Fostering Development: African Solutions for Africa?

Fostering Development: African Solutions for Africa?

By: Gilbert Omware*

A cry rings out through the pages of time and the experiences of the present day. It is a call to arms and everyone in Africa must respond to this cry. We must respond with action and not only speech. We must respond with solutions for ourselves by ourselves.

It always sounds grandiose and wildly ambitious to talk about Africans solving problems and this becomes even more complicated when you are talking about African leaders and the use of indigenous solutions. One is always either incompetent, poor or simply too corrupt to be morally capable of offering a solution. I recently attended a live interview of Stephen Sackur, the fascinating host of BBC Hard Talk and during the interview, which was a replication of the torture he subjects world leaders to, and therefore expectedly the question of Africa and the issues the continent faces in leadership arose. The question was multifaceted and danced to the tune of the following: Was his show on BBC meant to show how badly African leaders had failed at their jobs? Was he a pious European who was talking down to presidents and prime ministers, giving them lessons in democracy? Was it in his place to go after the leaders the way he has in the case of Robert Mugabe for instance? In the course of listening to these questions and ensuing discussions, the question as to who is going to save Africa kept playing in my head, and it is to this question that I wish to turn my focus on in this article.

As a continent, Africa has faced many victories and many tribulations in her time, from slavery to colonialism. In recent times, there has been the claim that colonialism in itself has moved from being direct rule, to social and economic colonialism. This comes in the form of foreign aid and the dominant cultural influences through largely Western media. With regards to aid, Dambisa Moyo1, the erudite Zambian economist in her book “Dead Aid”2 argues that aid has been more detrimental to Africa than it has helped. Many writers have discussed the riches and resources that are born in the African land in all strata of these assets which have sometimes been termed the ‘resource curse’. The question that always arises is, where then is the disparity? There are so many resources and aid that is also coming into Africa, so what is this that aid is curing and what are the resources doing for people? Although not continentally applied, it is also clear that the more resources there are the more the conflict and instability that arises in those endowed countries.3 However there have been success stories in the cases of Angola, Zambia and Rwanda. These are countries that are pitted to be the world’s fastest growing economies and they therefore must be doing something right.4 What indeed are these countries doing? How have they been able to resist the resource curse? It is important to look at the stories of these countries, and for the rest of the African nations to decide to learn and adapt the solutions that these countries come up with. These solutions may not work for all the countries, or even work the same way that they have in the countries where they are successful, but there are lessons in there, golden nuggets that can be gleaned for growth.

Some of the issues that most African countries face are very similar if not the same. There has existed for a very long time, the weakness of infrastructure, systems and structures for leadership and development in Africa as well as the raging battle on HIV and malaria. These weaknesses act as sinkholes for all the resources that are present and also being pumped into Africa for the purposes of development. Africa and Africans need to get to the point where they have the freedom to define themselves, to define their goals and to set up their own standards for the goals that they would like to achieve. The yardstick and the road map have to be set by these nations for these nations. All this notwithstanding the fact that Africa herself is not an island and has to collaborate and work with the rest of the world, the call still stands for the rest of the world to simply give some breathing space to Africa so that self determination can be done and a direction be established.

The problem that has plagued the idea of African solutions for Africa is that the leaders themselves are the ones expected to implement the solutions. They are expected to pioneer the way. Why can’t businesspeople, entrepreneurs, policy makers and organisations come up with African solutions for Africa? Why cant the citizens themselves develop solutions for their countries as well as their continent? A call for African innovation targeted at African situations and societies is being made and the people to respond are the Africans themselves, and not their leaders.

What does it mean therefore to get African solutions for Africa? Does this mean that there is one answer for Africa? Absolutely not! Rather, it means that the similarities in the issues that Africa faces numerous, as are the similarities in the positives that Africa has. There are so many strengths that are shared, and with this in mind comes the ability of the African people to come in and use the expertise they have collected all over the world, both academically and in experience, and use it to build their own countries. This does not mean that it is an exclusive job for Africans, rather, that it is a call to pioneer and advance their own cause.

*Gilbert Omware is a lawyer, social entrepreneur and Africa Enthusiast. He is the co-founder of African Solutions for Africa Programme (ASAP) based in Nairobi. ASAP implements a mentorship and training programme for youth, empowering them to change their communities, country and continent.

2 http://www.dambisamoyo.com/books_and_publications/

3 http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/04/15/the_next_big_thing_africa

4 www.seeafricadifferently.com

Bibliography

“Africa: Leaders Must Rethink ‘African Solutions for African Problems” by Tsoeu Petlane on the South African Institute of International Affairs website http://www.saiia.org.za/governance-and-aprm-opinion/africa-leaders-must-rethink-african-solutions-for-african-problems.html (accessed on 05/10/2012)

Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa” by Dambisa Moyo on the Wall Street Journal Website http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123758895999200083.html#articleTabs%3Darticle (accessed on 05/10/2012)

Are “African Solutions” right for the continent’s democracy push” by Aaron Maasho on the Reuters Website

http://blogs.reuters.com/africanews/2011/02/11/are-african-solutions-right-for-the-continents-democracy-push/ (accessed on 06/10/2012)

Guest Author

I am a guest contributor but also an avid reader of this blog.

2 Responses to Fostering Development: African Solutions for Africa?

  1. Thank you for writing this piece, Gilbert. It is fitting that the theme for the Bokamoso leadership Forum for this year was “outside insights”, how and what we can learn from from “outsiders” in Africa. Aid is a contentious topic, I was really fascinated with all the articles leading up / and post the USA election about what a Romney/Obama foreign policy will mean for Africa. We often preach “African solutions for Africa” but its also deeply ironic how deeply invested we are in the aid from the West, the US for instance pours billions of dollars every year via USAID and its Pepfar program. Having worked for an HIV/ADS NGO, I know how useful this funding can be, when used well for African nations. But also aid is not a one way process as we often see it, ie being a linear West–>poor nations. We as Africa also contribute billions towards the West, look at SA’s contribution for instance towards bailing out Greece. I like your conclusion at the end that Africa does not exist isolated from the rest of the world, but that we should determine our course, and by doing that we do not absolve other nations from helping out. Thanks again for the piece, some great “nuggets” for thought here.

  2. Gilbert, an interesting piece indeed! One of the questions that you ask is why can’t we, as citizens pioneer solutions for ourselves? This question has always intrigued me and for the majority of the citizens, who also happen to be the marginalised, I find the answer simply has to do with the dimension of poverty that causes people to be resigned. Many of our people, as far as I can see, don’t suffer from food related poverty but from poverty of the mind and soul. And whether it is right or wrong, the need to some how motivate and get people from a resigned state has been left up to the leaders; I suspect because many leaders supposedly possess skills to motivate and inspire. Over time I think we then started confusing motivation with pioneering.

    With this anecdotal observation, another question to ask is: how do we define roles for both leadership and citizenry, such that we all know what to do to advance our communities and indeed our beloved continent?

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