I have always enjoyed Sylva Ifedigbo’s column on Daily Times, but his recent column made me think of reconsidering my likeness for his column. I found his arguments quite questionable. He made reference to Ian Birrells’ article (which I think was the premise on which he based his line of reasoning) in Guardian, UK. In my opinion as a trained development economist I found most of the things said by Ian and Sylva as misplaced and full of blunders. Majority of economists don’t like speaking in normative terms because such perspective often times conceals the realities in the real world. Focusing on Sylva’s column, he painted a nice picture of growth in African countries (making specific reference to Nigeria) with figures in percentages, which would make any reader who doesn’t think in real terms believe him. What I find funny when people like him give those percentage figures is that they fail to tell their audience how those figures have translated into changing people’s living standard, like how many people those figures have moved out of poverty; how those figures have given access to basic human necessities such as food, shelter, health care, security of life and so on; how many infrastructural development that have taken place as a result of those figures. He alluded to some figures from AFDB but failed to recognize the fact (which is the most important part of argument on growth) that those figures are arrant nonsense when growth is not inclusive. It is totally ridiculous to bask in euphoria of rhetoric given by pundits that Africa’s economic growth has been growing remarkably when the link between Africa’s growth performance and poverty reduction is weak and porous. It is even shameful to be excited that Nigeria’s economic growth (which is often doctored to present a good image of the economy) has been steadily at 7.5% even when over 70% of our national population wallow in abject poverty and our dear country contribute over 5% to global hunger. However, painting a general picture that success story of commendable growth performance spreads across African countries is highly misplaced and flawed. In as much as I reckon that some countries like South Africa and Botswana for example have made remarkable progress given their ability to put into resourceful use their domestic resources and maintain robust macroeconomic framework, I wouldn’t say the same for countries (like Nigeria) that have failed woefully despite their abundant natural resources.
Frankly speaking, we should be wary of these writers who preach good messages about Africa with little concern about the serious challenges we face in Africa. They turn deaf ears to serious problems that threaten our progress towards development in pretense that they are highly patriotic. I find quite absurd that these writers de-emphasize the need for African countries to form a competitive and robust alliance so we can break away from undue exploitation we face from the west and end repatriation of our resources to the other side. When I read statements such as “like every other society, we have evolved, overcoming our many challenges and rewriting our history. The result and the reality of our time are that quietly, a new Africa has emerged powered by capitalism, embracing democracy and tearing down stereotypes” I became worried about the kind of message this guy is forcing us to imbibe. Anyone who knows exactly the realities we face in Africa today wouldn’t hesitate to perceive such statements as wonky and cobblers. Such statements hid under the disguise that we are on the brink of massive economic progress when in essence we are far away from the truth; such statements uphold the ideals of capitalism (a scenario where 99% of the population struggle at the bottom and 1% live grandiosely and glamorously at the top) and are ideal formula for fattening the pockets of capitalists; such statements, though seem quite appealing, may be hard to justify given the current situations we have in Africa. For example the war ravaged zones like Congo DR, Sudan, Mali, etc, followed by religious intolerant and violent Nigeria, Egypt, etc, backed by uprising in Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda, and persecution of LGBT’s in Uganda, Nigeria, etc. National security in these countries are threatened and security agents are unfocused with such emergence, and this feeds into the proliferation of militia, banditry and general bedlam blowing like a breeze around African region, leading to the highest levels of internally displaced people ever in history. These evidence are enough to invalidate his line of reasoning.
We are often times captivated by stories that tell us how beautiful and lovely Africa looks; enthralled by articles that remind us of how naturally endowed our dear continent is; and fascinated by rhetoric that always paint good image of our polity and economy, that we always ignore real issues and fail to take serious efforts to solve our problems. This is part of the story that makes a big difference between Africa and other regions like Asia and Latin America and Caribbean. In Africa we dwell so much on the resources we are endowed with that we fail to get control of these resources and put them into productive use that benefits everybody. I’m not any way cynical about our potentials as a continent endowed with good qualities one can hardly find elsewhere on earth, but I’m underscoring the point that the time has come when we stop being unnecessarily mawkish about how we are perceived by the west. We have serious challenges we face in Africa and the progress we make in overcoming these challenges does not in any way depend on how we are perceived by the west or how the western media report us. Over the past decades we have faced the same challenges as regions like Asia, but now we are nothing closer to them in terms of development. If the truth must be told, the argument that our progresses in Africa are misrepresented by the west is misguided, and I find it hard to accept such flimsy excuse. Not in this 21st century. Our concern should be to make progress and gauge our progress by how we perceive our progress within ourselves and not how the west identify us.
No matter how we try to hide the truth it will always stare us in the face. I found arguments in his column too generalized more than I would appreciate. Arguments there-in are indeed colour blind and as such are dead duck. In as much as I would love to portray the great potentials and good qualities that abound in Africa I wouldn’t do that when these potentials and good qualities have been bungled by few set of inconsiderate people in the sit of leadership who always want us to say that everything is alright even when we are slapped severally in the face by their adverse policies. They want Africa’s image to be painted as angelic because that creates a better chance for aids/grants, especially now that donors lay more emphasis on economic progress before aids can be granted. I would rather devout more energy into exposing poverty and hunger; religious intolerance; persecution of people because of their sexual orientation; and all that is alien to human existence because I do not want to live in Africa where everything goes wrong and we pretend everything is alright; I do not want to live in Africa where 1% lives comfortably at the top and 99% others struggle at the bottom; I do not want to live in Africa where we praise 7.5% of growth in GDP while over 70% of our national population live in abject poverty; I do not want to spread a message about beautiful and lovely Africa looks when one in eight children die before the age of five; I won’t spread the message that Africa is on the brink of breakthrough when millions of Africans go to bed every night with hunger; I would rather speak of problems and challenges that have kept us moribund for decades rather than bask in euphoria of natural endowments.