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Is Africa transformative, stagnant or getting worse?

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Added 1st July 2016 11:56 AM

Internally, we need to make serious deliberate steps towards transformation

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Internally, we need to make serious deliberate steps towards transformation

By Richard Todwong 

While flagging off the new cabinet at State House Entebbe, President Yoweri Museveni tasked the new ministers to follow through and thoroughly execute what is now commonly known as the 15-point-programme.

Key among these critical directives include reducing the power tariffs to five US Cents for industrial manufactures, fast-tracking the development of 22 industrial and business parks around the country, total elimination of corruption and inefficiency in key government sectors such as education, health, etc, environmental conservation by stopping encroachment on major forests and wetlands, revival of the national airline, among others.

All these measures are in line with the salient national objective of delivering Uganda to a middle income status by 2020.

This is achievable and we commend the President for carrying out the overall development plan while pursuing co-ordinated development in all areas of our modernisation drive and promoting harmony between the relationships of production and the productive forces and between the superstructure and the economic base.

We should pay close attention to the main objective of national socio-economic transformation because the NRM has shouldered the historic mission of rejuvenating the nation since the dismantlement of the old decadent political order.

The very purpose of the Party in leading the Ugandan people in revolution, development and reform is to make the people prosperous and the country strong.

The future of Uganda and indeed Africa is intrinsically dependent on strong and visionary leadership and institutions. It is this lack of strong, focused and dynamic leadership that has plunged much of Africa into regrettable nightmare from the advent of colonialism to post-colonialism.

Some of the pre-colonial traditional leaders committed the unforgivable mistake of colluding with the European and Arab merchants to sell their subjects to slavery which has had debilitating effects up to today.

Though the end of the slave trade after 1807 did reduce the external demand for slaves from Africa, this did not mean that slavery’s impact on African societies and institutions would magically melt away. Many African states had become organised around slaving and the British putting an end to the trade did not change this reality.

In the place of slavery came “legitimate commerce”, a phrase coined for the export from Africa of new commodities not tied to the slave trade. These goods included palm oil and kernels, peanuts, ivory, rubber and gum Arabic.

As European and American incomes expanded with the spread of the Industrial Revolution, demand for many of these tropical products rose sharply. Just as African societies took aggressive advantage of the economic opportunities presented by the slave trade, they did the same with legitimate commerce.

But they did so in a peculiar context, one in which slavery was a way of life, but the external demand for slaves had suddenly dried up.

What were all these slaves to do now that they could not be sold to Europeans? The answer was simple: they could be profitably put to work, under coercion, in Africa, producing the new items of legitimate commerce.

Given the extractive economic and political institutions based on the slave trade, industrialisation did not spread to sub-Saharan Africa, which stagnated or even experienced economic retardation as other parts of the world were transforming their economies. 

Lack of ideology, soft leadership skills

By the time of independence, what had been left of Africa was a reflection of the colonialist in terms of civilisation, culture, education, political organisation, etc. The African leaders who took over from the colonialists never helped Africa much; they continued with the slavery mentality.

It is this inferiority complex and inability of the independence generation leaders to provide African solutions for African problems that shackled Africa to the deadly nightmare of neo-colonialism, what Kwameh Nkrumah would describe as the “worst stage of imperialism”. 

The independence generation leadership lacked clear ideology and skill of managing a modern enterprise of statecraft - the reason the continent started experiencing bloody civil wars, military coups, secessionist tendencies or micro-nationalism (for the case of Katanga in Congo, Biafra in Nigeria, Buganda in Uganda, etc), coup d’états, hence warranting a new wave of revolutions and counter-revolutions against old-fashioned independence leaderships and colonial establishments.

The weakness of the independence leadership ushered in dictators such as Idi Amin of Uganda, Kofi Busia of Ghana, Jean Bedel Bokasa of Central African Republic, Mobutu Seseseko of Zaire, etc.

Africa started experiencing a new wave of change against post-independence dictatorship thus ushering in revolutionaries such as Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Yoweri Museveni, etc.

However, the new wave of revolutionary leadership was enmeshed in the simmering cold war politics that would soon lead to the elimination of progressive leftist leaders such as Thomas Sankara, Samora Machel, Edwardo Mondlane, among others.

Today, much of Africa still finds itself in the firm grips of imperialism and neo-liberalism. The Western capitals still dictate to the African governments. This should not be the case in a world where we are all striving for uniformity and inclusive development.

This kind of world can only be effected by progressive leaders such as President Museveni who has consistently told off the West that Africa deserves to be treated with dignity.  

