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The African Dilemma

Mubarak Yakubu
September 14, 2018

Although true in every sense, it has become cliché to talk about the African continent and its vast wealth in mineral resources and how it has and is still being exploited by her colleagues from Europe and elsewhere. Most of the solutions and remedies I have read in almost every article or publication have been fairly the same, apportioning blame and proposing ‘rocket science’ solutions that are often unrealistic in solving realistic problems. These problems often require a basic or common sense approach to solving them.

It is about time the African people—its leaders and followers—develop a paradigm shift towards the usual ways of trying to solve the continent’s problems. Apportioning blame to western powers and still accepting grants and loans with ridiculous interest rates is not going to help solve the myriad of problems facing the continent. Impressive fiscal, monetary and socio-political policies alone will not get the job done as is already evident.

Over the past 10 years or so, I have taken a very keen interest in “the African dilemma” during which I have interacted with hundreds of individuals and groups of varying backgrounds across the continent and have gained some invaluable insights. During most of my interactions, I have asked some very tough and somewhat controversial questions regarding the continent. I have gotten very interesting responses and opinions, but I am baffled by the fact that the continent’s leadership seems not to have an iota of idea about these realities. It is, therefore, my honest belief that most of the continent’s leadership is either not in touch with the grassroots who elected them into positions of authority or just does not care.

As Africans, we need to start thinking outside the box and being creative in solving the continent’s numerous problems. We need an integrated approach—combination of both old and new strategies—in solving all our problems. We do not need a capitalist system or a communist system to solve our problems. All we need to do is to delve deep into ourselves and to work at obtaining customized, self – made solutions meant specifically for the African people. Let’s take a cue from what the Chinese have done and are still doing—Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Let’s adopt a “capitalism or socialism or whatever it is with African characteristics.”

Situation Analysis

I wouldn’t be doing justice to my readers by proposing my actionable solutions to the continent’s banes, without an analysis of its current situation. Therefore, I have decided to use a simple SWOT analysis for this purpose. For those who do not know much about the continent, I am confident this will give you a fairly general idea of the current standing of the African continent.

The strength of the continent is an open secret. Africans have always been known to boast about the continent’s mineral wealth, cultural and linguistic diversity (estimated to have up to 3000 languages, making it the most linguistically and ethnically diverse continent on earth), favorable climate and topography, a large and youthful population (Africa has a median age of 19.7 years compared to the global average of 30.4 years), and the list goes on.
The continent is a repository of approximately 30% of the world’s most important minerals. Some of these minerals are gold (50% share of the world’s total), diamond (50% of the world’s total), platinum (90% of the world’s total) and uranium (33% of the world’s total). Ironically, some of the most mineral wealthy countries are amongst the poorest on the continent and for that matter, the world. Congo, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are classic examples.

In my opinion, our weaknesses as a continent are far outstripped by our strengths, and that is I am baffled about the continent’s predicaments. The continent has had weak and incompetent leadership since independence, and this has mainly resulted in the existence of weak institutions (socio-political and economic) and consequently a huge number of failed and failing states. Typical cases are Somalia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Congo, and Eritrea to name a few.
Other problems of note are low levels of education (Literacy is only 64%), HIV/AIDS which affects about 11% of the continent’s population, energy to power industry and abject poverty. There are other problems too (which people often do not talk about: the painful truth), but let me keep you in suspense for a little while; I will discuss them in the ‘solutions’ bit of this article. Since all these weaknesses deserve equal appreciation and attention, I am sure you’ll agree with me that leadership across the continent is the biggest and most important problem. Simply because without the needed leadership to guide and spearhead a campaign to prosperity, no problem can be solved. The continent has been characterized by greed, incompetence, recklessness and a wanton dissipation of resources by its leadership and their cohorts.

Several opportunities abound. We now live in a golden era of the global community where the impossible some decades ago have become possible. It is now possible and easy to interact or even do business with people from all corners of the globe by a click of a button from the comfort of one’s bedroom. We need to capitalize on this.
The continent offers the most youthful population on the planet, so the future really looks bright. The continent currently contains 16% of the world’s population and is expected to reach 1.4 billion, exceeding both China and India by 2022. We need to seize the day!
Given our history, we are now a free people and for that matter a free continent; therefore we have the freedom and luxury to delve deep into our souls to find out what is best for us. We can adopt our own original and tailor-made socio-political and economic systems.

