The insatiable appetite to bring money from outside Africa into Africa has clouded the vision of leaders on the continent from focusing on improving the quality of life of their citizens. By leaders, one should not ignore the role of the continents’ intellectuals who benefit from the inertia of status quo.
The continents’ 21st century leadership across the board appears to have lost memory of what transpired in Africa prior to the infamous formalization of the scramble for Africa in 1884. The situation is complicated further by the narrow elite that find refuge in democratic processes to organize society for their own private gain at the expense of the citizenry.
The just concluded IREN Eastern Africa Thought Leaders Forum on Leadership in Africa in the 21st Century highlighted the dangerous trend evolving in Africa. The ordinary citizenry toil on daily basis to improve their wellbeing but constantly endure a disconnected leadership that is geared at self promotion. The citizenry witness heightened activities from developed and emerging markets targeting the continent through multiple platforms but cannot see measures to enable them to play an active role in these activities. A lot of partying is going on by the continent’s elites and those from developed markets. The citizens sense of reality is warped as they only see shadows analogous to Plato’s shadows in the cave. Are all these deals geared to develop Africa or simply record growth to deliver political campaign promises?
African citizens must urgently place their leadership on the hot seat and probe them on the measures they are taking to involve the citizenry in producing new goods and services to the national, regional and continental market. What measures, for example, have the leaders put in place to improve the capabilities of African enterprises to compete effectively with developed and emerging economies? It should concern the citizens when economic powers release billions of dollars of support without a counter report of how Africans will pay back.
Participants at the IREN Leadership Forum were emphatic on the need for leaders across the divide (whether in politics, industry, academia and intellectuals) to demonstrate pragmatism in choice of strategy. While it is clear that the continent may not have the paper billions of dollars, it can trade with its value and capital that is worth trillions of dollars. It was also noted that the continent requires leaders who can observe and identify with the challenges facing their citizenry. The African citizen is on a rollercoaster towards consumerism with nil or low productivity. The many treaties and trade agreements signed devoid of a demonstrated push to reform what compromises productivity on the continent snatches the future from African children.
Money from outside the continent should purchase value added products from Africa instead of addressing short term political interests of African leaders and satisfying developed markets’ long term strategy in Africa. The African leaders on the hot seat should answer the question: what if a second formalized scramble took place in 2084 to mark 200 years of the first one? How well have the leaders prepared the African people? Let us start by reaching out to those sucking on the tits of the status quo to look up to the dangers in the horizon in order to organize an all inclusive and high quality productive society.
By James Shikwati
The author is Founder Director of Inter Region Economic Network.