Vusi Gumede
Vusi Gumede

Africa, time to get back to basics

As a point of departure, it is important to acknowledge that we know a lot about the challenges confronting the African continent today. Equally, we know more about the world today. It is in this context that a call for rethinking Africa’s political economy is made.

Such a rethink is timely because the world economy and geopolitical affairs suggest that a different socioeconomic development model is needed. Also, as Africa celebrates 50 years since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), it is fitting to ask and answer the questions pertaining to Africa’s post-independence development.

There are some salient characteristics of Africa — south of the Sahara specifically — that are worth noting. First, socioeconomic development has been largely a function of the repulsive political history of the continent. Walter Rodney, Bade Onimode and Claude Ake are among the scholars who have written extensively about the extent to which the West impoverished Africa. Thandika Mkandawire has, furthermore, demonstrated how the West and its institutions (the Bretton Woods family and the Washington Consensus) slowed socio-economic progress in sub-Saharan Africa. Of course, as Asongazoh Alemazung would argue, there are internal factors that have also constrained progress in Africa.

A philosophy of pan-Africanism and a hope of African renaissance should shape Africa’s approach to development and global affairs. Given glaring tendencies towards neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism, the project of decolonisation and Afrocentricity is ever more critical. This does not mean an anti-West stance. It simply means, as Molefi Asante puts it, that Africans are (to be) fully conscious of their Africanity and always cognisant of the ground they are standing on.

In the recent past, Africa has been performing relatively well economically. After significant setbacks caused by the structural-adjustment programmes of the Bretton Woods institutions, Africa has pulled through. Yet the recent global economic crisis and the ongoing Eurozone crisis are affecting Africa’s economic growth.

The last key issue is that, politically, Africa remains divided. The unity that Nkrumah, Nyerere, Pixley Seme and others pursued is elusive. The external hand of the West, in concert with the majority of Africa’s leaders, is ensuring that the vision of a united Africa remains a dream.

The heterogeneity and diversity of the continent is a challenge that only Africans can address, even though the challenge is in part a creation of the colonialists and continues to benefit the West. To address this challenge, we may have to go back to Afrocentric or pan-Africanist approaches, as articulated in the works of Archie Mafeje, Molefi Asante, Amilcar Cabral, Tiyambe Zeleza, Samir Amin and others. Mahmood Mamdani’s new book, Define and Rule, also offers useful insights.

I argue that the start should be to embrace authentic African approaches to social and economic development, for instance communalism: Africans functioning as a single entity to address pertinent challenges. Indigenous knowledge — a source of Africa’s resilience — could be the basis for the Afrocentricity or pan-Africanism that should be the framework shaping Africa’s affairs.

On a practical level, Africa owes herself a robust developmental paradigm that is authentically and indigenously African. The current economic system has failed the world and constrained Africa’s development. A peculiarly African socioeconomic developmental model is needed. Africa should reject advice from the West and those captured by the West. The West developed through an interventionist economic development approach, as Ha-joon Chang recounts, but the West tells Africa to follow an economic system in which the state is hands-off, a system prone to further impoverishing Africa.

It is clear that Africa needs leaders different from those we currently have (with some exceptions). To embrace Afrocentricity or pan-Africanism or Black Consciousness, as Steve Biko argued, the frame of reference and the point of reference for Africa and Africans must be changed.

Africa and Africans need to go back to their roots, so to speak. This might mean that Africa disengages from the rest of the world temporarily as she gets her house in order. The pre-colonial African economy, disrupted by colonialism and imperialism, was vibrant and served Africans well.

What might a social and economic development model for Africa contain? A major component should be social policy — broadly, vigorous public policies. The second major component is economic policy.

Many African countries do not seem to have visions for their economies. Many African economies have not transformed themselves: economic transformation must mean that the majority takes part in the economy and that all Africans benefit. At the core of this model should be effective social-protection systems, quality education and healthcare.

