This is a keynote address presented at the biennial conference of the Association of African Rhetoric held in Nairobi, Kenya, on 21 July 2022.
The Association of African Rhetoric (AAR) President, Dr Johnson Ige in absentia, and members of your Steering Committee,
Conference Committee Chair, Dr Rachel Ding’a and your team!
Our Honoured Guest, Prof Muyiwa Falaiye from the University of Lago’s African Cluster Centre
Colleagues from different institutions across Africa and the diaspora
Fellow AAR Members
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening!
In the great book of Jeremiah, it is said that the Prophet had an unenviable task when the celestial voice posed a challenging question: “What do you see, Jerimiah?” It is perhaps, appropriate to begin this way, because, in a sense, I feel that it is the same scenario that confronts me this evening with the topic of this address: Africa Hundred Years from Now: A Rhetorical and Futurological Inquiry. This is because the topic suggests that I should, for a moment cast my lens on the distant future and venture into the impending possibilities of our beloved continent.
I will, therefore, commence with the fleeting reflection of Africa’s historical trajectory and some aspects of that particular hegemonic imperative that led to the current situation, which is characterised by anti-progressivism that we continue to reproduce through various hegemonic devices. Here, I will highlight uncomfortable truths that often make me very unpopular among those who are not fully committed, to the work that must be done other than attracting value unto themselves i.e., those who do not want to be “liberated from themselves”, to use Fanon’s phrasing as they enjoy the coloniality of being amongst the colonial elite. This is because I accost the authoritative tenor that is unhelpful in extricating Africa from being the perpetual stepchild of the world. I will reflect on Africas possible in a hundred years to come and ultimately provide direction on the Africa that should be!
In my discussion, I take inspiration from Frantz Fanon’s ideas and also borrow from one of our black consciousness stalwarts Steve Biko, particularly his observation that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” which I find much more suggestive as I will demonstrate.
In assessing factors contributing to Africa’s stagnation, I find that there are generally two groups of analysts. The first of these are those that tend to focus on the present situation on a very tenuous basis. I argue that, while there are some merits in doing so, harping on the present without a solution is not helpful as it creates a fix-as-we- go situation akin to driving without any destination in mind. The second group focuses on overly criticising the African leadership also without offering any real answers beyond lamentation. This is the group of armchair critics that Nelson Mandela often referred to as “peacetime heroes”. The point, however, is that their parochial focus results in polarising narratives that only imbue consternation and Afro-pessimism.
I move away from these popular proclivities and insist that it is crucial to look more meaningfully into the future if we hope to navigate it with a sense of direction. I submit, therefore, that focusing on future possibilities and direction will put Africa on an ideal pedestal to effectively harness developments rather than being caught unprepared by future scenarios and being forced to deal with them as crises instead of opportunities.
The peril of political independence in Africa
With that premise, let me begin by submitting that it is true that Africa achieved some level of “political independence” after a protracted struggle that consumed the continent for many years. I am using political independence very carefully because although it is commendable, it has nonetheless not yielded corresponding fruits in terms of the status of the continent and the genuine economic empowerment of its citizens. In spite of emphatic assertions that are often made regarding economic transformation, in reality, governments do significantly less when coming to implementation. You must see how many of them continue to go back to problematic international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for more loans that come with conditionality, ensuring that Africa remains enslaved to its former colonisers.
Those are some of the instruments preventing us from transcending the zombified state that keeps the colonial project intact long after what people assumed was the end of colonialism. For in truth, it should be clear now, at least for those who have eyes to see, that we were gravely mistaken. Hence, it is my firm view that the current political and socio-economic design in Africa is meant to serve the West. This is to say that the general foundation upon which the current political system in Africa rests is essentially Western.
In that sense, I would like to think of this address not only as a conversation about future possibilities but also as a petition, a plea and a clarion call for Africa to unlock the African urgency at the human level and bring about the true Africa that we want, not a despised Africa. You will recall that, not long ago, one of the world’s most upfront men, Donald Trump referred to Africa as a “shithole”. This was not just a slip of the tongue. Therefore, at some stage, as Africans, we should be incensed to better Africa’s condition or “sufficiently enraged,” to use the phrase from Mbeki.
