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African responses on development

 

Discussion on Africa's prospects, possibilities and priorities rarely treat this vast continent as a place populated by smart, aspirant individuals capable of delivering progress and prosperity. Instead it is served up as a hopeless, helpless whole in need of Western guidance, interference and intervention. In the run up to the Africa Strand at the Battle of Ideas, WORLDwrite has assembled these interviews and video clips, which tell a very different story. They are intended to start the much needed debate. The following experts, activists, academics and individuals have contributed to this discussion:

 

Angela Kolongo, Student, Kenya. Angela has recently completed a BSc in communications and international relations. She is currently working as an intern at Turner Broadcasting in the UK. Angela's family are still in Nairobi, Kenya and Angela may have to return at the end of this year due to visa restrictions although she would like to work in the UK. Angela is working on a film unpicking the meaning of the Kipling poem The White Man's Burden.

 

De Roy Kwesi Andrew, Researcher and Basic School Teacher, Ghana. De Roy earns £3 a day is married with one child, lives in Accra and is returning to college in Ghana to read Business studies. De Roy continues to support his mother who remains in a subsistence village. He was recently arrested for cutting wood to repair his mother's mud shelter as a moratorium on wood cutting on environmental-conservation grounds is now law in Ghana. De Roy visited and toured UK schools and colleges in 2006 assisting the charity WORLDwrite with its Pricking the Missionary Position film series.

 

Kwesi Pratt, Editor, Insight Newspaper, Ghana. Kwesi Pratt is a leading writer, thinker and activist in Ghana. Renowned for his critique of the Kufor government and uncompromising support for Pan African ideals Kwesi is regularly referred to within the Ghanaian media for raising the temperature on Ghana's development needs and demanding a better deal for all.

 

Millicent Kumeni, Seamstress, Ghana. Millicent lives in Accra with her mum and younger brothers. Millicent has visited the UK on a working holiday visa and through work in a burger joint raised money to send home and begin the building work for a house for her family. Millicent has in the past been refused visas on the grounds that her livelihood made her an 'inappropriate person' for a UK visit.

 

Kwame Agyapong, Director of Afrika World Studios & IYEP Ghana. The IYEP is the Ghana member of the federation EIL (Experiment in International Living). The IYEP (International Youth Education programmes) is a non-profit organization formed in 1994 with a mission to promote peace and understanding through cultural exchanges among young people worldwide. Afrika World Studios was established in 2002 by the IYEP. The studios are projected to be a centre of excellence aimed primarily at providing internationally acknowledged skills in the cinematic arts to Ghanaians and Africans from other parts of the continent. Kwame Agyapong is also director of the well received Ghanaian soap Kola Street which raises contemporary issues through fictional representation.

 

David Chandler, Professor of International Relations at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster. David is a regular media commentator, editor of the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding and the editor of the Routledge book series Studies in Intervention and Statebuilding.

 

Additional contributors featuring in film clips for this discussion, taken from WORLDwrite's Pricking the Missionary Position series, are:

Questions have been framed and arranged by WORLDwrite Director Ceri Dingle to compliment the three sessions of the Africa strand.

 

1. Saving Africa – the West's new moral mission?

Africa seems to have become an all-purpose pulpit from which pop stars and politicos can show their moral worth, although it seems to be more about them than African people themselves.

 

Ceri: Will these new moral crusades to save Africa do any good for the continent or are they damaging?

 

De Roy: In the first place these moral crusades are not new. Africa has been a victim of moral crusaders for over two centuries and one doubts whether it will ever be a beneficiary. The new missionaries are not so different from the old colonial Christian variety which taught the natives to depend on God as a great provider. "Ask and it shall be given unto you" exemplifies the disempowering nature of Christian morality. All that these new moral crusades do is to deepen the perception that Africans cannot do anything by and for themselves. Today's' missionaries like to show how much they care, telling the world how poor Africa is with their Live 8 concerts, G8 summits, UN special anniversaries, pop star ambassadors, envoys, Comic relief shows, special programmes and campaigns. We Africans are only to aware that we're poor and the whole world is aware that Africans are poor and are suffering from underdevelopment so who are these people talking to? It must be to themselves, for their own audience, about showing off how concerned they are, what good people they are, Africa is a kind of badge to wear. This becomes even more obvious when you consider they have never shown a commitment towards the overall improvement of Africa and don't believe we can or should catch up with the West. What these moralists do for Africans is in fact worse than nothing, they crusade for western powers to foist more anti-development agendas like HIPC, MDGs and Micro-credit with their attendant rigid conditionalities on Africans and our governments. These moral crusaders are damaging Africa's development agenda and its ability to decide for itself what it wants its future to be. Africans do not need these anti-development people who do not even believe in economic growth and the ability of Africans to be masters and architects of our own destinies. We are poor materially but we're not poor in mind.