The global community offers numerous opportunities, but we have to be wary of the fact that if not harnessed properly the same opportunities could threaten our ultimate success as a continent. Africa needs to be vigilant of friends and foes alike, as some always have ulterior motives.
Terrorism and radicalization are becoming a problem on the continent and must be seen and treated as a serious threat to the success of the continent as a whole. The threat of climate change should also be seen as a real and serious phenomenon. It should not be underestimated in any way.

Africa’s Problems

I am a strong advocate of not crying over spilled milk, therefore I will not waste time on ranting about Africa’s numerous problems. Thousands of articles and publications have already been written thoroughly on problems facing Africa. You will agree with me that it has become a cliché. So I’ll still mention them but will not delve deep into it. I even wrote several pieces on Africa’s problems back in sociology and political science classes.
At least, we know the usual suspects: poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, conflicts & civil strife, political instability, famine, corruption and even total disregard by the global community.

Solutions (alternative, realistic and simple)

I learnt quite early in my career from one of my seniors that simple approaches to solving problems usually do the magic; they are the bolts and nuts that we often tend to underrate by misplacing or ignoring when assembling an item. Since then, I have always heeded to this advice and it has worked a lot of magic in my life both personally and as a professional. I have observed that, as humans, we often see the simple methods to solving any problem as too good to be true. We would rather take a ‘rocket science’ approach to solving problems, thereby further complicating matters. Just look around you, and you will see I am not exaggerating.
But please don’t get me wrong. I am not implying that every past proposal and effort towards finding a solution to Africa’s predicaments are totally wrong. What I mean is that, we need to think differently and also begin to look at an integrated approach to solving Africa’s problems. The little things we have sadly ignored throughout the decades are as important as the ones we have been working with all this while. To propel the whole continent to the next stage of the development process, we need an attitudinal and mindset change. We need to quit the blame game syndrome. We need to start sacrificing as people. We need to have belief. And we need to celebrate excellence.

We need a change in attitude and mindset: First of all, as an entire continent, we need serious mindset and attitudinal changes. This in my opinion is the ‘holy grail’ to solving all our problems. I remember vividly former Vice President of Ghana Alhaji Aliu Mahama embarking on a campaign on indiscipline. To be frank, even I underestimated that campaign. It was later that I thought of the whole thing and realized how important and serious that campaign was and what he was trying to achieve. His vision was to change the mindset and attitude of Ghanaians. I even doubt if his own cabinet ministers and affiliates understood the gravity of what he was trying to achieve. I don’t think they even had the slightest idea of what his intention was and I think his advocacy and real intent for the entire campaign had elements of ambiguity. The continent needs a critical look into including changing the mindset and attitude as one of its long term goals.

Amazingly, I have witnessed individuals, even the so called top executives and educated elites of our society urinate and throw rubbish indiscriminately on our streets and pavements right through the streets of Accra, through Lagos right down to Johannesburg. And you know what? No one seems to care! That is just the norm. The scary part is that the continent is full of such people. Let me give you an example. It is these same people who are elected into leadership positions. Now imagine what they will do. I’m sure you get my drift now. Yes, that is exactly what is going on within the continent. Therefore we need to implement and enforce policies and frameworks that hinge on building the right attitude and mindset right from our homes and schools. If we do not do this, all the help and strategies and monies in the world will not solve anything. We need a continent whereby individuals and organizations will do the right thing even when no one is watching. I believe that starting from now, with the right attitude and mindset in addition to implementing the right policies, Africa could be churning out a GDP nominal of about $2.39 trillion by 2023.