There is a need for calling into question the current neo-colonial situation because failure to do so only makes us the worst enemy agent in disguise. It should be the mission of our generation to change Africa’s situation, otherwise, we would have “betrayed the mission of our generation” as Fanon would say. It is in that respect that I often distance myself from the delusion of independence because we have inherited the political technologies and set-up of our colonial masters, which became a condition for that “independence.” Of course, to say this is not to undermine some of the gains that have been achieved over the years post “active colonialism” but rather to insist on the urgent need to chart our future path and define ourselves outside the confines of neo-colonialism or the colonial arrangement.
Political systems in Africa before colonialism
We have failed to reconfigure Africa outside the confines of the colonial arrangement. If you go back to Africa that was before colonialism, you will realise that the political system was completely different. From time immemorial, our kings and chiefs ruled Africa according to our own indigenous knowledge systems and our own systems of government. Not the political and constitutional instruments imposed by the West. Right from Cape to Cairo: whether you talk about the Mali Empire, Songhai Empire, Benin Empire, Ashanti Empire: the Kingdom of Mapu-ngu-bwe or the Mutapa Empire in Great Zimbabwe—not the current Zimbabwe whose situation is in essence the result of Western sabotage because the leader Robert Gabriel Mugabe was not toeing the line. All these kingdoms were dismantled by the colonial process that started with The Scramble for Africa, followed by colonialism, which occupied virtually every part of Africa, except for Liberia and perhaps Ethiopia, after they thwarted Italy’s attempt by defeating them during the battle of Adwa around 1896.
It is crucial to highlight these past circumstances without going too much into an elaborate historical excursion, in order to demonstrate that we had thriving political systems outside the confines of Western influence and to demonstrate how the Europeans unleashed one of the biggest land thefts and looting in history when they arrived in Africa. You will remember how they conveniently declared Africa as “terra nullius” meaning that it was not belonging to anyone because in their view Africans were not human enough.
I heard in my country South Africa; they could obtain a permit to hunt the San indigenous community.
They partitioned Africa and shared her amongst themselves. The plundering of our land and our natural resources, which continues up to this day, was in full swing.
Independence fanfare in Africa
It was, therefore, a cause for celebration when in 1957, Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah became “independent” after Nkrumah won the general election a year before in 1956, the polls were mandatory. Colonial master Britain insisted on elections as a condition of that independence. There were celebrations, and those celebrations eschewed what perhaps should have been more soul-searching following years of colonialism. The Ghanaian independence inspired many African countries to follow suit. Africa’s fix-as-we-go approach that we have today was in full operation. If you look carefully, you will realise that we failed to do away with all existing structures that are anti-progressive. There has been very little focus on striving for economic and social stability, which in my view, remains one of Africa’s most notable political blunders in contemporary history.
Our successive governments continue to fail to plan more meaningfully and enforce policies and strategies that are economically sound, except for cosmetic changes there and there. They ascend into positions of power and only do the bare minimum in that regard. What they tend to do best is to channel their energies to solidify their power and firmly secure their positions at all costs. Hence, nothing much has changed. Poverty and hunger remain a problem. Statistics this week show that the number of people suffering from hunger continues to rise. We need to take food security more seriously. I am often astounded to find that we even import some of the things that we could easily produce in our respective countries. Unemployment continues to rise unabated and the number of people who rely on state welfare continues to rise. Our growing population continue to be poor; it is a vicious circle of poverty. We are still consuming nations, although we are sitting with minerals and other natural resources that the rest of the world does not have. Although the economist will tell you at times that there is positive economic growth, the truth is our economy is not growing at the level it should, given our undoubted capacity.
