By Olohy Ejembi
Opinion about why Africa remains underdeveloped are already hackneyed and annoying. They are hackneyed because they are monotonous, and they are annoying because they are misconceived. Many opinion writers have written what Chimamanda Adichie would call single story. Excruciatingly enough, their single story itself is misleading or brainwashing. And it is an unreasonable excuse than the biblical excuse given by the man in the Garden of Eden after the disobedience – “The woman you gave me gave me the fruit”. It is natural that human beings like to blame others for their weaknesses or failures.
The latest article about this issue that I read online came as direct attack on those of us who promote population control. Abysmally, like other previous articles, the writer accused Europe of causing the poverty in Africa and manipulating Africans to believe that the reason for their poverty lies somewhere else; and that the West also makes Africans feel as if over population is a bad thing. I think that was a very poor write up. Such an opinion is too myopic to be written for public consumption. Over population is a problem everywhere even in developed countries. The writer failed to reason that the most developed country in the world today is not the most populated country, neither is the most populated country in the world doing well due to its population. In fact, as a part of it policies to properly develop, China had “to control” its population growth. Population in modern days is a factor that can hinder development, because it promotes poverty and crime.
So many people have written that the West underdeveloped Africa, Europe underdeveloped Africa, the world powers underdeveloped Africa, without recourse to the nature of Africa centuries before the Europe extended slave trade and colonization to Africa. Many writers fail to think deep about the age long stagnated life style and the near anti-expansionist nature of the African people and their kingdoms. These writers or opinion leaders shirk away the weaknesses and the lack of progressive leadership in Africa since its existence.
Apart from Ethiopia and Egypt that were trying or struggling, the African continent was backward long before the coming of Europe. The African land was almost without activities when Europe, Asia, America were already exploring scientific mysteries. When the Europeans came into Africa, the African land was still in a social, political and economic stages that almost all parts of Europe had passed beyond for more than two thousand years earlier. When the world out there was already inventing wonders, Africa was still very primitive so much that it’s people were without clothes on their bodies. When the West had widely undergone a near modern day civilisation, more than two-third of Africa was literally necked and socially empty. Africa was still in the woods when other parts of the world were developing. Its people then were literally not civilized. In fact, it was Europe that raised Africa from the dust and darkness it was prerpetually embedded in before the west expansionist era. Thus African countries should be thanking these people that showed them the light and the way to civilization, but not to accuse them of what they never initiated. Africans lacked social, political and economic development spirit before Europeans entered Africa. It was when European came into Africa that they helped majority of African nations to see beyond their noses, therefore they should be appreciated for that, but not to be blamed on the basis of political manipulations. Africans should grow up and stop blaming others for their failures. Africa is old enough to resist manipulation if there is any, but not to concede and come out to cryout like a foolish child.
The excuses always given by the apologists of African underdevelopment are too poor to be accepted as the real reasons why Africa remains underdeveloped. They say that slave trade did a great harm to Africa in that it took away the strong men who were supposed to build Africa. I wonder what these people understand by “strong men”. If the so called strong men taken as slaves were not primitive people who did not know their own worth, people who did not know that the world expanded beyond where they were, they wouldn’t have been taking as slaves, would they? Development is not brought by physical strength, but by being innovative, which was lacking in Africa and is still very scarce to date. Africans themselves naturally made Africa a slave centre. They were living like slaves in their own land; they were living like prisoners.
The apologists also say that the educational system Europe brought into Africa was not technologically driven; therefore, did not inculcate the skills that could promote development. Adding that the system was only made to ease the running of the colonial administration. As a child my father used to buy oversized clothes for me, which we would give to tailors to amend to a very fitting size. Africans have governed themselves long enough to change the educational system to a “fitting size” that can promote development.
Some also say that the colonial masters stole many things that were supposed to be used for the development of Africa. But I wonder what they stole that impedes development in Africa to this day. Most parts of Africa were without exhibitions, hence the artifacts taken by the colonial masters were just lying worthlessly before they were taken away. We, Africans, are just what we are as it were with our fathers – no sense of growth. I cry for Africa. Having people who believe that Africa is underdeveloped because the West made it so is the worst thing that happens to Africa. This believe seems to define Africans as a people with poor and stagnant thinking capacity.
