Feature Article of Friday, 15 June 2012
Columnist: Plange, Paa Kwesi
“The Negro more than any other human type, has been marked out by his mental and physical characteristics as the servant of other races……in a primitive state (he) is a born slave. He is possessed of great physical strength, docility, cheerfulness of disposition, a short memory for sorrows and cruelties, and an easily aroused gratitude for kindness and just dealing. He does not suffer from homesick to the over-bearing extent that afflicts other people torn from their homes, and, provided he is well-fed, he is easily made happy. Above all, he can toil hard under the hot sun and in the unhealthy climates of the Torrid Zone. He has little or no race-relationship- that is to say, he has no sympathy for other Negroes; he recognizes, follows and imitates his master independently of any race affinities.” Harry Hamilton Johnston.
“Given the millions of Africans still affected by dire poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, illnesses, and inadequate education, the cry for freedom from want should be louder.” Mathurin Houngnikpo, “Stuck at the Runway: Africa’s Distress Call.”
By Paa Kwesi Plange
Wanted: Leadership That Can Bring Real Change (II)
Africa has had a chequered relationship with Europe. Our parts have crossed in many ways and at every intersection Africa has been the loser and Europe the winner. From slavery to imperialism and colonialism to neo-colonialism, the global north led by Europe has used Africa as a footnote to its grandiose developmental ambition by pillaging the natural resources of the continent with the tacit support of the African elite.
Mathurin Houngnikpo, who teaches African History and Politics at the Metropolitan State College of Denver and Global issues at the University of Denver, argues that Africa’s current crises should not only be ascribed to the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, but also to a failure of leadership among Africa’s elites.
I admit that there are quite a number of people who might feel a bit squeamish about the above quotations. Let me assure you that I am also sensitive to those feelings as well. The truth is that issues relating to the history of slavery, imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism etc are interminably difficult to digest.
However to be able to come to terms with Ghana and Africa’s current position of weakness within the global system we would have to place this history under the microscope and also in the proper perspective.
The first quotation credited to Harry Hamilton Johnston, sums up the mindset of the European about the African before colonization. According to Harry Hamilton Johnston, “Europeans believed that they were physically and mentally superior to Africans and as such should conquer them to civilize the continent.”
At the time, Europe was at a stage where industrialization and imperialism allowed the thought of a “natural and necessary polarization of the rulers and the ruled, the bearers and the receivers of culture.” In his words the European was the ruler and bearer of culture, while the Africa was the ruled and the receiver of culture.
It was this state of mind that partially influenced the European to foray into our continent and under the guise of “civilizing the savages of Africa” seized control of our resources and appropriated it solely for their development.
In his seminal book, “How Europe underdeveloped Africa,” Walter Rodney said, “for the first three decades of colonialism, hardly anything was done that could remotely be termed a service to the African people. It was in fact only after the last war (World War II) that social services were built as a matter of policy.”
According to Walter Rodney, statistics today, which show the depraved conditions of Africa and its people, are the statistics that reflected the state of affairs at the end of colonialism. “For that matter, the figures at the end of the first decade of African independence in spheres such as health, housing, and education are often several times higher than the figures inherited by the newly independent governments.”
Continuing, he said, “it would be an act of the most brazen fraud to weigh the paltry social amenities provided during the colonial epoch against the exploitation, and to arrive at the conclusion that the good outweighed the bad.”
It is against this backdrop that Rodney prescribed a culture of selfless and visionary leadership as the remaining realistic option for Ghana and the rest of the continent to change their peripheral position within the global system to a position of strength and influence.
In taking up this challenge however we must be minded about the need to correct the worrying mindset among some Africans that our failings as independent nation-states owes principally to the decision to break contact with our colonial masters. This state of mind that colonialism represented the best thing that ever happened to the continent is unfortunate and we have to address that quickly.
In the course of a month, I have tried through my articles to examine the state of Ghana and the continent, the precarious condition of our people and how leadership or the lack of it have contributed largely to our weak position in the global system and have tried to raise our collective consciousness to this challenge with a view to reversing it.
To be able to achieve this noble objective, I called for leadership to develop deliberate policy that placed the African at the commanding heights of the economy just as the Asian Tigers did for their people decades ago.
I also tried to focus our minds on the myriad of problems confronting the people of this country and concluded that leadership had failed to respond to the aspirations of the Ghanaian. Significantly the comments that have come through since the publications have been quite positive.
Readers proffered insightful suggestions and I am very grateful. One reader for instance called for the establishment of a permanent think-tank to provide the crucial linkage between research and development and policy development and implementation.
He traced Ghana and Africa’s position in the global system to the absence of strong institutions and the lack of continuity in policy implementation.
On the call for leadership to navigate Africa from its marginal position in the global system to a more dominant role, this is what another reader, Emmanuel Ayesu-Danso wrote in response to the article.
“I agree perfectly that we need transformational and selfless leaders if we are to make an impact in the 21st century. But I wonder whether in the 21st century, the strategies of Nkrumah, Lee Kwan Yew and Dr. Mahathir and other benevolent dictators will work. My puzzle is how we can wean ourselves from the influences of the IMF and the World Bank. The point is that they did not impose themselves on us, rather we invited them to assist us and thus we cannot fault them for their prescriptions. According to Francis Fukuyama, democracy has triumphed and the influence of the West looms large across the globe. Therefore our leaders lost it when they invited them into our countries ostensibly to restructure our ailing economies.”
