Time for Africa to look within!

The legacy of colonialism has been the manifestation of a cultural inferiority complex in which modern African states look to the West for solutions to Africa’s problems. While it is true that some local problems are a result of both historical and current external events, the majority of Africa’s current problems have their source in Africa’s front door.

The racist land distribution and economic policies employed by colonial governments are largely to blame for the socioeconomic imbalances between cities and rural areas. Equally, the configuration of global financial and economic markets and the challenges brought about by the increasing interconnectedness of global society do compromise local socioeconomic dimensions. However, these realities cannot account for the continued and disproportionate suffering of certain ethnic and social groups in Africa. The continent cannot continue to blame colonialism, the West and the US for the many ills afflicting many of her citizens. Exporting local problems has earned Africa a lot of advice from external benefactors but nothing near a solution. Is it not time Africa looked at itself for solutions to problems for which its leaders are the sculptors?

Africa needs to move away from the idea that Europe and the US somehow possess limitless solutions to all of the world’s problems. No, they do not; they do not even have all solutions to all of their problems! In short, these are not perfect societies they, like Africa, are creations in progress. There is a need for African governments to recognize and acknowledge the uniqueness of Africa’s problems in time and space in comparison to Europe’s. There are great historical, social and cultural differences between Africa and Europe that may make even the best of European imported solutions irrelevant to African society. African governments need to be open about Africa’s problems, expand and encourage local social and political participation, identify local skills, abilities, deficiencies and then start to work out local solutions. Arguably, resources will not always be available to address problems but knowing what the problems are and having the ideas of how to solve them is a good start. It is only then that Africa will know what help is required and who to approach. At the moment African governments seem to be taking any ‘help’ from every source, especially if that help comes in the form of banknotes. It is no wonder most of Africa’s problems show no sign of abetting while leaders’ Swiss bank accounts swell.

Questions need to be asked of the failing democratic credentials when the number of elections being held in Africa has been increasing. For instance in 2009 Freedom House, a non profit organisation, dropped three African countries from its list of ‘electoral democracies’ and reported declines in political freedom in 10 others (Freedom House quoted by McClure, 2010). Is there an incentive for resource-rich African nations to adhere to imposed Western democratic principles when China can offer cheap loans and invest without making demands for good governance and upholding of human rights? At the same time Western governments ignore human rights abuses in countries seen as strategic in the fight against terrorism.

Is democracy as prescribed by the West and the USA compatible with African society and politics, in particular? What is apparent is that elections are meaningless as evidenced by the recent election outcome in Ethiopia in which the ruling coalition ‘won’ a staggering 545 seats out of a possible 547 (McClure, 2010) despite its glaring failures. African society’s strength and pride as well as its weakness lie in its strong reverence of historical and socio-biological links. Ethnicity, kinship and to an extent, religion are highly regarded thus people’s choices during elections are not often determined by political ideology but blind loyalty to real or inferred connection to candidates.

The violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and other African countries before and/ or after elections put the whole democratic election process into disrepute. Should Africa consider deconstructing and reconstructing Western democracy to meet the needs of its society and its obligations to the international community? What and how will that change be? Not so long ago Africa had thriving kingdoms with strong, well established political structures.

Quite frankly, political innovation is not beyond Africans what perhaps is currently lacking is the dearth in talent. Young, dynamic politicians are few and far in between; their influence is at best muted by mainstream political parties whose political ideologies and application belong in a different era and are unfit for the 21st Century challenges. The political environment is sterile when not volatile, perhaps power devolution could make politics relevant to presently marginalised social groups hence encourage wider political participation while retaining respect between different nations inhabiting the same geopolitical boundaries.

There is no suggestion here that African countries should not seek outside help, indeed there is no harm in these days of globalisation for a country to seek appropriate foreign intervention, if required and after taking a risk assessment. The argument is that Africa needs to take more responsibility for its self-inflicted damage (civil wars, corruption, and political impropriety among others). Certainly, most of the political violence that has resulted in a lot of poverty and refugees within the region is locally (i.e. within Africa) engineered and funded.

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