Most African countries have been politically independent for some 50 years now. But in those five decades, very little development has been seen on the continent. Continental leaders often blame colonialism for their countries’ ills. In this opinion piece, SAUNDERS JUMAH of the Forum For the Future of Africa, says that while external factors have played a role in Africa’s underdevelopment, there are many internal issues that we can deal with to register real progress. We publish excerpts of his position.
Among the colonised countries the USA, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and so many others, are leading states on human and infrastructure development; yet Africa - from west, east, north and south of the continent - is still hit hard by ills which are self-made.
It is a problem of dictatorship, nepotism, tribalism, autocracy, self-enrichment, corruption, power-hunger or human degradation because of selfishness and ego.
It used to be colonisation, it used to be slavery and it used to be exploitation of resources.
Does independence not mean freedom to rule and control ourselves in everything?
Why is it that in Africa, a free continent, we are still poor; faced by underdevelopment, fighting one another, and desperately depending on aid from the very same colonisers?
The failure of our own governments is giving them an excuse to hide behind the rhetoric of colonialism.
Africa has been discovering more and more resources like diamonds, oil, emeralds, sapphire, tanzanite, rare earth minerals, kaolin clays, bauxite, manganese, uranium, gold, gas and others that were not there during colonialism.
So why then is it that in almost every country people do not have basic necessities; they do not send their children to school; they have no homes, they are struggling to get clean drinking water;, they have no food, no savings for emergency needs and they have no land because the land is still in the hands of colonial masters.
Life in Africa has become so terrible that those who are able are trekking to the colonial states to seek better opportunities.
While all this is happening, we see those people who were freedom fighters becoming the richest people on the continent.
How do they become the richest when the people they rule are the poorest? Is it true then that Africa is poor?
When poor people start revolutions, the rich leaders are killed without mercy.
There is no government in Africa that has stepped down because it has failed the people.
In Swaziland, the people are tired of the style of monarchical rule; in Nigeria, leaders have stashed billions in overseas accounts and in Malawi the late President Bingu Wa Mutharika was banking US$100 000 in Australian accounts from Kayerekera Uranium (Paladin Mine) every month when the people were going without fuel.
People are suffering because of African governments’ failures and negligence.
Why do our leaders blame the West for poverty when they are rich?
No African leader has ever stood up to explain how much wealth he/she has amassed.
These are problems that Africa has made.
The colonial powers were wrong but what have we done to change things now that we are ruling ourselves?
Let us always remember that no one can make us inferior without our consent.
African leaders lack self-esteem, integrity and oneness; that is why Africa is failing to be united.
There are former leaders who were painted bad people because they campaigned for a United States of Africa.
Today these former leaders are decorated and respected, yet their dream is not on the table and is still being quashed.
They speak glowingly of Nkrumah but do nothing to advance his dream for continental development through unity.
It is the same with land reforms.
The nationalist Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe started the cause of justice by reclaiming the land for Africans but what did the other leaders say?
“Mugabe is not doing good!”
Yet these very people have the same problem at home: in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana people have no land rights.
Mugabe has been demonised and yet he is right.
Instead of Africa rallying behind Robert Mugabe, we choose to castigate a man who wants to see the wheels of justice moving.
This is another problem that Africa has - we are cowards.
We see the truth but we choose to bypass it and follow the media of the West.
In the case of Libya, we saw the truth but we chose to go with the West while betraying the African cause for unity.
Today Muammar Gaddafi is dead. Who lost? Africa lost and the West won! This has been the story of our continent.
African leaders must stop putting their interests above those of the citizens.
We must de-campaign any leader who is found putting his/her own interests first before those of the citizens of the continent.
African citizens have kept quiet for too long and it is time we stood up for our rights and our resources.
The AU, ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, Maghreb Union and others are just podiums for our leaders to talk without giving us any tangible solutions to the problem of poverty.
We are told these organisations are there for the people but what have they done for the citizens?
Africans are deported from other African countries and yet our leaders enjoyed safe havens there when we were fighting for independence.
The citizens suffer xenophobia while our leaders talk endlessly at their regional and continental organisations.
But Europeans are free to live anywhere in Africa!
We are being persecuted because of the borders that were drawn by Europeans and yet Europeans move freely in our continent.
How can we dream of embarking on space expeditions when African citizens are confined to their countries of birth?
If we are free and independent, what is stopping us from promulgating laws that suit Africa and Africans?
Right now the African Union, which was premised on the principle of ubuntu, is being rocked by divisions on who should be the Commission Chairperson and yet we are all Africans.
If we were united we would not waste time arguing over which region should provide the leader of the body.
It is time Africa realised that it needs visionary thinkers as its leaders; people who are not myopic and can think of the next 50 years.
We should start following the examples of developed countries and engage in philanthropy and creating think tanks instead of stashing stolen money in overseas bank accounts.
In the absence of such unity, Africa can never develop. In the absence of unity, the resources that Africa has will not develop the continent; they will only bring wars and conflicts.
That is why we hear stories of secessions in many parts of the continent: Caprivi from Namibia, Barotseland Zambia, Mochudi from Botswana, Matabeleland from Zimbabwe, Northern Malawi seceding from Malawi, Southern Sudan from The Sudan, and Eritrea from Ethiopia.
These people feel they are not benefiting from Africa’s rich resources.
They are not mad to make the calls they are making for secession.
Among the voices of secession, there are genuine concerns about development that governments must listen to.
We must not ignore these concerns and we must analyse and understand the reasons behind their secession bids.
On May 25, we will be celebrating Africa Day. But let us not just celebrate; we must sit and take stock of where we have come from and where we are going.
We cannot change our situation if we don’t critically examine ourselves as Africans.