Africa and globalisation 

Africa is now increasingly becoming a landscape of reforming states embracing an economic agenda based on the premise that privatisation requires an end to distrustful politics that aroused tenacious bureaucratic resistance under the one party state.  

By advancing political freedoms of expressions, an end to human rights abuses and also free enterprises the atmosphere for distrust is slowly dissipating at the onset of African new democratic “capitalist” states.

The philosophy of governments is shifting from obstructive regulation to demonstration of authority and political will to incentivize free enterprise. 

African capitalist states are gradually advancing the view that the state is "a spectator that steps in to correct the actions of the private sector when it commits errors of commission or omission".  

The new beliefs about reduced size and role of the public sector epitomise the contrast between the African old and the African new on the same scale as the death of communism allowed economic democracy to thrive over the demise of state hegemony. The private sector is now at the heart of Africa’s development. 

This is now what we call modern Africa currently faced with a wide range of dynamic problems which are quite different from the historical problems of Africa, i.e; high rates of youth unemployment, refugee crisis and global warming among many others. 

In view of the above, Uganda, first like any other LDC, has a challenge to navigate through the international arena while maintaining national stability and at the same time addressing the hard pressing issues of unemployment, corruption, poverty, etc. Opening up the economy to the rural areas can help the country develop faster.

I am glad to note that the massive national road network, rural electrification schemes, agricultural zoning of the country and the proposed redevelopment of our educational curriculum with help see many of our youth in gainful employment.

Our universities should make the last years of studies practical for all courses offered. Let the students interact with the economy-both urban and rural, government and private sector- to develop models of improving business or public administration.

The challenges of globalisation, which has come with citizens’ rights, transparency, accountability and delivery of quality governance by nation states, coupled with aggressive advocacy media has made states more responsive to citizens than before.

As a country, we need to up our game so that we respond to the real needs of our people. Shelter, clothings, food, recreation, freedom, etc, have all been up-graded to security issues.

Future of Africa

Africa is obviously better today than it was 300 years ago. However, the continent’s transformation narrative is based on a very simplistic observation in an unfair comparison of the economic growth of a few African countries over the last 10 to 20 years averaging about 6% to 7% of GDP compared to the very lethargic growth in the West after the global financial crisis, the West has not been growing that fast.  

The IMF and World Bank have continued to impose development Initiatives to several African states in the form of “best practices” without putting into consideration scientific research of the real problems affecting the continent and its people and as such, these initiatives have in most cases done more harm than good by crushing with material realities of the authentic rather than fictitious conditions of people on the ground.

The same Bretton Woods Institutions still impose unrealistic conditionalities when sanctioning loans. They have gone ahead to tie key development projects with their designed interests ie a number of government departments/agencies are being monitored by the so-called “foreign experts”, to ensure that the implementation or execution of some government projects is in line with the dictates of the IMF/World Bank.

There are several major factors that not only explain Africa’s predicaments, these include but not limited to;

·     The experience of slavery

·     The colonial legacy

·     The repressive post-colonial rent-seeking kleptocratic leaderships

·     An exploitative international economy

·     The denigration of local cultures

·     And the burden of foreign debts due to the unfair international trade regimes.

Africa for a long time has relied on cash crop production to feed the international demands at the expense of food production. The irony is that we end up importing food or depend on World Food Programme to feed our growing populations.

The cash we generate from the few crops we produce ends up in foreign economies either through unfavourable trade conditions, unfavourable exchange rates plus high interest rates. We need to invest in teaching our populations high levels of social discipline, and encourage more production as opposed to consumption.

The intermediary technologies from Asia can help Africa adjust to the global realities. At the moment, because of high levels of competition between among developed and emerging economies of Africa, we are being confused to think that Europe and America are the yardstick to modernity.

I believe the terms and conditions to trade with Asia is much better for Africa. Asia and Africa’s population form three quarters of the world’s population, and if we concentrate in satisfying these markets alone, within the shortest time we shall attain the middle-income status.

Internally, we need to make serious deliberate steps towards transformation, these include; skilling our human resource, and promoting scientific innovations, we need to invest heavily in agriculture because Africa has a huge potential than any other continent to produce fresh food for the whole world.

Way forward

Africa needs to chart its unique development path which adapts to African characteristics. We have seen that the one-size-fits-all model of the World Bank/IMF didn’t help African countries; Africa needs to develop and adapt to new technology and innovation, we need to redirect our leadership and priorities, and come up with a workable formula that suits the African context.

The Western-style concept of democracy isn’t the best for Africa, Africa should adopt democratic centralism which enhances a strong state that can equitably distribute resources to the masses.

The Chinese are doing well with their socialism model which recognises Chinese characteristics.

The writer is deputy secretary general of the NRM

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