The fundamental proof of development and social advancement is not found in ubiquitous infrastructure projects, neither is it primarily evidenced by an upward trend in GDP. The litmus test for accurately evaluating and qualifying the developmental state of a nation is conducted by evaluating the prevailing mindsets and worldviews of the people. Since the law of averages must apply in this context, a nation cannot be said to have attained “developed” status simply because it has managed to produce exceptions and outliers i.e. a few stars here and there.
Walter Rodney explained that Development in human society is a many-sided process. At the level of the individual, it implies increased skill and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being. Some of these are virtually moral categories and are difficult to evaluate. However, what is indisputable is that the achievement of any of these aspects of personal development is very much tied to the present social realities, prevailing socio-economic status and national destiny as a whole.
He also gives interesting insight into what Underdevelopment is.
He says underdevelopment is not the absence of development, because nations have developed in one way or another. Underdevelopment makes sense only as a means of comparing levels of development. It is very much tied to the fact that human and social development has been uneven and from a strictly economic view-point some human groups have advanced further by producing more and becoming wealthier.
The moment a nation appears to be wealthier than others, an enquiry is bound to take place as to the reason for the difference. After Britain had begun to surge ahead of the rest of Europe in the 18th century, the famous British economist Adam Smith felt it necessary to look into the causes behind the ‘Wealth of Nations’. At the same time, many Russians were very concerned about the fact that their country was ‘backward’ in comparison with England, France and Germany in the 18th century and subsequently in the 19th century. Today, our main pre-occupation is with the differences in wealth between on the one hand Europe and North America and on the other hand Africa, Asia and Latin America.
There are varied explanations on why Africa has marked time in a state of under-achievement. Some have attributed Africa’s predicament to poor Leadership, Abundant Natural Resources and the nefarious activities of stakeholders in Extractive Industries while others have attributed it to Europe (“How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”), the 1885 Berlin Conference, Colonial Masters, the Cold War, Geography ( “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond), Climate, Capitalism, Lack of Democracy and perhaps even China.
There are intelligent arguments in all these propositions but the preponderance of these theories have focused on externally motivated factors, inadequate social structures and weak institutions but not many have passed the fundamental test of repeat-ability and predictability. Many of the identified externally motivated causative factors that create under-development were found to have been present in other nations of the world that nevertheless managed to produce consistent economic progress in-spite of these challenges.
In her provocative, incendiary and double-barreled shotgun of a book titled “DEAD AID”, Dambisa Moyo awards culpability for Africa’s woes to the continuous cynical and poisonous Systematic AID flows from multi-lateral development institutions and the Washington consensus (IMF, World Bank and WTO) to incompetent, corrupt and incontinent African governments and regimes. Despite over-whelming evidence that funds meant for development was been diverted into private pockets and non-existent projects, these institutions continued to lend money to wasteful regimes.
Dambisa estimated that over 1 trillion US Dollars worth of systematic (development-related) AID has flowed into Africa over the past 50 years, but there is absolutely little to show for it when benchmarked against her potential. This figure does not even include the two other types of AID (Humanitarian/Emergency aid and Charity-based Aid).
Africa has made a few good strides in recent years and we can perceive a sliver of opportunity and a glimmer of hope, but there has been a disproportionate increase in the challenges that are now threatening to completely wipe out the little progress that has been made. Many African economies have posted over 5% annual growth rates in recent years, commodity prices have surged, HIV prevalence has declined and democratic elections now hold in at least 50% of sub-Saharan African states BUT the average African is still poorer today than 2 decades ago. Life expectancy has stagnated, Adult literacy rates have plummeted and income in-equality remains firmly entrenched. In the 2011 Human Development Report, sub-Saharan Africa was ranked the least developed region of the world with an HDI score of 0.463 (0.303 when adjusted for inequality among its citizens).
Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda commented that “The primary reason that there is little to show for the more than $300billion of aid that has gone to Africa since 1970 is that in the context of post-second world-war geopolitical and strategic rivalries and economic interests, much of this aid was spent on creating and sustaining client regimes of one type or another with minimal regard to developmental outcomes on our continent.)
- In the 1960s, AID institutions and the west pumped loans into Africa which were used to build roads, dams and other infrastructure projects but Africa didn’t gain much developmental mileage.
