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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Re-inventing Africa’s development strategy in the 21st Century
Saturday, 24 November 2012 01:47

Re-inventing Africa’s development strategy in the 21st Century

Written by Ben Ndi Obi
Re-inventing Africa’s development strategy in the 21st Century Picture credit: Fotopedia

Text of an address by Senator Ben Ndi Obi, Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs, at the Canadian Council of African Gala Dinner at Ottawa, Canada, on Tuesday, October 16, 2012.


LET me start by acknowledging this great honour done to me and indeed my country Nigeria by the organizers of this symposium, The Canadian Council for Africa. I am truly humbled and appreciative of the choice of my person as the Keynote Speaker. Thank you very much. I bring you felicitations from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, and your friends back home in Nigeria nay Africa.


I have chosen this topic principally to draw attention to the fundamental change taking place in Africa, a change that not only challenges conventional paradigms about Africa’s development (or lack of it) but, importantly, points to an evolving vista which many observers may be too slow to grasp. What is important about the evolving transformation is its inherent propensity to soak-up the embedding dysfunctionalisms hitherto associated with Africa’s long and sad journey towards economic resilience.


About 9 months ago, the famous development economist, Prof. Mathiason, had this to say about Africa: “It has taken 50 years for the wind of change to blow through the continent, but former colonies, rich in commodities, are finally inching towards stable government thus providing a challenge for enlightened foreign investors.”


To put this in context, a classic mistake many scholars and policy analysts make in their evaluation of Africa’s prospects is to view the continent monolithically. Whilst some share severe forms of deprivation, underdevelopment and stultifying business environments, many are genuinely implementing far-reaching institutional reforms in order to promote a more effective involvement in the global economy. On this occasion I intend to speak on these bold attempts.


Africa still faces a number of critical challenges that were articulated over ten years ago, which must be met if the region is to have a sustainable future. Poverty, low economic growth, lack of financial resources, severe degradation of land, water and forests, wars, civil unrest, and major health problems are all familiar problems. It really appears as if nature has conspired with man in most cases to create these challenges. In Nigeria for instance, we are experiencing our very first natural disaster in the form of terrible floods that sacked whole towns and indeed about 40 per cent of the land mass is submerged thereby rendering millions of people homeless. Doubtless this is a set back on the progress recorded in certain areas of the polity. It calls for international assistance. We also get to hear of erosion, desert encroachment, civil wars and famine among others in various parts of Africa, including Nigeria.


Africa’s economic development has stagnated particularly from the 1980s and 90s with the adoption of the Breton Woods Institution’s Structural Adjustment Programmes and other policies intended to make the continent move forward. The Washington Consensus, for instance, emphasized openness and privatization.


Though Africa leaders had over the years adopted various development strategies as enunciated in the Lagos Plan of Action of 1980, the Final Act in Lagos, Nigeria of 1985 and NEPAD Initiative of 2001, and so many others; yet, the experiences of the African countries in their attempt to achieve economic cum political development and integration have not been very salutary. In fact, African economies became worse and increasingly more dependent at the end of the experimentation of each development strategy.


However, African leaders have not rested on their oars in this direction. The transmutation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to African Union (AU) was for, among other reasons, to promote socio-economic development of Africa and to enable her face more effectively the challenges posed by globalization (AU Act 2002).


The paradox of Africa’s socio-economic and political problem is that Africa is blessed with both human and rare natural resources that can transform this region of the world to the status of highly developed and politically powerful region. In the area of population and size, Africa is at least in good strength when compared to other regions of the world. With a population of about 1 billion, sub-Saharan Africa alone, is a larger democratic community than the nine countries of the European Union combined, but less than half of those of India and China.


Similarly, in terms of natural resources endowment, Africa compares very favourably with other continents of the world. In addition to its enormous forest resources, the range, quality and quantity of Africa’s mineral resources are impressive. For instance, Africa is among the largest producers of chromium, cobalt, copper, bauxite, gold, platinum, diamond, uranium and phosphate – all minerals of vital strategic and agro industrial values. To be precise and in line with Africa’s Pulse, in 2010, Guinea’s production alone represented over 8 per cent of total world bauxite production; Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have a combined share of 6.7 per cent of the total world copper production; while Ghana and Mali together account for 5.8 per cent of the total world gold production. Paradoxically, all these resources and endowments fail to produce the type of development that the continent requires. This is as a result of the failure of its leadership, not only to use the right gears but even to kick-start its engine of progress.


Experiences have shown that past African leadership showcased high level of amateurish, mystified and personal expression of the people’s mandate: Haile Selassie of Ethiopia became the king of kings, lord of lords and the conquering lion of the tribe of Judah and elect of God; Mobutu Sese Seko became the ‘Actor and Director of his destiny.’ Jean-Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic saw himself as semi-god, married seventeen wives, converted back and forth from Islam to Christianity. Idi Amin Dada of Uganda became the ‘Butcher of Africa,’ ‘Conqueror of the British Empire,’ ‘Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea.’ Teodoro Mbasogo became the god of Equatorial Guinea and enjoyed the right to “do and undo without having to give account to anyone.” Yahya Jammeh of Gambia is a self-proclaimed doctor of voodoo and administered it on patients admitted at the Royal Victoria Hospital.


