Africa: A rich continent of poor people

tea farmers harvesting at a farm
Africa is ranked as one of the top exporters of tea, coffee and other agricultural produce - File Photo

Why is it that Africa has for decades failed and is still failing to attain a sustainable fundamental economic transformation despite the fact it is abundantly endowed with rich natural resources?

For decades these have been used to advance development in other countries. The problem is that Africa’s socio-economic and political systems have been and are still birthing leaders who are myopic, self-seekers, unpatriotic, unadventurous, and who are lacking in innovation.

Even in this 21st century, the continent is still lacking transformative leaders to steer it in the right direction.

 In fact, in my recent discussion with Jacob Simmons, a retired American development economics professor, he pointed out that, “Africa’s major problem, in her development journey, is transformative leadership deficiency.” He went on to say that, “Africans themselves must rise up and effectively deal with this problem, if they are to benefit from their countries’ rich natural resources.”

 His words were echoed by DR Macharia Munene, a political science and international relations scholar based in Nairobi, Kenya who told this writer that, “until Africa rises up and decisively deals with its transformative leadership deficiency problem, the continent will continue to lag behind other continents in the world in all aspects of development.”

Most African leaders are transactional leaders, interested mainly in satisfying, their egoistic agendas of wealth accumulation and power retention by using their countries’ resources. Corruption in the continent is the way of life today and is being used as a system of governance by incumbent leaders in rewarding their loyalists with juicy jobs and multi-billion contracts.

Uganda has since 2000 been losing more than $500 million annually to corruption. Other countries like Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Angola are losing more than that to corruption.

The money that is supposed to provide for these facilities is diverted for personal enrichment, in most cases by the leaders themselves, their family members or by the people who are loyal to them or by people who are business associates with them.

No wonder in Africa the easiest way to make and attain enormous wealth in the shortest time possible is through joining politics or by establishing close links with people who have political powers.

 It is only countries like Rwanda, Mauritius, Cape Verde and Botswana that have for the last eight years managed to fight off corruption through transparency and accountability.

Rwanda, which in 1994 was severely affected by genocide, has, under leadership of President Paul Kagame, put its ugly past behind and moved on to become a shining example of how a corruption-free country can attain accelerated development. The country’s excellent infrastructure is attracting large volumes of foreign-direct investments.

Fifty-two percent of world’s arable land is in Africa. The continent is also a home to the world’s large expanse of dry lands that is estimated to be covering about 2 billion hectares.

The continent can feed half of the world’s population with enough food. But the leadership in the continent is doing very little to effectively utilize this precious land resource.

The continent is facing severe food shortages which in some areas, like northeastern Kenya, Somalia, Darfur, northern Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda’s Karamoja region has led to a massive death toll.

 Millions of families in the continent cannot afford to have two meals a day, while others’ survival is pegged to humanitarian aid organizations. Every morning I wake up and ask myself what is the use of having a leadership that has all the resources to use but is failing to plan for and meet its people’s needs?

African leaders and tribal chiefs are also beneficiaries of land grabbing bonanza, ongoing in various African countries. They have been cited in several reports to be collaborating with Chinese and western owned companies to dish large tracts of governments and community-owned lands to them.

China may not admit it but it is funding its citizens to acquire millions of hectares of land in Africa to grow food and biofuels for exports back home. Western countries are also doing the same. These foreign companies are also offering irresistible money offers to African farmers in exchange for their land.

Many have had their lands bought and many are still selling. If nothing is done to stop this practice, millions of Africans will soon find themselves landless and turned into slaves in their own continent. What a shame!

Research indicates that 40 percent of Africa’s citizens in the continent are living below the poverty line, surviving on less than $1 per day. In Emuhaya district in western Kenya, Pauline Akinyi, a mother of six children narrated to me how her three children are not attending primary school near by her home simply because she cannot afford to buy books and pencils for all her children.

She went on to tell me that she has applied for help from an NGO operating in her region, which has promised her that it will soon be helping her in meeting the school needs of her three children.

 In every place you go to in Africa, you will come across either an NGO or CBO promoting this and that, ranging from human rights issues, food security, good governance, education, orphans’ rights, women’s rights, transparency and accountability, instead of business and vocational incubation centers, which to me, is what the continent needs.

The continent is increasingly becoming a non-governmental organization and community-based organization powered and driven region, which is a pity because many of these organizations are mostly engaged in promoting a hand-out mentality. Therefore, millions of Africans are persistently failing to use the rich continental resources at their disposal to create wealth.

The continent is richly blessed with lakes that contain various fish species. But surprisingly, very few people in the continent are feeding on fish meal because prices are very expensive and out of reach for millions of poor citizens.

Countries such as Congo, Zambia, Angola, Nigeria, Libya, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea are richly endowed with mineral resources such as oil, timber, copper, uranium, and among others that are being exploited by politicians, unscrupulous international businessmen and foreign companies.

These mineral resources are also being used by developed countries, to advance technological development such as nuclear and ICT technology in which Africa is not a participant.

Equatorial Guinea earns over $2 billion dollars, but still has slightly more than 500,000 people living below the poverty line. Meanwhile, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, his family members and loyalists own expensive property abroad in addition to running various dollar accounts in these cities.

DR Congo, with all the rich natural resources, has some of the worst road and health facilities in the world. Its late President Mobutu used its resources for personal enrichment and at one point in time he was in the list of the richest people in the world with millions of dollars and property abroad. The country’s gold, diamond, uranium, timber, tin and copper are being exploited by warlords operating in various parts of the country.

In sum, real transformation can only be birthed by transformative leaders. If Africa is to attain a sustainable, fundamental economic transformation that meets the expectations of its citizens, it will have to be led by transformative leaders as opposed to today’s transactional leaders.

As Africans, it’s high time we realize that development of our continent is purely a responsibility of us the Africans. We must therefore rise up and fight off today’s transactional leaders and replace them with transformative leaders.

If we don’t, history will judge us harshly. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

By Moses Hategeka, Ugandan-based independent governance researcher, public affairs analyst and Dispatch contributor