Meeting Africa’s Alternative development Challenges in the XXIst Century

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Reflections and Proposal for Action


Anthony Victor Obeng




1.       Development, Underdevelopment and Liberation: Standing Challenges


To the leading African scholar-activists of the twentieth century, such as Kwame Nkrumah and Walter Rodney[1], African development was about the liberation of Africa from the institutional poverty and underdevelopment imposed on it by a developing imperial Europe, to secure and facilitate resource transfers from “the dark continent” to Europe for European development. More “conservative” or “moderate” actors and commentators have generally preferred not to see or point to the contribution of imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism (in their various manifestations and mutations) to Africa’s underdevelopment and poverty. The Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen, is among the few Establishment economists to acknowledge, if only in parenthesis, the relationship between colonial domination and at least certain manifestations of “unfreedom” - by pointing out in his “Development as Freedom”[2] the relationship between famine and colonial rule in “British India” and the fact that famine in Ireland occurred in an “Ireland administered by alienated English rulers”.


Nor is the relationship completely lost even to the current generation of unabashed colonialists. The declaration by Tony Blair, a leading representative of that generation and co-architect of the Anglo-American colonial war which resulted in the 2003 occupation of Iraq, was admitting without openly conceding the relationship when he declared Africa “a scar on the conscience of the world”.   




Tony Blair’s paternalistic convocation of a so-called Economic Commission for Africa as a sequel to his “scar on the conscience” declaration, the noises he permitted to be made from his entourage as British Prime Minister in favour of the “re-colonisation” of Africa and the seemingly coordinated crowing from the French Parliament about “the positive aspects of colonisation” are so many other signals that Europe has, indeed, lost none of its colonial appetite for Africa, in spite or because of its partial surrender of Africa to America under globalisation. For this reason, and in view of the standing need to find and administer targeted remedies to the deleterious effects of Africa’s colonial and dependency experiences, some of the more devastating of those effects are highlighted below.   



2.                 Selected Manifestations of Africa’s Dependency-Induced Poverty and Underdevelopment  


Any summary or even illustration of the deleterious effects on Africa of its centuries old development of underdevelopment processes is bound to be arbitrary, of course. But a factual and politically useful guide to these effects would acknowledge among them:


i.                    The psychological and spiritual devastation of the continent’ peoples and, with it, the burdens of low self-esteem and acceptance of dependency as necessary, inevitable and desirable;

ii.                  Littering of the continent with dependent economies;

iii.                Reduction of the continent to a collection of beggar nations and failed and/or failing states which seem happy to transfer responsibility for their development to “development partners”[3] and depend for maintenance on life support from “traditional” and non-traditional donors and the same “development partners” whose conditionalities they cannot escape;

iv.                A continent of destroyed, marginalised or discounted indigenous knowledge, science, technology, culture, philosophy and religion and consequently lacking in indigenous, and recognised, creative capacity;

v.                  A continent of destroyed or bastardised traditional life-support social institutions and relationships – from “the traditional African family” and clan to community, state and other governance institutions and gender relations etc – where Governments and peoples are subsequently compelled or induced  to accept questionable replacements from self-appointed agents of social and cultural development;

vi.                A continent where, by established practice and silent or avowed conspiracy, minority rule by the relative few who are educated in the languages and cultures of the “former” colonisers, who can thus be trusted to carry “the white man’s burden”, is entrenched under both “democratic” and “undemocratic” regimes;

vii.              A continent where the satisfaction of physiological, social and ego needs (food, clothing, shelter, health, acceptance and recognition, pleasure and happiness), is irrationally associated with the consumption habits and baskets prevalent in “developed countries”, to be replicated at great expense through “trade” - even when local alternatives of equal or better quality are more economically and physically accessible;

viii.            A continent under the economic, political, moral, social and cultural oversight and control, willy-nilly, of external bodies, many with track records as fronts for hostile interventions in Africa and elsewhere under cover of a fake universalist morality, fake humanitarianism, development or democracy;      

ix.                A continent, in short, that has lost control of itself, its thinking, its economy, politics, culture, future and place in the world through imposed and internalised dependency.


3.                 Visions of an Alternative and Better Africa


Visions of an alternative and better Africa are not difficult to fathom from the above sketch of the continent’s dependency induced poverty and underdevelopment:


a.       An Africa developed in the sense that all her peoples have secure economic and physical access to the public and private goods and services required for the satisfaction of their physiological, social and psycho-spiritual needs, including the pursuit of happiness;

b.      An Africa where development enhances indigenous problem solving skills and capabilities, does not deplete natural resources for the benefit of others and all resources are managed for the benefit, primarily, of present and future generations of Africans;

c.       An Africa where its peoples are economically, politically, socially, culturally and intellectually independent;

d.      An Africa where what concerns all is the business of all – and all state and social institutions respect this ideal;