In my own country South Africa, which was for a long time deemed as a hope for humanity, especially by those that worked in the Marxist paradigm—myself included—economic freedom has largely eluded us and that has firmly put us in an uninviting position where the poor continue to be poorer, and the rich continue to be even richer. We have firmly remained in what has been characterised by former president Thabo Mbeki as a two-nation country, one white and rich and another black and poor. This is not to say that the government did not achieve anything worth commenting on, but rather to point out that the efforts were not enough or perhaps not sufficiently streamlined for a wider impact. To be fair, the South African government has tried to capacitate members of the community to participate in economic enterprises in an effort to close the economic gap and must be applauded for those efforts. As Saul Molobi, a former South African government insider and now a renowned publisher of leading Pan-African publication Jambo Africa Online put it aptly recently, “government has developed progressive policies, laws and regulations as tools to drive socio-economic transformation intended to narrow the gap between the two nations” (Molobi, 2022).
Nonetheless, it is clear that those efforts have not been potent enough to address the problem, making Mbeki’s assertion still more relevant today as it was 20 years ago. According to Mbeki, the black nation that he refers to “lives under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure” (Mbeki, 2002). We have the black elite, of course, who function to maintain the colonial arrangement because it has enticing benefits for them, making them trusted hegemonic devices for the colonial empire. This continues many years after independence.
Why did this prevail even long after we become politically independent? The answer lies in the political technologies meant to ensure that the system remains favourable. This is often enforced through negotiations and agreements such as the scenario in South Africa where we had a negotiated settlement, a move which is contra-indicated in the Fanonian arrangement. In a recent article, Molobi (2022) has outlined some of the factors that forced the African National Congress and its alliance to the negotiating table:
“the disintegration of the Soviet Union; the unification of Germany; the Nkomati Accord; the resolution of the conflict in Angola with the closure of our guerrilla camps (and their reopening in distant Uganda) and the withdrawal of the Cuban internationalist forces as preconditions for the liberation of Namibia. These developments basically meant we had no military bases in the frontline states.”
For Fanon, however, there can never be a negotiation in a revolution. He is completely against negotiations! The situation is now almost untenable.
Africa’s future will be gloomy if the current trajectory persists
So, my message is clear, and it is that there can be no political independence without economic independence which translates to a thriving society, with citizens being active in the economy in a meaningful way. Not as reserves for cheap labour as we currently see in Africa.
We have the fastest-growing population that would be five times more in a hundred years. Just to give you a picture, the latest statistics put Africa’s population at slightly over 1,4 billion. Considering the average annual increase, that figure would be five times more (approximately 6 billion). That is almost four times the current population.
Do you know what that will do in terms of social ills if that situation finds us unprepared? That will lead to overpopulated cities and informal settlements characterised by high levels of unemployment, diseases, lack of proper health facilities, unimaginable traffic germs, high levels of crimes, perilous conflicts and more and more people dying from hunger. We are already struggling with poverty and unemployment. You have seen the traffic earlier on our way here, where we should have 8 lanes, we put 2 lanes because we are not thinking futurologically, to accommodate future scenarios of growth and expansion. That is a general picture in Africa and this will be worse in a hundred years. That is why you find Africans having the penchant to move to other countries outside the continent, not by choice but in search of better opportunities which we have failed to create in Africa.
The Africa we want
But there is another Africa that is possible! That, ladies and gentlemen, is the Africa that we must aspire to see in a hundred years. Hence it becomes a question of extreme futurological significance to determine which Africa we truly want and work towards its realisation, as that Africa will not happen by osmosis. It has to be a deliberate process and having studied the situation closely as a praxis- oriented scholar, I suggest that it is more profitable, first and foremost, to have that process anchored on a systems approach. I deem the systems approach more appropriate to explain the integrated way in which the key drivers that I will highlight shortly must be applied. A systems approach means that we view Africa and the key indices of aggressive growth that I will highlight just now, as interrelated and interdependent. From the systems perspective, Africa will be viewed as a system with various sub-systems that must all operate in unison to ensure success. As part of a whole, all subsystems are required to consistently operate optimally because if one part of the system is not functioning at an optimal level, the entire system will be affected. This will assist in ensuring well-coordinated efforts across all the key catalysts and sub-systems that will ensure the success that has alluded us for years.
