Feature Article of Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Columnist: Frimpong-Boateng, Professor

Factors Hindering Africa's Development

The African continent makes up 6% of the Earth’s surface and 20% of the land mass. It has an area of 30.2 million km2. The 54 countries in Africa together have a population of about one billion or about 14% of the population of the world. Close to 1000 different languages are spoken on the continent. Africa’s contribution to world trade is 1% and 25 of the world’s bottom poor countries are in Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 300 to 500 million Africans are infected with malaria each year causing 1.5 to 2.7 million deaths. More than 90% of these deaths occur in children under 5 years of age. This means that in Africa a child dies every 45 seconds of malaria. The estimated annual direct and indirect costs of malaria to Africa were US$800 million in 1987 and about US$1.8 billion in 1995.

Sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region of the world. An estimated 22.4 million people are living with HIV in the region - around two thirds of the global total. In 2008 around 1.4 million people died from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and 1.9 million people became infected with HIV. Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 14 million African children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.

Globally, tuberculosis is second only to HIV/AIDS as a cause of illness and death of adults, accounting for nearly nine million cases of active disease and two million deaths every year. Although it has only 14% of the world's population, Africa accounts for more than a quarter of this global burden with an estimated 2.4 million TB cases and 540,000 TB deaths annually.

Africa has a triple burden of disease. Firstly, non communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, hypertension and stroke that are affected by lifestyle are increasing on the continent. The World Heart Federation (WHF) estimates that 17.1 million people die every year from heart disease and stroke and 80% of these deaths occur in developing countries. The total projected deaths due to chronic NCDs in Africa in 2005 were about 2.5 million. Over the next 10 years in WHO Africa Region 28 million will die from chronic diseases.

Secondly, the continent has not been able to deal with many of the infections and communicable diseases, including childhood diseases that are no longer prevalent in the developed world.

Thirdly, the increasing onslaught of cancer in Africa has been largely overlooked and ignored.

In 2002, there were 6.7 million cancer deaths worldwide with less than 5% of these in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2020, African states will account for more than a million new cancer cases per year out of a total of 16-million cases worldwide and that should present trends continue Africa is expected to have the highest incidence of cancer by 2030.

We are leaders in “bad things”.

The contradiction of our situation is that despite the fact that our contribution to world trade is minimal we as Africans spend about four billion US dollars annually to recruit and pay 100,000 expatriates to work in Africa but we fail to spend a proportional amount to recruit the 250,000 African professionals now working outside Africa.

Most African countries depend on their so-called development partners for 100% financing of development projects. It is estimated that 80% of inputs into agriculture, education and health are from foreign sources.

These figures tell us that there are problems on the continent and the biggest one is that of crisis of leadership. Our leaders have not been able to leads us to provide ourselves the basic necessities for survival. These basic needs are food, shelter, clothing, health and security. In nature any population that is not able to feed, shelter, clothe, heal and defend itself has very little chance of long term survival. We continue to depend on others for even basic needs.

Other signs of leadership crisis are alarming and persuasive. There is a widespread loss of faith in our major institutions such as the judiciary and law enforcement agencies generally. There is an alarming breakdown of traditional values and discipline; corruption is more or less institutionalized and no serious attempts are being made to fight it. There is total disregard for environmental sanitation. Indiscipline is the order of the day. Africans do not seem to have the confidence to lift themselves out of their misery and are looking to foreigners to solve their problems for them. Our pride as a people capable of playing our role on the international scene has been totally eroded.

Why don’t we as Africans have leaders be they prime ministers, presidents, scientists, farmers, politicians or teachers who inspire and motivate or even excite us to greater heights? Where, for God's sake, have all our leaders gone?

The quality and life of the society depends on the quality of the leaders. As a person cannot function without a brain, so a society cannot function without leaders.

A nation that cannot provide its citizens with clean water, construct toilets and dispose of its wastes safely cannot by any stretch of imagination come out with measures that will ensure a significant economic growth to lift the nation out of disease, ignorance and squalor. What can we be proud of as a continent? .

I have a few problems with our leaders:

1. It really beats my understanding that African leaders do not seem to realize that the real difference between the developed countries of America, Europe, Asia and the Far East and the underdeveloped countries of Africa lies in their technological capability. This capability has been defined as the extent to which countries, access, utilize, and create science and technology for the solution of socio - economic problems. Our leaders do not seem to realize that our world is essentially driven by technology. Energy, agriculture, medicine and health, clean air and water, transportation, sanitation, management use and conservation of natural resources -- all are based ultimately in science and technology. So it is obvious that to be a part of that world, there must be science and technology elements in the development process. Unfortunately most African Countries have refused to be part of the modern world.

2. Because of the apparent refusal to adopt science and technology development most African countries have not been able to change the structure of their economy since political independence and still rely on the export of raw materials such cocoa, gold, timber, bauxite, diamond, manganese and oil, all in the raw form. There is absolutely no value addition. This is what I term Adam and Eve Economy. Noah did better than Africa is doing now; at least he manufactured a ship that was absolutely seas worthy.

