African Nations And Poverty Eradication

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Recently, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon reiterated the UN’s continued support to African leaders to eradicate poverty and usher in a better future for Africans, saying that “with the commitment already demonstrated by African leaders and continued good partnership between the UN and African Union Commission (AUC), we can enable people across Africa to end poverty.”
Ban Ki-Moon, who disclosed this at event entitled “Operationalisation of the 2030 Agenda for African’s Industrialisation (UNIDO)” in New York, said “we can also usher in a better future for all. The adoption of the new agenda was a major step in UN’s shared work towards ending poverty and promoting prosperity while protecting the environment.”
He noted that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognised the importance of “building resilent infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.” President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and his counterparts of Senegal, Macky Sall, Mulatu Teshome of Ethiopia and Edgar Lungu of Zambia were present at the high level event.
Any discussion of Africa’s poverty and aid is always received with mixed feelings. This is because for half a century now, the African continent has been deluged with aid, but this has failed to make Africans any less poor. It is very worrisome indeed. The problem of continued poverty in Africa has risen to the level where donors now wonder whether the money donated will be judiciously ultilised.
There are some bank-rolled African countries such as Togo, Tanzania and even Nigeria, among others, which aids have been wasted. There is the argument that aid to poor countries is always wasted and that they should cut it down. In actual fact, there is good evidence that aid works only if directed to countries with sound economic policies and functioning institutions of government.
Some Africans argue that their continent has been crippled by what Steve Biko, a South African revolutionary called a “colonisation of the mind.” African minds are clouded by lack of confidence which prevents them from fulfilling their potential. Why is Africa so poor? If the continent is to succeed, it is crucial to find out and understand what had gone wrong in the past.
Most Africa’s ills are blamed on history as many Africans argue that the continent’s current problems sprang largely from the trauma that Europeans inflicted on it such as slavery.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, millions of Africans were kidnapped, chained, squashed into the fetid holds of slaving ships and taken across the Atlantic and many died before they reached the other side of the ocean. Those who reached the Americans were set to work, unfree and unpaid on plantations. Those who stayed behind in Africa lived in fear that they would not escape the clutches of the slave raiders the next time they came. This fear and the constant loss of healthy adults were massively disruptive to African societies.
Africans’ lack of confidence prevents them from fulfilling their potential. African leaders should understand that any country inhabited by human beings has the potential to grow rich. Unpleasant colonial experiences need not doom a country to eternal penury. There is need for a paradigm shift through an agenda that promotes structural transformation, industrialisation, technological change and innovation to address poverty, inequality and youth unemployment in Africa.
They must pursue modern industrial policies and intra-African trade and value chains, with help from Africa’s development partners, including the development agencies, financial institutions and the private sector, who are ready to help. UNIDO’s new programme for country partnership provides a concrete model of how to mobilise multi-stakeholders coalitions to achieve inclusive and sustainable industrial development.
Any country that wants to prosper must tend to do so by their own efforts as outsiders can help, but only on the margins. South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki,had predicted an “African renaissance,” but said that such renaissance will only succeed “if its aims and objectives are defined by the Africans themselves, if its programmes are designed by ourselves and if we take responsibility for the success or failure of our policies’. Countries grow wealthy in much the same way that individuals do; by making things that other people want to buy or by providing services that others will pay for.
Just as some individuals inherit wealth, so some countries are rich simply because they have oil and not many citizens. In the case of Nigeria, for instance, it has oil and so needs to diversify its economy. By and large, the route to prosperity is through thrift, that is, saving money and spending it carefully.
For instance, the British first grew rich in the 19th century by using newly invented industrial techniques to produce cheaper and better textiles, steel, railways and other goods, which both locals and foreigners were keen to buy. Japan grew rich in the 20th century by adopting and improving manufacturing techniques invented elsewhere in order to make better and cheaper cars, semi-conductors and fax machines while America is the world’s richest economy or country today because so many people crave its movies, medicines, airplanes and banking services.
Africa, by contrast, hardly produces anything that the rest of the world wants to buy. With a tenth of the world’s population, Africa’s share of world trade is a miserable 2 per cent. The continent exports minerals such as oil and copper, and crops like cocoa, coffee and tobacco, but few African countries turn their minerals into manufactured goods, and hardly anyone buys Africans software and insurance. To understand why Africa is so poor, we must first ask why Africa is so unproductive. On the home-base, Nigeria, an African novelist, late Chinua Achebe once said; “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”
President Buhari and other African leaders who attended the recent high level joint event in New York must lead by personal examples by finding out those things holding Nigeria and other African countries back and keeping them poor for many decades now. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) recently warned that no fewer than 2.8 million people will face hunger in the coming months in the worst food crisis in a decade in Malawi, according to a statement issued in New York by WFP representative for Malawi, Coco Ushiyama.
The report said people in some affected districts had already started selling their livestock to take care of their needs while women are engaging in more firewood and charcoal selling, which degrades the environment and further aggravates the fragile climate. The agency attributed the hunger situation to severe floods and drought that turned this year’s harvest. Malawi is a tropical country and one of the “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPCs) among forty-two countries as classified by the World Bank in 1999. There is a link between climate and poverty as hot countries are home to all manner of diseases that affect both people and their livestock, and Africa has the worst of them such as malaria, yellow fever, rare but deadly viruses like Ebola, and a host of energy-sapping parasites.
The issue of hunger is not different in most African countries, including Nigeria. Nigeria needs more successful businesses, but doing business in Nigeria can be so tricky due to bad roads punctuated by road blocks manned by bribe-hungry policemen and other agencies, who make it slow and costly to move goods even short distance. Frequent power and water cuts force Nigerian firms to resort to what local businessmen call “Bring Your Own Infrastructure (BYOI).
African countries should key into the economic policies and technological methods adopted and adapted by developed countries.
There are millions of wonderful ideas out there waiting to be tapped or borrowed from most developed nations for the prosperity of Africa. One major problem with African countries is that they are slow to train the necessary engineers and technicians to make use of them. African countries must strive to keep pace with a fast growing world and catch up with the trend so as not to remain beggarly, expecting aid. They should also endeavour to join the donor-nations to assist less-privileged ones. South Africa is the country trying to catch up and it is now the most advanced industrial nation on the continent since after the relatively peaceful end of apartheid in 1994. Other African countries should emulate South Africa, which as a prosperous country, can provide the engine for the whole continents economic growth, much as Japan did in East Asia.
However, one would believe that Africa will prosper in the long run if the leaders can learn from developed countries. The political, legal and economic arrangements of rich countries are not secret. For example, when Japan’s rulers decided in the 19th century that they had to modernise to avoid being colonised, they sent their brightest officials to Germany, Britain and American to find out how industrial societies worked. They then copied the ideas that seemed most useful and rejected the Western habits that seemed unhelpful or distasteful; within a few decades, Japan became advanced enough to win a war with Russia-the first non-white nation to defeat a European power in modern times.
African countries can also attain that feat. So, developing nations need to learn from developed ones, but they should not abandon their culture and traditions in the process because modernisation does not mean Westernisation.
African leaders must as a matter of urgency do something to release their countries and people from the shackles of poverty and hunger.