e.       An Africa where the people as a whole – and, in particular, their thinkers, intellectuals, scientists, artists, academics, technologists, Governments etc - are free to develop and implement African solutions to African problems, and not just free to conform with the values and fashions of “the West” or bend to big power interests;

f.       An Africa where citizens are motivated, mobilised and empowered to resist local Governments, economic operators and others who may be tempted to sacrifice or transfer the sovereignty of their peoples to others for purposes other than African Unity or similar noble causes, accepted as their peoples in a manner chosen by them;

g.      An Africa free of despots; where there are no subjects but citizens; and citizens have the capacity and the will to resist corrupt and oppressive rulers and managers at all levels and in all sectors;

h.      An Africa which no one dares insult, patronise, attempt to colonise or re-colonise or even consider doing so, by force of arms or subterfuge;

i.        An Africa whose scientists, technologists, intellectuals etc do not have to emigrate for professional development or material and self satisfaction – or prostitute themselves for material gain or foreign recognition;

j.        An Africa of Africans who do not need or feel a need to apologise, suffer for or be ashamed of their Africanness, in Africa or abroad;

k.      An Africa in full control of its food, clothing, shelter, health and happiness security;

l.        An Africa where the welfare of all is recognised as the responsibility of all, in accordance with the best of African values;

m.    An Africa, in short, in full control of itself, its thinking, its economy, politics, culture, development, future and place in the world.



4.                 Vive la différence !


Some or all of the above visions, or elements of them, would be familiar to many associates of WFA. Some may even have dedicated all or part of their lives’ work to the realisation of some of them.


All are entitled, however, to some indication of how the alternative development visions and agenda outlined above differ from previous African development proposals and projects that targeted self government, self-reliance and even independence as a development objective.


There can be no better way of highlighting the distinction than by comparing the above set of visions with the development visions of two of Africa’s most noteworthy “philosopher-kings” of the twentieth century: Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere.

For good measure the self-reliant development posture briefly adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), predecessor to the African Union (AU) as Africa’s premier pan-African (not necessarily pan-Africanist) body, and two peripheral “development” movements for  Africa by non-Africans, which invoked the spirit of self reliance, will also be briefly considered.        


“Self government” played a prominent role in Nkrumah’s early nationalist career, with “the right to manage or mismanage our own affairs” as one of his landmark demands. “Self reliance” was first Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere’s contribution to African development discourse.

At the continental level the Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa, 1980 – 2000 (LPA), adopted by an Economic Summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1980, declared national and collective self reliance as the cornerstone of African development. 

And after overseeing the US’ war in Vietnam as Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, reassigned to the Presidency of the World Bank, launched a “basic needs” strategy for its “Third World” clients, including Africa, which had elements of self-reliance, much as colonial Britain’s Community Development movement invoked the spirit of self-reliance.


The proposed alternative development paradigm is a totally different proposition.


As freedom fighter, Leader of Government Business in the Gold Coast and Prime Minister and later President of Ghana, Nkrumah’s principal vision for his beloved Ghana and Africa was “accelerated development”. In writing, declarations and action “accelerated development” was defined as “catching up” with Europe and the Soviet Union in a fraction of the time it had taken them to reach their “level of development”. Nkrumah’s development model was thus, with respect, of the “modernisation” or “copycat” variety, which distinguishes it, fundamentally, from an alternative development model which proposes development as the progressive and sustainable satisfaction of physiological, social and psycho-spiritual needs on the basis of independent matchings of African resources with African needs. It must be added, for good measure, that the human resources mobilisation requirements of this alternative model and its strategic reliance on own resources protects it from the dependence on international trade, international financing, prefabricated technologies, turn-key factories and general dependence on external partners which made it possible for external forces to derail the Nkrumahist development project, destabilise him politically and mastermind his overthrow.       

Nyerere’s self-reliant development project, even with “ujamaa socialism” as anchor, was just as compromised. As Claude Ake, referring to these and other “self-reliant development” experiments in Africa, put it,


“While African leaders talked about the fragility of political independence and the need to buttress it by self-reliant development, they eagerly embraced economic dependence. In time this frame of mind led to the conception of development as something to be achieved through changes in the vertical relations between Africa and the wealthy countries; a greater flow of technical assistance to Africa, more loans on better terms, more foreign investment in Africa, accelerated transfer of technology, better prices for primary commodities, greater access to Western markets, and so forth”.[4]


The Lagos Plan of Action was just as politically and strategically naïve and internally contradictory, with its programmed dependence on financial and technical support from the “international community” to achieve its national and collective self reliance objectives.  


McNamara’s “basic needs” strategy hardly qualifies as a development strategy at all, let alone an alternative development one. Like imperial Britain’s Community Development before it McNamara’s was a project to give the status quo a benevolent face and win hearts and minds for the existing order, not tamper with, let alone depart from, it. George W. Bush’s two World Bank presidency appointments, and the “development” activism of the appointees, confirm this reading of McNamara’s “basic needs” strategy.


