There is a certain anomaly that exists in Africa that is often not talked about. A narrative that attempts to cast African nations as needy beggars and the Western world as generous donors. Not only is this narrative wrong, but it has also continued to form clogs in the wheels of Africa’s journey to development and an intentional opportunity to own its destiny.
It is without a doubt that African people have been subjected to the very worst kinds of difficulties, slights, deprivation, and violence over the years. It is so much such that except for Asia in geophysical terms and the Jews in ethnic terms, Africans have faced the worst kinds of brutality on the planet.
For over five centuries, the West has continuously stolen, looted, and devastated Africa’s resources without remorse. Debased the humanity of its people and rendered them worthless. In exchange for that, they have left the continent on its knees with nothing to show for all the resources nature embedded under its crust. To make matters worse, the West is solely responsible for the rent-seeking system that is in place today in many African countries that have rendered their economies unproductive and has continued to fuel corruption and graft among it’s leaders.
This injustice has helped in fueling the narrative that Africa is a poor continent, hence the need for other richer parts of the world to give aid to it out of its generosity. The sad reality is that Africa is actually very rich, and the only continent could survive by itself with Western imperialism but the Western world has continued to connive with a select few in the continent to steal from her and keep her on the ground.
The truth is that, restoring Africa to where it ought to be, does not require the efforts of the West which were actually responsible for plunging it to where it is at the moment. All that is required is for the West to stop stealing and interfering in the affairs of the continent it will blossom in little or no time.
The West has always taken advantage of the instrumentality of the aid they provide to interfere in the activities of African countries that they perceive as not being human enough or not rational enough. On the grounds of aids, they have managed to summon the ostensible force to whip African governments into behaving how they want them to.
They have clearly ignored the fact that there is no justification for the use of foreign aid as leverage for externally instigated political reform or even regime change as they have done in some of the countries in Africa. The argument that their foreign aid is fair enough bargain to gain these latitudes is both morally problematic and empirically questionable.
First, using the aid argument to demand for respect for human rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms inadvertently suggest the advocates would care less if the governments at fault were not aid recipients.
Second, and more deeply problematic, is the erroneous assumption that all aid is benign and charitable. Aid is not always a free gift. It serves a range of diplomatic and defence purposes for the benefactors. Geostrategic calculations and long-term economic goals are part of the aid calculus. That is why the neediest nations are not necessarily the leading recipients of aid, and it is partly the reason aid flows continue even when not serving the officially stated purpose for the ostensible beneficiaries. If it is serving the intended goals for the givers, it matters less whether aid actually makes a difference to the recipients.
Also, seen at another level aid is some kind of business that serves the career interests of decision-makers and employees who have vested interests that may stand quite apart from the needs and rights of supposed beneficiaries.
More broadly, exporting democracy through military intervention and the use of levers of financial power can scarcely deliver the kind of sustainable, accountable, and stable political systems that advocates otherwise want to root for. There are countless tragic cases all over the world.
What is more, even from strict economic efficacy and impact, the aid argument sits on a decidedly shaky platform. Critics have long shown that foreign aid, particularly bilateral and multilateral grants and loans along with certain types of humanitarian aid, in part driven by the ‘white man’s burden,’ has hurt rather than helped the African continent. If in fact aid were such an indispensable source of pulling poor countries out of the trap of poverty, today Africa wouldn’t be occupying the lowest rungs of official growth and development indices.
Western ‘friends’ of Africa who are so concerned and determined to do good for the continent, to be sure, have African citizens keen to embrace foreign support, often oblivious of the condescension embedded in narratives that seek to ‘save’ Africa. Ordinarily, outside solidarity and well-meaning support should be welcome, but only if prudently channelled towards a sound indigenous strategy and the viable pursuit of meaningful transformation rather than the perpetuation of dependence and domination.
Western paternalism of old, of seeing African as always hopelessly in need of being saved by outsiders, cannot bring about the change we need. The continent has been the focus of an army of experts in academia, the media and technocratic corridors of Western institutions and governments.
They have authored policy papers and blueprints for the World Bank, testified before lawmakers in the EU, UK and US, designed and implemented aid programmes for DFID and USAID. They are experts at leading Western universities treated with authorial reverence and bestowed on near intellectual invincibility as the definitive voices on specific African countries.
The struggle for African socioeconomic and political liberation has to be anchored in African agency not foreign ‘saviour mentality’ that supposedly seeks to save a helpless people. Whether it is economic emancipation or political liberation, the sources and forces of change have to be organically situated among African peoples. This is a no-brainer.
African liberation agendas have historically built on Pan-African ideals articulated and pursued from within the continent and among the Diasporas since the era of abolition. Today, freedom is spoken of as a universal value and practice, but for a long time it was nearly conceived as exclusive to one race until at least the Haitian Revolution started the processes of its universalisation.