 

Millicent: They just want to pity us all the time, in fact it is quite insulting. We'd all rather be envied than pitied. If these politicians care so much for us why don't they let us get visas so we can travel and find work to send money home. When I first applied for a visa to visit the UK my sponsor got a letter saying I was an 'inappropriate person' and I got a letter suggesting that as a seamstress the fact I had the airfare in the bank must mean I have been involved in fraud. I think pitying us is damaging, it makes us people who should be grateful for crumbs when what we want is what you have. British people have said to me, they just want to ensure we don't make the mistakes the West has made. I always say we want your mistakes. Westerners also say, every little helps, one step at a time, little by little, this doesn't help us, it keeps things the same and makes the giver of advice to the poor feel good.

 

David: I think that these 'moral crusades' led by politicians and popstars demonstrate the difficulties of finding affirming identities or social meaning in Western societies rather than anything about the importance of Africa per se. As these moral campaigns have little relation to Africa per se it is unlikely that the effects will necessarily impact, either negatively or positively.

 

Nevertheless, these campaigns definitely reflect and institutionalise post-political frameworks of perceiving and responding to social questions in the West - in administrative terms of governance and technical, external solutions, which tend to problematise the objects of assistance - which is why it is important to understand, engage with and challenge them.

 

Angela: This is a re-run of the White Man's Burden. These campaigns might be about Western politicians and their own standing but it does do damage as it justifies interference in other people's affairs. This undermines democracy and often involves imposing agendas which deny us the opportunity to decide on our own priorities.

 

Kwesi: The West's moral crusades have done substantial damage to Africa over the last two centuries or more. There is only one moral crusade which must be won and which can impact on the conditions of Africa's under privileged and the working class everywhere. That moral crusade is the one which would abolish the profit system.

 

 

Ceri: In our desire to help, is their a danger of casting Africa's people as infantile populations in need of the West to fight their corner?

 

De Roy: Helping Africa to solve its numerous developmental challenges is not a bad thing at all especially when it comes in the form of serious monumental investments in technology and financial assistance. However, when the help comes in the form of lecturing Africans and our leaders on corruption, democracy, micro-credit for the poor and attaching all forms of stringent conditionalities as though we are small 'boys' then it is dangerous. It's dangerous because such tendencies not only stigmatize us as people who must be pitied but also as people who are incapable and cannot do anything for ourselves unless we get help and advice from Western parents. To solve our problems does not require unelected representatives who paint us as people who cannot decide for ourselves what we want our future to be.

 

Angela: Take the G8 summit at Heiligendam this year, African politicians were invited as 'outreach' partners to workshops to listen to G8 leaders' advice on good governance and anti-poverty measures in their countries. This is UK youth work speak and totally outrageous.

 

David: I think there is a broader problem in that 'our desire to help' depoliticizes the problems of development and poverty as technical problems to be solved by the expertise of others and depoliticizes the act of intervention itself. This is less a case of 'the West' vs 'the Rest' and more an example of the 'post-political' administrative framing of social questions.

 

Ceri: What do Africans make of the portrayal of their countries in the West as needy, helpless nations?

 

 

 

 

 

De Roy: Africa, in spite of its problems has been existing and progressing. The fact still remains that Africa is a rich continent. We're not helpless and needy nations who want pity from the west. We rather pity the so called rich countries that impose their low horizons on us.

 

Kwame: Perhaps the most vexatious contributing factor that affects Africa's developmental efforts is the perpetual positioning and castigating of Africa by western media practitioners as the "Dark Continent" where business investments are likened to throwing maize into a fox-hole. The Western media focuses on wars, famine, diseases among many others as the only news items that are worthy of Africa. The word corruption is now synonymous with Africa as if corruption is the preserve of the continent. The task therefore is for Africa to tackle the enormous problem of undoing decades of negative press. The continent needs to re-position, re-brand and re-package her self as a new emerging market force. Media houses on the continent and the like minded elsewhere have to be encouraged to champion the renaissance.

 

 

Ceri: What message would Africans send to pop stars and politicos who make Africa their cause?

