How Africans under-develop Africa
By Bola Bolawole
It is a little over 40 years since Dr. Walter Rodney died; the Guyanese radical historian, political activist, academic and author of the seminal “How Europe underdeveloped Africa” was assassinated on 13 June, 1980 in Georgetown, Guyana. Born on 23 March, 1942 in the same Georgetown, Rodney, the father of three – Asha, Shaka, and Kanini – was only 38 years old when he met his untimely death through a parcel bomb in his car a month after returning from the celebrations of the hard-fought independence of Zimbabwe.
Rodney’s brother, Donald, who was injured in the explosion, disclosed that a sergeant in the Guyanese Defence Force, Gregory Smith, delivered to Rodney the bomb that killed him, after which Smith fled to French Guiana, where he died in 2002. I was an undergraduate at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) when this hero of the radical Left was assassinated. His death shook the campus; the radical and revolutionary section of campus felt it as if the disaster had happened right there on campus and to one of us.
A Commission of Inquiry was to report decades later that Rodney’s was a state killing and that the then Guyanese Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, could not but have had knowledge of it. A little over six years later (precisely on October 19, 1986), the killing of Nigerian journalist, Dele Giwa, also by parcel bomb delivered to him by sources suspected to be linked to the military, resembled Rodney’s in motive as well as in execution.
The killers of Rodney, however, were late in coming. The seminal work which defined and assured him his place in history – How Europe underdeveloped Africa – had been written eight years before in 1972. In it, Rodney detailed how colonialism was a deliberate tool employed by Europe to exploit Africa for the benefit of Europe. Rodney posited with empirical facts and statistical figures that Africa was deliberately exploited and underdeveloped (kept down) by European colonial regimes to the advantage and development of Europe.
In other words, as Europe exploited Africa through the relentless pillaging of its human and material resources, Europe experienced rapid development but as Africa witnessed and suffered mind-boggling and degrading exploitation, the Continent’s development was arrested and it suffered under-development. Colonialism yielded way to independence but post-colonial Africa is anything but free from the rampages and ravages of its under-development by Europe, this time through the instrumentality of neo- or new colonialism.
Colonization of the mind is as potent a weapon of enslavement and under-development as direct colonialism. In fact, it has been posited that the former is all-encompassing and more destructive than the latter in that, this time around, no external force or aggression is needed to physically hold the victim down to exploit him; the victim being the one that freely yields, releases and turns himself over to be exploited, thinking all the same and all the way – even though erroneously – that he is free.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda said recently that what Africa needs is not foreign aid, loans or Foreign Direct Investment but decolonization of the mind. Africans allow, aid, and abet their own exploitation only to turn round to beg for a pittance out of what had been exploited from her as loans, grants, aids, and what-have-you! Colonial mentality is worse than “resource curse”!
It is not for lack of knowledge or understanding that Africa allows this rape; for it cuts across the whole spectrum of society – literate and illiterate, ruler and the ruled, including, interestingly but tragically, those who lay claim to progressive credentials! Take, for instance, the bragging rights of Nigeria’s Arsenal fans over “their” club’s recent successes in the English Premier League, winning the FA cup (beating Chelsea) and, thereafter, the Community shield (beating the Premier League champion, Liverpool).
I am sure you know there are very few Nigerians out there who might not be Barca, Real, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man. U, Man. City, etc. I once heard a sitting governor say he was “Man U for life” while another shouted “Up Chelsea”! We celebrate, promote and prosper the business of others while neglecting, relegating and under-developing ours! The leagues that we are this way attached to rate among the best, the most influential, and the richest in the world whereas our own leagues are in tatters, begging and craving our attention and help to no avail. Our contributions to the success of others and, conversely, to the failure of what is ours are not in any way and by any means small.
It is incredible we are happy doing this. And quite incredulous we see nothing wrong in it. Is it rocket science to sit down and count the costs – in terms of our own losses and, conversely, their own gains at our own expense? Now, this is not Europe under-developing Africa while developing Europe; this is Africa and Africans under-developing Africa while developing Europe! This kind of mentality is appalling; it can never lead to our development but the development of others to our own peril. It is this same mentality that leads us to lust and thirst after what others have developed while neglecting to develop that which belongs to us.
That is why we are a continent of consumers of finished goods produced by others. At best, we are suppliers of raw materials; even the said raw materials are hardly produced by us. Foreigners come here to produce them for us while we collect only rents and taxes on them, which we waste no time to fritter in Dubai and on imported goods from the same foreign sources! No people have developed the way Africans carry on with life and living. The most vibrant sections of its populace are those sold out to foreign football leagues. No attention at all is paid to the local league. What if Europe had not developed its own league but had neglected it, allowing it to stagnate, decay, or rot like we have done ours? Other climes are making efforts to develop their own leagues – even China, the United States, the Arabs, Israel, Turkey, Greece; eastern Europe, etc – but not Nigeria and Nigerians who have found an easy way out!
The same mentality informs the way Africans flee the Continent, looking by any means and ways to escape to Europe, the Americas, and Asia in search of the proverbial greener pastures. But angels were not the ones who descended from heaven to develop the Europe, America, and Asia they are fleeing to for better life! The sweats and toils of folks like us did the magic. The Dubai they rush to – Singapore, China, Taiwan, etc – were once at the same or lower level of development as Africa. The people of those places worked hard to lift up their country.
Can we then say that Africans love to reap where they did not sow or that they have not learned to put their food where their mouth is? They love the easy life and the easy way out of problems! They will rather cut corners than embark on any arduous task! I read a post of an Indian boy who, in an examination room, experienced a challenge with his pencil. The teeth kept breaking and he kept sharpening it. The invigilator noticed and handed this boy a quality pencil but the chap declined the offer, insisting on going by with what he had.
Asked why, he replied: This pencil was made by my own country and people, if I would not use it because it is inferior, how can I possibly expect an outsider to do so? And if no one uses it, how will my people be encouraged to make better pencils? This may or may not be a true life story but it teaches a lot of morals. Countries as a rule patronise what they produce; the exception, of course, being Africans who prefer foreign goods! In virtually all things, we love them foreign and exotic and despise that which belongs to us. That way, visionaries among us are not helped to grow and flourish. And that way, we remain where we are – at the bottom of the ladder of world development, progress, and prosperity.
Africans flee to other lands and then complain that the locals do not treat them right! Whose fault; if I may ask? Why can’t they stay at home and also develop their own country into the Eldorado they are running after all over the place? Locals have a right – and duty – to protect the civilization that had cost them a lot of efforts to build. I do not expect anyone to open their eyes and allow themselves to be swarmed and unhinged by people running away from places they should have waited and toiled to build.
Oftentimes, we point at the leaders as our problems; of course they are! African leaders – virtually all of them – are a pain in the arse but you, who prefers anything foreign to your own – including foreign football leagues – you are also an important contributing factor to Africa’s unending calamity.