The African continent remains hostage to myriad forces, both internally generated and externally produced.
True Uhuru has eluded the continent for more than half-century now. The agenda for genuine liberation, for self-determination and the freedom to chart a path that assures the full dignity of the African people is not some abstract and academic ideal; it is a real and concrete goal.
Africa is captive. Assailed by unbridled global capitalism and assaulted by domestic economic and political elites. It is a beaten continent, available for the taking.
On the one hand, imperialistic machinations march on, almost unfettered, in pursuit of continued Western control and dominance. The same old logic that propelled the Atlantic Slave Trade and colonial occupation, the logic of extraction and exploitation, is continuously reborn and recast.
On the other hand, in the face of external forces bent on keeping a grip on the continent, domestic political actors are big on rhetoric but empty on substance, taking part in cheap denunciations, often draped in a Pan-African garb, while simultaneously serving imperial interests.
Many African governments have remained in the service of imperialistic goals and activities. These best represent the tragedy we face where leaders speak big but act the opposite, denounce the West but keep Africa tied to Western imperatives.
The fact that these have been in power for close to four decades, interrupted is quite remarkable. But this in and of itself need not be a problem. The how and the what for are the real questions. How they cling to power for so long while serving foreign interests is a sad story in itself. But for what goal or with what consequences is the more depressing part. Increasingly, it has become about staying in power for power’s sake.
They have perfected the art of stating one thing while doing the opposite. Three decades ago, some were, for example, unequivocal about their stand on the raging Cold War power politics of the time, affirming that they were neither pro-West nor pro-East. Rather, they asserted quite unconvincingly that, they were pro-Africa. Nicely put and eloquently stated, only that it wasn’t long before they became far more pro-West than perhaps they themselves were able to grasp and willing to appreciate.
Consider my country, Uganda. From sweeping embrace of the free market to adhering to the Washington Consensus economic orthodoxy, Uganda’s economic model has served the narrow interests of domestic elites and foreign economic actors including Indian and Chinese businesspeople.
Uganda’s economic transformation over the last three decades has done little to fundamentally turnaround the fate of the majority poor Ugandans because the bulk of the economy remains out of reach for the vast majority of citizens.
Under the tutelage and patronage of the Bretton Woods institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Uganda stuck to economic orthodoxy as dictated by these Western agencies in a manner that protects capitalists’ interests but scarcely serves the public good of national socioeconomic transformation.
Sticking with economic orthodoxy has meant that the Ugandan economy is controlled by few, both local and foreign. This is true across sectors, from the banking sector, telecom and hospitality to manufacturing and commerce.
Because at a very fundamental level the economy is not oriented to primarily serve the needs of Ugandans at large, economic opportunities and avenues for gainful economic activity remain incredibly limited. Without generating sufficient value-added production, which is for the most part a no-go, risky area for foreign capital, and given the rapid population growth, youth unemployment can only keep surging and soring inexorably.
Maintaining an economic model and approach that does not break ranks with Western dictates, demands and interests means local people are condemned to holding the raw end of the stick – living on the fringes and largely excluded from the mainstream economy. This is a critical component of the elusive liberation that still afflicts Africa.
Without ownership of the means of production and active participation in meaningful productive economic activities, which is precisely the problem with Uganda’s economy today, and indeed other African countries, true liberation and social emancipation are a distant dream.
The late Tanzanian President, John Pombe Magufuli, attempted to redirect matters and refashion a new form of managing public affairs in that country. He rattled feathers and created quite a storm. Earlier this year, he bowed out rather tragically. But in a relatively short time, he did precisely what African leaders needed to do yesterday to realise actual freedom and liberation: refuse to be stampeded by the West especially on economic affairs and the pursuit of policies that speak to the needs of the citizens.
This is where many African leaders have abysmally failed – reasserting and reclaiming the economic foundations for African socioeconomic and political liberation.
Making the economic argument by no means is meant to downplay or grant short thrift to the political question, the quest for political liberation where governments and politicians serve the public good and not personal interests.
Rather, it is to say that by dangling around some sprinklings of political freedoms, human rights and procedural power, incumbent African leaders and their foreign partners are able to distract and disguise the most pressing aspect of African liberation – the quest for a decent livelihood that guarantees the dignity, respect and humanity of a people.
Only then, as the Chinese and other Asian nationalities have recently accomplished, shall we as Africans save ourselves from the arrogance, disrespect and demeaning paternalism of our ostensible Western benefactors.