3. Our leaders do seem to know that human beings are the only animals that are born without any intrinsic knowledge of technology and culture. All animals and other lower forms of life come to the world with instinctive technology for survival. Thus birds do not have to go to any architecture school to learn how to build their homes. They do so instinctively. Bees do not learn chemistry or biochemistry bit they produce honey. We as humans are not animals of instinct so to be able to conceptualize, design, test and manufacture something we have to learn to do that thing. If we in Africa import toothpicks, matches, candles, computers, toys, zips and all industrial goods from abroad it means that we do not know how to produce these things.

4. Only education can prepare us to acquire the knowledge and skills to manufacture things. It follows that the education we have in Africa has not been able to help us produce anything. It is therefore for the most part not focussed, irrelevant and probably outright useless. Most African countries spend almost next to nothing on Research and Development. It appears we do not seem to know the importance of R&D in development.

5. Our leaders do not seem to know the developmental history of countries that have made it in the last 50 years.

6. Korea has transformed itself from a stagnant agrarian society into one of the most dynamic industrial economies of the world within 40 years. In the early 1960s when Korea first launched its industrialization efforts, it was a typical poor developing country with poor resource and production base and small domestic market. Korea’s GNP in 1961 was only $ 2.3 billion (in 1980 prices) or $87 per capita which came mainly from the primary sectors. The manufacturing sector’s share in GNP remained at a mere 15%. International trade was also at a very infant stage: in 1961, Korea’s export volume was only $55 million and imports $390 million. As late as 1970, the three top exports were textiles, plywood and wigs. But it is now 13th largest economy and one of the major trading countries of the world. It has also established world prominence in such technology areas as semi-conductors, LCD, telecommunication equipment, automobiles, shipbuilding, and so on. Indeed, it has emerged from nowhere as one of the key international players in the global economy.

7. Singapore provides another example. When the government of Lee Kuan Yew took office in 1959 it set out to have a clean administration. The Prime Minister said that “we were sickened by the greed, corruption, and decadence of many Asian leaders” and “We had the deep sense of mission to establish a clean and effective government”. With determination and a credible programme committed to scientific and technological development, Lee Kuan Yew and his team were able to live up to their good intentions and Singapore, which in 1819 was a village with 120 fishermen without any natural resources and hinterland, propelled itself from third world squalor to first world affluence in just 35 years.

8. The economic development taking place in China is the result of an initiative taken by four scientists. On the 3rd of March, 1986, four of China’s top weapons scientists: WANG Daheng, WANG Ganchang, YANG Jiachi, and CHEN Fangyun, jointly sent a private letter to Deng Xiaoping, the leader of the country with a warning that decades of relentless focus on militarization had crippled the country’s civilian scientific establishment. They recommended that China must join the world’s “new technological revolution,” or it would be left behind. They called for an élite project devoted to technology ranging from biotech to space research. Deng agreed, and scribbled on the letter, “Action must be taken on this now.” This was China’s “Sputnik moment,” and the project was code-named the 863 Program, for the year and month of its birth. In the years that followed, the government pumped billions of dollars into labs and universities and enterprises, on projects ranging from cloning to underwater robots. The program initially focused on seven key technological fields:

• Biotechnology

• Space technology

• Information technology

• Laser technology

• Automation

• Energy

• Advanced Material Sciences

Since 1986, two more fields have been brought under the umbrella of the program:

• Telecommunications (1992)

• Marine Technology (1996)

In 2006, Chinese leaders redoubled their commitment to new energy technology; they boosted funding for research and set targets for installing wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric dams, and other renewable sources of energy that were higher than goals in the United States. China doubled its wind-power capacity that year, and then doubled it again the next year, and the year after. The country had virtually no solar industry in 2003; five years later, it was manufacturing more solar cells than any other country, winning customers from foreign companies that had invented the technology in the first place.

9. Our leaders have devalued themselves to the extent that they think only foreigners can help us out of our misery. How can someone tell us that he is waiting for a loan from some other country before roads, schools and other infrastructural projects can be executed?

10. Our leaders seem to know it all and can develop the continent without Africans. After all they do not need us to travel around looking for loans, grants and handouts. They do not need us to build the infrastructural projects. After all those who give out the loans will also provide workers from their country to get the work done.

11. Our leaders understanding of development seem to be only the provision of infrastructure. No country ever developed by borrowing to build infrastructure. ‘Something’ else must be built on the infrastructure. That something is the true development.

To my mind the three major problems that we face are the lack of technology, “institutionalized” corruption and the fact that leadership over the years has taken the greatest asset of the nation, its people, for granted.

The greatest asset of Africa to me is the trust and confidence of its people. In Africa this asset has been squandered over the years through misgovernment and corruption to the extent that leaders are not trusted and citizens do not see that they have a stake in their country and its future.

Most Africans do not see any virtue in working for the future of their countries. Our leaders have not been able to invoke in the citizens the spirit of nation building. An antagonistic spirit has possessed political opponents who continuously knock the heads of unsuspecting Africans together while the population continues to wallow in poverty and despair. Nobody appears to be in a position to sacrifice anymore for our communal good and welfare.