Africa should reconsider its social pacts in the context of the new (and old) challenges confronting the continent. Without a single vision shared by all of African society and the diaspora, and owned by every member of society, development will remain a pipe dream.

We owe it to ourselves as Africans and to our forefathers and foremothers to make Africa work. To make Africa work better, African cohesion is paramount. The African Union, working with all Africans, must ensure both renaissance and unity. Leadership is critical lest, in Ayi Kwei Armah’s words, we still lament that the “beautiful ones are not yet born”.

As we celebrate and commemorate fifty years of the formation of the OAU, a fundamental question remains: how would the next fifty years, in the context of the AU’s Agenda 2063, look like? Without a different/new socio-economic development model, chances are that Africa will not progress much.

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    • Yawn Fest

      I’m usually patient with these kinds of articles when young people write them, but not from serious academics.

      You need to be more solution orientated than this blah blah nonsense of Africa returning to utopian ideas of pre-colonial communalism. It’s not going to happen!

      In our current technology led economies, do you think that is going to happen? Nowadays, shouldn’t we be talking more global integration, than African integration? With SA joining major international alliances (like Brics), do you think having this utopian united Africa that Nkrumah et al had in mind – will happen?.

      Here’s a short answer for you: it *wont* happen. Irritates me when “thinkers”/”academics” are so disconnected from reality. Felt like I was reading work by a 17 year old here :(

    • Dennis Belford

      This is an interesting article, all The more so as it is written by a prominent intellectual,
      however it falls short of reality, and engages in fantasy. Without this introspective the rest of Africa (outside South Africa) is doing just fine at the moment. With the real alleviation of poverty becoming a reality, although perhaps with a longish time horizon.
      Establishment of a giant collective would merely create opportunities for exploitation, and the continent fortunately is not up for it. With the economy of Nigeria set to eclipse South Africa by late 2014, firstly they would have a major say in shaping a future for Africa. The smaller economies ever vigilant against the prospect of marginalisation no longer look to South Africa for leadership (if they ever did) and
      are embracing Global strategies looking to China, Europe or America for financial or trading partnerships. The concept of a United Africa is a wonderful idea. Personally I would prefer a Federated model, and in a perfect economic model, economies of scale providing benefits for all Africans. But in the real world Africa’s democracies are not ready. They need time to consolidate and stabilise, a process which has already begun. If a nucleic model could be established (Such as the southern African states)
      with a common currency (the Afro?) and Central Bank, with regional cooperation on
      security, infrastructure, and trade that would be an achievement of epic proportions
      but would signal the start of a…

    • Reality

      Phew Vusi! All true, but in my humble view, not remotely achievable now or in the decades to come, unless we are blessed with leaders who can inspire more selfless living. How does one withdraw from the world without being able to feed oneself? I completely agree that we need to dismantle the systems because that is where injurious ideologies are entrenched and perpetuated, but I think our only chance of success lies with that being done slowly, with a very clear implementation plan and with one or two sister countries in the region who may share our views. Going for broke with the entire Continent is a pipe dream. The simple truth is that you can’t reinvent the past. It is called the past for a reason. We need to design our own uniquely African future right here at home, drawing on our strengths,shared values, collective wisdom and resources. Pan Africanism is not achievable in my view. Too many vested interests and clashes of cultures and religions. People are still very”‘grass roots” and there are huge fractures in society, even in tiny SA. Let us start at home and perhaps when others see that working, they might want to join us. Where we can emulate those who died for our freedoms, is by being less concerned with material possesions and more focused on the accrual of enduring wealth for generations to come. Young people especially have totally unrealistic expectations and this will be our biggest hurdle to overcome. It is their futures we need to build.

    • Nduduzo Msibi

      “The external hand of the West, in concert with the majority of Africa’s leaders, is ensuring that the vision of a united Africa remains a dream..

      ..the West tells Africa to follow an economic system in which the state is hands-off, a system prone to further impoverishing Africa

      It is clear that Africa needs leaders different from those we currently have (with some exceptions). To embrace Afrocentricity or pan-Africanism or Black Consciousness, as Steve Biko argued, the frame of reference and the point of reference for Africa and Africans must be changed.”

