A couple of days ago, I sat in a certain discussion where a Professor asked the gathering their views on the relevance of African Studies in the curriculum at the university level. As I listened to the various reasons provided by the participants, I found their reasons for and against very intriguing. I gather from those who think it is necessary that the African needs to know himself first before knowing another. I find this point very important. Then I gather from those who are against the fact that some of the studies are rehashed and that at higher levels of learning, they could do away with African Studies as they believe they have acquired what they need at the lower levels.
The prelude actually got me thinking over the past days since coming out of that session. I have come with the view that those who stood for the motion and the need to know ourselves, have the most valid point. We know too well that our appreciation of issues gets enlightened more often after we progress beyond a certain level. For instance, if you take an African Studies paper at the First Degree level and you struggled, and have had the opportunity to reflect over certain things long after you have left school, given the opportunity to express your views on the same topic, you would be richer in your presentation because you have acquired practical knowledge after leaving school.
As a strong and an ardent follower of the ideas of Kwame Nkrumah, one of Africa’s greatest sons, I thought to put together this reflective and forward looking piece for all young Africans to look at and start informing ourselves on how we want to change the future of our continent. With little reference to the background, I have taken a position that our studies in the past, and many speeches we have heard, have centered on what I coined as ‘African Complaint Studies’. We have lamented over how we found ourselves here, who caused us and how it has affected our development. I do not disagree with our knowledge on these. We need to know where we are coming from. By knowing where were are coming from, we can explain where we are. But, it must not end there. If knowing what we know, how we got here and where we are, we leave it here and fail to draw lessons on how to take ourselves forward, then we have become complainants than a people who want to move forward.
In this context, I hold the view that Africa needs to define itself based on what it knows, where it is and where it wants to be. Many a times, Africa has defined itself based on what others have done to it without taking any steps to overcome those. Africa needs to reassess itself, accept its current status, look forward, and device ways of moving forward. Our consistent lamentations would not change our reality. It would not modify our past. It cannot shape our yesterday. It only must serve as a guide.
We all must come to the agreement that today, we cannot colonize any continent, we cannot enslave any human beings from anywhere and rely on cheap labour or labour at no cost at all for our development like it happened to the benefit of some Western Countries. Based on those horrifying experiences, laws have been formulated to make such acts highly illegal and unacceptable. It simply invites us to evaluate ourselves and to reach the conclusion that if our continent must develop and meet the rising needs of its citizens, we must get to work to build the Africa we want for ourselves.
We have the right today, after years of colonization, to elect our leaders and to chart our own paths towards development. I say this being mindful of the consistent efforts at siphoning the continent’s efforts to develop through neo-colonialism. In the midst of this, we must strive to break the hands that are fighting us. We have very viable resources that presents us opportunities to turn things around in our favour. It has been 64 years since Ghana attained its independence from British colonial rule being the first country in Sub-Sahara Africa to gain independence. This set the tone for other countries and by 1960, a lot had been achieved in this regard. Having the right to drive our own destinies for the past 60 years, I don’t see any reason why we cannot put our complaints behind us and forge ahead looking at where we want to be. I would proceed to provide some views on how I think African can look around nine (9) drivers if it must begin finding its feet fully towards changing our current position. The point to make here also is that if the continent is united and confronts these challenges, the higher our prospects. I would proceed to examine these phenomena on the basis of our fragmented nature, but with emphasis that the ultimate goal is to see the continent approach these on a continental scale as a united country /continent.
Technology is an important driver of development. Where technology abound, development flows naturally. In the midst of what we consider today as a technological world, people are still working around the clock to develop sophisticated technologies that are aimed at making life better. Today, the world is connected more than it used to be. This means businesses are able to take orders from across the world and to execute them without difficulties. Governments across the world, could connect and transact businesses via the use of technology. Globalization has made it very easy for cross-border transactions and has made it possible to import and export technology. However, even though it cannot be said that Africa is lost entirely in its contribution to technology, the question to ask is, to what extent is Africa instrumental in this technology that the world is relying on? On the basis of this, we have to encourage inventions from within our own continent.
