By Morenike Taire
AT the infamous Nigerian centenary celebration in the nation’s capital, the now famous speech of the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, stole the show at the International Conference Centre, ICC), Abuja, venue of the Centenary lecture. Mostly, the value of the speech was in its condemnation of the senseless killings of Nigerian citizens in northern Nigeria.
Further than that, though, is the neo-pan-Africanism of it. He charges Nigeria to spurn the centuries-old economic culture of being raw material suppliers to the industrialized world and to begin to look into the adding of value, processing agro materials and exporting finished goods. In actual fact, it is neither a new concept nor rocket science.
Political pan- Africanists of old including Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana and even Obafemi Awolowo amongst various others had, in the heat of post independence euphoria, not only expressed a deep wish for economic self sufficiency for the brand new African republics, but had gone to great lengths to draw up various blueprints.
In Ghana, Nkrumah had, in 1961, begun the institution of his Socialist Development Strategy, emphasizing industrialization through the public enterprise route. In Tanzania, Nyerere’s Ujamaa, though quite successful on the level of other indices, did not quite make it on the economic level. While Tanzania under Nyerere made great strides in vital areas of social development, Ujamaa decreased production, casting serious doubt on the project’s ability to offer economic growth. Nationalizations transformed the government into the largest employer in the country. Purchasing power declined, and, according to World Bank researchers, high taxes and bureaucracy created an environment where businessmen resorted to evasion, bribery and corruption.
The fostering of Tanzanian self-reliance through two dimensions: the transformation of economic and cultural attitudes was at the very heart of Nyerere’s policy. Economically, everyone would work for both the group and for him/herself; culturally, Tanzanians must learn to free themselves from dependence on European powers.
For Nyerere, this included Tanzanians learning to do things for themselves and learning to be satisfied with what they could achieve as an independent state. Also, the implementation of free and compulsory education for all Tanzanians in order to sensitize them to the principles of Ujamaa and the creation of a Tanzanian rather than tribal identity through means such as the use of Swahili.
Nkrumah’s pan African economic policy was not much more successful, finally ending on a sour note with an ouster coup which had him living the rest of his natural life in exile. In Nigeria’s Western Region of around the same period, however, Awolowo’s pan-African political economic policy was to bear more positive fruit.
Based purely on investing the proceeds from the export of the region’s natural resources, chiefly cocoa, into the education of the region’s citizens through free compulsory basic education and state scholarships for tertiary education, Awolowo had produced a generation of enlightened and exposed South westerners who became the envy of their contemporaries in the other regions, if nothing else.
From the eighties onwards in most of Africa, leaders generally abandoned their Republican fervor, perhaps because the newbies had mostly never experienced the angst of maturing right on the cusp of political independence. There was a lot of experimentation, mostly with a potpourri of borrowed philosophy. Needless to say, it did not work. A dictator class from Jerry Rawlings to Robert Mugabe began to emerge, attempting a sort of pseudo Africanism, focusing more on political justice and social order rather than economic growth, development and diplomacy. The long term results of these remain to be seen.
The neo-colonialists are right after all. While the western world wallowed on the verge of depression African nations such as Nigeria experienced eye-popping economic growth, proving the economy is not the biggest problem Nigeria has. We have the home grown billionaires to show for it. Last month, Nigerian multibillionaire industrialist Aliko Dangote was not only confirmed Africa’s richest man, he moved up in the Forbes global ranking as the 23rd richest in the world. In March 2014 with a net worth of $25 billion, he enjoyed a 20 per cent rise from the $20.8 billion he was worth as of December 2013. Others such as Mike Adenuga, Folorunsho Alakija and Abdulsamad Rabiu were also listed on this year’s Forbes list of 1,645 billionaires across the globe that together are worth $6.4 trillion.
A recent BBC report also suggests Nigerians have spent $6.5bn on private jets, making it the largest market in Africa for luxury aircraft and one of the fastest growing in the world. More than 100 private planes are said to be operating in here, many of them owned by the country’s growing number of rich businessmen and women. And it’s not just a money thing. On influence ratings, Dangote also rates 64 out of the 72 most powerful people who rule the world. Yet on the development indices, Nigeria rates lower than many nations with far fewer resources than herself, including human resources.
There is definitely room for neo-pan Africanists: idealistic men and women who are aware of the need for Africa to solve the problems of Africa, who want to build orderly and civilized societies, who are keen on social justice and the need for the common good. It is crucial that men such as President Yahya Jammeh know that the means of pan- Africanism can only be justified by the end of true African civilizations bolstered, not as much by GDP as by peace, security and mutual respect.
As the average ordinary housewife anywhere knows, there is only one way to record surpluses and avoid deficits: producing more than you can consume, and consuming less than you produce. Nigeria- indeed Africa- needs men of money; but needs men of ideas far more.