Why Africa Is Lagging Behind: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda Explains in This Thought-Provoking Article, Why Africa Is in Its Current State. He Starts by Recounting the History of the Continent over the Last 500 Years-From Pre-Colonial Days to the Present Day-And Offers Pertinent Suggestion on How Africa Can Solve Its Pressing Problems
Museveni, Yoweri, New African
Can Africa claim the 21st century? The answer is that Africa can, although it may not. I will explain later. However, for now I would like to point out that we cannot chart Africa's possible progress without looking at why Africa has marked time for the last 500 years.
By the time Black Africa came in contact with Europe in the year 1434 when the Portuguese explorer, Gil Eanes, sailed along the coast of Sierra Leone and the Cape Verde Islands, Africa, like Europe, was a three-class society: feudalists, artisans mad peasants. Since that time, European society has metamorphosed into a middle class and then into an industrial working class while Africa socially regressed into almost a mono-class society of peasants.
There is now a narrow stratum of Africans speaking European languages with a cacophony of accents, wearing European suits, eating European foods but who are divorced from both traditional production modes of Africa as well as the modern ones. In terms of historical relevance, they tend more towards irrelevance. Historical relevance here refers to the justification of one's role. How useful are the black elite (the African speakers of European languages) to Africa?
Black Africa it under-performing in all aspects of human endeavour: GDP per capita, infant mortality tares, literacy rates, average life expectancy, per capital protein consumption, HIV infection rates and so forth. This is in spite of the presence of the English, French, Portuguese and Arabic speaking black elite on the sea of African peasantry:
Of the roughly 800 million Africans, about 120 million are Arabs or black people of Arab origin. The remaining 680 million are black people. If we extrapolate Uganda's example, then one can assume that approximately 560 million black people in Africa are peasants. This is the scale of the social regression in the last 500 years. The population of Africa, including Arabs, was 140 million in 1900. Therefore, more Africans are peasants now than in 1900.
The African feudal class was wiped out because it was in competition with the colonialists for power and did not warn to give up African sovereignty. Many African kings fought the colonialists and, therefore, the African feudal class had to be eliminated.
The African artisan class also had to be eliminated because the items they were making for use in households--as weapons or capital items--had to be replaced by European-manufactured goods, e.g. plates, spoons and cups supplanted enyabya (clay bowls) and endosho (wooden spoons), buckets replaced amachuba (wooden pails); Gillete razor blades substituted for orumwaiso (shaving knives) and African war implements declined substantially after the Europeans took over defence responsibilities.
The artisan class was nearly wiped out, though there were certain categories which survived, e.g. musical instruments. In Uganda today, indigenous instruments are gaining hegemony over imported ones due to their sophistication. These are endingiri (violin), enanga (harp), emdongo (big harp), engoma (drum) as well as amadinda, embuntu, enjebajebe and esheegu--none of which have a European equivalent.
As you all know, the entire human race originated from Africa. During the six million years of human evolution, the hominds (human-like creatures), including the most advanced Homo sapien sapien (the wise man) only lived in Africa. The first human beings to leave Africa for other continents left only about 100,000 years ago. Hence, all of you are Africans but have lost your pigmentation because of your stay for prolonged periods in the cold climates of your "new homes".
Why is it then that this cradle of humanity, nay the cradle of civilisation, could capitulate to the colonialism of the returnees? Why has Africa lagged behind?
Most of Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, is a plateau. The rivers in much of Africa cascade from the interior to the coast by way of waterfalls, cataracts, and rapids, which do not permit easy navigation. Given these non-navigable rivers, plus the forest and the deserts, one can see that communication in the past was not easy, Without easy communication, trade, mobility and the spread of ideas became very difficult.
The climate in most of sub-Saharan Africa did not exert enough pressure on Africans in the way that the harsh northern hemisphere climate forced the Europeans and Asians to become more innovative. Similar conditions would have forced our ancestors to look for ways of manipulating nature to ensure survival. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, people merely depended on the bounty of nature. They did not have to work hard in order to live.
Because of conditions in which many diseases could spread easily, the African population did not grow as rapidly as it did on other continents. Thus, there was no pressure on people to become aggressively competitive and no need for political expansionism of the African kingdoms because each unit was self-sufficient in terms of natural resources.
Thus, Africa's weak micro-states and backward technology made the continent easily susceptible to foreign domination by more organised societies. While the Arabs were encroaching on African sovereignty and resources from the north, the Europeans started plundering from the west, south and east. In time, this created an additional two problems: The slave trade which further depopulated the continent and the social, economic and political cohesion that had been achieved was completely disrupted.
The subsequent loss of sovereignty meant that African's main occupation was to serve outsiders' interests. This combination of factors explains why Africa has lagged so far behind other continents over the last 500 year.
