Africa’s Post Financial Crisis Dilemma

Published on 6th April 2010

Chinese premier Hu Jintao addresses the China-Africa forum                Photo courtesy

“I am not sure that the market phenomenon works, it is largely a manipulated trend,” a professor from Nigeria observes. “I am not sure the financial crisis is over yet for Africa, the waves are hitting our coasts at the moment,” a Moroccan observes. We risk concentrating on economic balance sheet to assess the impact of the financial crisis on the continent and ignore its impact on the intellectual climate in Africa.


The financial crisis that propelled the world’s major economies to contract and resort to protectionism and nationalization in the name of rescue packages has spawned intellectual orphans on the continent. I witnessed first hand the confusion in the African intellectual world in a recent forum in Beijing China. The Chinese economic model is clear about the role of government in economic development: the government is a major player but not a mere referee. China too has a clear knowledge of what and who a Chinese is – even if it means forcing foreign companies out to uphold these standards.


On our part, we Africans are scions of France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Oman and the United States of America. Intellectually, Africans have literally no position on anything save for what they can regurgitate from their patron countries. Matters are made worse by the financial crisis that destabilized the philosophical orientation of patron nations to Africa. Countries that had lectured Africans on privatization, less regulation and less government are now driving in the opposite direction. Consequently, when Africa meets emerging giants such as China, it is disadvantaged because China gets what it wants while Africa gets nothing since it has no real 'Africa position.'


I observed a similar scenario when I served on a small African Union committee headed by Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai. We were tasked to identify “genuine” African civil society organizations to join the Economic and Social Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSSOC). Since over 60% of majority of Africa’s civil society budgets are financed by western entities, it becomes difficult to identify genuine African voices from these groups when Africa confronts other giants internationally. The same can be said of African states majority of who have over 40% of their budgets financed by western countries.


Emerging economies should therefore be aware that in Africa, they meet Europeans dressed in African skins because real Africans are yet to be born or “made.” Whether this is good or bad, we leave it to intellectuals for further debate. 


It was a tense moment at the conclusion of the launch of the Sino – Africa joint research and exchange program when it became apparent that it is difficult to meet real Africans on the continent. “The new diamond and gold for the continent is the courageous and fearless African intellectual that will and can help us rediscover the lost African person;” said ambassador Philip Idro from Uganda. 


I agree with ambassador Idro that the challenge facing the continent is to have intellectuals that can drive Africans to self discovery. Part of the reason why we sell land, auction our natural resources and leave our children to die of diseases and hunger is precisely because “we don’t exist.” The most probable outcome of the financial crisis that hit the world for Africa will be deep soul searching on paradigms that have reigned on the continent for over a century.


Africans must start by creating themselves, their own governments and homegrown intellectual thought. Africa’s interaction with the rest of the world ought to uplift and not submerge the African person.


By James Shikwati

James Shikwati  is  Director of Inter Region Economic Network.

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