The question of African unity is a question for the ages. I ask myself, as do many people, if Africa will ever unite. A recent thought-provoking article by no less than Professor Patrice Lumamba got me thinking; why exactly should Africa unite? Is unity going to be tantamount to development? Will unity help Africa’s development?
This sounds like a tired topic. These days we focus on money. Trade at best. For that we have the beginnings of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which many parties are strategising on how to scuttle, because they cannot bear to see African nations doing 70 to 80 per cent of trade between themselves, up from 7 per cent just a few years ago. AfCFTA – warts and all – is certainly a great idea. Nigeria dithered for too long on a project she ought to be driving – not because we hope to exploit, dominate, oppress or bully anyone, but because it is about Africa knowing itself. African cooperation is only a logical matter. If your neighbors have their problems solved, you too will enjoy peace, right?
But in times past, people spoke glowingly of the unity of Africa. Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti, Hugh Masekela, Sunny Okosun and many others have sang about it. Nkrumah, Awolowo, Zik of Africa, Mandela, Gaddafi, Obasanjo and many other political leaders fantasised about and even went ahead to put some structures in place for this. But what we have today are only brick and mortar structures like the African Union (AU), which evolved from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Most Africans do not know what these bodies do and indeed Africa does not feel like a united place. Even within the regional bodies like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African and South African Economic Unions, people still feel the sharp edges that show that the countries are separate entities with different laws, which every migrant has to mind. Xenophobia comes into the equation, wherein Africans brutalise other Africans and before you think of South Africa, I will direct you to read Mr. Eric Teniola’s masterpiece, where he documents Nigeria’s painful involvement in xenophobia through the decades. Africans have been indeed unfair to themselves, they have disdained and discriminated and continue to disdain and discriminate against themselves in a shameful, concentric cycle of self-hate.
One of the ways we can try and clear this self-hate, which disguises as xenophobia, is by ensuring good governance and fixing our economies. We see that nations with fairly good economies discriminate against others and their lower economic classes take up arms, believing that the inequality – and therefore the hardship they go through in their land – is as a result of migrants taking their jobs. That is the case with South Africa presently and that is the case also between Nigeria and Ghana today, as it was when Nigeria sent back millions to Ghana under two weeks in the early 1980s. Young people from mismanaged African economies tend to try and activate the idea of African unity through informal means, by migrating and seeking jobs elsewhere, in reaction to the failures of their leaders. They often fall into crime and face the backlash of their hosts. To make matters worse, millions of them would rather leave the continent altogether through illegal routes, and thereafter lose their lives. There is a route through Niger-Mauritania-Libya-Algeria into France or Italy or Spain. There is another route through Cameroon-Gabon-South Africa-Brazil-Colombia-Panama-U.S.A. These are treacherous journeys. The Colombia-Panama one involves plodding through 100 kilometres of crocodile-infested swampland! See what the black man has been reduced to!
The question of African unity is a question for the ages. I ask myself, as do many people, if Africa will ever unite. A recent thought-provoking article by no less than Professor Patrice Lumamba got me thinking; why exactly should Africa unite? Is unity going to be tantamount to development? Will unity help Africa’s development? How does Africa circumnavigate the many forces that have always stood against her unity – internal and external? What are the things we must begin to practically do to actualise this unity? PLO Lumumba, the great Kenyan speaker, even stretched the matter to include how we handle the Fourth Industrial Revolution! How do we feature in this revolution driven by AI, IoT and Robotics? How do we ensure the pageant of history does not pass Africa by once again, as it has done thrice before?
I note what I call the crash-landing of Africa; the rash of coup de tats and civil wars that crippled African countries early in the day, in the era of the Cold War, when African countries were used as pawns in ill-thought-through ideologies. Who knows who sponsored Nigeria’s first coup? In this country of ours, which is a cemetery for information and history, we probably will never know. But that coup was the fundamental derailment upon which other calamities have climbed. And someone will try to convince us that though foreign countries were involved in the Congo and in Ghana and Sudan, Nigerian elements acted on their own. Tell that to the birds. What we know is that Africa crash-landed with the killings of Tafawa Balewa, Patrice Lumumba, Sylvanus Olympio and others, and the ouster of Ahmadu Ahidjo, Kwame Nkrumah, Modibbo Keita and others. These were mostly innocent leaders who had lofty dreams for the nations they inherited. People call them names but I believe they were mostly the best we had. They were mostly chosen for quality (Lumumba, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Kaunda, Balewa). Add to that people like Sankara who came a little later. These people never had the internet to research how to build a nation – especially one that just obtained independence from reluctant, hawkish colonialists. No one can ever say anything bad about these guys anywhere I am.
