Kenya recently hosted the first ever World Social Forum to be held in Africa. While the forum was about making some quick tourism euros and dollars for most Kenyans, the rest of the delegates gathered in solidarity for other businesses - to churn out new rhetoric on the problems facing Africa in areas such as trade discrimination, hunger, illiteracy, poverty and disease. Speaker after speaker cried out: “it is indeed possible to have another world” and that “another Africa” is possible.
The twenty first century is one of the most momentous periods of African history as it is filled with hope and pain to birth a new Africa. Long ago, Philosopher Hegel preached a doctrine of growth through struggle. There can be no birth and growth without hopeful pain. We are in the labour throes of a new Africa. Soon, statistics such as “most Africans survive on less than one dollar per day” or “ a third of Africa’s population suffers from malnutrition” will be history.
As we begin to fathom a new Africa, let us remember the wisdom of Albert Einstein that “the significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Our challenge is reworking our political and socio-economical concepts for effective midwifery of the “new Africa.”
That African’s poverty has a direct inverse relationship with non-Africans’ wealth creation is not fictitious. For instance, much of the current levels of the third world debt was amassed following the 1973 oil crisis when the Western members of OPEC pushed up the oil price making Arab nations very wealthy. The Arabs returned the favour by depositing that money in Western banks. Disguised as development loans, those banks shared their “oil loot” with third world countries, at some interest of course! However, the loans did not reach the poor. On arrival, the money took a “U turn” across the Atlantic Ocean back into private bank accounts of Western conduits. Against such a background is there any wisdom in holding out our hands to the same people for rescue?
Time is ripe for us to consider a “do it ourselves philosophy” or some form of self help program that focuses on our largest resource: the ordinary people, most often called poor people. This group has been the target of poverty reduction efforts and has been viewed as problems. This mindset has led to disenfranchising the poor from the development process. It is unwise to presume that the poor, be they illiterate, are bereft of inherent skills, experiences and talents that can be useful in building our communities. The same people are our heroes who daily create better livelihoods for their children. They fought colonialism and resisted slavery. How can we suddenly ignore them in our new struggles? These are the days of building economies based on people; not on gold, diamond or oil. The world today revolves on the axis of mind economy. African governments should develop confidence in the ordinary people, quit business, and maximize their citizens’ free enterprise.
Western concepts have brainwashed our view of the world. We must develop an African perspective of development. The theories, concepts and beliefs we acquire in our schools can become self-fulfilling because the very assumptions and beliefs like ‘survival for the fittest,’ ‘man is inherently selfish and competitive by nature’, ‘an educated mind is an open mind,’ shape institutional designs, management practices, educational norms, media focus, and social expectations. Our current European based formal education system was designed to European interests and is completely bereft of African contexts such as the need for productive land tillage, crop and animal husbandry, artistic and intellectual creativity.
Our education system teaches so much about resource management but little about resource creation. How does one manage what he does not have? We need to educate our people on wealth creation before we can teach them how to use it! We need practical education so that our land can produce surplus food; floods water can be used for irrigation water or better still, electricity generation and arid areas be turned into lush productive land.
Africa should design development strategies that appreciate individual and community talents, skills and assets rather than focus on problems and needs. We need African driven development rather than one motivated by external agencies with numerous controls over decision making and resource management. This kind of development will build on: analyzing the community's past successes; recognizing social capital; participatory approaches based on principles of empowerment and ownership of the development process; collaborative efforts for economic development and efforts to strengthen civil society, that is, engaging people in development as citizens rather than clients.
We need to set up indigenous community development initiatives that will strengthen and finance inclusive community groups, facilitate community access to information, and promote an enabling environment through policy and institutional reform. When communities are empowered, development decisions are likely to be based on first-hand understanding of the issues. Community initiatives will be tailored to the needs of the community, and are thus more likely to succeed. As the communities work together, connections and trust between community members will be strengthened, building a solid base for further decision-making.
We need to open our borders for free exchange of goods and services. The West is already looking at Africa as lucrative market for their products, isn’t that indication enough for our market power of over 800 million people. Opening borders should be followed by synergizing our transport system: it is ridiculous to have a flight from Kenya to Sierra Leone cost more than traveling to UK. Such blunders limit movement and stifle information exchange, which is vital for growth.
Indigenous safety net mechanisms including private or informal ones, such as family members supporting each other with cash, food, or labor are a better way to mitigate extreme poverty and other risks. These mechanisms are handy in times of temporary or permanent poverty risks affecting specific households such as illness or death of a breadwinner, or impacting whole communities and countries like drought and price shifts in terms of trade. This kind of self sufficiency will earn us respect in the world and hasten the birth of a new Africa.
Another Africa is possible! We are not just a continent of war, poverty and disease. We are a people with unbreakable spirit. If we built Europe and America without wages; how can we succumb to modern evils of economic disparities? Let us continue to organize our people around ideas, activities and dreams for better livelihood. Our people are our resource!