THE REAL ISSUES THAT UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA
Let me begin this section by saying that Africans like imitation. Socio-political imitation is one of the problems with the modern Africa states. There is a saying among the idoma people of Nigeria that imitations kill young monkeys. A young monkey that attempts to jump like its mother may end up crutching its head on a stone below the tree. When Africa almost lacked self history and a functional society, it began to copy many European social and/or political system almost immediately it people went to Europe and came back with new stories about where they have been. Africans started placing their own systems on the same page with those practiced in Europe almost without foundations.
Africa also copied the leadership style brought into Africa as a direct implication of colonization. African people failed to consider the fact that the European system underwent metamorphosis in centuries before getting to the stage it was. They failed to realize that centuries of innovations had provided the European system with invincible foundations and pillars. Africa only copied the parts of the system that were already in the air, and has been struggling to build its own system in the air, without taking into cognizance that the European system in the air has foundations and pillars on which it is built and held.
As said earlier, African was still in the woods when the west started to build their society. Africa’s jumping into the stage where the West was without undergoing the metamorphic stages the West underwent is one of the things that are terribly affecting African system. African did not undergo proper meiosis division in its development to have normal and attractive developmental features that other continents have.
Another issue or problem with Africa is its people. In 1983 Achebe wrote a small but wonderful book. In it, Achebe captures what he titled “The Trouble with Nigeria”. The issues that he explores in the book are not trouble with Nigeria alone, but the trouble with the whole of Africa. In concise headings he presents where the problem that underdeveloped African lies. African people promote tribalism, false image of themselves, lack patriotism, lack discipline, lack social justice, and have a leadership style that naturally promote corruption and mediocrity. Hence it is a system that is a direct opposite of the style of leaderships in the West.
In Africa, to borrow Lord Alfred Danning’s words, bribery and graft are accepted and stealing is a virtue. Code of morals is abandoned in public places; morals are only remembered and accepted when in the church or mosque, but rejected elsewhere. The African people place priority on self and other primordial sentiments against laws, institutions and the state. in Africa, patriotism is seen as mystical phenomenon that is impracticable.
The African people in their various countries are in war with one another and against laws and institutions. This war stems from common mentality possessed by all individuals, aimed at becoming the lord of the ring at the expense of the people and the government. Everyone, almost without an exception, is ready to divert state resources for himself/herself at every slightest opportunity in order to become object of worship by others. Therefore, when people in other parts of the world are building their countries to lead the world, African people are busy pulling down their countries to acquire the wealth only to intimidate and control their own brothers. For this reason cronyism is the only meritocratic policy that is the basis for getting jobs, appointments and selections into public offices. How do we then relate this selfish attitude of Africans to the notion that Europe underdeveloped Africa?
Achebe wrote that “The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to responsibility”. Of course African leaders are not responsible leaders, but not because they are just not willing to, but because they do not have the ability to be responsible. Naturally, African leaders seem to lack progressive spirit which is the hallmark of development. So, underdevelopment is never a thing brought upon Africa by the West, but an ancient feature of Africa which is very difficult to remove from Africa.
Many of us are happy now that Rwanda, for example, has got a progressive leadership style. However, those who love Africa or Rwanda should not go to bed and sleep as those who are home and dry. There are more barbaric and retrogressive leaders all over Africa than progressive ones. We should bear in mind that the current President of Rwanda will not Stay in office forever. The next leader of Rwanda may be a true African whose real nature is unprogressive and bestial.
Considering what African leaders are, there is a tendency that Rwanda is not home and dry or safe yet from those whose nature promotes policies that mar development. The next leader may take over and abandon the progressive policies of the current government, because it is a common attribute of African leadership style.
What is being said here is not a curse, but a reality. We have to tell ourselves the truth, and as it is said, knowing the truth can set us free. I write this because I believe Africa can change. Knowing that we Africans are the problems of Africa can help us to change. Europe did not underdevelop Africa. Europe rather brought into Africa the current civilization; if Europe had not come into Africa, Africa would have still remained like the park or forest it was. The West is still struggling to help Africa progress, but religion and its inherent retrogressive nature are dragging it backward. Africans are the beasts, not the others.