I think we should itemise what we should really do if we want to achieve a united Africa that makes sense and is relevant to the Fourth Industrial Revolution era.
1. Fix the Politics: Everything rises and falls on the politics, because the politics embeds the leadership. We seem to have gone full circle, installing our worst as our leaders. I use Nigeria as a case study, but I also observe the general corruption of politics that is going on all over Africa. Nigeria is actually a bad influence on neighboring countries especially. Ghana, for one, has learnt bad lessons from us. Some of their leaders have become profligate, having seen how Nigerian leaders across the ranks get away with blue murder. Bad habits multiply rapidly. We must find a way to get good people into leadership position; those with love for humanity in their hearts. Those who haven’t been too damaged, such as to see leadership as a revenge on the populace.
If China has lifted 800 million in the last 20 years and hopes to totally eradicate poverty this year 2020, Africa must set an agenda to take at least a billion out of abject, unbelievable and unacceptable poverty. If we are 1.4 billion in the whole Africa, the truth is at least 1.2 billion of us are in abject poverty. The kind of poverty in Africa is becoming outlawed everywhere else.
2. Trade: Neoliberal fetishisations apart, trade is important because it promotes the creation of value through production, productivity and profit making. AfCFTA is a great idea that must be promoted. Trading means that Africa will have something tangible upon which to interact on a daily basis. Look at us today. There is a certain Yamoussoukro Accord on aviation that would have reduced the cost of travel among African nations that has not been put into effect. To travel between some cities in Africa, one will have to first commute to Europe to make the needed connection. This is shameful and does not promote trade. So I support trade as a great platform of interaction and integration. It is always great to know that we have value to exchange among one another. I felt bad that Nigeria chose to play second fiddle in the matter of the African trade agreement.
3. Innovation: In order to ensure sustainable African unity, an ethos of innovation is important, because what we need here is the cheap production of essentials, even those that match the standards of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The upshot of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that goods and services are produced much cheaper as a corollary of innovation. Innovation makes things cheaper, simple. So if we intend to be relevant, we have to produce at rock bottom. This will require that we get our youths involved. They will make their mistakes and correct them. But they have to all get involved.
4. Rethinking Entrepreneurship: Innovation will not be driven by entrepreneurship alone, as important as entrepreneurship is, to a sustainable African renaissance. Beyond entrepreneurship is an adherence to excellence and innovation. We must adopt innovation and excellence as a guiding principle. What we have now are desperate youths in unproductive entrepreneurship ventures. We must reform entrepreneurship, away from what our youths get involved in as a result of the failure of their governments, or because they don’t have a choice, or they desperately need to survive, or worst still, because they are looking to make millions – which they often spend in nightclubs trying to impress those they don’t like anyway. Let us look at the model out there. It doesn’t work the same way in Europe and USA or rising Asia. Our spending patterns are different. Entrepreneurship there is not borne out of desperation, failure, unbridled greed, or irresponsibility on the part of government. And if you spend at nightclubs there like they innocuously do in Nigeria, you must be a reckless investor on his way down, or the police picks you up.
5. What point number four above is trying to convey is that we cannot entrepreneurise our ways out of bad governance or hopeless, badly-put-together policies, if I may echo the words of Ory Okolloh Mwangi of Kenya (formerly a Google executive). This is an issue of major concern to me and one on which I am writing a PhD dissertation. I have already discovered that youths from backward countries are the ones who dive headlong into usually unproductive ‘entrepreneurship’. What we need to do is fix governance. Let government do its work. You cannot entrepreneurise the provision of public good; basic education for all (even the poorest), security, the environment, basic, primary health, and what have you. Some projects are not that bankable but provide the base on which entrepreneurs launch out. We also cannot hope that Apps and trade and logistics sites – or even Fintechs – will liberate Africa out of its misery, even though they have their roles to play. Our youths must not all be allowed to escape the duty of getting their hands muddy and greasy.