- In the 1970s, the global oil crises (of 1973 and 1979) led to high food costs and focus shifted to poverty. This was the era of big government which eventually gave way to the free market policies of the 1980s. AID agencies and the west pushed for debt restructuring and other structural adjustment programs that ultimately buried African countries in deep sovereign debt due to poor implementation and unrealistic expectations.
- The 1990s marked the end of the cold war and focus shifted yet again. This time around, bad governance was identified as the cause of Africa’s woes, and the West promptly embarked on a campaign to install democratic governments in all African states. It didn't matter whether these countries possessed the maturity and institutional competencies required to effectively run democracies. Democracy had to be installed at all costs. It is noteworthy to mention here that there are many Asian and South American states that progressed economically without necessarily practicing democracy such as Chile, China, Korea and Malaysia among others.
- The 2000s marked the emergence of glamour aid (rock stars leading the call to end poverty) and debt cancellation (a.k.a debt forgiveness).
Africa seems to have gone full circle and all the west’s diagnostic reports and palliative measures seem to have been largely ineffective.
This begs the questions – is there a factor that is unique to Africa that isn’t found anywhere else on the planet? I seem to reason along with Samuel Stephen Wakdok in his brilliant article How Africans Underdeveloped Africa.
I have endlessly sought to rationalize and comprehend why sub-Saharan Africa has continually struggled to achieve consistent progress in these 3 key aspects of development:
- Standard of living (A measure of economic prosperity that is adjusted for in-equality, and further adjusted to a global benchmark called PPP - Purchasing Power Parity)
- Life expectancy (Measures the quality of the healthcare system)
- Literacy rates (Measures the quality, availability and output of the educational system)
I have sought valid first-hand evidences, explanations, and answers underlying the under-development quandary that Africa has found itself in by visiting 3 African nations this past year (Liberia in the deep west, Kenya in the East and South Africa at the bottom) and I certainly made a few discoveries. I’ll share just 6 of them here.
1. Predestination - I observed a Calvinist worldview that shelves responsibility for outcomes. When things go right, it must be the will of the gods and same reason applies for bad outcomes. In essence, we are not shapers of our own destinies. In this business, we do not have a choice but can only make hapless investments that already have pre-determined outcomes that are independent of our actions. The counter perspective to this worldview is of course the “Protestant work ethic” which links hard work and initiative to results.
2. Dependence - Help will always come from “outside”. This is the dependence mind-set that always expects salvation from external parties. It views transformation as an externally motivated venture rather than an internally orchestrated process, so it sits in a state of perpetual hope and expectation and never takes the initiative to create from the inside-out.
3. Individualism and Ethnocentrism - Individual competence almost never resolves into societal competence. There is such intense hyper-competition and dearth of partnerships and productive alliances. Shared success and team work are foreign ideas. Life is essentially a zero-sum game. The progress of a compatriot must imply the decline of another citizen. The pie is always enough for just one person or ethnic group. This explains why there are countless struggling individually owned businesses and ventures that remain in a perpetual state of under-achievement simply because collaboration and M&As (mergers and acquisitions) are virtually non-existent.
4. Paternalism - This is an ingrained cultural mind-set that believes wisdom is the sole preserve of the “elders”. Hence, new ideas from intelligent and energetic youths are dismissed by elders (established and entrenched interests) as exuberance, usurpation, inexperience and irrationality.
5. Low Standards - An unyielding average mind-set. Quality control and standards is just not our thing! We are quickly satisfied with external performances and generally do not engage in deep analytical processes and future casting. When a political leader performs averagely, we rejoice not because they did what was lawful and just, but because they did “better” than their predecessors. If he stole less than his predecessor, he is seen as a hero!
6. Eroded Value System – This is by far the most critical and fundamental. The Value system is a combination of inherent human behavioral qualities that together constitute the foundation and framework for social capital. Social capital is the invisible glue of relationships that holds business, economy and political life together and is at the core of national development. At its most basic level, it is a function of trust. Where there is no trust, anything that has lasting value cannot be built. In the absence of trust, the networks upon which development depend breaks down and doesn't hold together.
To answer the question - “When will Africa Develop?” I believe the answer lies primarily with Africans. Africa will develop when Africans decide to develop Africa. Africans will shape the destiny of Africa! Not the West, not China, not Europe and certainly not the AID institutions.