When Covid-19 showed the world a phenomenon that each country must find solutions before extending same to others, I want to hope that the continent realized it could have handled its own challenges better than joining in prayers for others to succeed so the continent can benefit. We have heard of several inventions that were made by citizens of the continent in ensuring that the immediate safety protocols developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) are handled. But the question again is, how many of these inventions were adopted and developed beyond hearing of them in the media?
It is important to note that the ‘perfect’ inventions we see today, did not begin as they appear. The iPhones we see today and hold with glee, the Toyota V8s we see being driven around by African government officials in their latest designs, did not emerge in their perfect nature. We can be sure that in the coming years, even the designs would improve beyond what we see today. All these should reawaken our minds to the reality that some governments believed in the inventions by their citizens, and provided the needed support to make them great today. Today, every single top-notch phone you purchase on the continent of Africa, every flashy car you buy, pays tax to some countries somewhere, which improves on the economies of those countries. On this basis, African must find ways to fund inventions and promote its ‘imperfect inventions’ encourage its consumption so those who have invented it can improve on it and make it attractive for others outside of the continent.
(b) Human Resources
Human resource is the best ever resource any country or continent can be blessed with. Fortunately for us as a continent, God has not denied us of human beings. Our sexual acts equally add up to our population as a continent. This, we need to thank God for not denying us the human population that we need. Even in this, there are those who even assume that the continent is over populated. But, we must continue to be grateful that we have the human beings. What we need to define in this is the ability to separate the presence of human beings from capacity. This is where Africa need to take the job serious. By merely producing human beings without efforts at building their capacity, we are not doing the continent anything good.
As a result, the continent of Africa needs to define its needs and to build capacity to occupy those needs. This must inform the African curricula. We must design a curricula that addresses our very unique challenges aimed at bridging the gap between us and those we watch and aspire to become. We must not despair, we must not be disappointed we “were wasted”, but we must be glad that we have found a starting point that is aimed at building a new generation that is sensitive to the challenges of the continent and are willing to change it rather than join in the already loud chorus of complaints.
(c) Natural resources
Consistently, the continent continues to discover its natural resources in commercial quantities. It has never been the case that the continent had never been aware of its resources. In our history, the knowledge of the existence of these resources, has never been lost on us, but their use. Since their use were established, efforts have been made to mine those resources with the use of technology to explore their further existence. Ghana for instance, begun mining oil in commercial quantities over ten (10) years ago. After years of exploration, oil was discovered in commercial quantities in the deep waters west of the country. The country has been mining gold for decades. Unfortunately, we have benefited little from the resources of the continent. The argument has always been about the non-existence of technology which makes the owner of the technology take the larger share.
We are mindful that those who possess the land today must eat and survive. But our survival must not jeopardize those we are giving birth to. They must be protected by our decisions. Our decisions must provide them some hope. We need to begin finding ways of owning our resources and making the mining of those resources bring benefit to the current and future generations. We have rather focused more attention on what we would get to consume today than what we would leave behind for the future. We have left the decision of the future to individual families than the political structures we operate which take decisions over our collective interests.
Our various governments, in talking decisions to extract our natural resources, must not be only informed about their short to medium term goals which they still miss anyways, to include greater focus on the long-term impact of their decisions to meet their immediate needs. We must begin evaluating our governments on their focus on delivering a secured future for generations unborn over their efforts aimed at meeting our needs of today.
Energy is an essential part of modern day human life today. This would provide the basis for the effectiveness of the next area of discussion which is industry. By energy, we are looking at the power to encourage production. Today, the world over, means of generating energy that powers plant and industrial equipment are being sought. The continent of Africa, even if has lost the opportunity to develop hydro capacity because of lack of water bodies that can provide the force needed, is blessed with wind and solar potentials.
What we need as a continent is investment in this regard to harvest wind and solar energy to power our industries. The initial investment could be high, but as a continent, if we decide to come together and harness our resources to provide large scale energy supply sources for the continent, this should not be too much for the continent to shoulder. A commendation must go to the Ethiopian authorities for the huge $4.5 billion investment in developing the 6,450 megawatts hydro capacity on the Blue Nile. How many of such projects can we get? How many more of the Blue Niles do we have again? As our population increases, we need to find alternative ways. The countries that are currently mining oil, have gas potentials that must be harnessed to reduce the cost of energy on the continent.
