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COLUMN

Who Can Save Africa?

Basil Enwegbara

Just like any great people at a historic juncture, Africans today are crying out for leadership. They are looking for a messiah to show them the way, a messiah endowed with the power to ignite their passion and inspire the best in them. They are impatiently waiting for a leader who not only will counter the great forces of status quo but will also be capable of persuading and mobilizing people.

But in the absence of the awaited leader, Africans have acted like a people without direction. We have simply embraced “easy” ways, accepting poverty as if we had no other choice. And more frightening is our willingness to place our destiny in others’ hands. In doing so, we have come to believe we can simply contract out development to those “specially endowed,” and that out of sheer sympathy they must come to our rescue.

In Africa, narrow, short-term gains are everyone’s goals, leading to confusion everywhere -- in politics, in religion, and in economy -- especially since public office holders are fully aware they may not last long or have a second chance. Little wonder Africa is today littered with so many failed, corrupt projects, making it extremely difficult for any serious projects to take place in the region.

The enforcement of the structural adjustment policies of the IMF and the World Bank in the 1980s dramatized the already difficult situation. These policies stifled local economies and made it popular for privileged Africans to seek greener pastures outside the continent. Since governments had their hands off when any form of social development -- including education -- was concerned, Western colleges and universities replaced their African counterparts for the education of Africans, particularly the rich. It didn’t end there. In fact, those who can afford it have come to believe that it will even serve the best interests of their returning children -- if at all they ever return -- to inherit the status quo.

Today the result is glaring. Africans have compromised the future for narrow gains, and the cleverest people, badly needed to help lead the continent’s economic development, are now a giveaway to western economies. It’s mind-boggling that nothing is being done to reverse Africa’s brain drain. To say the least, it is a tragedy. Future generations, historians included, will find themselves perplexed not because we failed to look ourselves in the mirror, but because we expected others to take responsibility on our behalf. They will find it incomprehensible that we strongly hoped that some distant nations would come to our rescue, even when never in history has any distant nation ever left its own problems to go and solve another’s.

As humanitarian as humans can be, we always offer aid after weighing our own interests. We first ascertain the costs of humanitarianism, and should there be any doubts, not only will we not help, but we may go so far as to try to ensure that those in need do not succeed even on their own. We do so because of the simple law of human survival. No amount of moralization will change this law.

Ability to recognize these realities will help Africans begin to find the right solutions to their problems. Understanding that the uniqueness of African problems will require some unique and homegrown solutions is essential and is the right way to begin. Recognizing that there are no shortcuts or magic solutions, understanding that there’s no great success without accompanying risk, sacrifices, and trial and error learning, and appreciating that the size of the problem also defines the size of the opportunity will make us more prepared to face today’s challenges.

More importantly, giving everyone an equal opportunity to participate and to experiment will help ignite the entrepreneurial vigor in most Africans. The day we begin believing in ourselves, trusting one another, treating one another with respect, and praising and giving credit to deserving fellow Africans is the day our development begins to take strong roots. The day we guarantee everyone’s economic freedom is the day African capitalism emerges. And more importantly, the day we stop spending billions of dollars annually in defense and start channeling that money into education, health care, and agriculture is the day we really know how to put our money where our mouths are.

Africans need more actions than blueprint declarations if they want to become a competitive member of the global economy. They need an African central bank and an “afro currency,” not just to ease regional trade but also to reduce present dependence on non-African currencies and their associated transaction costs. Africans will welcome a unified Africa in which governments do less to divide them or obstruct their free movement, where goods and services move freely not only because that will guarantee them access to a huge market but also because it will facilitate cross-border flows of capital across Africa. The presence of a regional assembly making laws, a regional police force maintaining law and order, and a regional peacekeeping force making war a thing of the past will begin to cement regional integration. Africans must do these things not to impress anyone; it is Africa’s future that is at stake.