Black History Month (February), And Building Bridges To Africa.
Why African-Americans And Other “Friends” Must Join In The Fight Against Africa’s Dependency On Foreign Aid.
Poverty in most African nations is due to endemic corruption, poor governance, wars, conflicts and woeful leadership. Colonialism should not be blamed and foreign aid is not the solution. The best way for African Americans, other Americans and Canadians who love Africa to help Africans in the war against poverty is to help them to help themselves. Change must come from within these nations.
February is Black History Month in the United States of America (USA) and in Canada. This article will address the issue of dependency on foreign aid by African nations via the prism of Colonial African history, and will not discuss Black history in the USA and Canada per se. Important historical facts to be considered as African-Americans and other benefactors build bridges with Africa will also be discussed.
For full disclosure, I am not a historian. I was born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa in the colonial days where I spent my childhood in the late 1940s up until early adulthood in the post independent era in the early 1970s. I was educated from primary school to Medical School in Nigeria before coming to the USA for post graduate studies in 1975.
This article is written from the vantage point of somebody who has had “a front row seat” in the emergence of Nigeria from a nation under colonial rule to a promising independent nation on October 1, 1960. Nigeria is currently Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy. I have also participated, albeit in humble and small ways, in development issues in the education and healthcare sectors in Sub-Saharan African nations.
The first Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) Scanner was developed at EMI ( Electrical and Musical Industries) Central Research Laboratories in Hayes, London, England. It was installed in Atkinson Morley Hospital in England, and the first patient brain scan was done on October 1, 1971. It was published in 1972, the year I graduated from College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Nigeria.
Prior to the development and clinical application of CAT Scans, investigations of, for instance, neurological conditions anywhere in the world relied on EEG, nuclear medicine brain scan, myelogram and pneumoencephalogram. The capability to perform these tests and procedures were available in my medical school and at the highly respected University College Hospital, Ibadan where I did my Internship. Clean water was readily available for patients and healthcare providers. Reliable power supply was the norm. The nation could feed itself and indeed most of its external earnings was derived from exports of agicultural products. The education system, by and large, was solid, from primary school to the university level.
The above was the nation that was handed over to Nigerians on October 1, 1960 by the British. Far from a perfect nation, but nonetheless self sufficient in agriculture, peaceful and with huge potential for a very bright future in all sectors. Alas, decades of poor leadership has ushered in a quagmire epoch awaiting a Messiah to deliver the people from misery.
Sixty years after independence, the truth is that the 1960s and early 1970s were unequivocally the golden years of this floundering Republic, so called “Giant of Africa”. Today, the healthcare system is in shambles with basic elements of decent care far beyond the reach of the ordinary citizenry. Bore holes for water and generators for electricity supply rule the day, and only available to the elites and the priviledged. The educational system is in a pitiful state especially at the basic and secondary school levels. The tertiary institutions, with few exceptions rarely fare better. The political leadership has been a succession of military regimes, some blatantly murderous, oligarchy, kleptocracy and pseudo-democracy.
The sad and astonishing thing about the situation in Nigeria described above is that it is a mirror image of the condition in most of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The post independent decadence in most of the nations of SSA is stunningly similar. “SEE ONE, SEE ALL”. This situation gets more mysterious when we factor in the enormous natural resources of these nations, the more than adequate free supply of water falling from the sky as rain and plenty of sunshine.
The obvious question is: WHY IS SUB -SAHARAN AFRICA STILL THE POOREST REGION IN THE WORLD DESPITE THE ENORMOUS GIFTS OF NATURE AND SEVERAL DECADES OF FOREIGN AID? Well, there are no easy answers, but some facts cannot be disputed.
The tutelage of the nations of SSA in the fundamentals of democracy occured over a period of about 75 to 85 years. This was from the end of the Berlin Conference in 1885, when the European powers sliced the African continent into pieces and colonized them, to the 1960s when most of the nations gained political independence. Post-independence, they have had the freedom to decide which type of democratic system they believe is best for their nations. Whether it is the parliamentary system, where the prime minister is chosen from the party with the majority in parliament, or the presidential system like that of the USA.
Some scholars have focussed on this short period of tutelage of Africans in governance by the European powers. They claim that this is the main reason why Sub-Saharan Africans are so woefully unprepared to lead their nations. But is this really true?
On January 20, 1874, the Treaty of Pangkor was signed between the British government and the Sultan of Perak on the island of Pangkor in Malaya. That treaty ushered in British political control of Malaysia. On August 31, 1957, Malaysia became independent.This period of British colonization was interrupted by nearly four years by the Japanese occupation of Malaysia from Decrember 8, 1941 to August 15, 1945. Thus, the British tutelage of Malaysia in governance was about 80 years, roughly the same period as most of the nations of SSA.
In 1867, Singapore came under British rule as a Crown Colony. In 1959, the small island was granted self government, and Mr. Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister. The Japanese also occupied Singapore from February 15, 1942 to September 5, 1945. Thus, British Tutelage of Singapore in governance was less than 90 years.
Today, no nation in SSA except South Africa compares with these two nations in Southeast Asia in any of the measured indices of human development. Most of the nations of SSA enjoy an overwhelming advantage over Malaysia and Singapore in terms of natural resources. Despite this advantage, and large amounts of foreign Aid, grinding poverty is widespread in SSA while Singapore and Malaysia have progressed immensely. Indeed, Singapore has exited the underdeveloped or developing nation pool, an astonishing accomplishment in one generation.
Some critics might argue that the comparisons are unfair for whatever reason. Some may cite the legacy of colonialism, inadequate education and lack of appropriate institutions in several of the nations of SSA. To be clear, I am not asserting that the colonial powers were fully just in their treatment of the African colonies. Far from it. Indeed, in several instances, the injustice was blatant.
However, rather than taking the political independence baton and speeding up to the finished line carrying their fellow citizens on their backs, the leaders of these nations have thrown their citizens “under the bus” while they fly high in the skies with their families and cronies.
The voracious appetite and unchecked desires of these leaders for possessions, power and pleasure have nothing to do with colonialism or an inadequate period of tutelage by the European colonial powers. As far as these Sub-Saharan African leaders are concerned, the goal in politics is not the good of their nations. For them, politics is the means to gain access to the extraction of nature’s abundant treasures deep in the ground and below the ocean floor for their selfish motives while totally ignoring the well-being of their citizens.
So, in this Black History Month, as we look to the future with hope for the restoration of SSA, new leadership spirit and mindset are sorely needed across the region. With the abundant human and natural resources, SSA can certainly turn the corner, but time is of the essence.
It is heartwarming to see several African- American entities and individuals build bridges between the USA and Africa. However, they would do their brothers and sisters in the Homeland a lot of good by telling them the bitter truth regarding the necessity for positive change in SSA from within. The selfishness, endemic corruption of the leadership and self destruction must abate. The leaders must utilize the enormous human and natural resources of their nations for development from within.
The mindset of waiting, hat in hand for the West, China or India to feed them, build their roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airpots and pharmaceutical industries must be jettisoned. To cling to the excuse of colonialism as the reason for the ongoing decadence in these nations is to guarantee their place at the bottom of the human ladder of development.