Mr. Ayesu-Danso couldn’t have been more forthright in his commentary especially in our involvement with the Bretton Woods institutions. However I still believe that the leadership provided by the triumvirate of Nkrumah, Lee Kwan Yew and Dr. Mahathir is still relevant and more so in these contemporary times when even the West have employed some level of state intervention as a response to economic crises in the past and even as recent as the global financial meltdown.
In the midst of Africa’s ambivalent and pathological response to its challenges in the global system, the Asians have shown us that there is a way to move away from the periphery to the core. And they provided the leadership to make that happen.
The Asian leaders at the time were not the usual text book democrats you would find across the Atlantic. However against the odds including threats of sanctions, they managed to cobble together a blueprint for national development and whipped their people to coalesce behind the vision.
There are people like Francis Fukuyama and O’Neil who believe that democracy and liberalism has triumphed over the other forms of government and who have argued that the authoritarian methodology applied by Dr. Nkrumah, Lee Kwan Yew and Dr. Mahathir is unsustainable in today’s world.
Would it be foolhardy on our part to take the seminal works of Francis Fukuyama’s and Dr. O’Neil’s on face value? The jury is out on that one and thanks to Samuel Huttington, (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order) Fukuyama does not have the final word. Going forward let us continue to subject these works to several bouts of peer review and academic interrogation.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a democrat to the core. However I totally disagree with Francis Fukuyama and those who believe that Africa and the Third World have to wholly embrace the tenets of democracy and liberalism if they want to develop on a sustainable basis.
To the contrary I think what Africa needs is a combination of democratic ideals and strong leadership to achieve sustainable development to its people. And that is where leadership is quite important. Like Harry Hamilton Johnston controversially stated, Europeans have viewed the Negro as a person with a deficiency in brain power incapable of thinking strategically and for that matter thinking in his long term interests.
If we fail to act to protect our interest within the global system, we would only reinforce that stereotype. And the way to address this challenge is for our leaders to place serious premium on long term planning that focuses on the development of local solutions for local problems.
If Malaysia can extract ethanol from palm kernel to power vehicles with good strategic planning we can do same and even exceed expectations. Yes we can.
If Singapore, a nation-state of 500,000 and a net exporter of sand could become the 4th largest ship manufacturer in the world, we can also position the continent through deliberate policy to the heights Lee Kwan Yew has taken them. Yes we can.
If South Korea and Japan could reserve critical sectors of their economies for indigenous entrepreneurs and could employ the mercantilist political economy model as a basis for the development of their countries, we have every right to go on that same trajectory to ensure accelerated development.
Names like Hyundai, Suzuki, Honda, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Yamaha, Daewoo etc are visible brands in the automobile industry across the world. Behind these brands are homegrown entrepreneurs who were able to grow their businesses through a mix of research and development, transfer of technology and direct funding from the state.
The direct funding by the state was crucial and significant because they utilized it to fund research and development and also to procure some form of technology transfer for the manufacturing sector in Japan and in South Korea. Today these first generation nationalist brands have given birth to others like LG, Samsung, Hitachi, etc to increase productive capacity and generate more wealth for their people.
If they found a way to escape the periphery to the core we can also do same. If they could escape the overbearing presence of the IMF and World Bank to develop a home grown solution to their peculiar problems by looking inward instead of outward we can do same as well. Yes we can.
This progress can be made if we put on our thinking cap. Our leaders have to focus on the mandate of delivering sustainable development to our people. The practice of self actualization and parochial interests that have become endemic in our politics have to be sacrificed in the collective interests of the electorate who are fast losing confidence in the capacity of leadership to deliver on their promises.
Together as a people our primary responsibility is to hold our leaders accountable. These servants of the people enjoy a lot of privileges at our expense and so we have a moral and constitutional obligation to raise our collective voices against them if they falter in their obligation towards us.
We cannot continue to allow the practice that promotes the unbridled export of our natural resources to the “metropole” while leadership looks on sheepishly without mustering an action. Africa can’t sustain the practice whereby a paltry 10 per cent of extractive resources are reserved for the host country while the multi-national corporation takes out a whopping 90 per cent.
The truth is we have an obligation to encourage investors to recoup their investments, however to ensure a sustainable development of our economies we need to drive the high percentile difference between our earnings down through smart negotiations. The proposition has to be win-win.
Like I said earlier if we fail to act to protect our interest in the global system we would only reinforce the old stereotype that the African has only “been marked out by his mental and physical characteristics as the servant of other races.”
The danger of inaction would justify the inhumane manner they treat us at their embassies, airports and in their countries.
It is time for all of us including our leaders on the continent to put on our thinking caps and develop strategy that would move us from our weak position within the global system to a position of strength.
This might not happen in our lifetime but we must at least begin to lay the foundation now for our children to build upon. We owe it to our children. The time to act is now. Yes we can.
The global system is a one-armed bandit that has to be confronted with intelligence and finesse. If our leaders apply these qualities, the path to a brighter future for the longsuffering people of Africa would be much clearer and a sustainable development can be secured.
*The writer is a Freelance Journalist, an Author and the Executive Director of the Center for Investigative Reporting Ghana (CIRGHA). He lives in the Ghanaian Capital of Accra.