Tuesday August 19 2014

Africa’s leaders are globe-trotting to tell the story of their failure

By Nicholas Sengoba

Luckily, all the 50 or so African leaders who subserviently answered the natural call to meet US President Obama are back home safely. They are surely preparing for the invite to meet the Chinese president, if it comes before the Africa-Europe summit, the one with the so-called Asian Tigers or the various ubiquitous investors’ conferences that take place all over the globe where African leaders are mocked as ‘partners in development.’ In effect, they are failed glorified humble beggars.

What has prompted this is that 50 years after being declared independent from colonial rule, Africa has almost done nothing tangible to make that independence more than a colourful ceremony with parades in front of aging leaders and autocrats full of empty titles and medals.

Picture this. In this 21st Century, Africa has more people with more than one university degree in all fields. A lot of technology in terms of machinery has been transferred from the developed world to help in production and value addition.

More people have been through school and are literate. More have access to Internet and communication technology, leave alone radio and television. Vaccination and modern medicine has bequeathed us with healthier populations. You would expect that we would become more productive and self reliant as a people.

Alas we have remained a net exporter of primary commodities and are more reliant on aid, grants and donations. Thus, our leaders find themselves pre-occupied with globe-trotting to tell the world that “we have everything but do not know what to do with it. We are failures. We need any type of help to run our countries.’

They have failed to organise and inspire us to realise our potential as Africans. They can only call on other people to come and ‘help’ us do basic things, including farming which is supposed to be our niche.

John Quincy Adams (1735 - 1826) said “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Africa has no leaders by this assessment; it is just men and women who have misunderstood and misused the opportunity to serve others. Most are selfish and unpatriotic and theirs is about self aggrandizement and improving the welfare of just a clique.

This has left the typical African frustrated. Years of being on the street or being under employed have left many seeking the first opportunity to go to the Europe, America by or the Far East to do anything from menial jobs to drug trafficking in order to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile, the presidents and prime ministers now have more options to sell the continent in a bid to bridge that gap that is caused by lack of leadership. More than 20 years after the fall of communism, we no longer speak of a bipolar world where it is either East with communism or West with capitalism. It is now free for all with the best bidder winning the hearts and minds of the African continent in order to have a vantage point in exploiting the vast natural resources.

It is now the time of the investor and the donor. Whatever opportunity presents itself, African leaders act like they are operating in a red light district. Africa no longer deals with two competing entities. They have no options or principles. Whoever is available with money; big or small, honest or crooked takes the day. Africa now belongs to nobody but to everybody with money.

Everything is for sale to the highest bidder. The business of self reliance, building domestic capacity, national pride and ideology was put aside some time ago. It is not possible to tell what will happen in the foreseeable future but current trends show that the African will either end up in the Diaspora doing the jobs that not many people in those countries want to do.

Back home in Africa, they work under the terms and supervision of foreign investors with their interest of maximising profits at the least cost. It is still early to conclude on the model of developing Africa relying on foreign investors. But going by current trends, it is doubtful that we shall have a happy ending.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com