Secondly, we must declare something akin to what I would call a continental-wide state of emergency in Africa— suspend all the normal operations that pander to the interests of colonisers to operationalise the key indices that will change the situation. This will enable us to take control and dictate the path. We must be willing to break free; “We’ve got to break free” to use the lyrics from Queens. Even if this means suspending, where necessary, the normal constitutional procedures in order to regain control, for we are not in control of our destiny. During this interregnum, all African governments will ensure that the key drivers and the programme of action agreed upon are ruthlessly implemented and that all the implementing agencies across the continent operate optimally to achieve the desired growth.
The problem why we are not getting anywhere is that even when we try to develop our countries, we do so in a disjointed way which only creates more problems which ultimately derail the process.
Thirdly, during that time we must put a moratorium on foreign borrowing. Remember the conditions that come with that debt. They strip you of your political independence right away. When you borrow money, you borrow in the currency of the lender. And we all know what that means, from the moment that happens you have already lost millions at that very point of the transaction before you could use a single dollar. How much is a Kenyan shilling to the dollar? You will be humbled. As Kenton (2021) observed, “High levels of foreign debt have contributed to some of the worst economic crises in recent decades”. In fact, the moment you start wanting to borrow, it shows that you cannot manage your fiscals and that the economic policies that you have adopted are problematic. We do not need loans; we need to grow our economies organically. When a country borrows from the IMF, its government is required to adjust its economic policies because the lender is a loan shark. It is common knowledge that if you are dealing with loan sharks, you remain indebted forever. It is a vicious circle of epic proportions. In my own country, for example, just last month the World Bank approved a whopping $480 million loan for South Africa’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Project. These lenders’ conditionalities are meant to keep the system intact and ensure that Africa continues to work for Europe and the West. We are not organic and we will continue to live on borrowed terms if we don’t do something drastically radical!
Fourthly, we must prioritise a Pan-African Connection and push for unity beyond political and rhetorical expletives. If you look carefully at history, you will realise that one of the reasons that Africa became an easy target for European expansion was because we were not united. Although we had states and kingdoms that were more organised, most of us were more loosely organised and this had an implication in terms of how we were able to respond to colonial encroachment. Because of that disunity, we were unable to form necessary strategic alliances against a common enemy. That is still a problem today.
Moammar Ghaddafi, the late Libyan president, was one of the most prominent advocates of African solidarity. He may have had his flaws, but he wanted Africa that speak with one voice. He did not gain traction with other African leaders. His philosophy is outlined in what he calls The Green Book. Why it is not a prescribed text at school, I know. He pushed for African unity, but he was considered an impractical man. Where is he today? His ideas were too dangerous. In spite of our experience with the Iraqi invasion and many other illegal confrontations, none of the African blocks and their leaders was prepared to stand with Gadhafi against the onslaught unleashed by NATO, under the guise of Peace Keeping. We saw him on our television set hunted and killed like an animal. Where was the African Union? Even today they have not registered any concern regarding the way one of their own was killed. This shows also the kind of leadership that characterise the continent.
Fifth, we need to ensure that we have one common currency. Our currency is so weak, yet we are rich in minerals and other natural resources? The value of our currency is determined by our colonial master in all respects although we are the ones who have resources. When you are doing a transaction against the dollar you are at an immediate disadvantage because your currency is so weak. Many benefits will come with having a common currency. In her recently published book appropriately titled The Great Reset of Africa, Dr Nozizwe King (2021, 43), contends that a single currency will facilitate “a flow of trade in Africa, restrain the abuse of money supply, lower transaction costs, provide currency stability, enhance Foreign Direct Investment, and lead to stronger African presence in the global economy”. [quote unquote].
At the moment, we trade with other continents on their terms, not on our terms. They dictate the price of our minerals and other resources instead of the other way round. It is in this context that Dr Last Moyo (2022) reckons that [quote-unquote]:
“If Africa were to hold onto her wealth of mineral resources and have a single currency or regional currencies (SADC, ECOWAS, COMESA etc) and insist that the West, China and everybody pay in African currency, then our currencies and economies would be far stronger than they currently are. Our people would be less poor.”
