Africa’s intelligentsia must get rid of its ‘Bad Smell’


Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell takes on some of Africa’s intelligentsia for burying their heads in the sand

Among certain segments of the African intelligentsia, blaming Western colonisation and other external factors for modern Africa’s underdevelopment is like a bad smell that just won’t go away, no matter what air freshener you use to combat it. I had a rude reminder of this when, a few days ago, I participated as a panelist in a debate organised by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

The central question was how African women could use their power to contribute to African development. I had assumed that my three female co-speakers would, like me, focus on highlighting what they were doing to act as catalysts for our continent’s development. Only one did. While the other two also talked about their work, they used every available opportunity to refute my main argument.

I had argued that as the richest continent in the whole world in terms of natural wealth, Africa could quickly have become a modern beacon of prosperity. But this has not been possible mainly because, instead of using this wealth to develop their countries and treat their compatriots with the dignity, humanity and justice that had been denied them for so long, most post-colonial African rulers chose to collude with foreign exploiters, indulging in bloodthirsty tyranny, self-aggrandisement, nepotism and systematic looting of their nations.

One of my co-speakers asserted that Africans could not really count on natural resources to achieve development, given that their prices were constantly fluctuating. Technological innovation, she said, was the way forward.

As someone who travels a lot, I rely heavily on modern technology to keep in touch with my children and fulfil my professional commitments. So I am a passionate advocate of technology. Furthermore, as a teenager, I wrote an essay arguing that solar energy technologies could greatly advance Africa’s development. I still stand by that argument decades later.

However, I and any concerned African must not allow our thieving rulers and their cronies to brandish technology as a get out of jail card. Technological advances are yet to materialise and lift us out of poverty. But the greed, corruption and irresponsibility of our self-seeking leaders are all too real. They have cost millions of lives in avoidable famines, diseases and resource wars, and have condemned many more Africans to abject penury.

Neither must we let African leaders use the fluctuating prices of natural resources as a loincloth to hide the betrayal of their people. Botswana is living proof that with responsibility, democratic accountability and avoidance of corruption, African rulers can indeed rely on natural resources to deliver peace and relative prosperity to their people. This does not mean that there has to be a binary opposition between technology and natural resources. But the responsible management of their country’s natural resources is a strong indicator that the Batswana political and business leaders will also use the revenues from technological advances to boost their country’s development, instead of embezzling and squandering them.

My other co-speaker cited the example of Niger to illustrate how Westerners, namely the French, had retained control of African natural resources, in this case, uranium. Anybody who knows me is aware of my abhorrence of the West’s colonisation and neo-colonisation of Africa. For instance, under Susan Akono, one of my pseudonyms, I wrote ‘An Unfinished Business,’ a 5,000-word essay denouncing Western imperialism and modern attempts to re-colonise our continent. The aforementioned essay is available on Brunel University’s EnterText website. So I defer to nobody when it comes to condemning Westerners’ misdeeds in Africa.

Nevertheless, we would be doing a huge disservice to our people and our countries if we were to allow our leaders to use Westerners’ wrongs as a magic carpet to ride through unpatriotic and short-sighted greed. Hamani Diori, the first president of Niger, was a fervent supporter of the Françafrique –a system whereby in exchange for power and the means to oppress and rob their people at will, African rulers protected France’s interests in Africa.

So too were most of his successors. Even the current president and his team are suspected of prioritising personal gains and Western goals over the interests of their compatriots. The Nigerien journalist Ali Idrissa sums up his country’s predicament as follows: ‘We have a super rich political class and a mass of people who have been abandoned. The sovereignty of Nigeriens has been sold. This is about the rich making more money and staying in power, not about protecting our territory.’ (The Economist, 26 November 2016). Instead of always presenting Africans as passive victims of foreign exploitation, we must follow Idrissa’s example and condemn the self-interested African rulers and elites who have acted, and are still acting as agents of this exploitation.

Merely denouncing the plunder of Africa by Western powers more than 200 years after the early Pan-Africanists who called themselves Sons of Africa started doing so is futile. To protect ourselves, our countries and our resources effectively, we must compel our leaders to use power and politics as a way of serving us and developing our nations, not as a shortcut to despotism and amassing personal wealth. But this will remain an arduous task as long as we allow them to shirk their responsibilities by resorting to the stale ploy of blaming foreign exploiters and adverse circumstances. So we must get rid of this stench!

Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell is the Founder and CEO of the leadership training organisation Medzan Training 



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