Africa is effectively a continent in a state of social, cultural and economic decay. The developing Africa ceased to exist the day the first Europeans set foot on the continent, from then onwards it has experienced a systematic appropriation and misappropriation of African resources and the physical and mental enslavement and colonisation of Africans by Europeans. Africa has no genuine claim of ownership and control of the conceptualisation, implementation and measurement tools of development indices.
The development in the so-called developing Africa is designed in Western capitals and prescribed and dictated by Western economic and political needs. The developing African world presides over disempowered rural areas, regions in which at least 70 percent of the African population reside. How is Africa developing when it is not the master of its destiny? Africa’s role in all major global social, economic and political institutions that govern the direction of development is symbolic at best.
The conceptual understanding of development is values laden; indeed what constitutes development varies in socioeconomic space and time. The theoretical understanding of the causes of development and underdevelopment as espoused by Western economists, in particular through the modernisation orientated theory are entirely based on Western and not African values.
There is nothing African about the origins of the modernisation theory; its assumptions and application only serve the socioeconomic interests of Western societies. It would seem developing commences the moment a community/ society starts embracing Western development values. The cores of development seen in the form of towns and cities in Africa happen to be areas of economic interest to Western economies. These caricatures of Western civilisation do not add value to the broader African way of life; that should not surprise anyone; it has never been their objective.
The creation of cities and towns dislocated communities and transformed local economies but the transformed economies have not transformed many people’s lives. The benefits of modernisation are yet to touch a majority of native Africans living in villages. If anything urbanisation undermines rural socioeconomic development through capital flight (human and economic); it is a part of an elaborate system of satellite regions through which the capitalist West continues to appropriate African wealth. Is it then not an irony that cities and towns have come to symbolise development in Africa when in fact they are centres of human and economic exploitation? What sort of development creates oases that exclude around 80 percent of the population of most African countries?
We need to ask ourselves whose interests the so-called developing Africa serves. To answer that question we have to first identify what this developing phenomenon in Africa is. What is certain is that the developing world is not defined in African terms or from an African perspective but through Western lenses. It is therefore often misplaced and misunderstood; many Africans conflate Westernisation with development. It is the height of folly that moving further from African customs and values and towards Western ones would be used as a measure of how individuals and societies were developing.
The many economic structural adjustment programmes have led to some changes (some positive) in Africa, for instance in healthcare provision, housing, water supply, academic education, among other indicators. However, all these indicators remain particularly evident only in urban settlements while the majority of Africans living in villages remain effectively excluded from the ‘developing Africa’. Living in a village continues to preclude people from this so-called developing world. Village life makes good documentary material for Western television channels that measure happiness and sophistication in material terms; villagers are often wrongly portrayed as lacking in sophistication and their lifestyle being qualitatively inferior.
A developing Africa will only become reality when Africa takes control of her destiny. Africa will only start developing when it retains a good measure of control over its political and economic circumstances. The continent will have to command some real influence on such institutions as the UN Security Council, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among other international institutions.
Right now the ‘developing Africa’ remains dependent on aid and African government leaders have come to take Western aid as a right. It is however, no longer a secret that development aid from the West is costly; it comes with conditions that effectively cement a slave-master relationship between Africa and the West. Western aid perpetuates instead of reducing dependency or alleviating poverty.
There is no evidence of the ability or ambition by both the West and the African leadership to increase African economic and political independence or to break-off the shackles of dependency. Only when Africa’s development starts adding value to African identity will Africa be genuinely developing.
When you lose yourself in the maze of ‘development’ – as Africa has been doing – you are not developing but confused! Africa is decaying instead of developing; the so-called developing Africa is reactive rather than proactive because it does not understand the development designs being imposed on it. When you do not own, let alone fully understand the development models you are called upon to apply it becomes difficult to independently make projections hence prepare for the future.
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