Saturday, March 7, 2009

“Africa leaders must think”

Francis Ameyibor, AfricaNews reporter in Accra, Ghana

The present generation of Africa's leadership must re-think and design Africa's future on the basis of lessons learnt in the past and present. This is to address Africa being the weakest and poorest in the world 50 years after independence, the former President of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa said.

He noted that the “tardiness and slow response” of the international community to Africa’s plight, after the post colonial era, has served as a pointer that there was no fundamental interest in the development of Africa.

Mkapa expressed these sentiments when he delivered the first in a series of lectures at the eighth edition of the ‘Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures’ at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), under the theme, “Rethinking the political, social and economic paradigm of African development”.

The former President, whose first topic on the theme was “skewed relationship with erstwhile colonial alliance”, observed that there has been constant debate on how colonial legacy has benefited the continent, and said at independence, Africa inherited the language and political systems of their colonial masters.

He said that if Osaagyefo Dr Nkrumah were alive, he would have challenged Africa to re-think its political and social identity, stressing that “Nkrumah believed in the African personality and in the dignity of his roots”.

Touching on the devastating effects of the slave trade, he noted that although slavery “is an old institution and did not begin or end in Africa” the continent bore the brunt of slavery.

He said the slave trade took away from Africa some of its best people upon whom the prosperity of the continent rested and that during that “brutal” era, more than 25 million people were shipped off, depriving the continent of its doctors, teachers, farmers and other valuable human resources.

According to Mkapa, colonialisation also destroyed the continent’s existing traditional and democratic structures and that there were clear indications that transparency and accountability were not an anathema of traditional leadership.

He said the colonial educational legacy, also left independent Africa, with very little wherewithal for development and that for instance, the French educational system was mostly based on elitist education irrelevant to the development of the natives, while the British just focused on teaching the indigenes just the basics, those just needed for administrative purposes and “had no intention to turn Africans into black Englishmen”.

He said as a result, the colonial educational systems did not prepare Africans for leaderships that could have empowered them to face developmental challenges.
He cited the example in his native country, then known as Tanganyika, where during that era, only 15 % of the adult population was literate and there were just 3,100 primary schools for a population of nine million.

Mkapa, said although the United Nations called the attention of the colonial powers of deliberately obstruction the education in their colonies, and among other resolutions, called for an increase in the strengthening of the educational systems, “it did not follow through with practical help”.

He said as a result, “the natural instinct of leaders in independent Africa, was to turn to their colonial masters for aid to develop their countries”, after they had also plundered the continent of its vast natural resources.

The former President, pointed out that Africa’s development would have been different if the colonialists had treated Africa with respect and had provided it with the wherewithal to develop its economy.

The Vice-Chancellor of the UCC, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, observed that the colonial era, had dented Africa’s identity and left a “huge psychological scar” and that Africa’s educational system had not done much to remove that scar.