The Development Agenda in Africa

Guest Writer
23 September ,2014

by Shillah Memusi

For as long as I can remember, there has always been conversation about development on the African continent, where the terms “African Development” and “Development in Africa” were used interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing. I believe that the two are completely different concepts, distinguished mainly by their drivers, and consequently, the depth and breadth of outreach and transformation.

African Development is an old, pre-colonial concept, one characterized by economy with a conscious: its politics are ideological and consultative, not selective and purely exploitative. It is void of pure self-interest and uncontrolled greed, where destitution is a cause for shame, not another money-making venture. Its basic ethos are founded on community and the common good.

This concept ensures that the family, as the basic unit of a society, is founded on service and responsibility. Selfishness is frowned upon and evil doers get ostracised, not celebrated. African Development is driven by the people, for the people – those who know where the shoe pinches and exactly how adjustments should be made to ease the pain. Its success lies in home-grown solutions, not third-party prescriptions with a high risk of misdiagnosis.

It is not one to be romanticized, though, it has flaws – slavery being its worst.

Times change and adaptability is key, but so is the sense of responsibility especially if one holds a position of authority. With great power comes great responsibility, but in the world today, Sub-Saharan Africa especially, this has been turned into a hard task of ensuring that a minority continue to prosper as the powerless majority wallows in poverty and an unnecessarily difficult life. It is therefore important that as Africans, we revisit our sense of responsibility; to understand that one lives not for themselves, but for others. We need to revive our sense of collective action – community. We are certainly vocal on social media, but clicktivism without dedicated action plans does nothing to change the status quo and effect change.

We are so caught up in making our life better that we forget that one can only be great if the environment they are in supports greatness. How is one supposed to pursue greatness in an environment where insecurity continues to be a concern? An environment where the oppressed have no option but to disrupt the peace, for example by committing robbery, just to fend for themselves. An environment where they often resort to violence as a way of highlighting their plight, for example the constant protests by hawkers in Nairobi. We  choose to overlook these disruptions as a cry for help – a cry for visibility.

Development in Africa, on the other hand, is a colonial concept. One characterized by re-written narratives that will continue to plague us even after we have cut down all our forests and replaced them with malls and skyscrapers. It is the birthright of capitalism: borderless economies, and modernity without progress in humanity.

A foreign construct of the politics of progress, Development in Africa is a comparative disorder of Africa versus the others – those at the core of the current world order – whether you prefer to call them the West or the Global North, and the new world order.

It is a phenomenon driven by a tyranny of experts and their warped sense of solidarity with us. This is why the Bretton Woods institutions will not acknowledge the failure of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), but are instead quick to provide alternative development policy frameworks. Frameworks that our leaders will, thanks to their short-sightedness and having greed-bones where their backbones should be, agree to. Frameworks that work hard to ensure that even our nth descendants will be born into massive debt.

Development in Africa has introduced an “otherness” to relationships between economies, the “Global North” vs the “Global South”, that only worsens our situation. Its warped sense of solidarity and responsibility is founded on the premise that we can only be of help to others if our realities are absolutely contrasted. This responsibility continuously seeks validation for existence, and is deeply founded on inequality as the path to seeking equality – it stems from the realization of just how different we are from the “others”. Development in Africa basically institutionalizes our failures, and we do little to change the narrative. If anything, we have become co-authors of our failure, both in action and words. We distance ourselves from the institutions we have created, the leaders we have elected, and the shame they have become – the shame that is in all ways our shame.

Yes, we are working to re-write our stories: we call out foreign media houses when they misrepresent us, and headlines/stories are changed. This happens a little too often, though. Why is that so? Perhaps they don’t particularly take us seriously, however, we don’t take ourselves too seriously either. We continue to consume their political propaganda and their expression of reality, and that is why we continue to see each other as different. This leads to our children growing up without a shred of responsibility to others, and to a great extent, over themselves.

African Development is about celebrating our strengths and doing our best to reverse the shameful narratives. We have lost this in the wave of Development in Africa, where shame forms the epicentre of intervention, and our strengths as a people are conveniently ignored most of the time. Development has in itself become a business unit, this is why the development sector continues to expand, yet there is an apparent lack of sincerity to actually meet the development needs.

If we are to be truly honest with ourselves, the only development needs the world should be faced with today are emergency responses to natural disasters and outbreaks, such as the current Ebola one. We should be past children dying of malnutrition, maternal mortality and recurrent droughts – routine problems if I may term them such.

This can happen, and it has happened not only in certain European countries, but in an African country as well – Libya (with Rwanda hot on its heels). The case of Libya however presents a classic example of the difference between the two development discourses, and the effect of buying into foreign definitions of what it means to be truly developed. Libyans enjoyed free education and healthcare, and regardless of what others might argue, human development.

However, Libya today is a testament to what happens when democracy as a key factor in Development in Africa, is used to thwart all efforts towards achieving African Development. I have nothing against democracy but as in all things, the difference lies in how the “purpose” is pursued.

Until we as citizens take the reins back, until our leaders selfishly guard our interests and realise that to truly be a ‘life president/leader’, you must have the common good at heart, Africa will continue to be plagued by routine problems such as drought and high mortality rates, regardless of our vast resources – both natural and human. It is all about what and who drives us.

Shillah Memusi is a public policy researcher with particular interests in gender and development, representations, and participatory governance. Follow her on Twitter @La_Ndito

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