 

De Roy: Africa needs solidarity in its' development efforts, not to be used and patronised. Africa wants to be respected as a sovereign continent with wise populations that can decide what we want our future to be. We believe only our own elected representatives to be our voice and not pop stars and western politicians who do not understand the dynamics of our situation and do not share our aspirations. We want to be allowed to chart our own path and do not want to be coerced into accepting western designed programmes like MDGs and HIPC. Africans want help to industrialise to catch up with the west. We want solidarity not pity. We want financial and technological investments to develop our infrastructure and resources to improve the standard of living of our people not western diktat and unwarranted prescriptions that belittle us as capable people.

 

David: Popstars making Africa their cause is not a problem. What is more problematic is the fact that politicians have taken up the single-issue campaigning of popstars.

The cause of 'Africa' is a stand-in for the lack of desire to engage with political programmes and domestic constituencies - the cynicism which has greeted David Cameron's Tories attempt to attach themselves to the cause of Africa through high profile work in Rwanda - reflects the limitations of this substitutionalism.

 

2. Aid, trade or development?

There is no shortage of Western suggestions for tackling Africa's economic problems. Some call for "more and better aid", some argue trade rather than aid is the answer, some argue schemes such as Fairtrade and micro-credit empower local people and are a more sustainable approach to development. A vision of Africa as an independent, developed, industrialised, urbanised, modern society is seen as utopian, irresponsible or written off as a free-market solution.

 

Ceri: Is Africa always doomed to economic dependence and external limits?

 

Kwesi: Africa has enormous potential for development, it has 60 per cent of the World's resources including gold, diamond, crude oil, iron, rivers, forests and gas. The only obstacle to Africa's development is the fact that it exists on the periphery of the World Capitalist system and has been subjected to exploitation and oppression for centuries. Africa will be on the path to social progress, greater democracy and peace when it rids itself of western interference. The Congo may not have been in a state of anarchy if the Congolese nationalist leader and duly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba had not been murdered in a western intelligence conspiracy. The political, economic and social situation in Ghana would have been completely different if the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA had not sponsored the overthrow of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the most popular African leader in history. The current economic chaos on the continent is the direct result of Western intervention. Africa will have no need for western "aid" if it is left on its own.

 

De Roy: For now, yes, appears to be the answer. This is because the west and their development agencies are so arrogant that they don't believe Africans are able to design and follow our own economic blueprints that reflect the needs and aspirations of our people. But the dangerous economic limits placed on Africa now can not only be seen in the shift of development debate from economic growth to pro-poor and happiness prescriptions but also the linkage of our development to nature and climate change. This leaves us with nothing but basic survivalist projects in African countries.

 

 

Ceri: What do African's make of Western prescriptions for their countries' development?

 

Kwesi: Any time we have done what the west has prescribed, we have ended up worse off than we were. In 1983, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund at the behest of the West told us to embark upon liberal economic reforms and we agreed. For close to twenty years, in Ghana we did everything we were told. We liberalized internal and external trade, we privatized state enterprises, we devalued our national currency by more than 10,000 per cent, withdrew subsidies of social services such as education and health and did many other foolish things. By January 2001, the same forces which sponsored the liberal binge under the guise of the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) and various types of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) were urging us to declare bankruptcy. We were being told to declare that we are highly indebted and poor (HIPC) to qualify for more "relief" from the west. African leaders should have become wise by now because it is more than obvious that western prescription can only take us to Armageddon.

 

De Roy: We see western prescriptions not only as undemocratic but also as an indictment of the West's own beliefs, values and principles. Their prescriptions are suffocating; they thwart our high hopes and vision of equalizing and even going beyond the achievements of the west. One African proverb says 'no one drinks medicine for a sick person except the sick person himself or herself.' This posits that it's only Africans who know their plight and it's only Africans who can decide what course to take. Decades of western prescription have not healed the economic, social and political diseases on the continent; they have made our situation worse.

 

Kwame: Decades of economic structural programs from foreign agents have not brought the needed change.

 

Ceri: Are the 'basic needs' programmes of Western NGO's and the UN Millennium Development Goals representative of African's aspirations?

 

De Roy: No! The 'basic needs' and MDGs epitomise the low horizons and 'small is beautiful' development agenda of the western NGO's and their governments. The aspirations of Africans are huge and ambitious. We therefore see such miserable programmes as a non-starter and even misplaced. These programmes can never catapult us into economic prosperity. We want decent jobs, factories, hi-tech hospitals, quality education, large scale commercial agriculture, etc for all Africans. Africans never ask for small things. The basic needs approach adopted by western NGOs and their governments are aimed at keeping Africans at survival levels only. It is the complete opposite of our demand to catch up with the west. It provides nothing but what we already have or have been living with for generations- pit latrines, boreholes, subsistence farming, secondhand items, and micro credit etc. We want material prosperity and progress through economic growth. We want a quality life. A life that our peers in the west are having; flying, traveling with our families for holidays, working in factories, eating continental foods, supermarkets, good portable water in every home, improved infrastructure and so on.

