Since writing this post, there has been an update accessible HERE
The Hopeless Continent was the headline of the May 13th 2000 print edition. In the May 11th 2000 editorial titled “Hopeless Africa” available online, the magazine gave its reasons for declaring the second largest and second most populated continent with about 52 countries hopeless. The continent was pronounced hopeless based on happenings in relatively few countries in this vast continent.
In “The Shack”, a fictional work by William P. Young, the author notes that we humans have a great capacity for declaring something good or evil without truly knowing—and if I might add without really taking out the requisite time to do a just, right and more balanced analysis that takes cognizance of multiple perspectives and factors. Truth or the closest we can get to it sometimes lays within the interchanges formed by a multiplicity of perspectives—local and foreign.
Positive versus Negative Narratives
The mass media has promoted a lot of false or incomplete narratives about the continent of Africa. There is a need for new more accurate positive narratives to be promoted about the continent. A lot of good things are happening within the continent. Here is just one.
At the Third Annual Conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa (CCDA-III), a speech by Mr. Carlos Lopes points out that, “[I]t took [the] United Kingdom 155 years to double its GDP during the industrial revolution and Africa has achieved the same in the last twelve [years]”. This is to be understood with the background knowledge that African states achieved independence only in the late 1950s and early 60s. When we consider such facts such as how fast Africa doubled its GDP in comparison to its peers in the West, it is easy to Africa is hopeful, and not hopeless. Positive stories like this that paint the continent in a good light seldom make it into the global media—even though this could help re-engineer a positive narrative for the new generation of Africans. Rwanda’s capital city is the cleanest in the world but this is not what many media outlets in the West want to report. What sells is sensationalism so the narratives that are pushed by many Western media outlets about Africa is one of a disease ridden, poverty infested, continent full of famine with uncivilized, uncultured people. Nothing could be further from the truth but this is sometimes passed off as news. A famine in one or two countries in Africa is sometimes transposed on the entire continent. This is wrong and must stop.
Why is Africa the way it is and how can we better understand the continent and its many countries?
Africa has had many actors (national governments, World Bank Group, IMF and combinations of the aforementioned and others) who have tried to solve Africa’s challenges. Since the 1950s independence movement, there has been no success stories resulting from these multitudes of prescriptions. This has led some to call the continent hopeless as the Economist magazine did on May 13, 2000 in the print edition.
But the continent is not hopeless. Inability to properly diagnose a problem will invariably lead to incorrect prognosis, prescriptions and policies meant to remedy/solve the problem. There are many prescriptions that have not taken into account the full gamut of symptoms and challenges. This led to and continues to lead to mis-diagnosis of the differing situations faced by Africa’s over 50 something countries. Some of these prescriptions include the infamous Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) as well as the Economic Recovery Programs (ERPs)—none of which has had any positive impact on any of Africa’s countries in the long term.
When trying to understand Africa, it’s helpful to understand the roots of some of the bad things happening in some countries on the continent. We must aim for a broader perspective about the continent’s developmental bottlenecks.
History: An Indispensable Tutor
Present day Africa is a consequence of her collective history and thus present developments on the continent cannot be adequately understood without reference/recourse to the continent’s past. For example, to understand preent border conflicts, one must look out for the root causes. The scramble for Africa in the 1800s led to the re-demarcation of Africa’s boundaries. Does this have an effect on today’s Africa? A January 2011 Yale study by Stelios Michalopoulos and Elias Papaioannou revealed among other things “that civil war intensity is much higher in the historical homeland of ethnic groups that have been partitioned by national borders“. Also “regional development is significantly lower in areas of ethnic groups that have been affected by the artiﬁcial border design“.
Age & Experience Matters
Sometime when evaluating the democracy of a country in sub-Saharan Africa, these countries are compared to Western democracies like the USA or UK. This is unfair. Why so?
Sub-Saharan African states have relatively less experience with regards to how long they have been independent as nations. The first sub-Saharan African country to be free of colonialism was Ghana which attained Independence only 55 years ago in 1957. The last country to rid itself of the vestiges of colonialism is South Africa which attained freedom from the shackles of Apartheid in 1994 i.e. only 18 years ago. This means all sub-Saharan African nations are between 55 and 18 years old independence-wise. Comparing Ghana, the oldest independent sub-Saharan counry with for example the USA which gained independence from Great Britain in 1783 i.e. 174 years before Ghana, is unfair. That said, I submit that it is preposterous to expect sub-Saharan African nations to be on the same footing democratically, developmentally or economically as the USA. The USA had almost two centuries head start. Western European countries had an even greater head start—not to mention the fact that these same western powers benefited unrighteously and unjustly from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and later colonialism which depleted Africa while developing Europe and the Americas.
Change of Mindset
For African states to be free to govern rightly and justly to the benefit of all its, they must first be mentally healed and develop confident can-do spirit devoid of the trauma from her past. Put differently it’s time for a mindset transformation.
If you are African and you have been looking down on yourself, your nation or your continent, stop it right now and make up your mind to rather start positively contributing to Africa’s development.
Granted, this is difficult to do when one sees their continent constantly portrayed as inept and hopeless. Constant negative media reportage about Africa has in my opinion done much to create a false image and mindset in many Africans and other races. This must change.
Africa is not hopeless. If you are African and you have been looking to the mass media for affirmation, encouragement, a sense of direction, please stop it. You are the master of your own fate under God and the captain of your destiny. To govern means to steer. Steer your life, community, city and nation in the direction of the future you desire. Get engaged in development activities.
Just as every snowflake is distinct with its own peculiar shape, so is every nation different and called to contribute out of its uniqueness to the greater human family. Africas must identify and celebrate and sell their uniqueness. It is true that we have had some set-backs and challenges along our developmental journey but we can choose to see them as indicative of hopelessness or as learning aids. I choose to use setbacks as climbing aids to reach for greater heights.
One more time, beloved Africa is not hopeless. Her future is as bright as the hope, faith and love that can be generated in its young bulging populations.
I leave you with a poem Nelson Mandela would recite to himself and other prisoners while incarcerated on Robben Island. The title is Invictus and it was written by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). Read about the history of the poem sometime. Here are its words:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.