Africa and the Burden of Gross Domestic Stupidity (GDS)

By Ikechi Emenike

EXCEPT something seriously gives, Africa is projected to still remain a basket case even in a thousand years. Africa currently accounts for only 3% of global GDP, despite being hosts to 18% of the world’s population. Its share of global trade stands at a paltry 3 percent, while its percentage of global manufacturing is even worse at 1.9.

Moreso, Africa is home to 25% of the world’s diseases, but accounts for less than 1% of global health expenditure, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, 72% of the world’s illiterates live agonizingly in Africa, just as more than 700 million Africans still lack access to electricity.

Little wonder, Africa stubbornly remains the poverty continent in the world, and that is worsening. Contrastingly, Asia is developing. South America is also developing, despite a few isolated cases. But Africa is not developing. If all the niceties are cut out, the true picture is that the continent is, indeed, underdeveloping and moving backwards.

Nigeria’s iconic author, Prof. Chinua Achebe, squarely put the challenge of Africa’s underdevelopment at the doorsteps of poor leadership. He, however, refused or neglected to add the contribution of irresponsible followership to the continent’s woes.

It is a given that leadership and followership must be in sync for sustainable development to thrive. There is the erroneous notion that good leadership will almost always inspire similar followership. But Africa presents several examples of good leaders whose inspirational leadership was spurred by their citizens. Many African leaders are also coming to the painful realization that one of the easiest routes to come to grief is to assiduously try to implement a paradigm shift. It is safer to pay lip service to it.

The African situation, in part, draws impetus from colonial history, post-colonial impunity, and even certain entrenched African cultures. Take Madagascar, for example, where a few years ago, an entire country went on violent protest because a development-minded president called for a stop to the strange practice of slaughtering the entire cattle of any deceased man. For centuries, once a man dies in Madagascar, his entire herd of cattle, which includes cows, sheep, goats, etc., is gathered and butchered for immediate consumption by all citizens present. All the eloquence and economic analysis the President could muster did not persuade citizens of the pastoral society to leave an obnoxious history behind. Many insisted that the president must first slaughter all his cattle “since he participated in the eating when others died”, while many more thought that “a practice they inherited and enjoyed from their ancestors must remain.” So, while Australia, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand, etc. are growing their cattle numbers, Madagascar (nay, Africa) is routinely and proudly depleting their herd size.

Of course, it is easy to suggest that the President of Madagascar should have acted like Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, or Margaret Thatcher. Not possible in Africa. All African countries are still very fragile to internal and external neo-colonialism. Any bold effort at positive change is ruthlessly fought by internal and external forces. This is why most African leaders, at worst, sleep on duty or, at best, engage in harmless noises about development—something akin to motion without movement. And the continent’s peoples continue to be trapped in vicious circles of rudderless leadership, unproductivity, and inhuman poverty.

The result is that most African leaders and their citizens consistently engage in what they ought not to do and refuse to do what they ought to do. The aggregation of these two behaviours translates to the level of Gross Domestic stupidity in all African countries. And it is huge. When a people are at home with corruption, exhibit severe allergy to discipline, and routinely make the wrong choices, development remains a mirage.

As things stand, the gospel truth is that Africa cannot help itself. The world, under the leadership of the United Nations (working with the United States), needs to understand that as long as Africa is in misery, the world will continue to remain sick. The same concerted effort adopted to set up the UN, which has largely sustained inter-nation relations and global peace, can be applied to solve the African development challenge.

The UN can make a special case for restructuring and refocusing the various underperforming African countries. The lofty principle of non-interference in internal affairs should not, for now, apply to Africa. This is the licence many leaders on the continent use to turn their countries into their private estates or glorified “concentration camps,” depending on the angle from which it is viewed. Multilateral companies, NGOs, and some former colonial nations are too powerful to be reined in by their African hosts. Add the roles of pirates and a sundry network of well-heeled soldiers of fortune, and the picture of hapless people becomes starker. Only a global effort can both stop the persisting pillaging of Africa and save Africa from itself.

Emenike, an Economist, is a Nigerian.

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