On January 18, 1907, Winston Churchill confessed to the National Liberal Club, London that he had never seen countries so fertile and beautiful outside Europe as those of East Africa. “There are parts of East African Protectorate which in their beauty, in the coolness of the air, in the richness of the soil, in their verdure, in the abundance of running water, in their fertility – parts which absolutely surpass any of the countries which I have mentioned, and challenge comparison with the fairest regions of England, France, or Italy. I have seen in Uganda a country which from end to end is a garden – inexhaustible, irrepressible, and exuberant fertility upon every side – and I cannot doubt the great system of lakes and waterways, which you cannot fail to observe if you look at the large map of Africa, must one day become the great center of tropical production, and play a most important part in the economic development of the whole world”. Notwithstanding the vast natural and human potential in Africa as a whole, poverty is increasing in absolute and relative terms, life expectancy declining, functional illiteracy rising, health systems collapsing, hunger spreading and deepening, violence and crime rising, and environmental degradation spreading in rural and urban areas. What has gone wrong in a rich continent?
The implementation of the system of comparative advantage since the colonial days has condemned Africa to the production and export of low value primary commodities. In the process, Africa especially Sub-Saharan Africa, has been excluded from industrialization which is essential in combating poverty and its negative offshoots through backward and forward linkages and value addition. Development programs since the 1950s have also largely bypassed the poorest and most needy Africans.
The new wave of democratization has yet to deliver on transparency, accountability, broad and meaningful participation by all stakeholders in decisions that affect their lives, empowerment especially of women and education of girls, observance of human rights and establishment of political stability. Elections alone whether fair or not are not enough. In some cases they have legitimized illegitimate regimes. Meanwhile corruption, sectarianism, greed, nepotism, inequality, divide, dispossess, impoverish and dominate have gained momentum. What must be done?
The African leadership must rethink the development policies, strategies and programs developed since the 1980s under the guidance of the Washington Consensus which has been abandoned because it did not deliver. It should also stop taking peasants for granted and as docile. This rethinking exercise must be undertaken in full collaboration with the citizens and development partners. To the greatest extent possible citizens must use their sovereign right to set their development, social and cultural priorities with support as appropriate from central and external support taking into consideration local circumstances because there is not one-size which fits all situations.
The state should intervene strategically to address the imperfections of the market mechanism and private sector. Such state intervention is not a reintroduction of socialism as some people have argued. These efforts should be supported, not initiated, by the international community.
The African leadership must also make every effort to create an enabling political, infrastructural and institutional environment essential for equitable, sustained and sustainable development. The removal of economic and political obstacles should enable African countries to develop their vast natural and human assets and the African people to escape from poverty, disease, illiteracy and hunger and to participate efficiently and effectively in the global economy.