Africa must buy and raise its own don­keys

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Charles onyango-obbo

THIS year feels like 1989 all over, in Africa. That year the Ber­lin Wall came down, rep­re­sent­ing the end of the bit­ter post-world War II di­vide be­tween coun­tries that were so­cial­ist/com­mu­nist (led by the Soviet Union), and those that were cap­i­tal­ist (led by the United States). It also marked the end of the Cold War.

The for­mer also used to be re­ferred col­lec­tively as the East, and the lat­ter the West. The Union of Soviet So­cial­ist Re­publics, USSR, also col­lapsed and only Rus­sia re­mained of it.

There were also a cou­ple of non­aligned coun­tries, mean­ing, like Tan­za­nia, they were in bed both with the East and the West.

Any­way, when the Cold War ended, a cou­ple of African coun­tries were in trou­ble. Mozam­bique, An­gola and oth­ers that were so­cial­ists, now no longer had a god­fa­ther who used to prop them up since the Soviet Union had col­lapsed.

But cap­i­tal­ist anti-com­mu­nist coun­tries like Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire (DR Congo to­day) and Kenya were in trou­ble too.

In the Cold War era, the West backed these lead­ers, no mat­ter how cor­rupt or cruel their rule was, in re­ward for their be­ing anti-com­mu­nist.

Now that the Com­mu­nists were gone, there was no need to pam­per them. Be­fore long, Rwanda-backed rebels ran Mobutu out of town.

In Kenya, crit­i­cism of the Kanu gov­ern­ment’s hu­man rights and democ­racy record mounted. Iso­lated and soft­ened, Kanu ac­cepted po­lit­i­cal re­forms.

Nowhere to go The point is that be­cause Africa had hitched its wagon ei­ther to the East or West’s don­keys, and when they took away their an­i­mals, our wag­ons had nowhere to go.

The les­son we should have learnt is that we needed to buy and raise our own don­keys. We didn’t.

Most African coun­tries sur­ren­dered, and went with the win­ner of the Cold War — the West. Then along came Chi- na. A mem­ber of the old so­cial­ist club, it was the world’s big­gest coun­try by pop­u­la­tion, and grow­ing rich so fast, it was on course to be the world’s lead­ing econ­omy.

There was no African for­est, min­eral, or oil well China saw that it didn’t want to buy.

Also, there was no bar­ren land, Africa bush track, or river it didn’t want to build a rail­way, road, or bridge on.

Un­like the West, it didn’t de­mand that African gov­ern­ments ob­serve hu­man rights or stop steal­ing taxpayers’ money be­fore do­ing busi­ness with them. African lead­ers loved that.

So we un­hitched our wag­ons from the Western don­key, and hooked it up to China. And, for sure, we grew rich, and peo­ple started writ­ing and talk­ing about “Africa ris­ing” and “look­ing East”.

Then it hap­pened. China’s econ­omy started to slow, and it slowly re­duced what it bought from Africa. Then its stock mar­kets tanked, and it de­val­ued the yuan to im­prove its ex­ports.

Al­ready ham­mered by low com­mod­ity prices, from Nige­ria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Tan­za­nia, African cur­ren­cies tum­bled fur­ther, and gov­ern­ments slashed growth fore­casts.

Part of the prob­lem was that we left it to China’s horse to pull Africa to de­vel­op­ment nir­vana, and as hap­pened in 1989, we have again been left stranded by the road­side with our wag­ons.

There are many rea­sons why we have failed to chart our own path. To­day we fo­cus on one — what hap­pens to our in­tel­lec­tu­als. You need peo­ple who can think to help a na­tion map its de­vel­op­ment course.

Poi­soned en­vi­ron­ment How­ever in Africa, two bad things usu­ally hap­pen. When a new promis­ing gov­ern­ment comes to power, half the in­tel­lec­tu­als join it and they be­come spoilt.

They then use their skills to de­nounce or op­press the other half of the in­tel­lec­tu­als who stayed out of gov­ern­ment. These are ig­nored, si­lenced, or of­ten be­come too shrill in their anti-gov­ern­ment pos­ture, and thus un­pro­duc­tive.

The en­vi­ron­ment be­comes so poi­soned, no good ideas about how to run an econ­omy or coun­try emerges. So we turn to Bei­jing, Sin­ga­pore, Lon­don, or Washington, and bor­row theirs.

So I imag­ine many African coun­tries’ eco­nomic re­cov­ery plan­ners are pray­ing for China to re­cover.

Mean­while, in Zim­babwe, Robert Mu­gabe whose coun­try owes the Chi­nese over $1.5 bil­lion, and Bei­jing is de­mand­ing its money, fi­nally caved in.

Af­ter spend­ing 15 years rail­ing against the West, on Tues­day he threw in the towel and asked them to come help him dig his bro­ken econ­omy out of the deep hole into which he had thrown it.

For all his seven de­grees, Mu­gabe in the end failed to de­velop a Zim­babwe model that works.

The les­son we should have learnt is that we needed to buy and raise our own don­keys. We didn’t. Most African coun­tries sur­ren­dered, and went with the win­ner of the Cold War — the West. Then along came China

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