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African Socio-economic Problems And The Blame Game We Can't Afford

May 9, 2010

Paul Collier, Professor and Director of the Centre of African Economies at University of Oxford, wrote the book titled, “The Bottom Billion”.  In it, he laments the social condition of the poor, without seeking a genuine path out of it. Since the millennia, every author of third world politics have been seeking means and searching for solutions to the crises of the third world.

Paul Collier, Professor and Director of the Centre of African Economies at University of Oxford, wrote the book titled, “The Bottom Billion”.  In it, he laments the social condition of the poor, without seeking a genuine path out of it. Since the millennia, every author of third world politics have been seeking means and searching for solutions to the crises of the third world.
All kinds of actors, institutions and individuals have been blamed for the underdevelopment and backwardness of the Third world. Yet, the Third world have not made significant shifts in social and economic status. Why has this been so? Those who clamour for  solutions to the problems of the Third world are, often times, directly responsible for the crisis of the third world-the rich, donors, International Financial Institutions and so on. Many times, the solutions proffered to the problems, beg the question.

There is need to be fair to the toiling people of the Third world. There is need to ask and to know exactly how they understand their problems and the way out. Nobody has ever sought to do this and this is why answers to Third world crises are often narrow, self-seeking and limited.

What do the people of the Third world want? What do they need? How do they want their problems to be addressed? Who do they want to address their needs? Somebody is around the corner whispering that today, it is incorrect to talk about a Third world, because there is now the G20 and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). But what is the kind of solution that the G20 and BRIC are seeking? How do they address the generic problems of Third world? Others have pointed to the “successes” of South East Asian countries and the need to begin to conceptualise the “Asian path” to Third world development. More often, people abstract the history and reality of those countries from their so-called successes. It should, for instance, be stated that in the two decades of implementation of Structural Adjustment programmes in Africa, between 1982 and 2002, many Asian countries were experiencing economic leap, support or transformation of one kind or another. Hence, what can be considered as Africa’s dark decades amounted to Asia’s brightest decades of progress. What could be considered as Africa’s harshest times with IFIs and countries of the North constituted Asia’s best period with countries of the North. This reality or contradiction need to always be taken into account in discussing and measuring successes or failure in the African versus Asian experience of growth and underdevelopment.

Social and economic policies in Africa in the last two decades have at best been anti-people. This has meant that social misery and poverty set it. Infrastructure that existed and institutions for promoting economic growth and development were suddenly destroyed. What set in was the competitive and blind element of the market. The arbitrary embrace of the market set Africa in deep crises. By 1996, some 36 African countries had unsuccessfully implemented SAP and all of them ended up in disaster. But who was going to take responsibility for the failure? Government or our western mentors? Or just who? Then, it was the blame-game. The IMF and the World Bank  began to contend that SAP failed because it was never properly implemented. That African governments did not take SAP seriously; that in implementing SAP they allowed room for provision of subsidy and cushioning of the hardship that SAP wrought. To them, that was a bad way to manage SAP.

The most fundamental sector that SAP destroyed was the social sector where education and health services; employment and social support to the people were totally taken apart. Then, these group turned  round to advocate anti-poverty programmes, so-called pro-poor policies. Policies that in the end merely beg the problems facing the poor. What is amazing is not the declaration or introduction of those programs, but the enthusiasm with which African states embraced them, without question and deep reflection to know whether these were not the same people and institutions that led us into this quagmire and as such can not have the solution to the  African crises.

It pays the African states and leaders to claim that they are doing something knew. It serves their interest to be seen to be doing something different, even if indeed, the difference between their policies today and yesterday is like the difference between  six and half a dozen. The point  being made is that African leaders have run out of ideas. They have been hostile to new ideas, and they have been anti-development. The ideology of anti-development pays African leaders. It makes their patrons in the North to embrace and assist them. Financial assistance to African leaders is the quickest and fastest means to corruption and primitive capital accumulation. For too long African leaders have abandoned the interests of the people and  have undermined the people.

Education and enlightenment is necessary. The African people must be mobilised for an alternative path to development. They should be allowed to take their destiny in their hands; tell their own stories and seek their own solutions. They must be allowed to solve their own problems in the ways and manner they understood them. They must be allowed to make mistakes and learn from  such mistakes. They should be allowed to take the drivers seats and bring progress to their own children. Any thing short of this will continue to spell doom to the toiling people.

Is people’s power feasible? Yes, it is. It is the people that voted the political class into power. It is the people that supported the elite in power, it is the people that resisted the elite in power. To be sure, the slogan “Power to the people” is not a vacuous slogan. It is a well loaded and rich slogan which, if the toiling people fully realised its importance, will certainly lead them to empowerment.

What the African toiling people need today more than anytime else, is how to empower themselves. They cannot abandon this project to other people. They cannot allow other people to take advantage of their weakness. The psychology of the powerful or political elite is that the people can only grumble and do nothing. They are mistaken in this assumption. This mistake has been politically fatal in many instances particularly in Africa, it  is replete with examples. But there has not been a genuine and thorough-going example of how the toiling people have used power to support their own needs and desires in Africa. People’s power have always be subverted by the political elite.

The masses are tired, because they have been deceived for too long and they now need emancipation and empowerment. All those who claimed to be their allies, must support their project of social and political emancipation. That is the only solution to the current crises.

What does people’s power mean? What does it entail? Peoples power means ensuring that at all times, in all social and economic power spaces, the people govern; their interests are upper most. It is about people’s efforts in leadership in rural and urban areas. It is about how the ordinary people use their experience of society to govern themselves. It is about how out of nothingness the people make things to work; it is how, out of small things, the great and big things. It is about how to appreciate the other person and how not to ridicule the collective interest. It is also about the recognition of the public good and scrupulously serving it. We must stop playing a game that is out dated and out-fashioned; blaming their toiling people for their problems is a worn out excuse. The political and economic elite of Africa  have disappointed the people and they should be held liable for the failure of Africa.

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