AFRICA: It is time to abandon all Orthodoxies

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AFRICA: It is time to abandon all Orthodoxies

(Published in the June 2014 edition of the New African magazine)

 

 Any economic policy that marginalizes people is doomed to failure.” – Professor Adebayo Adedeji

But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

Even the most fervent and optimistic pan-Africanist among us cannot help but be despondent as we consider the continent’s current sad state of affairs.

While the elite and their supporters/sponsors in the West continue to tout self-generated impressive Macro Economics statistics that show how good things are, the reality on the ground, at the Micro Economic levels, still shows abysmal and shocking poverty at which citizens are forced to live.

Sadly, many Africans still live in conditions that will be unacceptable as pig sties in some countries. This is despite the fact that almost every corner of the continent drips with one natural mineral or the other.

And while the horrendous wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone have been doused, more of such have been re-ignited with vengeance in several parts of the continent. Nigeria is menaced by the scourge of Boko Haram. Christians and Moslems are murdering each other with Old Testament fury in the Central African Republic. Newly-minted South Sudan is engulfed in mindless internecine civil war. DR Congo is yet to overcome almost five decades of civil strife.

In the meantime, there are more foreign troops rampaging around Arica today than at any time since the ostensible end of colonialism in the 1960s.

On the economic front, the elite have imposed a brutal Jurassic, dog eat dog, man eat shit  economic system, which has resulted in a yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots, with frightening social implosion implications. The Neo-liberal economic policies have largely negated African traditional value systems, resulting in the abandonment of old-age communitarianism that made people cared for one another.

While true that today African rulers and elite continue to have the best times of their lives, few citizens can remember when things were this bad.

Let’s consider the example of Ghana, the birthplace of the doyen of Pan-Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah which, unfortunately, has become the stalwart of Global Imperialism Puppetry.

Ghana joined the list of oil-exporting nations about four years ago to loud applause and great expectations.

But today, Ghanaians are gnashing their teeth as the prices they pay for their petroleum products keep rising monthly, thanks to what officials called ‘automatic price adjustment mechanism.’

Here is the saddest part of the huge paradox: For reasons best known to them, Ghanaian officials signed agreements with foreign oil firms whereby the companies will ship the oil out in their crude form. Ghana’s share in the deal is a paltry (make that insulting) ten (10) percent. The agreement was for twenty (20) years.

In the meantime, Ghana’s own oil refinery lies moribund at Tema, and is starved of crude oil to refine.

This is the situation Ghana, like many African countries, finds itself.

Ostensibly independent, these states continue to function like colonial outposts with local compradors ruling in the interests of metropolitan powers.

This is the sad reality of Africa today, where citizens continue to live wretched lives in their own land, whiles foreigners enjoy the best things of life. And it is this unholy situation that gets huge praise from the West and its corporate media.

Many Africans also glorify it.

Ghana is touted as an example of the good African country on the move. The Star Pupil and the Gateway to Africa.

Where Ghana is moving to is never told.

The country was praised to high heavens for holding ritualistic elections that are largely competition between oligarchies (to borrow Nkrumah’s apt definition).

As citizens struggle to eke out miserable existence and face every manner of taxation and bills, the presidential cavalcade gets longer. Ex-gratia and dubious judgment debt payments ballooned to high heavens. And so pervasive has corruption become in the country that the AfricanWatch magazine recently ridiculed Ghana as the Republic of Corruption.

For being such an obedient, pliant puppet of imperialism, Ghana has been spared the vicious denunciation Western corporate media reserved for Africa.

But no matter how long it was kept away, truth has a way of emerging.

The bubble has burst and the pretensions can no longer be maintain that Ghana’s economy is buoyant, and that it is a good lesson for Africa to follow.

The admission by Ghana’s Finance Minister that the economic is in bad shape and might require ‘help’ from the IMF cannot but distress patriotic Africans.

It should, however, not come as a surprise to any close watcher, as our elders say that houses built with spittle will be fell by dew.

What baffles the mind greatly is that it is to the IMF that the Ghanaian government turns for help. It looks like we refused to learn anything from the lessons of history.

Few years ago, the IMF came out to admit that it made serious mistakes with the structural adjustment policies it introduced into Africa in the 1980s and 1990s.

