IT IS A TRAGEDY that the world's richest continent is, paradoxically, also the poorest. We have not exploited our full potential. That is why we always beg for help from other countries, while other people laugh at us behind our back; our lack of progress being attributed to our "meager" intellect. And we help reinforce those stereotypes. We beg too much.
But we do have the potential to reverse that, regardless of what our detractors say, some of whom are the very people who exploited us ruthlessly, and continue to do so under the new international economic order - globalization - over which we have no control. But our failure to help ourselves - we can't even feed fellow Africans who are starving - and develop our countries, in spite of all the enormous potential we have to do that, does not make us look very good before the rest of the world where we are already despised probably more than anybody else. And much of that potential, the labor and the resources, has been stifled or squandered under black governments since independence in the sixties.
What's wrong with Africa? Bad leadership probably more than anything else. It explains our stunted economic growth. If the leaders would only listen to what the people have to say, and let them manage their own affairs the best way they know how; and if they would also listen to their critics who might have better alternative policies and solutions to our problems, things would be much different, and our countries much better off than they are today. But they are too arrogant to listen. The result is what we have today: nothing to show for our 40 years of independence in terms of development.
Just look at how the rest of the world sees us. We don't have a single developed black nation on earth - not one; a dismal performance with serious racial implications, reinforcing stereotypes about our innate inability to do for ourselves what others have done and continue to do for themselves.
Nigeria, once black Africa's great hope, has proved to be a great disappointment despite her great potential in terms of manpower and natural resources which would have been more than enough to make her a middle power in the international arena, in the same league with countries such as Canada and Italy. In the early seventies, Nigerian leaders and the elite even talked about the country's potential capacity to build the atomic bomb within a decade or so. Tragically, all that potential went down the drain under corrupt military dictators who siphoned billions of petrodollars into their pockets through the decades, earning this African giant the unenviable distinction as one of the poorest countries in the world.
Another giant nation, the Congo, potentially the richest country in Africa, has been a monumental disaster since independence in 1960, pulverized from within. In fact, it ceased to be a state under Mobutu Sese Seko who bled it to death. And it may continue to exist as an empty shell for many years to come if it does not disintegrate into fiefdoms dominated and exploited by warlords and other strongmen.
South Africa is, indisputably, the most developed country on the continent. But it is not a typical black nation; there are millions of whites, as well as Indians and Coloureds. And it was developed under white rule. Most of its scientific achievements and industrial progress requiring high-level manpower are attributed to white scientists and skilled workers, for obvious reasons. Blacks were denied equal opportunity, education and skilled training during apartheid. Therefore they did not contribute to South Africa's scientific and technological advancement as much as whites did.
Angola is another country with enormous potential, endowed with abundant natural resources including oil, a dazzling array of minerals, and extremely fertile land. But it has been devastated by civil war for almost 30 years, reducing it to rubble. It will take several decades, probably two generations at least, to rebuild.
The list of failed states across the continent goes on and on. And nothing is going to change without radical transformation. The transformation must entail the complete overhaul of the institutions and power structures inherited at independence. And it must take place across the entire spectrum, economic and political as well as social, to reflect African realities; accommodate and harmonize conflicting ethnoregional interests through extensive devolution of power to prevent secession and national disintegration; and harness the full potential of the people across the continent to develop our countries. The quest for transformation of the modern African state requires bold initiatives and compromises. But, unfortunately, in most countries across the continent, it is a task that has hardly begun.