Sixth, let us create conditions that make it easier for our countries to trade with one another. Using a single African currency will be one of those conditions.
Seventh, turn our massive population into an advantage. What we need is to turn that massive population to our advantage and take a long-term view of things such as town planning, for example. Can you imagine if that big population is a populace of economically active people, not the population of state beneficiaries, unemployed, poverty and disease-stricken? It is estimated that the world’s large megacities will come from Africa. According to Bhutanda (2022), a mega city house more than ten million people. This is prompted by mass migration from rural areas to urban cities leading to megacities. People leave rural areas to scavenge for a better life in cities. There are currently 35 megacities in the world today. We must make sure that the countries of Africa are high-income countries. If not, we will continue to be the dumping ground. Luanda, the capital city of Angola with about nine million people and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania with almost 8 million people are already fast becoming megacities. And with the way we continue to reproduce, more megacities are expected in a hundred years. This phenomenon must not catch us unprepared. Already many cities in Africa, even the smallest of towns resemble slums, in my home country, for example, we are beginning to see a disintegration of cities with decaying infrastructures and potholes on every street corner. You can see a disaster in the making. Deterioration of service right in front of you.
Eighth, prioritize entrepreneurship and stop creating a population of consumers. Entrepreneurship is considered to be a key factor in promoting economic development, innovation, competitiveness and job creation, yet little is known about the skills required for successful entrepreneurship (see Gupta, Guha and Krishnaswami, 2013).
Krackhardt (1995) suggests that “people who are entrepreneurial take advantage of opportunities to acquire added value for themselves or for their firm” (1995: 53). Thus, he highlights the behaviourist view of entrepreneurship something which Pinchot (1985) labels as intrapreneurship emphasizing the skills and attributes of individuals involved in entrepreneurial ventures, as well as the dichotomy of what Bulgerman (1983) refers to as corporate entrepreneurship which attaches more premium to an organisation’s characteristics. Entrepreneurship by definition is growth oriented. Entrepreneurs take risks to grow. They utilize resources effectively, identify opportunities, come up with innovative solutions to problems, create new markets, and employment and consistently acquire new skills. They participate actively in the economic growth of their respective countries and for that reason, they need to be supported and encouraged if the country hopes to grow its economy aggressively. Therefore, a continent that is serious about growing its economy must come up with policies and incentives that promote entrepreneurship.
Ninth and related to the above point, we need to ensure that we have thriving SMMEs. Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) are widely acknowledged as playing a key role in economic growth. However, African countries have not yet realised the importance of creating a conducive environment for thriving SMMEs.
Gupta. et al (2013) note that “although there are many studies on the stages of enterprise development, there is a dearth of literature on finding patterns of growth followed by the small and medium enterprises.” Governmental support is crucial to ensure thriving SMMEs. Give people land, teach them how to utilise it and remove all the barriers for those who want to farm and utilise the land productively.
Tenth, put a moratorium on the importation of goods and prioritise manufacturing. We have become nations of consumers instead of becoming manufacturers. In this way, we become cheap labour used to extract our own minerals which are then taken away to be refined elsewhere and brought back to us to buy at exorbitant prices. Once we become manufacturers and build more factories, we will solve the problem of unemployment and ensure that our materials and other commodities are refined by us and sold at the right price. We could follow the examples of the so-called Asian Tigers who embarked on massive industrialisation to create much-needed jobs and grow the manufacturing sector considerably. They focused on massive manufacturing and export of goods.
Eleventh and perhaps even more important, we need to ensure that we have visionary and committed leadership. Leadership was another area in which the Asian tigers demonstrated success. As they say, the tragedy about Africa is that those with ideas are not in government. Unlike in many parts of Africa which are marred by problems of corruption and poor leadership, the Asian Tigers had a decisive, competent and visionary leadership that was not in the positions of power to enrich themselves but to serve. Every individual needs to be an implementing agent. This is one of the reasons we have not done much. In Africa, you can have a great programme but fail because the implementer is not the right person, it is a person whose interest is not to add value to the project but to themselves. In addition, to leadership, every individual needs to be an implementing agent. This is in line with the systems approach which I advocate.