It was a mistake that cost Africa very dearly: resulting in inutile currencies, wiped out our middle-classes (the most productive in any economy), cut in social (health and education) services, resulting in many Africans been deprived of life-saving education.

Yet, a decade or so later, our officials are getting themselves ready to re-launch the assault on us!

Are we ever going to learn in Africa?

It is indeed sad that after years of telling us the lies that our economy was booming/buoyant, and that everything was under control, our officials are rushing to the IMF for succor.

This is particularly distressing because the warnings signals were there for all to see, and there were ample warnings from patriotic citizens (including lectures by Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia of the opposition NPP) which were ridiculed and brushed off by government and ruling-party hacks, who think that any contrary suggestion is tantamount to high sedition.

It is sad that our rulers in Africa refused to be guided by lessons of history. They continue to apply the same tried and tired ideas to age-old problems.

Rather than continue to apply textbook solutions to economic problems, a better approach would be for us to study and use unorthodox methods that other people used when confronted with similar problem in the past.

This means a total over-haul of our thinking department. It requires comprehensive adjustments of our mindsets, and the preparedness to do away with every orthodoxy.

Nothing short of radical thinking will solve the huge problem that beset our continent.

This requires us to start with some very basic assumptions. The principal among these is that no society was ever developed by charity or by the benevolence of foreigners. It is time we learn and apply this lesson in Africa and begin to do things for ourselves.

Another thing we need to constantly remember is that no one came into this world with a single cent. It follows then that everyone has to create his or her own wealth.

Another thing to remember is that no nation began life as a rich, developed country. Every single nation we today call developed built their wealth literally and figuratively from scratch.

Another assumption we have to make is that economics is not a science. As the eminent economist, John Kenneth Galbraith puts it: “In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability.” Or, as H. G. Wells put it in ‘A Modern Utopia’: “The science hangs like a gathering fog in a valley, a fog which begins nowhere and goes nowhere, an incidental, unmeaning inconvenience to passers-by.”

Whatever the pretensions, economics is an art, and as we all know, every form of art involves some gimmickry. It is time we stop regarding economic laws as some infallible scientific theorems. It is time we start to employ the same gimmicks that other nations employed to build their economics and guaranteed their people decent living standards.

We can borrow ideas from other nations. It is ironic that the most instructive ones are taught by the US, most especially by US President F. Delano Roosevelt, who could be credited with building modern America.

After the Great Depression when money was scarce and Americans were committing suicides in large numbers, the 32nd president of the US introduced several programmes to put Americans to work and rebuild the American economy.

The new president, taking office at the height of the economic crises, assured troubled Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He acted quickly during the so-called Hundred Days to rush through Congress a flood of fiscal and social reform measures aimed at reviving the economy by a vast expenditure of public funds. He set up many new agencies, including the

NATIONAL RECOVERY ADMINISTRATION and the PUBLIC WORKS ADMINISTRATION, to reorganize industry and agriculture under government regulation.

These programs and social reforms, such as SOCIAL SECURITY, became known as the NEW DEAL.

FDR recognized that his country was in dire economic emergency; he took emergency measures to solve them.

It is time we in Africa wake up and recognize the dire economic straits we are in.

We can also cite post-war Europe as another example of economies that were grown in exact opposite to what the Bretton Woods institutions preached to us.

The first lesson we can learn is that deregulation (removing government from economic activities) is a fiction never practiced by anyone. No single economy has been grown in the world without strong government intervention. No economy anywhere has been developed by the fiction called ‘market forces.’

It is time we in Africa put our heads together and come up with ideas to move our continent forward.

I offer the following as ideas we can collectively consider, debate and adopt.

A NEW POLITICAL SYSTEM: We were told the lie that adopting western-style political system was the panacea to our problems. But three decades of experimentation has not yielded desired result.

Most Africans are yet to benefit from the expected dividends of democracy; and they are unlikely to do so in their lifetime.

This should not come as a surprise as most citizens in the West have come to the painful realization that their much-praised political system is a huge joke and a con-game.

Fewer and fewer of people bother to turn up to vote in elections in Europe and the USA.

We should, as a matter of urgency, try to adopt National Emergency Government System, and try it for at least twenty (20) years.

Space seriously constrains debating the merits and demerits of democracy. What is not in doubt is that most Africans are disillusioned with ritualistically voting for uncaring, over-compensated rulers who continue to rule on behalf of foreign interests.

