Homegrown Policies Will Save Africa

Published on 9th August 2005

In his final address to the parliament last month, Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa told a story of an old couple who had a son. The parents were worried as this young adult was not able to decide what he wanted to be. They therefore put him to test by placing a ten-thousand shilling note, a bible and a bottle of whisky on the table. The man said to his wife: if our son picks the money, he will be a businessman, if he picks the bible, he will be a priest, but if he picks the bottle, I am afraid he will be a drunkard.

Peeping through the key hole, they saw their son arrive. The son picked the ten thousand shilling note, and he slid it in his pocket. He took the bible, flipped through it, and put it in his pocket. Then he grabbed the whisky, opened it and took a quaff. He proceeded to his room carrying all the three items. The father slapped his forehead and said, “Damn, our son will be a politician.” In the end, president Mkapa said that he will hate to see Tanzanian politicians having this kind of a reputation that is going to whatever length to take care of their selfish interest at the expense of the nation and future generations.

Politics is the arena in which ideologies wrestle with each other. Party manifestoes are based on sets of ideas shared and confessed by certain groups of people. Indeed, when politics is free from philosophical concepts like it is in most African states where the quest for leadership is solely motivated by acquisitive notions, politics ceases to be constructive. Africans should realize that whether one looks down at ideologies or speaks about ideas, ideologies, and “isms” in a natural manner, one should understand that ideologues, ideologies and “isms” also crave for power. Thus they present themselves and their notions as the truth, sensible, practical and just concepts. It’s only the proponents who understand what they are up to.

African politicians should heed Mr. Mkapa’s call and save the continent from the traded trinity of poverty, disease and hunger that are synonymous in the continent. Africa’s winners take all politics is the major cause of everything that has gone wrong. Once one wins an election, the policies passionately shared during the campaigns are quickly forgotten and they run the states as if they were private bank accounts. Most of the political appointments are never on merit but on nepotism, friendship and a desire to entrench themselves in the positions. A good example is Kenya and Malawi where the present leaders promised to trim the cabinets so as to reduce on expenditure and bring about efficiency only to come and expand the same by creating more cabinet positions to accommodate their cronies with most ministries having two or three assistant ministers.

Anyone who points at the wrongs that are being done is said to be unpatriotic or undermining the government and if he is from another country, he is quickly reminded of the sovereignty of the state where the ills are being committed. This is why the continent is lagging behind in development. No wonder a Kenyan resident in Oulu – Finland was surprised when he first arrived there and saw an Members of Parliament leisurely riding a bicycle to work and charting with people. He could not visualize his MP back home who is driven around in a SUV with escorts who are fully armed in a similar situation.

Muammar Gaddafi’s call for political unity in Africa should be taken seriously. In line with this unity, Intra-African trade should be encouraged. Potential gains of regional integration include economies of scale and large markets. These will promote competition leading to better quality and relatively affordable goods. A regional bloc is bound to enhance strong bargaining power in the international trade negotiations and with these; the challenges posed by globalization will be overcome. Moreover, regional integration will lead to mutual relations between partner states in matters of security, education, peace, health, infrastructure, environmental preservation, favorable conditions for people to work and wealth creation.

Africa is blessed with diverse natural as well as human resources. What she needs are clear policies that will lead to creation of wealth using these resources. However, since most African governments rely on their donor friends, most policies are formulated to impress the donors. Hence, they are devoid of the right domestic vision and mission that they should address. Moreover, these policies end up serving the interests of the donor countries and not the African countries themselves. With the kind of leaders that we have in most African countries who cannot articulate the issues that are of help to their people without first of all thinking of what the donors will say, one would not be forgiven for expecting them to come up with policies that have their nations as the nerves.

It\'s time various expatriates from the continent formed think tanks to deliberate on issues affecting the continent and come up with home grown solutions. The think tanks should comprise of scholars from different disciplines, business people, researchers and the students who are akin to the issues. Governments and foreigners can then come in at the implementation stage and they should not be allowed to change them to satisfy their short term goals.

Africans are very optimistic but as the years go, it is dawning on them that optimism does not produce results, at least not on its own. Majority of them are becoming poorer while the politicians are becoming richer. People should be realistic and know what they are up against. Any meaningful development will only come if there is good governance where people are allowed to work and meet their basic needs, there is no misappropriation of the taxes, governments don’t spend what they don’t have and laws are enforced fairly.

As Africa emerges from its isolation imposed by geography, the expatriates (who are akin with the issues affecting Africa) from different disciplines should formulate policies that will point to the universality of the human condition and make the continent join the undertakings of mankind on equal footing.


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