Most Africans feel that they have sacrificed enough without any improvements in their lives. There is a general realization that each time they sacrificed, their lives got worse off because governments always took them and their sacrifices for granted.

When leaders fail to achieve any appreciable success they give up any hope of improving the lives of the generality of the population and result to amassing wealth for themselves, their families and friends. In the final analysis stealing becomes widespread.

The foreign assistance Africa receives is usually not in the form of industries that provide jobs and ensure transfer of technology but are the ones that make the citizens dependent on the perpetual injections of aid. Africa benefits just marginally from its enormous natural resources.

Tanzania, for example, is the only country in the world where Tanzanite gemstones are mined. The annual revenue from this precious stone, discovered in 1967, that goes to the people of Tanzania is just about US$14m, while dealers in the developed world that are major importer of the raw Tanzanite earn about US$300m. At the same time Tanzania is ranked by the World Bank as one of the poorest countries in the world with over half of its estimated 33million population surviving on less than one US dollar per day and also depending on external financing for almost the entire development budget. It is on record that donors finance 50% of Tanzania’s annual budget.

The high-tech economies of the present would not exist without coltan from DR Congo, so essential to making computer chips”.( Coltan is columbite-tantalite a metallic ore comprising niobium and tantalum. When refined it becomes metallic tantalum, a heat resistant powder that can hold high electrical charge—used to create CAPACITORS).

I have every reason to believe that the situation is the same in my Ghana with its numerous mineral resources. If so much gold, bauxite, manganese and diamonds are mined and sold why should we be begging all these years?

All nations that have made it did so by confronting the problems facing them. I sincerely believe that the fight ahead of us today is greater than the fight for political independence and it cannot be won by undisciplined people who still depend on outdated strategies.

I believe that the time has come for Africans to work for themselves and to utilize our enormous resources for our own development.

For far too long, African leaders have concentrated on providing infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospital for their people. This is not bad in itself but as far as I am concerned the many roads, schools, hospitals, wells, electricity and other infrastructural projects erroneously called development projects that it can provide, do not alone determine the measure of the success of a Government. Not even the quantum of foreign investment is a measure of this success. Rather the success of true leadership is measured by what extent the people can be mobilized to lead independent lives: to feed, shelter, clothe, heal and defend themselves, and also produce tools, implements, spare parts and machines they require for daily living, so that if for one reason or the other ships and airplanes are unable to come to the country the citizens can stand on their own and survive.

Our development depends on our ability to understand, interpret, select, adapt, use, transmit, diffuse, produce and commercialize scientific and technological knowledge in ways appropriate to our culture, aspirations and level of development.

What about the role of African intellectuals in Africa’s development. Over the centuries many Africans have received first class education in Africa and abroad, notably in Europe and America. It appears that educated Africans do better outside Africa than in Africa. There are a number of Africans who are contributing to the development of the United States in various fields. They are successful here because the systems are in place to absorb them. Most African countries do not have meaningful development strategies and so are not able to identify specialists they need to absorb for the development of the nations.

I believe that most African students in the United States, including Ohio University are sponsored by their parents, guardians or themselves. They are here studying in area they think will benefit them first and not so much what will assist in the overall development of their individual countries. After all, the countries do seem to care about them.

Worse still, a lot of African intellectuals are unable to get together to offer solutions to national problems. Rather they align themselves according to their individual tribal, political, religious and other affiliations and seek their own welfare even if that will not be in national interest.

In many respects therefore the African intellectual is no different from his uneducated counterpart. Both of them will support their tribes’ people or religious colleagues who have political power because their personal interests will be served.


1. There is need for attitudinal change in Africa. We should realize that the overall development of the continent, including the economic, social, cultural and technological development is the responsibility of the Africans.

2. The task of political leadership is to unearth the actors needed to transform the nation.

3. We as African should exorcise the ‘beggar mentality’ from our lives and accept that our poverty is self-inflicted. It is absolutely unnecessary.

4. We need to understand that Science, Engineering and Technology will give us the capacity to manufacture machines, develop processes and materials and exploit our abundant natural resources for national development. If we do not develop the capacity to manufacture machines that will work for us we should as well forget about any dream of developing the Nation. No country ever developed without the capacity to manufacture machines. If we characterize the economies of most African countries as agricultural based, we do so by default because we cannot do anything else. As stated earlier we are like Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Methuselah. Even Noah could build a ship. 2200 years ago the Chinese built the over 6300km Great Wall of China, without any assistance from the World Bank but we in the 21st Century have closed our minds to technology and need assistance to construct everything.

5. African leaders need to constantly remind themselves that the POVERTY GAP is a TECHNOLOGY GAP.

6. African leaders should do whatever they can to minimize corruption of all shapes and sizes.

7. African politicians have so far failed the continent. African intellectuals should get out of their comfort zones and fight for the socio-economic emancipation of Africans who have contributed to their education. The fight will not be against any foreign powers but rather against corrupt politicians so do not seem to know how to develop Africa.