To its advocates, western-styled democracy is the best system of government ever invented. It is not clear if those who maintain that belief ever studied African traditional system of government.

Without going into the pros and cons of this imposed, so-called democratic system, it is beyond doubt or debate that it has been a very expensive undertaking for Africa.

Not only are elections expensive and difficult to organise, but the tension they generate are quite onerous and detrimental to national health.

The problem becomes compounded in the fragile countries we have in Africa where tribal antagonism and religious extremism often combine with partisan politics to heat things up uncontrollably.

A good example is the last election held in Ghana in 2010. For the eight good months it took the Supreme Court to adjudge the petition, the country virtually ground to a halt.

What is suggested here is that African countries should consider forming National Emergency Governments. Political parties that win ten percent or more of popular votes should automatically be included in the government, with smaller parties forming the opposition.

The arrangement could be for ten to twenty years. The presidency should rotate among the coalition parties, with cabinet positions shared proportionally to votes obtained.

The present system is too cumbersome and it puts unbearable economic, financial, psychological, political, social and emotional pressures on the people and the countries. Many of the countries find themselves in the ridiculous position of depending on donor support to organise elections to choose leaders. Who pipes the piper…

The main remit of these governments would be to embark on five, ten, fifteen and twenty years Economic Development Plans.

What history taught was that nations put their economic houses in order before they worry themselves about political and human rights niceties. The examples the West like to throw in Africa’s face: Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea were developed under stern and strong men. Even the West that today vociferate loudly did not practice democracy until it put its economic house in order. Should it succeed, India would become the first democracy to develop an economy.

What we need to do in Africa is recognize that we are in an emergency and adopt emergencies measures to redeem ourselves like other people did. With the worries and time and resources wasted in holding quadrennial elections out of the way, we can then embark on total mobilization of our people and resources for economic development.

What this means is that for the duration of the term, a country can forget all about politics and concentrate its entire energies in rebuilding the economy. Linked to the idea of a National Emergency Government is the adoption of PART TIME LEGISLATURE.

One of the most ridiculous thing in Africa today is where we have people elected to National Legislature who do very little, but feel entitled to a large chunk of the national budget.

While China, with its mammoth economy (GDP of US$3Trillion and some US$13T in reserves), make do with a part-time legislative system, poverty-ridden African states (many depend on donor support for upward of 40% of their budget), opted for full-time legislature.

It will not be problematic were these legislators been seen to be doing something useful, but from Nigeria to Senegal to Ghana to Kenya to South Africa citizens have questioned the necessity of maintaining full-time legislature, whom they see do little apart from ratifying loan agreements.

Citizens see these houses of legislatures as big drains on their budgets.

The only time they see these men and women do anything is all for the wrong reasons of salary increments and how much of national resources to allocate for their comfort.

In the Chinese system, the law-makers, all of whom have their own professions, assemble once in a year to tackle the business of law making. After their three months stints as law-makers, they revert to their professions. They are paid sitting allowances.

This is eminently sensible, and it should be adopted without delay in Africa. We need less professional politicians who have no other profession, but live parasitical lives.

CUTTING DOWN ON GOVERNMENT EXPENDITURE: Adoption of National Emergency Governments should be accompanied by drastic cut in the size of governments.

Let’s cite Ghana as example again. Currently the country has three ministers at the ministry of agriculture. But Ghana continue to spend a big chunk of its income on food imports. The president recently lamented that the country rice bill is US$600 million per year.

In contrast, the Netherlands has only one minister in its agriculture ministry; yet agriculture earns the Dutch about US$36billion annually.

Another thing that needed to be tackled is the tendency for loud ostentatious lifestyles by African leaders.

The spectacle of African rulers in decadent opulence is among the most sickening and one of the most unconscionable imaginable.

Shame alone dictates that these rulers drastically cut back on their very loud grandiose lifestyles.

How do leaders like Goodluck Jonathan justify a ten-plane Presidential Fleet when Nigeria lacks a national Airline? How does the president of Ghana rationalized his two jets when Ghana’s national carrier was allowed to collapse?

I have seen Heads of States in Western Europe, and their modesty is something we can recommend to the rulers in Africa.

Few African countries has the capacity to manufacture bicycle spokes, yet African leaders ride the best and most technologically-advanced cars around.