 

Sadly, the 'basic needs' approach also rather romanticizes our situation, and even encourages the sustaining of the status quo, suggesting our more primitive existence is our culture and therefore we should preserve it for posterity. How can sleeping in a mud house, weeding with cutlasses, machetes and hoes, drinking from the same sources of water as cattle be celebrated as our culture? All that the MDGs and basic needs regime does is to celebrate the toil and drudgery that we endure daily in our lives.

 

It must be noted that no Africans campaigned or demanded the MDGs and 'basic needs' as the way to progress and prosperity for our people. 'Basic needs' and MDGs are western prescriptions born of the west's disbelief in economic growth in Africa.

 

Millicent: Who decided our needs are just basic?

 

 

Ceri: Are programmes such as micro-credit and Fair-trade seen as the way forward in Africa?

 

 

De Roy: No! They are mere gimmicks and an economic hoax. They mean nothing to the African. Micro credit cannot transform the lives of individuals, let alone our economies. They're just aimed at keeping poor people alive for the next day. Such mediocre schemes cannot wipe out poverty neither can they engender economic growth.

 

Africa needs big time commercial loans and investments from the capital markets to develop and build infrastructure to pave the way for industrializing its economies; to improve the quality of life for its people. Handouts of paltry amounts like $30-50 to women's group can never free us from poverty and want. Our quest to work, build highways, fly, have quality education for our children will be doomed if micro credit schemes continue to be the focal point of development.

 

Ceri: Is the brake on Africa's development, structural, internal, or are limits imposed externally?

 

Kwame: The problems faced by Africa may be understood as external in their root cause but internal in the form they take. Low levels of infrastructure do deter investors for example. Despite recent strides in promoting infrastructure development, there still exists a large gap between Africa and the outside world. For instance, on average: Africa's access to electricity is only 30 percent compared to over 75 percent for other Less Developed countries (LDCs); Access to roads is 34 percent compared to 50 percent for LDCs; Sea transportation in Africa constitutes only 18 percent of the total for developing countries; Telecommunication penetration rate is about 30% compared to 40% in other LDCs; Access to water and sanitation is about 65%, compared to 80% of other LDCs.

 

The absence or poor quality infrastructure undermines the competitiveness of African traders and exporters as both production and trade can be constrained by a lack of essential infrastructure: i.e. energy, improved transportation system (Air, Sea, Road and Rail; 13% of the world's population live in Africa yet the continent consumes 3% of the world's rail transport) Telecommunication, ICT, Ports and Harbours infrastructure are almost non-existent yet these are required to bring goods to local and international markets. Such deficiencies are stumbling blocks impeding the progress of business culminating in high costs of production in Africa.

 

From Cancun, to Doha's Development agenda in 2001 the crucial question of Africa's infrastructure development and supply capacity has eluded serious considerations. Significant monetary outlays are needed for developing the infrastructure for trade that will enable Africa to compete effectively in this increasingly competitive environment.

 

 

Ceri: What role should the West play in relation to Africa's development?

 

De Roy: The west has been meddling in Africa's development for far too long with so sign of abating. It's also a fact that in spite of years of western intervention, policy prescriptions and directives Africa's development leaves much to desired to the extent that our role on the international scene in terms of world trade is almost a negligible 2%.

 

Africans do not need or want the west to decide our future anymore. They should leave us to our fate to chart our own path of development. However the west can assist us through financial and technical aid and we are competent enough to know how to manage them. Their continued interference in our national development affairs incapacitate our leaders and deny our citizens our democratic right to champion our national needs and aspirations as is done by our peers in the west.

 

Kwame: It's unfortunate that the leadership of Africa have not demanded respect and none has been given. The time for African thinkers has come, for the leadership of the continent to tackle and solve their problems. They are the ones who should and could prescribe the right dosage that would efficaciously heal the chronic economic malady.

 

Until then, different shades of characters will continue to profess arrogantly around the globe that they champion the African cause. "After all the African is capable of managing his own affairs" - Kwame Nkrumah.

 

Ceri: As the African economy has grown at an average annual rate of 4% for the past decade, what are the conditions that will allow growth to continue and improve still further?

