Can Africa resolve its political problems?

The US emerged from World War II quite a triumphant nation. Their cable television networks and colour magazines sent to the world images of fast
cars, twinkling skyscrapers and designer clothes to symbolise their prosperity.

Such images had an effect on Third World nations across the world. They created a potent symbol—a standard of defining development. The feeling was: If Third World nations wanted to develop, they had to emulate the US.

No wonder, during the 1960s and 70s, most African governments, in an attempt to ‘catch up with the US’, invested heavily in infrastructural development.

The US, again, through aid, poured so much money in this ‘catch up’ project. Development, in this case, was defined as a faithful emulation of the

But almost half a century of faithfully emulating the developed, is Africa, or Malawi, any closer to the US?

As African leaders and academics intensely and relentlessly condemned the West for creating structures that have left the continent poor through
neo-colonialism, other Third World countries, too, were intensely doing the opposite.

They were sincerely looking within their societies, pushing tough internal economical and social reforms and defining their politics and destiny.

One such country was China.

Today, China has blossomed like a giant flower unto the world. It has become a global economic giant to reckon with. There isn’t a nation that doesn’t want to work with China.

No wonder the story of emulating the Western development example has began to wane steadily across Africa today. All eyes are now on China.

During the commemoration of the Chinese New Year at the International Conference Centre, Lilongwe, President Bingu wa Mutharika called on
Malawians to copy the Chinese culture of harmony, determination and patriotism instead of following the West.

“They have given Malawi many new projects without preconditions or insistence that we adopt social, economic or political policies that harm
our national integrity. China is a true friend of Malawi,” he said.

Such sentiments, or something like it, can be heard a lot these days in Africa, where Chinese investment is building roads and railways, opening
textile factories and digging oil wells.

There is a general feeling that Africa stands to benefit if it emulates China’s development story. Of course, not everybody agrees. There are some
who still believe that Western ideals are still good for Africa.

Certainly, Africa, today, stands on another critical juncture of history. Should it remain with the Western ideals or adopt the Eastern principles?

As this debate rages on within African capitals, global powers’ interest in intervening and manipulating African national politics is also growing.

The continent is today the site of a growing contention between dominant Western global powers led by the US and new challengers led by China. Their motive is shared. They all want unlimited access to the continent’s resources, and also, control of Africa’s political and economic space.

Begin with the Eastern emerging global power, precisely, the Chinese. Their role on the continent is focused on two main activities: building
infrastructure and extracting raw materials.

For its part, the Indian state is content to support Indian mega-corporations; it has yet to develop a coherent state strategy. But the Indian focus, too, is mainly economic.

This contrasts with Western powers, particularly the US and France. Save for their historical role in Africa, today, the cutting edge of Western
intervention is military.

France’s search for opportunities for military intervention, at first in Tunisia, then Cote d’Ivoire, and then Libya, has been above board and the
subject of much discussion. Of greater significance is the growth of Africom, the institutional arm of US military intervention on the African

The challenge of choice Africa faces is the backdrop against which African leaders and their respective oppositions make their choices today. Unlike
during the Cold War, Africa’s leaders are weary of choosing sides in the new contention for Africa.

Of course, President Mutharika has bluntly called on Malawians to emulate the Chinese example. But not most leaders are doing that openly.

Exemplified by President Museveni of Uganda, most African leaders seek to gain from multiple partnerships. They welcome the Chinese and the Indians on the economic plane, while at the same time seeking a strategic military presence with the US as it wages its war on terror on the African continent.

In contrast, African oppositions tend to look mainly to the West for support, both financial and military. It is no secret that in just about every African country, the opposition is drooling at the prospect of Western intervention in the aftermath of the fall of Gaddafi.

So what is the future of Africa?

Emerging Eastern global powers want Africa to their side. So, too, do Western global powers. At the same time, Africa’s national capitals are
debating which side of development thought they should emulate.

Since the advent of colonialism, Africa’s development path has relentlessly been dictated by contentions of external powers that, through their
financial gestures, have always manipulated the continent to their motives.

This has brought quite an awkward development face for Africa. It is the only continent that attempts to dare development using outside forces.

Colonialism created an impression that the West had the best ideas for Africa. So, too, has been the post-colonial experience. Through massive
inflow of aid which has created a spirit of dependency, Africa has had little chance to sincerely examine itself and define its politics and destiny.

Surely, the worst historical sin Africa can commit in this new contention is to let its people delve into choosing which ideals they should emulate.

Whether Africa goes East or maintains its relations with the West is not an intelligent question anymore. The right question Africa should be asking
today is the one Alain Touraine, speaking on behalf of Unesco, posed to the world in 1988.

He asked: “Why should Africa search herself elsewhere rather than within herself?”

The story of development has one common denominator: Development evolves from within. A nation’s social and economic transformation is a process that begins from within. Unfortunately, most countries in Africa lack this denominator.

Africa is a continent that easily gets trapped with the gestures of global powers. It is a continent with national capitals that make decisions based
on the perceived welfare of other nations.

Michael Jana, Chancellor College political science lecturer, currently studying for his PhD in South Africa, knows better the motives of nations in
international relations.

“In international relations, there is rarely anything like benevolence; national interest takes precedence,” says Jana.

He continues: “From financial aid, military intervention to massive investments, all are aimed at primarily advancing the interests of the
intervening country and then at the secondary level, the ‘beneficiary’—if possible.”

Surely, it is high time Africa began to develop an agenda from within. But how can a continent with a development path that is always dictated by
powerful external forces define its own agenda and destiny?

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