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Africa: a continent on the margin or a lion ready to pounce? Part 1


“…..we shall no more go back to sleep anymore. Today, from now on, there is a new African in the world, that new African is ready to fight his own battle and show that after all the black man is capable of managing his own affairs…” These are the words of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana’s first president) during Ghana’s independence. Fifty five years after, can we agree that the black man has indeed managed his affairs very well?

In these series of articles, I intend to discuss the African continent looking a bit at progress so far and highlighting current development status of the African continent in relation to other parts of the world. What this write up does not do is to make an all inclusive total description of Africa as I feel that this would be a huge book and not just articles. It is intended to leave space for further discussions. This write up draws largely on the presentation by Hans J. Preuss (managing director of GIZ) which was delivered as keynote speech during the Tropentag 2011 conference in Bonn (5-7th October, 2011), Germany and titled, Africa; a continent on the margin or a lion ready to pounce? The article will come in three parts as presented by Hans J. Preuss at the Tropentag. The first article (this one) discusses some of the perceptions and misperceptions about Africa. The second will present some recent developments and facts about Africa’s progress and the third will present the key drivers of change which influences Africa’s development.

Is Africa developing or not?

Optimists maintain that there has been notable improvement of economic growth in Africa and that the incidence of civil wars in Africa has reduced with great improvements in countries such as Liberia, Seirra Leone and Uganda. Also, democracy has become established in most parts of the continent though not very stable yet and great progress has been made in containing HIV/AIDS. For example some months back, the Ghana Aids Commission announced that HIV deaths had reduced but asked people not to get complacent. Similar reduction trends of HIV/AIDS occurrences have been reported in South Africa. Such trends, some have argued are positive signs of Africa’s development progress.

However, the pessimists disagree maintaining that GDP per capita has not increased significantly while income differentials and poverty have grown in most African countries. Many civil conflicts like those of Dafur and DR Congo as well as criminal and gang violence are on the increase across Africa. Additionally, recent political uprisings in various countries across Africa are still far from over. Pessimists argue that as long as poverty is widespread, there are little prospects that the health situations in Africa will improve.

Hans J. Preuss observed that both the optimists and pessimists are right and he presented his arguments in three parts. Talking about the common perceptions and misperceptions, he said “the image of the continent not only in Germany but in many other industrialized countries is heavily influenced by presentation in the media”. The good news about the media he observed is that they do not pay less importance to Africa than to other international regions of the world. However according to him, “the image of Africa presented in the media has at least for a long time been selective along two main stereotypes; reflecting either human misery or natural paradise”. Such presentations are pictures of war, of poverty, of famine and of disease. Prominent examples are the political conflict in Zimbabwe and Cote D’Ivore and the most recent famine in East Africa. The sad aspect is that western media houses do not often show good things from Africa and hence leads to an impression that all is always wrong in Africa. For example, African leaders have been heavily criticized for not being democratic but the same kind of publicity is not given to activities that seem to promote democracy in Africa as they are overlooked. Many African people have argued that more attention should focus on the good things of Africa to help erase the negative perceptions. Most likely, Africa itself has to do more positive things in order to overshadow the negative.

He however opined that the image of Africa in the media has changed over the last couple of years. The world cup hosted in South Africa in 2010 was generally seen as a huge success and has changed the image of Africa considerably. This has resulted in increased interest especially in German media regarding African issues and thus leading to a better analysis of Africa in media reports. Hans noted that there are an increasing number of documents and studies showing that there is an emerging Africa on the move. The example of the world cup shows that Africans should take every activity as an opportunity to portray a different picture to the outside world.

All said and done, fifty five years down the line after Ghana’s independence, President John Mills said a in his visit to Canada (in November 2011) that “We as African leaders have to sit down and ask ourselves; what have we done wrong? You see, if you allow others to dictate for you, if you allow others to take your destiny in their own hands, you have no control over how they are going to direct you. For far too long we listened to others, now it is not the question of they talking to us, they are now acting the way they see best, which is not always in our best interest. What is happening in Africa is not very pleasant, very palatable, and something that we can be proud of.”

As the Asian tigers continue to go, let the African lions emerge. Whether Africa is a lion about to pounce or a continent on the margin is a decision for us Africans to take on our own. Where we want to see ourselves tomorrow, we must be working towards that ultimate goal from now and it must be collective so that we must all be seen to be working towards the same goal. The situation where people sit back and expect only one group (mostly politicians) to achieve success for us will not lead us to success. The technocrats are always at their post whether party A, B or C is voted into power and therefore equal responsibility lies with the technocrats to do the right things as we demand the same from politicians. As long as we keep our old mindsets and attitudes, we will not excel. There is a saying that, when you keep doing things the same way, then you keep getting the same results. As Dr. Nkrumah once said after Ghana’s independence, “from now on we must change our attitude and our minds; we must realize that from now on we are no more a colonial but a free and independent people”. To reinforce this fact, various African leaders over the years have spoken about the need for Africa to be allowed to operate freely and Robert   Mugabe for example stated at the 2009 UN summit that, “the colonial sun in Africa set many years ago”. However, freedom comes with responsibilities and I think that we in Africa have not fully played our roles as far as our responsibilities are concerned. What do you think?

Judging from the opening quote from Dr Nkrumah and recent quotes from President Mills and President Mugabe, I would say that the lion has taken too long to pounce.


I acknowledge with gratitude the comments that I got from Thomas Zubeviel of Manchester University.

by Guuroh Reginald Tang (guuroh@yahoo.co.uk)

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