 

Angela: Freedom plus resources.

 

Kwame: In a survey conducted in Accra recently among industrialists within the continent respondents cited inadequate and unpredictable power supply, the high cost of telecommunication, high travels costs and stringent European rules and regulations as some of the major problems associated with doing business in Africa. These issues need to be addressed to allow further progress.

 

3. The new Silk Road or scramble for Africa: what does China mean for the sub-Saharan continent?

China is now one of the biggest investors and aid givers in Africa. With investments in 48 out of the 53 African countries, the China-Africa trade volume reached US$56 billion in 2006. The China-Africa development fund - set up to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Africa -is now set at US$5 billion. Many African countries now look to China as a source of infrastructural growth, commercial investment and cheap credit.

 

Ceri: How do Africans view borrowing from China?

 

De Roy: We view borrowing from Chine as welcome news. This is because the borrowing from China does not come with sanctions and conditionalities. Besides, borrowing from China is so substantial that it allows us to carry out giant and productive projects that can accelerate the transformation of our economies. For instance, while the World Bank committed about US $2billion in development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa, China invested over US $8billion last year. A case in point is the Chinese funding for Ghana's hydroelectric dam project which has been on the drawing board for years; since 1960. The Chinese have not made Africa an all-purpose pulpit to preach rhetoric and lecture Africans on what is best for them.

 

Ceri: For China, trade with Africa allows access to natural resources such as copper, bauxite and oil - unrestricted by the West's growing ethical and environmental regulations - that can help fuel its rapid industrialisation. Is this a fair deal for Africa?

 

De Roy: Africa is interested in seeing China industrialise to the maximum to free its people from want, squalor and abject poverty. Africa also expects that China will pull her along the same path. The African Union building donated by China, which is yet to be constructed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the space satellite launched in Nigeria, the Bui hydroelectric power plant in Ghana and many more projects attest to the fact that China means well for Africa.

 

Ceri: Is China embarking on a modern day Scramble for Africa, or is its investment a lifeline?

 

Millicent: China has the money to invest, we need the investment for roads and infrastructure and we need to get whatever we can. It doesn't come with strings like Western aid so don't knock it.

 

Angela: Should we be afraid of some sort of rampaging Chinese take-over, I don't think so. The West are the experts at that.

 

Kwame: China is the latest exploiter of Africa's situation. The Chinese are ruthless in their quest to outdo their European and American counterparts and have resorted to dubious trading practices. In the apparel industry for instance the Chinese in connivance with African traders seeking to maximize profits replicates African designs at a cheaper cost, re-package them and send them back to Africa. Protection of intellectual property is not part of the Chinese vocabulary. For years Africa has served as fertile grounds for others to exploit.

 

Kwesi: China's new relationship with Africa is modelled on the old exploitative relationship between Africa and the West and it can only lead to the exacerbation of poverty and inequality on the continent. It is important to recognize that China is becoming another imperial power. It has abandoned all pretence at building an egalitarian society and is engaged in production and distribution for profit. Africa's salvation will not come from China but from the pursuit of the ideals of continental integration and the adoption of a self-reliant path to development.

 

De Roy: If the huge financial and material investments by China uplift African material and economic prosperity and help us get a quality life and the west sees this as an affront or 'scramble for Africa' then so be it.

 

Ceri: Should the West trust Africa to decide for itself what its relationship should be with the world's most dynamic economy?

 

Millicent: Yes trust us for a change.

 

Angela: That would be a real step forward.

 

De Roy: Why is the west concerned about China's operations in Africa? Has any country questioned the west's lack of genuine support for Africa? When the west was looting Africa's resources and enslaving its people did they care about any fair deal? This hypocrisy must stop! It's only Africans who know who their best partners are. China knows and shares our plight better than the so called western development partners who have made themselves apologists and moralists but always deprive us of our right to decide our own future.

 

It's not the business of the west to decide for Africans what we must and mustn't do in terms of our development and international relations. It's very undemocratic for any country to decide the fate of another. It is only the sovereign people of Africa who have the democratic right to trust or question the actions or inaction of their elected representatives.

 

The west's cynicism and mistrust of Africa and its people and governments is unfortunate. The west's mistrust dehumanizes Africans as people of less value with no sense of purpose. They make us victims. However we don't trust the west, because of their paternalistic attitude towards our development. We don't trust them because they renege on their promises. We don't trust them because of the conditionalities and unbridled sanctions they impose on us. Our mistrust of the West is an essential part of our quest for autonomy and development. Their mistrust of us denies us these things.