By Dr Fatai O. Badmus
Why does the continent defy the laws of physics?
Since the late 17th Century, inferences from Sir Isaac Newton’s expositions on the motions of bodies tiny and large have helped humankind to understand some of the most basic principles of life on planet earth, including the evolution of organisations and societies. For example, Newton’s third law of motion – commonly paraphrased as “action and reaction are always equal and opposite”- specifies a commensurate outcome for the expenditure of energy or resources in macrosystems.This commensurate outcome should be predictable and underpins the remarkable efficiency of natural ecosystems. Very many societies evince compliance with this law in the steady and largely predictable onward march of their material, cultural and ethical development. Their investments of effort, time and treasure in the development of their societies has more or less consistently borne visible rich fruit in their material circumstances. But Africa bucks the trend. Despite being home to a sizeable proportion of the world’s population as well as abundant and accessible resources, Africa lags seriously behind, as shown by most production, productivity and developmental indices. A stark illustration of this conundrum is the infographic of world GDP (2018. Source: “HowMuch.net, a financial literacy website”) above that uncomfortably suggests that Africa is basically a sideshow in the value-added part of the world economy. This sad state is an embarrassment, not only to Africans but to all people of conscience worldwide. Essentially, Africa is having very little to show for the fact that her human and natural resources are not only exclusively fuelling the development of other parts of the world, but worse still are in fact being depleted at an alarming rate.
Just imagine a very pretty young lady that all the young (and many not so young) men in the village want to date and go to bed with but who is gradually getting exhausted and producing numerous illegitimate children. None of the myriad philanderers is remotely interested in any commitment to a decent relationship; all they want is to constantly ravish her, sometimes against her will. In the end, the poor lady will succumb to exhaustion or disease, most likely to both. The foregoing is an apt allegory for where Africa currently is and how she got there. It also tells of the dark portents for the continent if nothing changes in the way Africans (especially African leaders) unthinkingly allow the wanton pillaging of Africa’s natural resources and the brazen exploitation of her peoples.
The Trillion-Naira question is, “How come Africa’s resources are being used up without there being an equivalent transformation into production, productivity and development?”There are many long-winded explanations and potential solutions to this enduring puzzle. But in the end, in all simplicity, it is a leadership vision thing. And Africa has largely lacked effective leadership vision for centuries, directly leading to poor or truncated development.
Africa is so much the poorer for this; and so is the rest of the world, unfortunately. Whose vision matters and why bother anyway? To properly understand and answer these questions, a peep into comparative biology can be helpful. Among many animal groups, the leader is usually the most physically powerful, cognitively endowed and generally experienced. The leader’s outlook or vision determines what happens to the whole pack and manifests in things ranging from the ability to sense or understand weather patterns to correctly deciphering the intentions of rival packs to avoid confrontations and unnecessary casualties wherever possible.
In short, if the leader lacks this essential vision attribute, the very survival of the pack could be endangered. Crucially, if circumstances compel those with leadership potential to leave the group and they do not return, other less able members may become leaders and when they do, it may prove too early in their developmental cycles. This outcome never bodes well for the individual concerned and is certainly to the costly detriment of the pack as a whole.
Without a doubt, the emergence of visionary leadership in all human and animal settings is the outcome of the interplay of nature and nurture. This development of sociologically adequate vision in a leader comes from talent, ability and experience, in equal measure. In the early stages of this dynamic and within a narrow limit, reduction in one of these components causes suboptimal leadership performance, even if there are commensurate increases in the other two. When there is continued reduction or persistence of the imbalance however, leadership vision deficit arises, which in turn results in “mission impossible” as far as the objective of leading the group is concerned!
Talent x Ability x Experience =Leadership vision. Many pundits from Africa and elsewhere have proffered myriad solutions and even prescriptions for the general and embarrassing underdevelopment of the continent. But these solutions and prescriptions have largely been ineffective, principally because they are medicines for the wrong illnesses. Worse still, in many cases, the medicines are theoretically superb but the prescribers and Africans alike inevitably get caught up in the effort to find ailments to treat with these medicines.
A veritable exercise in futility! Meanwhile, the real problem is the spectacular vision-lessness of most leaders at the various levels of social organisation in Africa. Unless and until this is robustly addressed and fixed, Africa will indefinitely remain in the doldrums. There are four main ways to remedy Africa’s vision deficit: Firstly, African leaders must finally realise and accept that their own apparent comfort in the midst of their squalidly poor and long-suffering brethren is not “ubuntu” and that they will thereby never be truly safe or secure. Neither will they be in any position to leave any meaningful legacy.
Secondly, the African masses must awaken to the realisation of their collective power; they must be emboldened to demand more from their leaders and to unceremoniously and summarily kick the more useless ones out of office. Thirdly, the African diaspora must engage more constructively with Africa and contribute more to generating 20/20 vision in African leaders; remaining distant and/or armchair critics of the current inept leaders is pointless, wasteful and ultimately futile.
Lastly, the rest of the world must realise that continuing to milk Africa of resources without equitable recompense harms both sides because an underdeveloped Africa is (a) unable to properly add value to the rest of the world and (b) becomes a breeding ground for all sorts of problems that go on to cause mayhem around the globe.
Dr Badmus is a philosopher and public affairs commentator.