26 May 2011

Africa And the West


The relationship between the western countries and Africa is over 500 years now. At the beginning, it was based on the conquest of the African people and forceful takeover of African land and resources.

The people were subjected to direct colonial rule after the Berlin conference of 1884/85 where the African continent was arbitrarily divided between European powers without any single African representation.

This direct oppression, subjugation and suppression of the free will of the Africans lasted for almost a century in some cases. Flag independence came about 50 years ago for most of those Black countries.

Soon after political independence, neo-colonialism set in. Most of the African leaders at independence were trained in Europe and America.

They attended western universities and institutes. They were attracted to the western model of development and the west did everything to encourage them in this, even though it was not truly adapted to the African situation.

This is because they adopted the western pattern of a consumer society. But due to the fact that they had not previously achieved the level of production which such a pattern demands, they could do nothing but go bankrupt.

As soon as they started going bankrupt, they piled up debts which led to the World Bank/IMF prescribing drastic measures for economic recovery and the appointment of "advisors" for the African governments that were indebted to creditor clubs. The advisors turned out to be bad, although the bad advisors were not necessarily dishonest or malevolent.

However, they were fundamentally ignorant of African realities and they also had a blind faith in the universal virtues of the western model of development. But what created the wealth of Europe and America could not make that of Africa.

It is therefore very clear that the main cause of the African catastrophe is to be sought, not in political ideologies or economic options, but quite simply in the false idea of development which the western example and advice inculcated in these African countries and from which they have never been able to extricate themselves: the town and industry led to a contempt of the village and agriculture which should be the two fundamental bases, according to many discerning analysts.

But global priorities have shifted and the depth of the economic crisis has made progress towards eradicating poverty and hunger, particularly in Africa, harder over the past few years.

At the same time, African farmers are coping with the effect of climate change. But slow progress up a steep hill isn't the same as failure, says Mr. Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, a distinguished African in his own right. If one looks at Malawi, the country has been self-sufficient in maize for the past few years. And last year it exported maize to Kenya. Ghana, here in West Africa, is an example of the success that is possible and of a commitment to try new approaches.

To turn this trend into a widespread revolution requires action at four levels: investing in breadbasket areas which have greater agricultural potential; expanding rural infrastructure; expanding regional trade by lowering tariffs and non-tariff barriers; and reducing risks associated with climate change - droughts and floods - through different adaptation mechanisms, including improved weather forecasting and promoting crop insurance schemes.

Across Africa, smallholder farmers are leading the advance towards a greener, sustainable future, whereby the continent is able to feed itself, put an end to poverty and even make agriculture profitable. The support they need begins with investing in improved farm inputs, such as higher-yielding seeds and fertilizers, and getting these into the hands of smallholder farmers.

It also means training a new generation of researchers and support institutions who are working to introduce new crop varieties. It means promoting policies at all levels of government to increase farmers' access to credit and improved management of land and water resources. And it means investing in infrastructure, such as better roads, storage and warehouse facilities and food processing plants.

Of course, transformation on this scale requires huge investment if it is to become reality quickly. After all, the total land area available for agriculture in Africa is greater than that of western Europe, the US, China and India combined. But Africa's agricultural production lags behind every continent, is just one quarter the world average, and nearly a third of Africa's population is malnourished.

Governments, private companies, non-profit organizations, and multilateral institutions must all work in alignment to support this change because agriculture holds the key to the ultimate survival of Africa. With the right focus and sufficient political support, African agriculture can be a powerful engine for eradicating poverty and hunger, boosting economic growth and ensuring sustainable development.

The transition to post -colonial rule from the 1960s was largely effected by a freedom-fighting leadership, but whatever achievements there were did not completely translate into the anticipated socio-economic development. It must be made clear that Africans don't want neo-colonialism anymore.

This is why Africa is demanding mutual accountability from the development partners, if really they are partners. The idea that African partners can raise the bar for Africa while they operate below it cannot be allowed to continue. There is need for proper partnership, not the old way of talking down to Africa, even though respect and recognition is earned. The future belongs to the brave.

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