One worrying phenomenon remain the benefit that citizens of the continent derive from their own resources. As a Ghanaian, the question remain, if the cost of a bar of chocolate could not be lower considering the fact that cocoa is produced largely here in Ghana. The cost of a litre of fuel in a country that is mining oil is almost $1. It is clear that we are just mining the oil for its commercial purpose and the foreign currency we earn from it. We are not mindful of refining that crude for local consumption at a cheaper cost.
A few days ago, I have engaged someone who has some contact in Nigeria who presented a little different case for the country. A greater part of the Nigerian population depend on other means other than electricity from the national electricity grid for a week. From the person’s narrative, the Nigerian government being mindful of this, has ensured that the cost of purchasing a generator for household use and the cost of buying fuel is maintained lower to enable people produce the energy they need for their household use.
But, we can clearly agree that this would hugely impact on businesses. If businesses would have to rely on their personal power to operate, then the cost of production automatically goes up driving up the cost of their products. We need to rise up and deal with this phenomenon once and for all, at a certain time in our lives.
Drawing from the salient grounds established in the immediate point above, we must understand as a continent that industry is one conscious effort we must undertake in order to change our future completely. Speak of raw materials and we have them. We mine gold, we grow cocoa, we grow sugar cane, we grow tomatoes, we have rivers that produce all kinds of fishes for our consumption. We have other raw materials and natural recourses that can be processed through industries. Industry is obviously the surest and fastest way to develop an economies.
Unfortunately, our reality is that we rather find delight in selling of our resources in their raw form. Over the years, we have come to understand that processed goods attract higher prices. This has resulted in the advocacy for value addition in what we sell out to the other countries. We need to be reminded that this long chain was designed through the scheme of the metropolis. The metropolis powers their industries with our raw materials. History would show us that the design to keep industries in the metropolis far away from the colonies, was to drive the economies of the metropolis. After the goods are processed from our cheap raw materials, the colonies serve as the dumping grounds of the expensive finished products.
Today, this phenomenon has created balance of payment deficits for us. We spend more in paying for the goods we consume than we accumulate from the raw materials we sell. This must inform us to change our ways. Like no one carries his or her own measurement bowl to the market to buy corn, we must also not allow others to bring their own measurement bowls to buy our products. We must be able to place value on the things we produce, get them standardized and trade among us.
The continent of Africa possesses a huge economic opportunity. We need to encourage production of the goods we consume through providing funding for industrial prospects for the continent. Like stated earlier, we need to start from somewhere being mindful of where we are starting from. We need to put in place policies that discourage the population of African markets with goods that Africa has the potential to produce. That way, we can protect young industries to grow and contribute to our economies.
Points (d) and (e) are essential in meeting this issue of jobs. We have come to the realization that jobs remain a challenge to the various economies across Africa. It remain one of the reasons for which many of the human resources that seek life outside the continent do so through excruciating conditions. This has existed for many decades. We know that the solution is to tackle this issue of unemployment holistically. We need to be able to identify what jobs are needed in the various sectors, and be able to create those jobs.
If we approach this on a continental scale, we are able to mark the continent on the basis of what is produced where and how to direct labour to take up jobs as such. We are able to identify the parts of the continent where health can be developed, where education can be best treated as a hub, where industry can be located, where energy production is concentrated, where service can best be developed, where communication and technology can be concentrated. This way we can take off the burden on our individual economies which are to deal with these multifaceted challenges as a whole. We need to take advantage of the various unique potentials of each country within the continent and make efforts at dealing with them in a manner that address our challenge of jobs completely. Our citizens must be able to wake up to decent work for decent wages.
To archive all that this article has focused on prior to this point, education must play an important role. Our various educational curricula are centered around delivering knowledge in a manner that gives us the orientation of completing higher learning to look for jobs. Here we are, while that become our orientation, we finish and realize that the continent has no plan that provide jobs at the rate it produces graduates from its universities.
