Michael Matogo on Africa

Editorial Note

Few places in the world have suffered so much from the bad advice of socialist and welfare economists as Africa. When many African counties have a lower standard of living now than they did as colonies, after decades of nationalistic protectionism and foreign money, then something curious has happened, something not easily explained by the clichés of Marxist anti-colonialism.

Presently, there is an international campaign to forgive the debt of Third World countries. This happy outcome could be accomplished simply by the countries defaulting and declaring bankruptcy. That is usually not thought to be a good solution because they would then not be able to get more loans. That, however, would be the best thing possible. Nothing good will ever be accomplished until the fictions of foreign "aid" and top-down development are abandoned.

Michael Matogo, who sent the following observations about the plight of Africa, has lived in Zambia, the United Kingdom, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. He has now returned to his parents' homeland, Uganda, and is currently working at McCann-Erickson international as a media planner. I don't think I am quite as pessimistic as Mr. Matogo. Not recolonization, but simply the truths of political economy are needed. But when even most Americans, who benefit the most from them, are somewhat embarrassed by such truths, endorsing hopeless attempts at economic and social engineering, what is one to expect?

Some indication of what could have been, or what could be, in Africa may be derived from Thomas Sowell's treatment of Ghana in his Conquests and Cultures, An International History [Basic Books, 1998, pp.140-146]. At the time of independence, the British colony of the Gold Coast had a higher per capita income than other African countries. A majority of its export earnings were from cocoa. Contrary to anti-colonialist expectations, the cocoa business, from production to dealers to exporters, was in the hands of Africans. The business ended up ruined, not from colonial exploitation by the British, but from nationalizations and price-fixing by the post-independence national governments. Time and again this sad story, obscured by the mists of leftist rhetoric, has been repeated elsewhere on the continent.

The Burden of a Great Legacy.. But a Dismal Future

Currently this continent which is so blessed with natural endowments has totally lacked the capacity to put them to use. This predicament is far from a present phenomenon; in fact one wonders what age Africa would be living in if it was not for colonialism.

Africa as a continent suffers from an inferiority complex resulting from an inherent lack of character. Our greatest intellectual refuge is our scanty past of Egypt, which acts as our basis for justification for our ability to attain internationally equality. But that leads me to ask were the Ancient Egyptians Black Africans? Besides that, ancient Greece was the home of civilisation, but look at that nation today. Must it bask in its former glory? Suppose we were not glorious; is success unattainable? Surely America's history is much more recent, but today it happens to be the only superpower. Besides that there are facts and factors that led to the fall of Egypt. Because a state really is strong, that automatically makes it resistant not to change but to total annihilation....due to an innate faculty of self-criticism that strives for perfection as a goal (though it might be elusive).

Africa's intellectual class are totally bereft of solutions to their problems, and they lack creativity. I am coming to the belief that conservatism merged with philosophy breeds bigotry. But this intellectual sequence is a non sequitur because the latter (philosophy) should free while the former (conservatism) enslaves. Thus an inherent crisis occurs; while Shakara preached that knowledge frees, in Africa it enslaves. Thus the leaders lack the direction and the followers end up lost. Africa has never been a philosophical force. In fact nothing original emanates from this obscure continent. Yet the only conceptual field is indeed philosophy. All we have are new ideas but not new conceptions; so what should be expected from Africa? Nothing, because of our state of nothingness. What or who will liberate Africa?

Definitely not the Black consciousness groups. They are so archaic they should be called Black conservationists. The whole Pan African concept is built on fear. Thus the only evident outcomes are conspiracy theories. For how long can you blame the climate, slavery, and colonialism for social inertia? They claim they want peace, but they are not peaceful. They claim they want development, but they are not developmental. They condemn racism but justify tribalism; but aren't they both forms of prejudice!? Our most depressing moment in our political history was our attainment of political independence the moment we cried for it. Only now it has occurred to us that we were not ready and may never be for this. Sadly our best solution would be recolonialisation. Since our best is not good enough this is quite obvious from the glaring current predicament.

The IMF and World Bank are unhelpful. Their solutions are too superficial. We need more than markets, roads. Our economic policies can not dictate our social policies; it should be the other way round. If this were not the case, then how come these institutions finance dictators and always write off the debt, encouraging a beggar society that knows it can always access money which they can misuse or abuse? The problem for Ugandans is not a good rural bank because this is useless when we lack a saving culture. Our cultural problems are out of reach to the Ministry responsible for culture. Because this entrenches our culture instead of obliterating it, currently it serves no purpose; and instead of acting like handrails, they are nothing but handcuffs. No amount of coups will help the helpless.

We have realized that the sloganeering of the 60's was nothing but ego drive for the lust of power. One's thirst cannot be quenched by hunger, we shall never find a statesman, though we are blessed with politicians. And in any society the weaknesses of a politician are the strengths of a statesman. That is why you have so many people fighting for peace, but once they are in power only force makes them can relinquish power. Thus we are good fighters but lousy builders. Our last piece of original architecture was during ancient Egypt. What are we known for now? A continent plagued with inadequate health facilities but rich Ministers of Health.


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