But since the defeat of colonialism, Africa has continued to stagnate. This time it is a shared responsibility between the colonialists and the black elite who took leadership after independence. There are three words we need to remind ourselves about: Nation, country, state.
A country is a sovereign political unit recognised by the international community under one national government.
A nation is a people who are homogeneous culturally, linguistically, or historically, whether they are organised in one country or not. The Slav nation, the Arab nation and the Jewish nation are examples of nations dispersed in many countries.
A state is the package of pillars of power and authority that enable the exercise of control over any one given country. These are the army, police, prisons, judiciary, civil service, the executive, parliament and the organs that regulate the professions and the economy. Normally, a country must have a state over it to enable law and order and economic activities to be realised. However; in rare historical circumstances, one may have a country without a state, Somalia and Congo-Kinshasa are examples.
The colonial state in Africa had a dual character: the brains were the Europeans; the muscles comprised African auxiliaries (clerks, primary school teachers, interpreters, chiefs and colonial sergeants). With independence, the colonial state was decapitated by removing the brains and leaving the trunk and the muscles to fend for themselves. Many of these colonial auxiliaries had little or no education. They were, therefore, hopelessly out of their depth. This is how you get your Amins, Mobutus, and Bokassas.
Without any equivocation, I can say that this was the responsibility of the colonialists. In Uganda's case, we had to wage a war for 13 years to dismantle the remnants of the colonial stare and build a new one led by the new Uganda intelligentsia and the peasants.
There were, however, a few African countries that were, right from the beginning, managed by intellectuals--Tanzania, Senegal, Kenya. This is why these countries have never collapsed as happened with many of the other countries, Indeed, Tanzania played a most decisive role in the forward march of decolonisation southwards. This time the Africans had to use arms to liberate Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and South Africa itself.
Unlike Singapore, however, even the African countries led by intellectuals have not made the transition from developing to developed yet. This was mainly due to the mistake of interfering with the private sector because of socialist beliefs.
Kenya and Senegal were never socialist. It seems, however, that the leaders there concentrated on import substitution industries rather than export-oriented ones. Even in these so-called pro-Western countries, appreciation of the role of the private sector was not thorough-going. You could, for instance, encounter the demonisation of the Asian or Lebanese immigrant communities by the very African elite. "Asians are suckers--wanyonyaji", you hear the African petty bourgeoisie moaning and lamenting. Yet these immigrant communities are playing a very decisive modernisation role.
Hence, you find that African countries across the entire ideological spectrum have not transformed from developing to developed countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea did in one generation. The immediate causes of this stagnation were: interfering with the private sector and neglecting the emphasis on exports.
The whole of the African market, were it united, would be worth $500 billion. Yet the American market is $11 trillion--22 times the size of the African market. The African market could be much bigger than the US market, but is small and fragmented by political boundaries, lack of infrastructure and so on.
Following Uganda's example, much of Black Africa, in varying degrees, accepts a private sector-led growth strategy. However, elements of the parasitic elite in many of these countries have not really grasped the implications of this vision. They clearly do trot understand that the private sector is also sovereign: I generate income; consume some of it. What remains is profit. I accumulate these profits over the years; I then make investments. Other than producing something poisonous (or sub-standard) for the consumers and damaging the environment, the politicians must know that I have sovereignty over my money because I am the one who earned it. I will, therefore, not appreciate any interference in my sovereign decisions as an investor. This understanding by the African elite of the role of the private sector is a sine qua non of whether oar continent can claim the 21st century or not.
Land is not readily available for investors; infrastructure is archaic if not absent altogether; power is expensive; licensing procedures are cumbersome; there is a lot of corruption. All these raise the cost of doing business in many African countries. There is a pervasive attitude among the black elite that they are doing a foreign investor a favour by allowing him/her to invest in their country.
Many government employees are indifferent to the fate of businesses. They still fail to establish, in their vision, the link between the private sector, investment, employment, widening the tax base and the generation of revenues to support human resource development (education, skilled labour, health for all) and modernising the infrastructure (roads, railways, electricity, piped water, safe drinking water, telephones, and facilities to support a modern aviation industry).
If there was this conceptual link, then there would nor be the type of "anti-business bias" you find in many African bureaucracies. Once the grasp of the pivotal role of the private sector is thorough and consolidated, then Africa must deal with three other factors:
* Access to lucrative foreign markets.
* Ending of Africa's balkanisation.
* Adding value to Africa's raw materials.
The talk of aid is a lot of hot air. Aid his never developed a single African country to the stage of social transformation. Aid helped India. This was, however, because India was, at the same time, busy building an integrated national economy. India also has a huge internal market of one billion people, which enabled it to become an industrial power within one genearation.