Our education and industrial drive must be synchronized in a manner that can define roles for us and be able to identify jobs that are occupied by hands that have not gone beyond the secondary school or high school levels. There must be that distinction that encourages artisans, experts and technical hands to clearly know where they can fit.
There is no career development that is unnecessary, but facilities at our various educational institutions at the earliest levels, can stimulate interest. We are on a continent where children are compelled based on the curriculum developed to learn all manner of thigs including those that they have no interest in. If we are to make huge investments at the early stages of child development, we would realize that many of the courses that our citizens avoid at the higher levels of their learnings, would become subjects of interest.
We are not consciously developing generations that would become innovative, the reason for which we seem to lack the foresight to support innovations. If we are consciously developing generations that would think and innovate, we would have no difficulty in making projections and making funding available for the things we place premium on. We have however placed our expectation on science on accidental discoveries without being conscious about them.
Education needs looked at completely. We have a unique continent that requires active participation by all. We need to identify what we need, how we would get those needs met, the type of human resources we need, the nature of capacity we need to build, and design our education to solve our problems.
Infrastructure is an important part of human life. African countries, even in their various capital cities, continue to grapple with bad roads. The medical infrastructure, schools, recreational centres, roads, libraries among other things, are short in supply. The debate about infrastructure, has different perspectives depending on where one stands. But for me, there is a simple way to measure what one can consider to be appropriate infrastructure looking at the pictures our own colleagues from the continent who have had the chance to travel to the West share on their Facebook and other new media platforms. They locate the good roads, the good hospitals, the huge school blocks, the skyscrapers, to show us where they have been.
These simply tells us that infrastructure can have a definition of what we here in Africa can also describe as beautiful. Our various housing schemes must be greatly improved. If we do not act as a continent to ensure that housing becomes something government consciously provides at a cost, a time would come when land acquisition with their attendant frauds cannot be avoided. A time would come where families may just not have decent accommodations. If government takes up the task, through its institutions to provide housing units, planning becomes easy, space is used judiciously, land can be controlled and acquisition of land becomes easy.
Africa needs to define what it needs in its infrastructure that meets the climatic conditions of the continent and that which would provide decency in the lives of its people.
(i) Communication – Infrastructure and Language
The final point to examine in this short piece is communication. And I intentionally chose to focus on communication infrastructure and language. By infrastructure, I am emphasizing on the means through which we communicate. Africa needs to find means through which it communicate within the continent and outside of the continent. Is it possible for the African to communicate any secret of the continent through telecommunication technology that is owned by someone who is not an African? How would that be done?
Language, equally, is an effective tool in communication when it is done in a manner that both parties in communication understand and interpret in the same manner. Unfortunately, the continent is consisted of hundreds of languages none of which we are really taken efforts to develop for our use. It is not for nothing that Africans who travel outside the continent to study in other countries are forced to spend part of their time studying the language of the countries they are studying in. It is because those countries cherish that a certain mode of communication is standardized in their unique ways to build their very economies.
Which language does Africa compel others who come into the continent to learn? Based on the language of the colonizing country, African languages of communication are designed along those terms. So the English colonies speak English, the French speak French, the Spanish colonies speak Spanish. How possible is it to have an African unique conversation speaking English through a communication platform or infrastructure developed by and Englishman and yet expect the Englishman not to understand?
The continent, if we must look forwards towards working on restoring its lost decades, must spend time developing language and infrastructure in a manner that can power the African conversation in a unique way that only the Africans can understand. It is not offensive to the Chinese when he speaks his language to his colleague(s) in your presence even if you do not understand. Ours must not be seen to offend anyone so long us it is the development of Africa that we seek.
In conclusion, I think we need for refocus and rethink our position in the affairs of the world. We must rise above the complaints, no matter how justified our complaints could be, and be informed that complaining without finding solutions, would not take us forward. At best, we shall only remain here for a long time to come, wasting our today and wasting the future of our generations yet unborn. We must begin with ourselves. We need to rise above our current challenges, build capacity, and ensure that all our efforts are aimed at changing the narrative for our future.