means to change or replace leadership, or lack of respect for human rights, political control become excessively important and the stakes become dangerously high.
Though little progress has been made from what it used to be, as since the end of the Cold War, a lot of African countries returned to democracy and civil rule, civil liberties were given, privatization grew, institutions were set up to fight corruption, a lot of military dictators handed over powers after elections, the number of coups on the continent reduced, the middle class started increasing, and public awareness on demanding results and accountability from leaders rose up. These were generally seen as good developments and birthed the coinage: AFRICA RISING. But most of those leaders that came to power and were termed new generation of African leaders in the 90s ended up getting dictatorial, changed constitutions arbitrarily to stay longer in power, achieved little or no economic development for their peoples, re-continued the culture of embezzlement and ended up being a thorn in the flesh of most African people. And can it be said that Africa is truly rising while African countries still have the lowest HDIs, high unemployment rate, corruption surplus, lowest per capita(s), and political instabilities. So, though there has been some movement towards the right direction, it has been so slow. Also, most of the economic growths recorded in most African countries do not translate to economic development.
To get it right this time and for the continent to start rising truly, corruption which is an obstacle to economic development should be fought through independent, credible, efficient and transparent institutions – the African Union Commission estimates that Africa as a whole loses about $148 billion to corruption annually. Also, the infrastructure deficit (inadequate road, rail networks, and energy) needs policy intervention by African leaders as it is a fundamental impediment to development. Currently, 600 million Africans have no access to electricity. Already there is population crisis which should be controlled, as the capacity to feed, educate and employ Africans is not commensurate with population explosion. This population is expected to double by 2050 based on current rates of fertility. Inequality and poverty are worsening because of unequal access to income, assets and basic social services. Very little wealth is effectively taxed. Taxing and redistributing wealth is a matter of immediate necessity.
Regional and sub regional economic integration institutions should be strengthened and political will should be donated by African leaders to drive the implementation of most of the policies of these institutions. Regional Integration (trade, infrastructure agreements and projects) will help African countries to overcome the disadvantage of small economic sizes and attract investments from Multinational Corporations that are motivated by economies of scale. It will also help to drive free movement of goods, services, labour, capital, and reduce transaction costs to business.
According to the UNs Economic Commission for Africa, the continent could gain over $300 billion within a decade if it implemented a Continental Free Trade Area. And, regional integration is not only an economic issue: if Africa is to exercise influence measurable with its size and population in international affairs, drive better negotiations and pursue development together, It will need more political cooperation. Africa imports $34 billion worth of food, while having arable lands and good climate for agriculture. Despite these imports, 240 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are still chronically short of food. There should be partnerships between farmers, governments, the private sector, international organizations, foundations, and research institutions aimed at improving productivity. If the right things will be done, they will help to employ millions of young Africans, not only on farms but also in food processing and distribution. Additionally, in a world of technological advancements, no country can develop without scientific and technological researches. African leaders should look at scientific and technological areas to go into. As most African economies are dependent on primary export, deep efforts should be made towards economic diversification and industrialization to limit the consequences of dependence on commodities, fight poverty, raise incomes and to create wealth.
Chambers Umezulike is a Nigerian Novelist, Revolutionary and Youth Advocate