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Is Africa Appreciating or Devaluating her Uniqueness?
Dr. Richard Munang
“Look for a dark goat first in the daytime because you may not find it at night”.
This African proverb reminds us of the importance of accomplishing goals before it is too late. Over sixty years since independence in Africa, solutions to the paradox of lack amidst plentiful opportunities, continue to elude the continent. With the ever-increasing global competition, night-time is rapidly falling on Africa’s pursuit. How is it that a continent that has everything, continues to lack in everything? How is it that in nearly 60 years of pursuit, no clear breakthrough seems to be forthcoming? Be it poverty, hunger with over 257 million going to bed with their stomach aching of hunger, disease, youth unemployment at over 60% – there is no clear breakthrough for the continent to date. This calls for a candid perspective so we can interrogate why we keep going wrong.
Africa Missing to utilise her Uniqueness as an asset
“A weaning baby that does not cry aloud will die on her mother’s back”. In the context of this discussion, Africa, just like a weaning baby needs special attention to why she is not leveraging on her strengths and uniqueness. Africa is demographically, socially, and politically different from other continents. Any approach to drive solutions should be unique to Africa’s uniqueness. In looking at the arsenal of solutions at our disposal, it is inescapable that one solution remains underutilised – and that is the uniqueness of the African people. God is no respecter of persons; while he favourably gave Africa resources, Africans must work against many odds. I heard someone joke that God must have been in a very good mood when he created Africa. As someone who has spent some time on other continents, I attest. From a strategic symmetrical position about the equator, Africa boasts the best weather all year round and is favourably positioned to tap into the most fundamental source of energy globally: the sun. When we talk of the basic factor of production—fertile lands—Africa holds 65 per cent of the global arable land. Talk of rivers, seas, lakes, captivating sceneries, diverse exciting wildlife—it is all here. This is in addition to the tremendous, seemingly infinite mineral wealth in the continent which Africa has leveraged especially the material as her uniqueness. But to date, the continent is yet to draw a clear breakthrough from these. Challenges remain and the region continues to be outsmarted.
Africa Must urgently tap the untapped asset at her disposal now
We are in 2020 and we cannot afford to keeping doing things the way they have been done before and expect different results. It is the time now to prioritise the silver bullet, that is Africa’s sovereign capital – its people – and the unique skills, talents, energy, aptitudes and interests they embody as this is long overdue. Africa’s population has been the silver bullet, all along, since the 60s. It has been the corner stone that has successively been shamed and ignored in favour of material. As I said in my book “Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism” “A people without the knowledge of their history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” Simply implied in this quote is the understanding that we cannot progress without knowing where we have come from and without a comprehension of the stakes. In my discussions with pan-Africanists from diverse disciplines, nationalities, and creeds across the continent and globe, I have come to implicitly conclude that the open secret to development that our founding fathers failed to consider is that winning over self-determined rule was just but the tip of the iceberg. As leaders of countries on a continent that seemed by all accounts to be capable of self-sufficiency, hence the envy of many, they would have to overcome extreme odds to make anything significant out of their much-deserved independence and benefit from what their countries and continent offer. They could not do it alone but needed partners. And the most fundamental and critically important partner to this end was their citizenry. To make these partnerships count, they had to prioritise investing in developing the ordinary people in their countries and assign them to be guardians and custodians of development across the continent. This is the significant blunder of our founding fathers. They looked to develop material resources without prioritising the people. And the result till today has been a consistent trend of devaluation for the continent. A devaluation so chronic that a common person on the streets in any part of the globe – including in Africa – believes the continent to be a place of nothing but adversity.
Africa continues to wallow at the bottom of nearly every if not all industries across the globe. It remains unable to competitively trade in value added products, wallowing in commodity trade, exporting its wealth and importing poverty and unemployment. And why is this so? Because of strategic failures to add value to its areas of comparative advantage – clean energy and its agro-value chains being the most accessible and inclusive - with an express objective to build globally competitive enterprises. And why has it failed so? Because of failing to prioritise investing in its sovereign capital - its people and the multiplicity of their innate endowments. It is the genius of the human that drives development. Not material underneath the earth or sea or on land. We as a continent have instead perennially chosen the false allure of material resources. This is the single source of the great devaluation of the continent. Over time, this strategic mistake has continued to mutate into its worst forms. The worst I have seen, is the lack of confidence in her people’s own abilities to birth solutions. Locally born priorities, ideas, innovations, inventions, are quickly relegated and forgotten in favour of routines and experimental priorities that seem to carry the promise of immediate financial gain – even for a few. It is time to break this cycle of devaluation, before we run totally out of time as we see challenges perpetuating before our very own eyes.
Breaking the cycle to start tapping Africa’s uniqueness as an asset
You and me are responsible for erasing the shame that is the paradox of desperate lack amidst plenty that has now become almost synonymous with the name- Africa. “No matter the economy of the jungle, the lion can never eat grass; it is not pride, it is just who the lion is.” Analogising this to ourselves as human beings, the crème d la crème of all created life, way above the lion in creation’s hierarchy, it is simply against human nature to live in mediocrity. Africa is inadvertently portrayed as a continent of adversity. This only makes sense if your thought process is fixated on portraying problems but paying lip service to the quest for solutions. We must now change this narrative and it starts with accepting who we are. That despite all the negativity, our innate abilities remain uneroded and unused. All it will take us is to flip the switch – from dependency to dependability. From complaining, victimhood and blame game to responsible solutions providers. From self-centred, self-seekers, to selfless solutions providers looking to touch the lives of fellow citizens. From embracing experimental visions to developing our own unborrowed visions. From despising our own to reinforcing one another’s strengths – in full knowledge that in the eyes of the world, despising what comes from a fellow African, simply because they are African, equates to despising one’s self. We must learn from the hard-working and selfless spirit of ants, which demonstrate the true spirit of innovative volunteerism which is unity, collectivism, and selflessness which is what we need right now as a continent to solve the myriad of challenges. And for us to do it so, we must apply to ourselves, the very lessons by which we can selflessly spur ourselves to action and unlock what is worth more than what finances & material can achieve. We cannot therefore recoil from collectivism to individualism. Let us use what we have through the spirit of innovative volunteerism to galvanise actions that can win the future for ourselves and for those yet to be born. We must therefore usher ourselves to action to ensure that Africa will never again experience the fear of want or need. The climb is stiff, but all the over 1.2 billion citizens of Africa, have in them what it takes. Let us flip the switch from “devaluing Africa” to driving its appreciation. The jury is out!
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