In February 2016, Bonang Mohale, Shell South Africa chairperson expressed the sentiments previously expressed by Barack Obama on African failures. He said, “We can’t blame God. We only have ourselves to blame.”
He was speaking on the economic state of Africa and he went on, “The reality is that in the days we have been free, we have seen some exponential improvements as well as draconian repression. Africans in most countries out of the 54 are poorer today than they were when we were not free.”
These are some bitter pills to swallow but they have to be consumed anyway. The years of blaming every sort of failure on colonialism and even slavery are way past us. It is sickening when leaders overlook their own misgivings and choose to focus entirely on history to explain the current situations in their countries. The spectrum of vices colonialism is to blame for is ever widening with internalised bigotry, tribalism and corruption forming part of the monstrous list but the new crop of leaders rarely takes responsibility for its own contributions. Mohale therefore asserted that, “Africa’s problems have nothing to do with our resources. We can trace it down to a lack of management, planning, leading, co-ordinating and organising.”
According to African Holocaust, Africa has 50% of the world’s gold, 90% of the cobalt, 40% of potential hydroelectric power, 65% of the manganese among other resources. One of the most recent and undoubtedly important resource is human capital. Now more than ever, Africans are learned and equipped to take on big jobs. On the face of such resources, why is the continent failing to be resourceful? Why is it still behind? The leaders will simply claim it is due to the vestiges of colonialism still ravaging the economies. The claim is that the system is compromised and meant to always favour the European conquistadors. Neo-colonialism might be real but its effects are exaggerated so as to cover up for the mistakes of current leadership. African Holocaust then says, “The failure to produce an African brand from the billions of tons of raw material Africa exports to the West, is primarily due to the Faustian, myopic, selfish, backward type of non-progressive leaders who are planted as candidates in post-colonial empires.”
In simpler terms, Africa’s undoing have been the leaders who are simply bad at their jobs.
One needs to look no further than the more than $1 trillion leakages of money from the continent since 1970. It is easy to blame the capitalists for these retrogressive habits but RDM offered a substantially fair understanding. In a March 2016 article, RDM argued, “The illicit financial flows in Africa point to a governance problem-weak institutions and inadequate regulatory environments.”
It is known that there are usually officials complicit in externalising funds at the expense of the host states. Members of the state apparatus are usually the grey suits, supporting and shielding such activities. If they claim they are not accomplices, then it means they are unaware of the repulsive behaviour being perpetrated by business owners and this means they are not exercising the full mandate of their offices.
On the face of these facts, it becomes hard to refute the conclusion made by RDM that, “Political power is often used to prevent state officials from carrying out their duties.”
The system itself ends up robbing its own citizens of revenue by protecting unscrupulous business practices to avoid paying taxes.
Where the governments are not actively partaking in cutting slices off the economic cake for individual enrichment, they are guilty of sluggish decision-making and ludicrous policies that militate against development. Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation policy and Land Reform programme are examples of poor decision making by governments. Well meant ideas that would have set a precedent for other countries became monstrous enemies of the people they were supposed to help.
Zimbabwe’s Herald publication is therefore not wrong in saying, “Our leadership has for long been defined by indecisiveness and inaction, and this is why we are eminently known as illustrious backseaters in international affairs…”
The government though looking on as the policies destroyed the economy chose to be stubborn and indecisive. Their solution was to blame the West for colonialism and sanctions. Almost everything in Zimbabwe is blamed on sanctions and neo-colonialism. A joke did the rounds that Lake Kariba’s record low water levels were probably also due to sanctions and neo-colonialism. It is however clear to anyone with five senses that the crop of leaders in the country does not inspire any pleasant feelings just as is the case in Uganda, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea among other countries. It is important to note that these countries have poor citizens proving there must be a correlation between poor governments and poor citizens. Resources and money are inconsequential where leaders are bad at their jobs. Nigeria and Angola are countries that should have wealthy citizens yet that is not the case. Is it still the fault of colonisers decades after independence? Unlikely!
In 2014, President Barack Obama of the United States of America took a dig at the African approach to blame everyone else but Africans for failures. He addressed the influence of history, saying, “As powerful as history is, and you need to know that history, at some point you have to look to the future and say, ‘Ok, we didn’t get a good deal then, but let’s make sure we’re not making excuses for not going forward.’”
The problem with not appreciating the full causes of stagnant economies is that whatever solution offered will not work as it does not go to the root of the problem. Sometimes some governments simply need to be done away with and yet the anti-colonialism rhetoric helps them cling to power as everything wrong is not their fault but the colonisers’.
No one expresses this better than Tee Ngugi in an Opinion piece for The East African, “A mental attitude that refuses to interrogate outmoded thinking means that harmful values and practices will continue to damage our humanity.”
“When leaders are elected, they need to use that office to put our best foot forward, and not use it to pay back their cadres.”