Africa is Rising: Behind the Scenes

Nafissatou Tine has worked as a lawyer for almost five years, during which she created a website designed to act as a reference guide for Senegalese law practitioners and service providers. She has also been involved in the activities of the Women Association Lingeer, which she co-founded and which promotes African women through arts and culture.

L’Afrique noire est mal partie: Africa is off to a bad start. This is the title of René Dumond’s premonitory book written in 1962. In his book, the author criticizes strenuously the agricultural policies adopted by the new African states within a context of decolonization and the euphoria of independence. Though the book deals with agricultural policies, the same title could be applied to economic, cultural and military policies that have failed to yield the expected results.

Several complex factors can explain our failures. The most striking of these is the fact that decolonization occurred only on paper, while the mindsets remain colonized. In the wake of independence, dependency treaties were signed with the former colonizers. Though Western political models were blindly duplicated, re-establishing and improving our own indigenous institutions would have been best fit our conception of society. Moreover, external and competing powers have been shaping our policies with the complicity of incompetent leaders largely driven by their own interests and that of their entourage.

Nafissastou addresses the group during a constitution-making simulation. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
Nafissatou addresses the group during a constitution-making simulation. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

Therefore, over the last 50 years and notwithstanding strengths such as our youth, raw materials, fertile soils, wildlife, beaches, sun and water etc.; most African countries have been marked by wars, famines, epidemics and massive external debt. To save them, they have been bombarded by aid of all kinds, provided by international rescuers who are not always inspired by humanitarian aims. Up until today, one of the wealthiest continents in the world in terms of natural resources remains unable to respond to the most basic needs (food, education and health) of its people, and even less able to guarantee territorial security.

During this particular time when the threat of terrorism is destabilizing our continent, Africa tends to outsource the strategic task of its defense to “rescuers” who are seeking a respectable justification to secure wells and mines, or an endangered ‘protégé’. But who is to blame for our fate? We have been inexorably pointing out the responsibility of foreign powers. In their defense, they are legitimately preserving their own interests and the material well-being of their people. In contrast, our leaders are mostly concerned about diverting our assets in tax havens, ‘their heaven,’ breaking opposition and holding on to power.

Following long periods of growing Afro-pessimism, here are just a few of the headlines of respectable international journals in recent years: Africa rising; A hopeful continent; Emerging Africa; and Africa – the great opportunity.

But for whom is Africa rising, emerging and providing opportunities? What is the continent hopeful for?

Global demand of Africa’s resources is increasing, and the major powers hope to secure their needs in terms of raw materials and fertile soils. Multinationals operating in strategic sectors have risen, and foreign investors are hoping for a higher and rapid return on investments. The GDP of a few African countries is also rising, along with the bank deposits of a few African kleptocratic elites. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Africans declare they cannot “eat economic growth.” While more and more Chinese and European migrants are seeking opportunities in our continent, the cost of living and the unemployment levels are relentlessly rising. Furthermore, hope among youth for a better life is decreasing.

The scramble for the big cake of Africa is being repeated with some of our leaders taking the role of insane traders of our future. In order to break this vicious circle, solutions to Africa’s problems must receive answers arising directly from the Africans themselves. To realize this, a critical mass of skilled and educated Africans dedicated to thinking for our future are needed. My hopes lie on our new generation of young African leaders who feel a sense of duty to stop the looting of Africa, and enhance their people’s lives. Here are some areas where I believe that reforms could significantly change lives of generations of Africans: Agriculture, Education, Institutions and Defense.

With respect to agriculture, better management of fertile lands and policies supporting local farmers and promoting jobs in agriculture could help to deal with our food security. To emerge many Africans from poverty, our education system must teach our children how to feed our people, how to enhance the value of our raw resources; how to understand ICT systems, and how to develop the manufacturing sector. With regards to institutions, a deep reform that will facilitate fair distribution of power and accountability among several stakeholders of our societies would help increase transparency, notably in the management of Public Finances. Furthermore, to address our global, regional, trans-regional and trans-national security challenges, a skilled, well-equipped and united African Army is needed desperately.

In a system trapped in corruption and impunity, the task of turning around the fate of our people, even to a modest level, might appear daunting for young leaders. Nevertheless, as a colleague put it: “He who wishes to bring positive change in a failed system ought to sup with the devil using a long spoon, while retaining the conscience of an angel.”