Independent development is not about pacification. Vive la différence !




5.                 Predictable Challenges


The current state of Africa is, of course, a logical, predictable and predicted consequence of the neutralisation, for various reasons, of the 20th century waves of radical African nationalism and pan-Africanism. And the Nkrumah, Nyerere and OAU brands of self-government-driven and/or self reliant development had no chance of delivering independence or development – for reasons of their internal contradictions and political and strategic naivety.


But if self-reliant development inclinations, naïve and doomed as they were, were enough to trigger the implacable opposition of imperialism, for obvious reasons, an alternative, that is to say independent, development path can expect no less – with a choice or combination of military force, economic sanctions, regime change, political subterfuge, psychological warfare, economic partnership agreements and conditionalities, externally manipulated “democracy” and “free and fair elections” among the counter-revolutionary weapons also to be expected.  



6.       Facing Africa’s Alternative Development Challenges in the 21st Century        


The dual task of anticipating and overcoming the opposition of forces hostile to Africa’s independent development and planning and implementing the continent’s reconstruction towards it cannot, of course, be performed in an organisational vacuum.

It would require nothing less than a new pan-Africanist spirit and pan-Africanist movement to defend alternative development against predictable imperialist machinations against it and lead and coordinate the struggle to rebuild Africa.


The immediate task in this connection is to build pan-African coalitions and networks in support of the idea of the movement, raise the spirit of the new, or renewed, pan-Africanism and prepare for the launching of a new pan-African movement along lines which would emerge from the widest possible preparatory consultations, desk and field researches and other appropriate processing of the idea.


The need for institution building and work planning for the above task is obvious. But welcome for the idea of a new pan-Africanism, even among its “natural constituents” and potential prime beneficiaries, in the quality and quantity needed, cannot be taken for granted – thanks to the generalisation of unhealthy cynicism in our globalised world where idealism appears dead, and cynicism in Africa and abroad about the touted “achievements” of the 20th century waves of African nationalism and pan-Africanism. The signs of the hollowness of the “achievements” of 20th century African nationalism and pan-Africanism are, indeed, many. Notable among these signs are the many serious episodes of anti-African “micro nationalism” and xenophobia in too many “independent” and “liberated” African countries, of which perhaps the latest and most televised are the May 2008 “xenophobic” bestialities in South Africa!

The South African episode is, in fact, a case study of general interest in the hollowness of the much touted victories of the old African nationalism and pan-Africanism over colonialism and apartheid, also known as “internal colonialism”. For by exposing the fact behind the brutalities - that the apartheid project of playing African migrant labour against South African labour and lumpenproletariat for the effective exploitation of both has survived South Africa’s “liberation” from apartheid – it exposed the hollowness not only of Africa’s “victory” over apartheid but that of other 20th centuries African “victories” over colonialism which have “empowered” a few “blacks” but left the fundamentals of the status quo ante untouched.      


While these regrettable episodes can thus be dismissed as further evidence of the betrayal and defeat of 20th century pan-Africanism, not “its” failures – and, additionally, the ascendancy of cynicism and materialism in today’s globalised world where accumulation is king is real – they point to the enormity of the ideological and organisational challenges that a resurgent pan-Africanism, the new pan-Africanism without which it is difficult to envisage an alternative and better Africa, must face. Worse still, and to stay with the South African example, the possibility is real, in the African “solidarity deficits” exposed by the “xenophobic attacks”, that the SADCs (Southern African Development Community) and COMESAs (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) notwithstanding enraged Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, for instance, might consider retaliating against brutalities inflicted on their “job stealing” compatriots by organising boycotts of South African goods as equally unsavoury native-job stealing or job destroying intrusions in their “national” economies.  


Such incidents are thus another reminder of the importance of a new pan-Africanism for the 21st century, the urgency of the struggle for it – and a call for the engagement of alternative development activists in Africa and the world over. For a new and better Africa would also be good for a new and better world order. The struggles for the two are, and must be seen to be, interconnected.      




7.        Challenge to Africans Everywhere and Appeal to Alternative Development Activists Worldwide


Institution building and work planning for pan-Africanism in the 21st century is, by any reasonable analysis of the situation and prognosis of Africa as the world’s pre-eminent sick continent without it, long overdue.


The forthcoming WFA Assembly (Caracas, Venezuela, 13 to 19 October 2008) may wish to consider its support for the required institution building and work planning, as part of its reflections on its future functions, strategies and activities.


[1] Cf. Kwame Nkrumah, Towards Colonial Freedom, Panaf edition, 1973, quoted by June Milne, Kwame Nkrumah: A Biography, PANAF, London, 1999. See also Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (Tanzania Publishing House, Dar-es-Salaam and Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, London. 1972)

[2] Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom: Oxford University Press, 2001.

[3] See Claude Ake,  Democracy and Development in Africa, (The Brookings Institution, Washington, 1996, 2001)


[4] Claude Ake,  ibid.