Many schools of thought are of the opinion that “Africa is not a problem to solve, but a mystery to understand”.
With so many human and natural resources, the continent is still classified as the poorest continent in the world.
|It is hard to find a poorer place anywhere on earth than in Africa.
I have on several occasion asked myself this question “Why is Africa poor?”
Then I began investigating why it is that the vast majority of African countries are clustered at or near the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index – in other words they have a pretty appalling standard of living. My investigations centered on some few African countries as examples of why Africa is poor despite the rich resources.
In South Sudan for instance, the answer to why the country is poor seems fairly obvious.
The people of Sudan most of whom come from different ethnic groups are crippled by tribal conflicts related to disputes over cattle, the traditional store of wealth in South Sudan.
The Murle ethnic group for instance have recently had fights with the Lol Nuer group to the north of Pibor and with ethnic Bor Dinkas to the west.
In a spate of fighting with the Lol Nuer some years ago, several hundred people, many of them women and children, were killed in deliberate attacks on villages.
There has been a rash of similar clashes across South Sudan in the past years (although most were on a smaller scale than the fights between the Lol Nuer and the Murle).
And so the answer to why South Sudan is poor is surely a no-brainer: War makes you destitute.
This brings us to another question “Why is there so much war and yet Africa is potentially rich?.
Africa is even bigger than many other continents with “Tremendous land! Very fertile, enormous rainfall, tremendous agricultural resources. Minerals! We have oil and many other minerals – go name it!”
The paradox of rich resources and poor people hints at another layer of explanation about why Africa is poor.
It is not just that there is war. The question should, perhaps be: “Why is there so much war in Africa?”
Africans as a people may be poor, but Africa as a place is fantastically rich – in minerals, land, labour and sunshine.
That is why outsiders have been coming here for hundreds of years – to invade, occupy, convert, plunder and trade.
The spectres of slavery and colonialism hover in the background of almost every serious conversation with Africans about why most of them are poor.
It almost goes without saying that, of course, slavery impoverished parts of Africa and that colonialism set up trading patterns which were aimed at benefitting the coloniser, not the colonised.
But there is a psychological impact too.
Hajia Amina Az-Zubair, the former Nigerian president’s senior adviser on poverty issues, once said that “colonialism was all about to take, not to build”, and that this attitude “transferred itself into a lot of mindsets”.
Even today, many development experts say it is sometimes difficult to design poverty-reduction programmes that are inclusive:
“You sit round a table and ask ‘What are your needs?’ and you get an absolute blank. Because for decades, they’ve been told what they’re going to have not to choose or make decisions for themselves. So even the ability to engage has been difficult for us.”
The resources of Africa have never been properly developed because even during colonial rule Africa was reduced as a reservoir of labour and raw materials.
Then independence was followed by the scramble for power by many African rulers who, after taking over power refused to organize democratic elections only to cling unto power for several years as though they were monarchs. The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo is glaring in history.
But even the few who reluctantly accepted the multi-party system of government after independence, have vehemently refused to step down from power while some have ruled their countries for 35 years by being constantly engaged in election rigging. Cracking down on civil society activists and journalist who dare to criticize the dictatorial regimes, with Cameroon and Zimbabwe being an example; modifications of their country’s constitution just to remain in power for life and political manipulations which saw most African heads of States engaging in the tactic of divide and rule are some of the reasons why the African continent cannot be developed.
Corruption is a canker worm that is considered to have eaten so deep among African leaders.
“The gap between the rich and the poor in Africa is still growing,” said a fisherman on the shores of Lake Victoria.
“Our leaders, they just want to keep on being rich. And they don’t want to pay taxes.”
Even President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia came close to this when she said,
“Maybe I should have sacked the whole government when I came to power,” she said.
“Africa is not poor,” President Johnson-Sirleaf added, “it is poorly managed.”
This theme was echoed by an architect in Kenya and a senior government official in Nigeria.
Both pointed out that the informal sector of most African economies is huge and almost completely unharnessed.
Eastleigh has the most expensive real estate in Nairobi
Marketplaces, and a million little lean-to repair shops and small-scale factories are what most urban Africans rely upon for a living.
But such is their distrust of government officials that most businesspeople in the informal sector avoid all contact with the authorities.
The bustling Eastleigh area of Nairobi, where traders have created a booming economy despite the place being almost completely abandoned by the governmen is a filthy part of the city where rubbish lies uncollected, the potholes in the roads are the size of swimming pools, and the drains have collapsed.
But one indication of the success of the traders was the high per-square-foot rents there.
“You’ll be surprised to note that Eastleigh is the most expensive real estate in Nairobi.”
Many researchers hold that if Eastleigh traders trusted the government they might pay some taxes in return for decent services, so creating a “virtuous circle”.
“It would lift people out of poverty,” they said.
“Remember, poverty is related to quality of life, and the quality of life here is appalling, despite the huge amount of wealth flowing through these areas.”
Again, the researcher found that the difference between the poor and rich nations does not also depend on the available natural resources.
For instance, Japan has limited territory with 80% of mountains unsuitable for agriculture or farming, but is the second in the world’s economy. The country is like an immense floating factory, importing raw materials from the whole world and exporting manufactured goods.
Second example is Switzerland which does not grow cocoa but produces the best chocolates in the world. In her small territory, she rears animals and cultivates the land only for four months in a year, nevertheless manufactures the best milk products. A small country known for its security and banking.
What then could be the difference?
The difference is the attitude and mentality of the people. When we analyze the conduct of the people from the rich and developed countries, it is observed that most rich nations abide by the following principles;
-ethics, as basic principle
-the respect for Laws and Regulations
-the love for work
-the efforts to save and invest
-the will to be productive
In most African countries, these principles are not respected. Africa is not poor because she lacks the natural and human resources. Africa is poor because its leaders and citizens fail to respect the above principles. The African rulers lack the will to follow and teach these principles as in rich and developed societies.
To conclude, most African presidents have decided to transform their countries into a monarchical form of government so as to remain in power for life.