Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Is Africa still a dark continent?

By Ngumbo Njoroge
The other day the world was treated to a good show in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to celebrate 50 years of the continental organisation’s existence.
African presidents took turns to make speeches to fellow Africans and the world on the political unity and sovereignty of African nations.
However the real history of the last 50 years in Africa was overlooked. The elephant in the house was the International Criminal Court painted as a puppet of the west to deal with African presidents.
I do not mean to say that President Kenyatta is innocent or guilty but I have issues with the proponents fighting Kenyatta’s battles and at the head of the army Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
His credentials on justice, democracy and human rights are wanting. This is a man who like African tyrants of the past century fought his way to power and for the first years exposed benevolence.
The more things changed in Uganda, the more they remained the same. As Museveni was addressing Africa, his errant boys (Ugandan police) back home were running over the media for playing the right of serving the public’s right to know.
On the international stage, Museveni portrays progress, alluring speeches but back home in Kampala, he overruns opposition like a mad dog.
This pops the question, “Has Africa outlived the tag of a dark continent?”
When Europeans met around a conference table in the German capital Berlin in 1884 to divide Africa, Africans had no idea what was happening in Europe. In the eyes of the European invaders, they were still benign, savagery and barbaric. It was the Europeans who first named Africa ‘the Dark Continent’- a tag that Africans worked so hard to shed during the first half of the 20th century.
Through the Pan-African conferences, Africans and black people led by George Padmore, Booker T Washington, Dr. William E.B du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah and others worked so hard to emancipate Africa and Africans from the shackles of colonialism, a fete that was achieved throughout much of the 1960s and70s.
But after the first dance of freedom, there was much optimism in Africa facing the future and Africans relished overrunning their former master economically.
In his book, Martin Meredith records the episode ‘Birth of Nations’: “The honeymoon of African independence was brief but memorable. African leaders, riding the crest of popularity, stepped forward with energy and enthusiasm to tackle the tasks of development and nation building; ambitious plans were launched, bright young men went quickly to the top of the mountain.”
Independence had come amidst an economic boom and Africa seemed on the take-off, terms of trade were favourable and a barrel of oil cost less than 2$ a barrel.
But the episodes that soon followed put to jeopardy Africa’s grandiose wishes to shed the tag- it has not been able to- it was the coming of tyrants.
As soon as the honeymoon was over-African nations were overrun by the army and military juntas were the norm rather than the exception. In the Belgian Congo, the killing of Patrice Lumumba was the catalyst to a never ending vicious cycle of war that has made Congo the poorest country on earth despite the rich deposits under its soil.
In Uganda, Central Africa Republic, Guinea, Togo and Gabon, the Heads of these States were more prominent and important than the State. Jean Bedel Bokassa spent a quarter of his country’s budget during his coronation as Emperor of the Central African Empire.
Uganda under Amin was worse, Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam and Chad’s power tustlles in the 70’s put to question Africa’s place as the Dark Continent.
The Somalia story after the overthrow of Gen Mohammed Siad Barre sent the nation to a chapter of 20 years of uninterrupted civil war that began with America’s humiliation by Mohhamed Farah Aidid in the dusty streets of Mogadishu, the Black Hawk Dawn operation.
Sudan also experienced a chapter of 25 years civil war that was only halted with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Nairobi between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SLPA).
But perhaps the worst episode happened in the land of a thousand hills in a 100 days of 1994. Over 800,000 souls of Hutu and Tutsi origin butchered each other as the world and Africa watched. It was a shame on a grand scale, a story that should never be repeated.
At the turn of the century there was some ray of hope in South Africa. The release of Nelson Mandela was seen as Africa’s defining moment of the last century. Mandela was a revolutionary who had spent 27 years in prison and upon release embarked on reconciliation. After one term as president he left power, very unusual in Africa.
In addition, at the turn of the century Africans still lived on less than a dollar a day and the economies of Africa were crumbling. Even thou tyrants had gone, new tyrants were coming to power, some who had graduated from revolutionaries to autocrats, the likes of Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, Charles Taylor, Ben Ali and Yoweri Museveni.
Despite 50 years of independence, nothing much has changed in Africa. Poverty, disease and ignorance, tribalism, nepotism, corruption, ethnic clashes, coups and terrorism are still part of everyday Africa.
Is Africa a dark continent? In terms of complexion, Africans are still dark. Economically, African economies are still struggling. Socially, Africans are still living in slums, affected by hunger and diseases.
Politically, Africans are still in the dark. African presidents have to watch over their shoulder because they are facing charges at the International Criminal Court for committing crimes against their people.
Africa’s best brains are running European economies. The education system is below the international standards, African universities hardly do any serious research and the technology we import from Europe and Asia should be home-made. Ironically, Africans still import razor blades from China.
The only ray of hope is in technology, young Africans in towns are very active on the World Wide Web, daunting latest Iphones and tablets but so what? Majority of Africans are still living on less than a dollar a day and aid meant to better their lives is still ‘dead aid’as Dambisa Moyo once wrote.
Ceteris Paribus, without the slave trade and colonialism Africa was never a dark continent.
Mr. Ngumbo is a blogger at and an alumni of the
School of Journalism and Mass Communication


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