6. Lifting At Least One Billion People Out of Poverty: If China has lifted 800 million in the last 20 years and hopes to totally eradicate poverty this year 2020, Africa must set an agenda to take at least a billion out of abject, unbelievable and unacceptable poverty. If we are 1.4 billion in the whole Africa, the truth is at least 1.2 billion of us are in abject poverty. The kind of poverty in Africa is becoming outlawed everywhere else. Seeing people living out of cartons, or ‘batchers’, as we call them here, or people sleeping in the open, in the same place in which they relieve themselves, is a disgrace to Africa. The worst types of slums in the world are in Africa, especially black Africa, giving credence to racist ideas that the black man is subhuman and undeserving of the dignities of a fully-evolved human! And we can achieve this feat if our leaders focus less on themselves and their foreign, maximum-profit seeking friends, and on the provision of public goods.
7. Reinventing Our Environment: I have always hammered that there is something spiritual about getting our environment right. I believe that until we can show an obsession with our environment and ensure it begins to tend towards what we see abroad, we will not get respect from foreign countries – like France – which seem to believe innately that black Africans cannot handle themselves right. The fault is ours. We indeed still have a disorderly streak.
Being relevant in the Fourth IR is no joke. It’s all about a focus on innovation or we get trampled. I read somewhere that over the past 50 years, our agricultural yield per hectare, on anything we produce, has either declined or not grown much, while those of our competitors, for same crops, have gone up at least 500 per cent. This means our knowledge is not productive.
8. Documenting Our History, Restoring Pride In Ourselves: We must begin to document our own histories and restore pride in ourselves. But the trick is not to focus on only the rosy aspects but have a balanced view. It will surely help us.
9. Feeding Ourselves: But Agriculture is not enough, not even as business. Of necessity, we must feed ourselves. This is basic and is a place for every nation to start. But it is merely the beginning and we must not mistake what is at best tokenism for a great achievement. Agriculture is NOT the way to save Africa. We have nowhere to push agricultural exports to especially at a scale that will lift us up permanently. Most of our potential buyers have used science to leverage us out of relevance.
10. Engaging the Fourth Industrial Revolution: The first industrial revolution was driven by steam, the second by electricity and petrol, the third by the internet and cheap telephones. The fourth is being driven by technology at a higher level, robotics, and innovation. Africa must engage this new revolution frontally. Doing so will help us clarify the use of our resources, or the inadequacy of what we have in the first place. This will help slow down our profligate tendencies.
11. Minding External Manipulations, Pushed By Traitors In-house: There is a zero-sum mentality ruling the world where people believe if one man does not lose another cannot gain. We must know how to play the game.
A Further Note On Innovation
Being relevant in the Fourth IR is no joke. It’s all about a focus on innovation or we get trampled. I read somewhere that over the past 50 years, our agricultural yield per hectare, on anything we produce, has either declined or not grown much, while those of our competitors, for same crops, have gone up at least 500 per cent. This means our knowledge is not productive. Our tertiary institutions are not having impact outside their campuses. I have pushed an idea that our university students should mainstream already and not wait to graduate. No matter what they are studying, we must begin to make them useful immediately, even if we have to pay them a token. This is because Africa has to cover a huge developmental deficit. Also this is the best way of empowering these youths; just release our continent into their hands. Look at our textiles sector, for example. We know we closed most of our industries down when we were played in the globalisation game. But today, we still use 17th century loom technology to produce our local materials! How will we clothe our billions of people with this slow, outmoded technology? I’m sure you know which I mean. Check Kente in Ghana, Aso Oke in Yoruba. A’nger in Tiv Land or the Fulani jumpers.
An Insight From My First Book, “Crushed” (2009)
China, Courage, Character, Corruption, Realistic, Reasonableness, Unity, Strategy, History, Hardwork, Humility, Education, Democracy. Look at the first letters of the above words. They form CCCCRRUSHHHED. Well, my first ever book, which came out circa 2009 was so titled. Simple CRUSHED. These are the issues which I believe African countries should focus on to emerge out of the morass and sustainably too. I don’t have much to change in them, apart from whatever addition I may have included above through insight. China means we should try and ‘dub’ what the Chinese did to extend history and put a lie to Francis Fukuyama’s idea that History had ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and fall of the Berlin Wall; meaning that straight-cut capitalism was the only way. Courage means we must have courage because without courage all other virtues are useless. Corruption means we must fix that famous sickness of ours. The rest is what they are, just that with education I realise that we have a bigger problem with the resistance of millions of our demographic, and our elective democracy is actually killing most African countries.