Africa shall not make a headway until we can find a way to compel our elite to stop their primitive propensities for material aggrandizements.

INTER-AFRICAN TRADING: For any thinking African, the craziest thing in the current setup is how Africans wilfully walled themselves behind the colonial creations they call countries. It matters little to the rulers of these enclaves that few of them are viable economically or, as the raging wars across the continent suggest, militarily.

Sundering our societies into unviable entities made eminent imperial logic, but it is absolutely senseless that African leaders continue to keep their own people apart, in the name of the fictions of nations the colonialists created.

What is equally incongruous is the inability of these rulers to make it possible for their own people to trade easily among themselves. I interviewed a Ghanaian entrepreneur who told me the unbelievable story that his cargo to Liberia is routed through Spain.

This means that Spain makes money whenever he trades with his Liberian counterpart. Of course, ordinary Africans are ultimately made to pay for this madness.

Equally perplexing is the inability to forge a common currency even in the blocs. A Togolese wishing to buy a Nigerian product must first look for dollars or euros. What this means is that each and every time Africans trade among themselves, foreigners make a cut without doing anything.

And we say that we are independent!

Even the developed economies of the EU countries, with few exceptions, have opted for a single currency.

Africa, especially at the regional levels, needs a common currency and we need it now.

It galls when we read such abysmal statistics that only ten percent of African trade is between African nations. This is in contrast to what obtained in the other regions of the world.

For Africa to make progress, the emotional apron-string with Europe must be broken. It is painful when a child has to leave its parents, but it must be done if such child must become a man.

Instead of the fixation on Europe, Africans and African nations must trade in goods and services among themselves. ECOWAS alone boast of some 300 million people – same as the European Union much beloved by our rulers.

Our great empires – Ghana, Mali & Songhai were built when our people had unfettered access to trade among themselves. It should not be beyond the competence of our intellectuals to come up with creative ways we can trade among ourselves without enriching foreigners.

RESOURCE CONTROL: I don’t know how the rulers in Africa believe that they can develop their countries when the control of their resources are in the hands of foreigners.

How do our leaders in Africa expect to get out of the current state of underdevelopment, when they contend themselves with remaining as beggars?

We should be bold enough to demand to know what manner of market forces made it possible for foreigners to own our mines and oil wells and pay us only 3-10%. And in other to attract them, our governments continue to give them five years tax holidays. After four and half years, the crafty investor declare bankruptcy and move out. His partners in crime are already waiting to move in, and we gleefully sign the same odious contract with them. We get fleeced every year.

Africa should follow the lead initiated by Papa Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and become shareholder in every single firm that operate in any extractive business on the continent. We can settle for the same 51/49 percentage obtaining in Zimbabwe.

Honestly, it is more than curious that a self-respecting African will stoop so low to sign a contract that allows foreigners to take ninety percent of profits.

SECURITY. For a continent with over a billion people, the spate of security challenges by every description of rag-tag army on the continent is simply untenable.

It was not that we were not warned about what to expect when the conservative forces, supported by the imperialists, shot down Nkrumah’s idea to set up an African High Command (AHC).

The imperialists who told their minions in Africa that an AHC was a bad idea today safely escond themselves in NATO, and guaranteed their own safety.

Without delay, Africa should revisit the AHC project. African should easily be able to field five million army – a million each in the West, East, North, Southern and Central Regions.

Military Science Academies and Advanced Weapons industries should, as a matter of priority, be set up across the continent.

As the only continent to have suffered the twin evil of slavery and colonialism, our defence and security should be our overriding concern. The current situation whereby African police officers use colonial laws to arrest and prosecute African gunsmiths is simply foolish. They should rather be aided to help in building up our indigenous arms industries.

We cannot continue to rely on our historic oppressors for our security.

I raised the issue during my interview with the Ghana’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, she raised questions about funding. If we admit that the spate of insurgencies and wars is costing our continent great financial burden, we should be creative enough to think about how to raise the money to defend ourselves and our interests.

Taxes could be levy on every business that operates on the continent to be allocated to Defence and Security.

 

About the Author

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and ModernGhana, and Correspondent for the New African magazine, Femi lives in both Europe and Africa, and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

He is also the Man and Machine Coordinator at Alaye Dot Biz Limited, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organisation that specialises in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

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