      Its important to first define yourself before you become ‘part of the world’, so to speak. It is so difficult for that degining to be done when most of our systems are geared towards keeping the status quo.

      Great articlr

    • Dave Harris

      Getting back to basics means overhauling the educational institutions, judiciary, language etc, from the ground up, to unshackle ourselves from past oppression which has simply morphed into new forms of white supremacy and economic oppression.

      Unfortunately the ex-colonial powers will do all they can to continue the plunder even if it means at a high cost to Africa, so competition between the major economic powers vying for Africa’s attention is the only way forward.

      The ex-colonialists are experts in the “divide-and-conquer” strategy so I’m less hopeful than you on how relevant the OAU can be in the next decade unless they can build strategic alliances. The OAU will be unfortunately be outmaneuvered and sabotaged every step of the way because Africa does not yet have the military might to serve as a deterrence.

      Btw. thanks for that informative list of African thinkers. Africa’s history is in dire need of revision.

    • Atabongwoung Asong

      Prof, the article is good. Let’s begin to look at things from a far edge,helping to make new apparition of concept with realism inclusive… From my point of view, there are somethings that reality can’t permit anymore. Africa cannot be detach from geopolitics and the Global community to embark on an indegenous model typically afrocentric. Well, even the African Indegenous Knowledge system might have not been typical Afrocentric because alot of things take shape in the course of the clock. From Molefe Asante’s words that Africans should be fully conscious of their Africanity” I am among those who believe that we are conscious of our Africanity but still battling with a paradigm existing in our subconscious. And ofcourse what lies in the subconscious is stronger than what lies in the conscious. Even the architects of pan-africanism and black consciousness movement “Negritude” where driven by the quest for ethnic pride against white privilege. Their concern for a united Africa though was a good cry. Africa won’t be able to disengage successfully from world economy because as a truism our enemy is stronger than us… while I pause for a moment the question I seem to ask is, how can this be possible professor? the world has become a global village… how can life be lived outside the globe? Mindful of all existing treaties,laws, legislation that has bound all nations together… But with optimism I still strongly believe the the is a way out for Africa…I concur with…

    • Kaiser Khoza

      Great article Gumede

      We need to. Build one strong continent and trade with ourselves. I strongly agree with you on an urgent need for BC and Pan Africanism teachings. The challenge is that we need to start by Decolonising the minds of AfricAns. As you would know, colonialism colonised our minds and was more instrumental at “redefining and.discovering Africa”; as a result we lost our self worth and ourselves.

      As you put it, some of our leaders are more concerned about themselves and cliques and factions that promote their narrow selfish interest, and loot State resources at the expense of the developmental agenda. The mantra and the brazen manner at which “It is our turn to eat” is pursuit indeed may mislead us to believe “The beautyful ones are not yet born”. So Afrikan people need to deal with the looters with the same vigour we dealt with colonisers. We owe it to all those who died and were maimed, and say this is not what we fought for.

      Indeed, we need to have a new thinking and try news ways in dealing with African challenges. We need a new dedicated corps of young leaders to tackle the issues we are confronted with and like Nkrumah said we not looking east or west. We looking forward to Africa Rebirth, where leaders and peoples of Afrika will find their own solution to their challenges.

      There will be doomsayers we meet along the way, some will be of our own same as we heard “Ningabenzani abelungu Nina? Or ningabusa izwe Nina” and today we are ruling…

