By Sheriffdeen Tella
Africa remains a continent dominated by low-income countries or developing countries or ‘the rest of the world.’ The nomenclature used to describe the economies of the world over the years continues to change, possibly with the hope that a suitable and accommodating appellation will appear one day. When such an appellation like third world existed among others, over 90 per cent of Africa was found there, and it was not different from when least developed countries, under-developed countries or countries of the South were used.
Even now that we view the world economies with the prism of industrialisation and gross national income with taxonomy like G7, G20 and the rest of the world, virtually all African countries south of the Sahara belong to the last category. Only South Africa belongs to the G20 and how long it will be there cannot be predicted as the economy has been sluggish in recent times. Other categorisations used to identify economies are developed, emerging and developing countries. Again, African counties belong to the ‘developing’ category. The question is, do African leaders think about this? Are they concerned? Are they competing with the rest of the world to take us to the higher level? I mean the higher level of development, not poverty, as being witnessed now.
Many times, African countries have shown flashes of growth which died out sooner than its appearance. This had necessitated lots of articles on positive and negative growths on Africa as well as on Africa’s relationships with individual and group of countries as well as its relationships with financial and development institutions.
Some of the recent articles in the last 10 years included the United Nations on how African economies capture world attention in 2012; the Harvard Business Review in 2011 on how multinational companies were showing interests in Africa’s fastest growing economies; Obeng Odom’s critique of Africa’s failed economic development path in 2013; Routledge published book on China and Africa Development relations first published 2011; an inaugural lecture in 2014 entitled the “The Affluent Society: Can Africa Make it?”; the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s monograph on “Planning for Africa’s Development ..”, and the latest publication by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in May 2022 on Africa’s Development Dynamics 2022: Regional Value Chains for a Sustainable Recovery.
There had been so much concern about development in Africa, even before Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ in 1972 and there would still be much more. Each article or book or lecture contained not just the problems but solutions to those problems. The questions have been what are the problems with Africa? Are we truly identifying the problems or the symptoms? If the problems we are identifying are not the appropriate ones, the solutions being proposed will also be wrong. If they are appropriate, are the solutions proposed being applied at the right time and dosage?
Life itself is full of ups and downs. Nations, therefore, witness what economists refer to as business cycle or economic boom and recession or depression, if recession is prolonged. In the last 20 years, the world has witnessed two global recessions, arising first from the 2007-2008 housing bubble that emanated from the United States with contagion effects around the world. The second was triggered by the COVID-19, the global pandemic. The third one from the Russia-Ukraine war is still snowballing. The fact is that as each downturn occurs, most countries, especially the developed and emerging ones, bounce back within a short period while African counties stay down.
The fact that African countries look like the backyard of the rest of the world cannot make African leaders attend international gatherings such as the current COP27 and the United Nations gathering tagged UNGA77 in September, 2022 as partners in world affairs but as weaklings or complainants or onlookers or even beggars. They are the ones that will complain of too much carbon dioxide caused by industrial activities from the advanced economies and the need for compensation. They are also the group that will beg for debt forgiveness only to return home to start shopping around for more loans and credits. They are the ones that will want a seat in the UN Security Council but return to their respective countries to introduce and implements policies that promote insecurity.
The rapid and varied advancement of economic theories of development can be argued to have something to do with the underdevelopment of Africa. We can no longer write or talk about how Europe or America or Asia underdeveloped Africa and not focus on how Africa underdeveloped Africa. The need to start looking inward for solution to Africa’s problems is apparent but without ignoring what other countries did to take them out of underdevelopment and attendant poverty. So long as the continent remains underdeveloped, the advanced economies will continue to take advantage of our situation. But no time is too late.
Let us check the education statistics of the developed and emerging countries. What is the literacy level of each country? Japan has no physical but human resources. The country engaged in human capital development such that when eventually physical resources were brought in, the citizens turned them into products acceptable worldwide. Japan remained the number two economy until China took over recently. China, before the communist revolution in 1949, had low literacy level, below 50 per cent. The revolution was anchored on education and agriculture. With a population of over one billion people, China’s literacy level today is over 95 per cent.
Statistics show that in 2021, only 67.4 per cent of people aged 15 years and above in Africa are literate and regionally, southern Africa has the highest literacy rate of 80 per cent. Further statistics show that more than one in three adults in Africa cannot read and write; 48 million youths are illiterates and 22 per cent of primary school age children are out of school, including about 15 million Nigerians. The implication of these statistics and information on Japan, China and other advanced cum emerging economies is that African countries must promote education as a continental developmental programme to grow and develop. It will be the foundation for producing goods and services that we can consume and export. But African leaders promote illiteracy as weapon of oppression, typical of what led to the rampant slavery on African soil in the past.
There is no doubt that other problems exist and have to be tackled headlong, but the root causes might also be found in education. We cannot ignore the issues of deepening poverty, deindustrialisation, youth unemployment, poor and deteriorating infrastructure, as well as corruption. Africa needs to renegotiate and reinvent itself. Despite the high level of poverty, many businesses in developed and emerging economies are interested in Africa, as studies have shown that the rate of return on investments in Africa is higher than some countries at its level of development on the other continents. This gives room for negotiation on the kind of industry we should attract. For instance, countries with large number of unemployed youths must accept labour intensive industries rather than capital intensive ones which will not promote employment but encourage the importation of raw materials and spare parts with humongous regular capital outflows like many of such companies that currently operate on the African continent.
The Economic Commission for Africa and its allies produced Agenda 2063 development plan for adoption by African countries but how many countries have been able to domesticate it? The ECA has to go beyond producing document to creating awareness among African leaders and enforcing adoption. African countries must return to owning long term national development plans. Those who do not have capacity to produce should be assisted by countries that have such capacity and be trained to do so in future. Africa must chart a new course of governance and existence that is rooted in mass education. It is never too late to start now.
To be continued..