Through the World Trade Organisation, Africa must demand the ending of protectionism in Europe. In particular, trade in agricultural products must be free. Of the $1.2 trillion that was used on agricultural products worldwide, only $13 billion (1%) came to Africa. If Africa cannot earn money from agriculturally -based products, from which other source will it be able to earn money?
Market access for agriculture-based products is a must for African countries. The Europeans should not continue with the tranquillisers of "aid". Aid without trade is a lullaby--I a song you sing to children to get them to sleep. Africans must stop being children. It is trade access to the huge American market that enabled Singapore, Thailand and South Korea to transform from developing to developed countries.
You cannot, however, trade if you cannot bargain. You cannot bargain if you are too small or if you are not in a strategic area. The South East Asian countries were accorded trading opportunities by the US because they were frontline states in the anti-communism struggle. African countries could not benefit from that phenomenon. At the same time they are not big like China to negotiate front a position of strength. Although Africa is almost four limes the size of China in land area, Africa, with 53 states, is the most politically fragmented continent in the world.
North America has only three countries: Canada, USA and Mexico. South America has only 16 states and the Indian subcontinent has three stares. The Australian continent has only one stare. The numerous sub-optimal states of Africa cannot individually negotiate for trade access or for other benefits.
In the short term, we may use improvisations like the New partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). However, the ultimate answer to Africa's marginalisation, in my opinion, is the amalgamation of these states into fewer bur more viable states. In East Africa, we always talk about the East African Federation involving Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It would be logical for Rwanda and Burundi to join such a grouping. Such an amalgamation would create an African country with a population slightly over 100 million--that in land area is larger than Iran but smaller than India.
Only Sudan and Congo-Kinshasa are each about the same size as India. Sudan though is bedevilled by serious structural problems because of the Arab chauvinism in the north. These fewer but more viable African
states, having addressed the question of emancipating the private sector, can credibly fight for market access to the lucrative economies of the West.
We must also take into account strategic considerations. Who will defend Africa against future invaders? We must develop defence capacity to guarantee the sovereignty of our continent forever. Which of the present states has the capacity to provide the leadership for defending our continent? There is no African country that can provide a centre of gravity for Africa's security in strategic terms. The Western alliance has benefited from the umbrella provided by the US which saved the Western system twice during the last century. Who will provide this umbrella for Africa?
The other big weakness in Africa has been the massive export of African value in the form of unprocessed raw materials. When you export a kilogram of lint cotton without turning it into garments, you only get one tenth of the value. When you export 2.5 kg of unprocessed coffee, you only get one-twentieth of din value; when you export a kilogram of silk, you only get one-fiftieth of the value. When you export an ounce of unprocessed gold, you only get one part of 15. Africa must stop allowing this robbery. We should, mainly, export finished products. The returns will go up dozens of times.
Very soon, the population of Africa will be over one billion. If we deal with the wrong attitudes to the private sector, if we think of exports rather than import substitution, if we think of pan-Africanism rather than parochialism, and if we think of-adding value to our products rather than exporting raw materials, then Africa will claim the 21st century.
These measures will enable us to produce more goods and services, create employment, generate revenue for the state so that the government can expand and modernise the infra structure and develop human resources through education and improved health for all.
Uganda has made strides in the areas of import substitution, food stuff production, improved housing, improved transport, expanded primary school, secondary school and university intake. We are now going into the area of exports beyond raw materials (coffee, cotton, tea, tobacco, skins and hides, unprocessed gold, sim sim and so forth).
We are exporting frozen fish to the EU and US, cut flowers to the EU, and items such as cement, soap, steel products, plastics, foam and textiles to Rwanda, Burundi, Congo-Kinshasa, Southern Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania. We export bicycles to parts of Africa and electricity to Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Uganda was ruined by Amin and Obote. We started, in 1986, from zero or below zero, yet we have moved this far. The real breakthrough will come with the exports to the US through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and to the EU through Everything But Arias (EBA). Recovery and social transformation are possible. Uganda has proved it.
(President Museveni's article was first published by E-Africa, the electronic journal of governance and innovation published by the South African Institute of International Affairs).…
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Publication information: Article title: Why Africa Is Lagging Behind: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda Explains in This Thought-Provoking Article, Why Africa Is in Its Current State. He Starts by Recounting the History of the Continent over the Last 500 Years-From Pre-Colonial Days to the Present Day-And Offers Pertinent Suggestion on How Africa Can Solve Its Pressing Problems. Contributors: Museveni, Yoweri - Author. Magazine title: New African. Issue: 423 Publication date: November 2003. Page number: 12+. © 2005 IC Publications Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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