Somebody needs to help Africa and wake us up from this perennial day-dreaming into which we have fallen. From time to time, and as we intermittently arise from the dream, we act like we got reassured that the solution to our problems will come from lands so far from Africa. This way, we diminish the importance of innovation and deep thinking. Africa is in need of some elixir for self-esteem and pride. Unfortunately, it does appear that those who are economically poor are far away from pride. They have no shame because they are clothed in it. Truly, when one man stands cap-in-hand before another, begging for alms, pride takes a flight and shame loses its power. That seems to be the condition of most African leaders today, as they scramble for Chinese help.
The current fad among African leaders, most of whom are not only too old to stand erect, unsupported by aids and props, but also mentally incapable of understanding the nature and process of economic development information, is to go to China for a share of that country’s surplus capital, accumulated by leaders like them. Over the past several decades, China has grown at rates averaging roughly ten per cent per annum. It has used this surplus capital accumulated from its consistently high growth rate to build investment capital. This capital has become China’s key carrot for dislodging America, and the rest of the West, in Africa. A piece of it has become the big target of African leaders or more appropriately, misleaders.
While African leaders, running governments that are mostly a deliberate fraud against their people, and with their eyes fixed on self-interest and eagerness to cheat their counties, scramble to be in China’s good books, in order to access the huge capital accumulated over the last three decades, wiser people, even in Asia, are calling for caution. Wiser nations are repelled, wandering what could be the “bag of goodies” African leaders see in Chinese loans and projects, which drain future generations of their livelihood because of projects we cannot maintain. They wonder why we have so soon forgotten the Russians and the fraud of iron and steel plants in Nigeria.
Last week in this column, I shared part of my experience in South East Asia, and more specifically, Malaysia and Indonesia. We highlighted the achievements and unexpected re-entry of Mahathir Mohamad, as Prime Minister of Malaysia, albeit for an agreed period of two years, in order to clean up the mess created by his successors. In that piece, which was a bit satirical, I advised those whose only problem is the obviously very old age of our president to seek other reasons for asking him out. Mahathir Mohamad is undoubtedly Mohammadu Buhari’s big uncle, by age and if he can do so well to be returned due to popular demand, then age may well be only a little part of the problem. Undoubtedly age is a problem and Mahathir Mohamad acknowledged that much in a recent CNN interview.
Listen to Mahathir Mohamad. “China comes with a lot of money and says you can borrow this money. But you must think. How do I repay? Some countries see only the project and not the payment part of it. That’s how they lose chunks of their country. We don’t want that”. This can only be the voice of someone without vested interest. Africa is in bondage because of vested interest in very high places. Vested interest robs men of their intellect. Some of the African leaders you call clueless and daft are actually smart. They appear daft to us because we cannot fathom the rationale behind their decisions, which are driven by factors not in the public domain – vested interest. This is why it is dangerous to allow such men to define for us what constitutes national interest of African countries. For most of them, the nation is yet to be built and is currently limited to their kit and kin whose interest is national interest.
Many of the mostly failed states in Africa cannot be described as nations because their people lack the commonality of destinies that defines nations. Every leader that emerges reduces his country to the small tribe or clan that he comes from, as if to reflect the littleness of his mind. And with this, the promotion of one ethnic group and the deprivation of another sets sailing. It is hard to find African leaders who have not redefined their countries and equated them to theirs mall tribes or ethnic groups. This guarantees that nepotism and rancour, and the dismantling of one leaders’ achievements by his successor prevail. It also delays the emergence of the cohesive force of a united nation.
Most likely, the reaction of many African leaders to the statement of the Malaysian Prime Minister quoted above would be like this: Mahathir may say whatever he likes but we want to be part of the $60 billion, which the Chinese said is available for lending to Africa. We too want to develop like Malaysia, and then we can also reject Chinese loans. From where did Malaysia borrow to develop? They invested in education that enabled them to copy, adapt and adopt other peoples’ inventions. Nigerians were much richer per capita than the Chinese in the late 70’s. Chinese GDP was about one third of the average of those of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa at $155 in 1978. Nigeria’s was about $500 or about three times China’s. China’s GDP per capita is now about five times ours.
While lining up for Chinese hand outs that are surely not without metallic strings, it is time for us in Africa to find out what China did to grow her economy consistently for over 30 years. Even the need for merit, which is at the base of everything in China, is not recognized in Africa. If knowledge is despised and disregarded; whence comet innovation. Some may say it is the Chinese dictatorship that brought them this far, but we had so much of that in Africa. In Nigeria its best dividend was the greatest all time treasury looting in the world by Sanni Abacha. Chinese dictators do not loot the treasury. My take: “Honour and shame on no condition rise; act well thy part, there all the honour lies”.