IS THE WEST HOLDING AFRICA BACK?

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Saturday comment2

African countries have no excuse for their failure, reckons Stanley Ochuko Omadogho

Is the surmised “exploitation” by Western countries a legitimate excuse for the economic disparity between Africa and the rest of the world?

Many in Africa opine it is a no-brainer, that their economies are simply succumbing to an interfering and overwhelming wind blowing from the West. They point to the laws of motion. An object with a defined trajectory can indeed be parried by an external force.

But when Africa complains about external influences holding the continent back – western manipulation to be precise – one can only reason: Which country isn’t battling with external influences? The US? Russia? Or China? In the end, the reaction of each country to the actions of others is what sorts out the men from the boys.

Action and reaction, Newton’s third law, is what you see playing out between the US and China, and between the US and Russia, creating thrilling dramas borne out of external influences.

For example, America sees China’s actions – aggressive and manipulative economic policies – as a threat to their economic exceptionalism. America reacts with tariffs.

China, on the other hand, sees America’s actions – the tariffs imposed on their goods – as a threat to their ambition for world dominance. They react with retaliatory tariffs. The result? A trade war.

Even more interesting, the actions and reactions between the US and Russia gave rise to the cold war, the space race, the nuclear arms race and the Mueller probe.

Here is what Africa can learn from the actions and reactions between the US and China – foresight, forward thinking, and circumspection. The tariffs and resulting trade war is hardly about soy beans, bicycle parts, and trade deficits. The bigger issues are unraveling: 5G, telecommunications, artificial intelligence. These represent millions of jobs in the future. It is about forcing, coercing or pressuring one party to reshape its industrial policy to prevent the wholesale theft of intellectual property and technology that will be used to build the industries of the future.

The point is, the US faces provocative actions from China and Russia, forcing a reaction from the defending world heavyweight champ. China and Russia face confrontational actions from the US, forcing these superpowers to react with economic and military aggression. Who comes out on top depends largely on who possesses the most efficient systems in the home front.

Even North Korea and Iran are currently feeling the external heat from US actions. Israel has to deal with the heat simmering within its neighbours. Everyone is under external pressure, bounced and jounced around by the waves of external influences. And everyone is reacting, not making excuses that render them sitting ducks, but demonstrating a desire to achieve a goal or to realize a dream.

That is how the world works: action and reaction. For Africa though, it seems to be action and confusion, action and repining and, ultimately, action and concession. Show me the reactions, or strategic counter-measures taken by African nations, however small, and we can be on the same page that Africa is the victim of insurmountable external influences.

So how does the continent react to external influences? When their negotiators strike trade deals with foreign corporations or governments, these deals favour the negotiators themselves, while throwing everyone else under the bus. The result? The polity throw themselves to the ground whining, complaining, and pushing the blame for their plight to governments and corporations thousands of miles away, the negotiators of these foreign players having done a great job securing lucrative deals for those they represent.

A good number of Africans also blame history, while overlooking their actions in the present, and in the end mortgaging their future to foreign financial institutions, through borrowed money that would again end up where it came from when these financial aids are embezzled.

Singapore and Vietnam have a history characterised by external influences. Approximately only 25 years after Singapore seized to be a “sleepy colonial outpost,” it became a first-world thriving economy without a single natural resource, currently knocking the US off the top spot in having the most competitive economy in the world.

“Vietnam is proof that any poor economy, no matter its history and cultural background, can alleviate poverty and industrialise with the right mix of policies,” according to Michael Schuman, a Bloomberg columnist.

On the flip side, if indeed Africa’s problems are external, stemming from the colonial era for example, then Newton’s first law of motion holds true in Africa:

A continent will remain still or at rest economically, and if set in motion on a policy path carved out for them, will remain on that doomed route headed for the burning Sun, unable to make any course corrections, unless nudged in a different direction by some higher force.

We can therefore ratiocinate with a good degree of confidence, that Newton’s laws of motion only prove one thing: African countries have no one else to blame but their failure to generate a concerted reaction to the carefully-crafted actions of foreign traders scheming for excellent trade deals.

With all the postulations about the West covertly orchestrating civil wars in Africa and fanning the flames of ethnic and religious violence, Africa has mostly been protected by international laws and conventions that protect their sovereignty. As such, western nations simply cannot scramble fighter jets and ground troops to occupy diamond mines or control oil acreages. Their calculations are perceived to be more covert, like sneaky moves on a chess board. The resulting invisibility creates an invincibility that only makes the West grandmasters in the art of the deal.

However clandestine or conspicuous the stratagem of the West might be, in the end, Africans fight their own wars but blame the suppliers of the weapons and divisive rhetoric. They steal their own money but blame the financial institutions abroad that accept the loot.

Ironically, their undying resolve to reject all unsolicited help from the West might actually be holding them back. The Arabs, on the other hand, have accepted a lifeline from the West, knowing that on their own they would struggle to build a thriving, tech-driven city in the desert. Today, the United Arab Emirates, a blooming oasis, is being designed and built largely by the British. The British have not stolen the desert oil, have they?

The British created a model of economic excellence while administering Hong Kong, a tour de force that started a wave of development now spreading across mainland China. And South Africa? Largely a British offshoot, you can only admire what the British have done with the place.

Africa needs help to cope with the in-conquerable maladies on this planet. They cannot do it on their own. Their fear that someone will steal their oil, their gold or their diamonds, while laying waste to their civilization, is unfounded.

South Africa might have its challenges, such as high unemployment and racial tensions, but it is a gem in Africa. While the British are commonly viewed as oppressive colonizers, the single profound truth everyone has missed completely is that the British have actually been a blessing to humanity, a blessing in disguise, having produced great nations like America and Australia, and powered the industrial revolution that has sharpened our world today. They are not Africa’s enemy. They can help Africa build her infrastructure.

With 30% of the remaining solid minerals in the world sitting in Africa, the continent can expect more external influences. C’est la vie. That is simply life. Driven by self-preservation, self-magnification, greed, power lust on a national scale, every country in the world is trying to influence and control every other country, stalking, scheming, calculating, and creating problems for those who are too weak in the home front. In the end, it is your reaction, not the actions of others, your alliances, not your isolation from others that defines your place in a world of prey and predators.

    Stanley.ochuko.omadogho@gmail.com