Preparing Africa for the 21st Century

Published on 5th July 2005

Edited By: John Mukum Mbaku

Publisher: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Gower House, Croft Road Aldershot,
Hampshire, GU11 3HR, England, and U.K. 1999

Pages: 357

Price: Us$79.95 (Hardcover)

The dawn of the 21st century is seeing all kinds of preparations to free Africa from its apparent deathbed. Internalists have emerged who see the Africa problem as more internal than external: externalists blame external factors like colonialism for Africa’s woes; and African Renaissance preachers, a centrist agenda, that blame Africa’s troubles on both internal and external factors and seek to revive the African culture, for long bastardized, and its fusion with the positive aspects of the global culture.

It is in these voices that Preparing for the Twenty-First Century offers \"strategies for the peaceful coexistence and sustainable development\" for Africa. The book, part of the contemporary perspectives on developing societies, has eight African contributors teaching in various universities around the world. The editor John Mukum Mbaku teaches at the economics department at USA’s Weber State University. The list of tables gives statistics of African countries defence expenditures and size of the armed forces and such data like Africa’s annual distribution of major armed conflicts.

Earlier African elites have blamed the continent’s troubles on colonial systems and its accompanying global schemes. Others put the troubles on policy mistakes by honest but poorly educated or incompetent African officials. But new research shows that the importance of institutions has not been critically looked at and that \"evidence points to the fact that the bulk of these so-called policy mistakes were actually perverse economic programs designed and implemented deliberately by opportunistic (but not necessarily incompetent or ignorant) elite searching for ways to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of society.\"

Added to the above has been misdirected decolonization process which continued to base laws and institutions on European values instead of African values, and which would have been \"designed to allow the indigenous people to maximize their interests. A dispensation of this type would have properly constrained the post-independence government (making it much more difficult for civil servants and politicians to engage in opportunistic behaviors); and enhance the development of an indigenous entrepreneurial class and the ability of the latter to engage in productive activities.\"

Since 1980s there have been rapid changes in both economics and politics. Despite these changes much more Africans live in abject poverty characterized by weak, poorly designed, inappropriate and inefficient institutional arrangements. Nearly forty years after independence Africans are yet to see the kinds of institutional arrangements that would lower political opportunism, enhance wealth creation, and advance peaceful coexistence of groups. This will only come about when Africa’s institutional arrangements are rooted in African values, history and traditions first and any other second.

As the 21st century opens up, Africa is increasingly freed from the demonic Cold War game, say the contributors; the time has come for African elites to properly reconstruct the neo-colonial state to \"provide more effective structures for development and peaceful coexistence in the new century. Africans need to arm themselves with appropriate governance structures—those that minimize political opportunism, maximize popular participation, and enhance resource allocation systems that promote indigenous entrepreneurship and wealth creation.\"

It is this light that this book joins the debate on how to prepare Africa and Africans for the new century. The contributors believe, informed by their experiences inside and outside Africa, that the first line of business in any instituted transition program should be the reconstruction of the neo-colonial state wrapped around transparent, participatory, and accountable governance structures. To this end there is call for a new property rights regime governance structures that will put environmental resources in African hands, earlier on policies have put them in neo-colonial hands and their African cohorts.

This means a rethinking of the place of the region within the global interstate system and among the rest of humanity, informed by recent historical experiences of the region with the view of understanding the factors that have given shape to its political economies and also to its social cultural attributes. Added to this is the fact that democracy and democratization have massive support from the African masses in practically all the African countries in societies where people are tired of oppressive, exploitative, and unaccountable leadership.

To contain destructive ethnic conflict there is recommendation for ‘a process of governance that is transparent and open to public scrutiny.’ Federalism is recommended, with important devolution of power to regional, state and local tiers of government. This needs enhanced human rights and political tolerance to protect vulnerable groups by the accountable governance systems.

The continent’s preparation for the new century, the book says, rests on regionalism, which will see individual African economies too small to allow domestic industries to benefit from the economies of large-scale production benefit from larger regional integration with its large internal markets that would help domestic industries better and more efficiently exploit technological economies of scale.

In its examination of the state in reconstruction, the role of African women as a key and critical factor is looked into, and the need to provide opportunities for their participation in both political and economic markets sounded in the 21st century. This means freeing the African women from patriarchy and other sexism that have traditionally inhibited their progress in relations to African men. It is in this context that the African State is examined in chapter 12, for the state to be relevant to the African people it \"must change market incentives structures so as to minimize political opportunities (e.g., bureaucratic corruption) and enhance indigenous entrepreneurship and the creation of wealth.\"

Source: Expo Times Independent Sierra Leone, 11-24 October, 2000 Vol 6 No 16

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