In my career, I have deliberately lived and worked in many different countries in the quest to see how they operate. On arriving in Japan, I was rather startled to discover that there were no cleaners where I worked. I happen to go to the bank during lunch one day and ended up being 10 minutes late. On my return I found my supervisor waiting for me with a leave form for that 10 minutes. I was happy with the lesson. I could see leadership in action. In the UAE, I had a conversation with senior government leaders, and I was reminded that the UAE had nothing. They had some oil of course which is very little compared to what Nigeria has, for example. I came out of the conversation convinced, more than ever, that visionary leadership was the key.
Lastly, we need to repurpose our education system. Our education has remained part of the hegemonic institutions that replicate the system that is meant to ensure that we remain exactly where we are today. The decolonisation and African renaissance must be taken more seriously, not just as another area of the academic star system and an interesting pastime subject rather than the genuine interventionist Prax-oriented subject of exigency that it should be. This is an issue that I have raised very sharply wherever I have gone. Education needs to seriously reclaim Africa’s primordial values in a true form and orchestrate it to harness the opportunity presented by our rich continent. The continent is endowed with natural resources, but these resources are not being put to good use due to the current education system that is producing graduates who lack the entrepreneurial streak required to exploit the resources replete in the country. Like, the Asian Tigers, we must make a considerable investment in education, in particular the education that is relevant to the need of our continent. In a policy brief “Towards the decolonisation of higher education in Africa: an 8-point plan” published in our premier publication, the African Journal of Rhetoric two years ago, and thanks Dr Ige for truly understanding the work that must be done. I argued that while attempts have been made to reposition African universities, those efforts have not been effective and that the African university has basically not changed from the way it was designed by the colonizers. I have proceeded to propose a tangible solution in the form of an 8-point plan. We should not have an education system that continues to produce labourers, who often become a problem once they graduate because they join the unemployed or worst continues to produce people who hate themselves and even look down on their own culture in favour of the one of those who colonised them. It is in that spirit that the former Zimbabwean president whom the West demonised once said, “it is hard to convince our children that education is the future when graduates are poor”.
Therefore, in conclusion, it is my view that we must do something drastic to turn the tide. I have advocated for a more systematic approach. The world is changing, and we are witnessing the birth of new world order in the making. It is our duty to position Africa to ensure that “the last becomes the first and the first becomes the last” because if we fail, we will remain the last. Failure to take action and put Africa on a better trajectory for exponential economic growth and stability will hurt the continent for many years to come. The consequences of our inaction will be considerable. We have to take the bull by the horn because if we succeed, we will have a prosperous Africa a hundred years from now. It is a struggle of a different order, one that we cannot afford to lose.
I thank you.
Bhutanda, Govid. (2022). Mapped: The world’s next megacities by 2030.
Kenton, Will (2021, August 26) Foreign Debt. Investopeadia. Retrieved June 17, 2022, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/foreign-debt.asp
King, Nozizwe (2021). The Great Reset of Africa. Johannesburg:
Krackhardt, D. (1995). Entrepreneurial opportunities in entrepreneurial firms: A structural Approach in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 19(3):53-70.
Molobi, Saul (2022). ‘Publisher’s Comment: Towards developing an empowering ecosystem for enterprise development’, in Jambo Africa Online, APR 22, 2022.
Moyo, Last (2021, June 17). “The African Problem.” Facebook Post. Retrieved June 17, 2022, from https://www.facebook.com/lmoyo1
Pinchot, G. (1985). Intrapreneuring: why you don’t have to leave the corporation to become an entrepreneur. New York: Harper & Row.
Gupta, P.D., Guha, S. & Krishnaswami, S.S. Firm growth and its determinants. J Innov Entrep 2, 15 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/2192-5372-2- 15