    • Samuel O Oloruntoba

      This is an interesting piece. The issue of reality as stated by one of the readers is relative. What is a reality to one may be an abstraction to the other. History is an important part of life and a good understanding of history is important for proper planning for the future. Despite the denial by Western Africanist, Africa has a history. This history is interwoven with politics, economics and culture. The current unequal relationship between Africa and the West is the outcome of a well-planned and executed political agenda which runs through slavery-colonialism and neo-colonialism. We cannot run away from this fact. Should this bother us forever? Maybe not. But, it matters all the same. Casino capitalism, which globalisation reinforces benefit only a tiny few. It has wide consequences for the rest in terms of insecurity, violence and social disorder. Africa needs to set an agenda for inclusive growth through which we can reduce inequality and poverty. The resources are here with us. To a great extent we even have the capital. All that is needed is accountabilty, which the citizens must enforce through citizens action. Rather than fullscale global integration, what we need is cautious engagment as the example of China has shown. The idea of communalism is not infantile. It is akin to Karl Polanyi’s idea as expressed in the Great Transformation. The rich can only have true riches when his neighbour next door has a sense of being as a fellow human being.

    • Marie

      Africa is by far the most beautiful and fascinating continent in the world, yet it does not pull enough tourists to sustain it’s economies. Although it has a wonderful climate, it cannot feed it’s people, It has gold, diamonds and other commodities aplenty, yet it’s people and the economies don’t benefit, Our leaders hold these fancy meetings – OAU etc, to find solutions for Africa. Yet after 50 years, still none have materialised. Why? The latest is to blame the Europian crisis, before it was Colonialism. When are they going to wake up and blame the real cause. The problem lies with the greed of man and mostly so with the greed of the leadership. Yes, it is a problem the world over. However, most of the West take care of the needy first. In Africa the leadership lives in the lap of luxury, far beyond anything we can imagine and to hell with their people. When the drought strucks no-one will help a neighbouring country, it’s easier to hold out a begging hand to the generous ‘rest of the world’. Africa must wake up. Poverty is killing the environment. Soon there will be nothing left and the West may not be able to help.

    • Phuti Moyaha

      One word that comes to mind when I read this piece is Hope. The fact that there is a debate about Africa’s current state and her future, brings hope to an aspiring young leader such as myself. I would like to concur with the Professor, that ” a different socioeconomic development model is needed”. This is important as it means that Africa and its people are taking a stand for what is rightfully theirs. Furthermore, there is a greater need for transformation in literature/curriculum in academia because currently our generation is fed with Western Ideologies and have been deprived from the previledge of being taught about being conscious of their Africanism, as Molefi aludes. I am not against being taught about the history of the world and how its development came about but I am against the stance of suppressing such thoughts of rethinking Africa’s development.

      However, I am more prone to disagree with the notion that may Africa should detach herself completely while she reinvents itself. With the current phenomenon of globalisation (‘new type of colonialism’), it will be difficult for Africa to operate on its own. This explains why our leaders are ‘sell outs’ because though the agenda may be African Renaissance, the West still has vested interests in Africa which some leaders are also benefiting from. Nonetheless, I believe the open debates about the issue in question is an indication that Africa continues to rise.

      Thanks for your bravery Prof. amid ‘West’…

    • http://gmail cole

      The need for a Pan-African economic model is long over due. One thing many pple should understand about Capitalism is that it was designed as a system that oppresses those who are not white and prevails by robbing means of production which belongs to the natives across the globe. It can not survive true democracy. Africans, Native Americans, Arabs, Maoris and Aborigines in AUSTRALIA are suffering today because of this demagogue system regarded a democratic. None of these human races mentioned above are in control of their LAND,MINES and other means of production. Its poverty generation after generation because of a system architectured to benefit whites.
      Africa should not shy to pursue its economic model whether whites or Chinese likes it or not its none of their business. The biggest problem current African leaders are stooges of the west, they prefer to be given Nobel prizes at the expense of Africans who are swimming in poverty. White have a right to defend the system because it enriches them, they are right. African leaders and their pple are afraid to start afresh like what our Chinese friends did. This is the route Zimbabwe has taken to develop their own economic system, it will be perfect one day though under day and night sabotage by whites who see it as a threat to their colonial privedge.Africa needs to unite and have one PAN AFRICAN ECONOMIC MODEL. Give caecer what belongs to him.Prof, keep it up. To implement such models Africans need not ask any one on this…