We need to quit the blame game. Everywhere I look, be it at Journalists, academicians or politicians, there’s always the rhetoric of blaming colonialism or imperialism or at least old poor souls for all our failures and inadequacies. Yes, no one disputes all the evil and wickedness colonialists and imperialists and even slave traders reigned upon the continent, but like I always say: we have to get over it and move on. We need to quit crying over spilled milk. It is as simple as that. In defense of my opinion, I always refer to the South American continent and Asia and even certain pockets of the globe. These places also faced colonialism and imperialism from Europeans but have moved on since. I have hardly heard Singapore or Malaysia or South Korea or India make excuses, like Africans always do, about how Europe is the cause of their inadequacies. Ghana and Malaysia became independent just about the same time, but today, Malaysia is a developed country. South Africa, after the abolishment of Apartheid has seen its economy and living conditions gone from bad to worse. Its economy during apartheid, even with sanctions by the global community was in a much better condition and status that it has ever been since apartheid. I can go on and on with similar cases across the continent. We need to begin to admit that we are the problem. Only then will we begin to solve them. There’s an old saying that “admitting to having a problem is the first step to solving it.” We need to take responsibility of our problems and stop the blame game. It will be better for us.

Visionary leaders are the ones who sacrifice today so that future generations can enjoy and live worthwhile lives. The culture of nepotism and favoritism whereby the well-being of the masses is sacrificed for family and friends needs to change immediately for the continent to move forward towards its desired objectives. To sacrifice also requires a change in mindset and attitude and these can only work effectively if fused into the continent’s policy and implemented right form the ground level that is at home and at school.

We need to have belief. The recent incidents of young African men and women crossing the Sahara under unimaginably dangerous conditions signifies the loss in confidence and belief in the continent and its leadership as a whole. Young individuals continue to emigrate out of the continent in search of a better future as they feel all hope is lost. Travel across the continent and interact with people, and what you’ll see and feel is a sense of a loss in self-belief and hopelessness in the continent and its leadership. The African continent and its peoples should work on and implement policies targeted at instilling self-belief in the Africans. I am not talking about paying lip service to such a cause, like we see every day on people’s clothing and whatever medium is at their disposal. We often see inscriptions like, “I am proud to be African” on people’s clothing and everybody talking about African consciousness. It is a good thing. No one disputes that. But you cannot talk about how you believe in Africa or African consciousness or how proud you are to be African when you can’t demonstrate it by not treating your surroundings clean or not stealing from public funds or just doing the right thing. We need to quit the plenty talk and start doing!

We need to celebrate excellence. This might sound ridiculous but it is amazingly true—the continent is fond of celebrating mediocrity. You think I’m exaggerating? Just take a look at some of our leaders from both past and present like Joseph Kabila, Jacob Zuma, Fode Sankor, Charles Taylor, Baba Jammeh, Robert Mugabe who despite their incompetence and lack of leadership were celebrated by huge sections of their countries’ population. It still amazes me to this day that, despite their total disrespect and disregard for all of their people, they still enjoyed overwhelming support. It has been proven time and time again in African elections that very often, the guy with the worst of ideas and policies in his manifesto tends to be voted into power by the people. Unbelievable! This is a crisis issue and we need to seriously look into it.
To overcome this sort of issue, we need to first of all admit it exists and then we can start to deal with it by educating people and by advocating and telling them that it is not cool to behave like this.

My recommendations above are simple yet important in helping us solve the African dilemma. These are solutions we often overlook on a daily basis, but in my opinion are the most important. I must therefore add that the cliché: rocket science solutions that we’ve been accustomed to hearing should not be abandoned since they are equally important. Instead, they should be integrated with these simple solutions to aid in achieving optimum results.
I also want to recommend that governments across the continent should look at the possibility of making it a necessary condition for students who graduate from tertiary institutions to join the military for at least a year. This is a very well documented and proven method of instilling discipline in people. The South Koreans have done it after all. Ghana used to have such a system, which amazingly was around the time of her golden era just after independence.
A good look at all the advanced economies will show that their current level of development was not achieved just by brilliant fiscal and monetary policies but by integrating them with factors such as the attitude of the masses, self-belief, recognizing and celebrating excellence, and sacrifice. We need a paradigm shift and radical change from the usual.

About the author

Mubarak Yakubu

Yakubu completed University for Development Studies in 2007 in Ghana and has been working at British American Tobacco (BAT) as a National Service Personnel.


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