What’s wrong with Africa?

Time and time again we have to face this question. Why is it that the root of all humankind, the continent with abundant resources, the place with a plethora of intelligent people, has perpetually been in so much trouble?

Aids, war, poverty have ravaged that continent. Countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe were well to do by the time the British left in the 70s. But in the past few decades they have become more and more poor and are now a shadow of what they were earlier. Countries like Nigeria and Uganda which have vast resources within their borders are burdened with civil war like conditions. South Africa, the only success story, now has the largest aids population in the world (although it is going to be overtaken by India soon). Sudan is in a perpetual grip of war and famine. Egypt, moderately successful, has terrorism problems which just don’t seem to go away.

Why do these problems keep on occuring in Africa? To answer this we should look at brief generic history of Africa.

Africa was the big unknown a couple of centuries ago. It was the last territory never to be explored on a large scale. What’s beyond the great deserts of Sahara? Where does the Nile begin? What could be found in the forests of mid-Africa? With these intriguing questions began the rape of Africa.

The plunder of Africa by the west is truly astonishing. Slavery began in 1500s and peaked in 1800s as the commercial needs of Europe and (especially) America rose at the same time. These strange black people were seen as a commodity to be traded freely. No matter which way you look at slavery, it was a Holocaust of immense proportions. Recently the western governements have been trying to brush this period under the carpet with justifications which sound hollow. But keep this in mind, the period between 1800 to early last century represents a plunder of the continent off it’s most precious resource….people.

Along with slavery, corporations from the west came into Africa and began to strip the continent of it’s abundant resources. This has also continued till date even though the methodology has changed a bit. Africa has been run for the past 3 centuries or so as a profit centre of the west similar to the way India was run by the East India Company.

Along with slavery and the ownership of the resources by western co-orporations, the west also brought in western style politics. Although this style has been adopted with some success in India, it never really took off in Africa. Why? Is it because Africans do not understand democracy? Is it because the concept it too alien for Africans? The answer to both questions is “NO”.

So we come back to today.

To answer the previous questions of why democracy never took off in Africa let’s look at India. In case of India, the circumstances from 1857 to 1947 were such that it led to a strong participation by Indians as a whole to acceptance of the concept of a democratic India (keep in mind that the concept of a nation was also alien to Indians). That’s one of the problems in Africa. There is no consensus by majority of Africans in Africans states about the idea of an what kind of government is required. I think there is a lot of desire to be able to choose your own government but that desire is superseeded by a desire to find the next meal or to sustain your family. Until and unless there is an improvement in the lives of average Africans, there will be just muted demands for democracy.

Which brings us back to how to improve the lives of the average Africans. This cannot be done without a strong government. A strong government by today’s standard is a democratically elected government which will implement policies to better the lives of the country’s citizens. This is easier said than done. The policies to better the lives of the population are always hard in the short term. The government would have to be a stable one to be able to see the country through the transition. Which means a semi-autocratic style of government is required, especially in the inital period.

And this is what happened in each country in Africa i.e. a single party came to power which put it in unique position to implement policies to bring about stable governance. And in each case (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Zaire, Egypt, Moroco, Nigeria, Angola etc.), this opportunity was lost because the single party never let go of it’s power when demanded by the citizen’s. Which in turn meant that to keep the citizen’s happy, help by the west was sought in form of money (and the west never gives anything for free). Soon the western coporations were entrenched in the economies of the African countries. More loans meant more debt which in turn meant more loans and more debt. Thus, began the first slide to poverty and hardships with rising control of the west over the economies of the countries. At this point if the countries would have turned to democracy, the situation might have been different but a lot countries went on the wrong track. Industries were nationalised, constiutions were changed to control unrest, opposition was curbed and at the same time let west (in the form of IMF, World Bank etc.) dictated terms over the running of African economies. This stew of volatile mixture time and time again erupts. The civil war in Rawanda was a blame game by the dominant tribe over the hardships that the country was facing as a whole (something akin to Nazis blaming Jews for their economic hardships in the early 30s).

To me the problem in Africa is all political. Each country in the continent seems to be grappling with the issue of a stable and strong government representative of all sides of the respective country. And this is where the west needs to step in. They need to guide the countries into a stable political environment. At the moment the political will is being over-ridden by the corporations which are making and have the potential to make a huge sum of money from the continent in it’s current state. The moment a good government comes along, the looting will have to be stopped. The western leaders need to be strong but unfortunately the strength comes from the people of the western countries. So until and unless there isn’t a strong demand by the western countries’ citizens to help Africa, nothing is going to happen there. And looking by the current response from the average people obsessed by Iraq, Afganistan, Middle East, China etc. it is not going to happen some time soon.

Let’s hope things change soon. Once I get my citizenship, I will be pressing my MP again and again on this issue.

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