In their bid to hold sway, African leaders willingly created unquantifiable crisis situations; Eyadema of Togo’s bid to transform himself to Life President turned Lome into a battlefield. Doe’s arrogance changed the face of Monrovia just as Taylor repainted with blood. Gbagbo’s untamed attachment to the Presidential Palace made him so blind that he did not know when a free and fair election was held; Tijan’s attempt to change the constitutional provisions on tenure has sown another crises seed in Niger. Gaddafi’s grip on Libya was total and Obasanjo’s tenure extension bid almost truncated Nigeria’s civil democracy. The list can go on and on.


The major issue here is how well has the continent done in the past ten years. It is pertinent to note that it has not all been tales of woe because we have made good progress in many areas especially in democratization. It would have been unimaginable ten years ago that a sitting President would be defeated in a general election and the winner is not only alive but sworn in as the new President. Dictatorships have been sacked, all thanks to the political re-awakening of our people. President Goodluck Jonathan has been very sincere, vocal and practical in his campaign for free, fair and credible elections. He insists on the gospel of one man, one vote, one woman one vote, emphasizing that no electoral victory is worth any citizen’s blood. He leads by example as shown in the July 2012 Edo State Governorship elections where he was the first to congratulate the winner who is from an opposing party. In the case of the fight against the perpetrators of terrorism in Nigeria, the Boko Haram group, the State has gained complete ascendancy over them. Our President recently made far-reaching changes in the security high command with commensurate rise in counter insurgency training and adequately equipping the personnel.


We Africans have decided to take our destiny in our hands in order to make the continent progressively better for our children and the future. There has been an increasing awareness of the need to integrate economic, social and environmental components of sustainable development; increased recognition of the fragility of the African environment; and improved access to education especially for females.


I am a very strong advocate of the view that the top priority for Africa is to consolidate and build on sustainable developmental achievements. A cursory look at a number of other priority issues shows that Africa is fast becoming an active partner in a globalizing world: these include greater regional integration, infrastructure development, nurturing of science and technology, fostering education and learning, engendering a culture of discipline, and enhanced ability for policy analysis of emerging issues. To be part of the globalised economy, Africa has to move from being primarily a producer of agricultural products and other commodities to a manufacturing, value added economy. This is where we need committed friends such as members of the Canadian Council of Africa.


The future lies in the collective effort of African leaders to provide purposeful, disciplined leadership that shuns corruption while seeking to enhance the existence of the citizenry. Leaders must utilize the resources effectively to create an environment that will accommodate industrial development. At the moment the low technological base in Africa is a major constraint to development. Africa must strive to be a learning society through promoting education and scientific research, including sustainable science. Africa must foster links with research institutes overseas and draw on the expertise of expatriate Africans.


Achieving peace and social stability is one of the top priorities for Africa. Without this basic condition, the achievement of sustainable development will not be possible. Good governance, regional cooperation and active mechanisms for conflict prevention and resolution are key requirements to counteract this longstanding challenge.


Africa the acclaimed sleeping giant is really waking up and I believe that the next ten years will bring us a long way into our glorious destiny.


Even though corruption is a favour in Africa, the fight against the evil is yielding results because if the thief does not have a safe haven to stash his loot, he will think again before doing it. The collaboration of most countries of the world on this issue will soon help wipe out or at least reduce corruption to a barest minimum. A case in point is in Nigeria where in recent years very highly placed government officials and private sector individuals have been prosecuted and jailed.


We need all the friends we can get in order to bring us into the full reawakening process. There is so much to invest in, especially energy, solid minerals, transport (particularly railways), agriculture (especially food processing & storage), education, aviation and tourism to mention but a few. I believe many of you sitting here today will have great roles to play.


Financing is paramount for achieving sustainable development goals. At the moment about 90 per cent of the financial resources used in Africa are from domestic sources. However, ambitious but achievable time-bound goals to uplift Africa will require much more than the resources available domestically. We need generous foreign financing in order to achieve credible long-term goals in Africa.


Let me conclude by congratulating the Canadian Council on Africa for this timely symposium aptly titled “Looking Forward.” It is refreshing to know that in this faraway land there are people that are earnestly ready to join hands with Africa in realizing her destiny. Our President in Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR is moving on courageously with the Transformation Agenda whose ultimate goal is to place Nigeria among the 20 leading nations in the world by the year 2020.


Finally, we would gladly partner with the Council to see our two nations move forward. We want action as the era of talking and expressing interest is gone.

Re-inventing Africa’s development strategy in the 21st Century: A personal perspectiveSenator Ben Ndi Obi







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