Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Africa today – reflections on resilience*

(John Coltrane Quartet here plays  “Wise one” – personnel: Coltrane, tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner, piano, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums [recorded: Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US, 27 April/I June 1964].)

Africa has uninterruptedly been a net-exporter of capital to the Western World since 1981. The thundering sum of US$400 billion is the total figure that Africa has transferred to the West in this manner to date (Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature, 2011: 41-42, 176-177). These are legitimate, accountable transfers, largely covering the ever-increasing interest payments for the “debts” the West claims African regimes owe it, beginning from the 1970s. A 2010 study by Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based research organisation, shows that Africa may have also transferred the additional sum of US$854 billion since the 1970s (“this figure might be more than double, at [US]$1.8 trillion”, the study cautions) through illegitimate exports by the “leaderships” of corrupt African regimes – with Nigeria topping this league at US$240.7 billion. In effect, the state, in Africa, no longer pretends that it exists to serve its peoples.
Additionally, and this might appear paradoxical,  trade figures and associated data readily obtainable indicate that these African states of seeming dysfunction have performed their utmost, year in, year out, in that key variable for which their European World creators established them in the first place: redoubts for export services of designated mineralogical/agricultural products to the European World/overseas. There are no indications, whatsoever, that any of these countries has found it difficult to fulfil its principal obligations on this accord. This is the context that that seemingly contradictory aphorism, “Africa works”, becomes hugely intelligible. Appositely, the raison d’être of the “state” in Africa is not really to serve its people(s), African peoples; it is, on the contrary, to respond, unfailingly, to the objective needs of its creators overseas.
For instance, thanks to the continuing inordinate leverage that Britain and France, the two foremost conqueror-states of Africa, exercise in these essentially anti-African principalities tagged “the state” in Africa, both European countries have a greater secured access to Africa’s critical resources today than at any time during decades of their formal occupation of the continent. France, right from the post-World War II leadership of Charles de Gaulle to the current François Hollande, has such glaring contempt for the notion of “sovereignty” in the so-called francophonie Africa, ensuring that France has invaded most of these 22 African countries 51 times since 1960 (for an excellent study on French hegemonic control of the finances/economies of these countries, see Gary Busch, “Africans pay for the bullets the French use to kill them”, [accessed 15 May 2013]). As for Britain, sheer greed and opportunism appear to be the guiding principle to attaining its unenviable position as the leading arms-exporter to Africa, including Africa’s leading genocide-states (See, for instance, journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo’s candid insight on the subject in a BBC interview, “UK arming African countries”, [accessed 12 May 2013]). Indeed, France and Britain have never had it so good in Africa.
Those crucial African capital exports referred to earlier, legitimate or/and illegitimate, are funds of gargantuan proportions produced by the same humanity that many a commentator or campaign project would be quick to categorise as “poor” and “needy” for “foreign aid”. In the past 30 years, these funds could and should easily have provided a comprehensive healthcare programme across Africa, the establishment of schools, colleges and skills’ training, the construction of an integrative communication network, the transformation of agriculture to abolish the scourge of malnutrition, hunger and starvation, and, finally, it would have stemmed the emigration of 12 million Africans, including crucial sectors of the continent’s middle classes and intellectuals to the Americas, Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world since the 1980s.

Yet, despite these grim times of pulverised economies and failed and collapsing states in Africa, we shouldn’t ever forget that those who still ensure that the situation on the ground is not much worse for the peoples than it is, are Africans – individuals, working alone, conscientiously, or working in concert with others or within a larger group to feed, clothe, house, educate and provide healthcare and some leisure to immediate and extended families, communities, neighbourhoods, villages and the like. For example, the surgeon who not only works tirelessly in a city hospital, with very limited resources, but uses his scarce savings to build a health centre and an access road in his village with subsidised treatment and prescription costs; the nurse who travels around her expansive health district, unfailingly, bringing care to the doorsteps of the people who neither can afford nor access it physically; the retired diplomat who has mobilised her community to set up a robust environmental care service that has involved the construction of public parks, regular refuse collection and some recycling, after-school free tuition for children with a planned community newspaper in the pipeline; the coach transport operator who lays out scores of his coaches to ferry survivors of a recently organised pogrom 350 miles away to safety; the civil rights activist and intellectual who rallies members of his internet discussion groups within the course of a month’s intense campaign to successfully apprehend a contractor who was about to abscond with millions of (US) dollars’ worth of public funds meant for a crucial upgrade of an international airport initially built by the community; a stretch of individuals’ programmes of scholarships for students at varying levels of school life, provision of staff salaries in schools and colleges, maintenance of libraries and laboratories in schools and colleges, construction and maintenance of vital infrastructure in villages and counties, etc., etc. These are the authors busily scripting the path of the renaissance Africa.
To cap these phenomenal strides of Africans, the 12 million African émigrés mentioned earlier presently constitute the primary exporters of capital to Africa itself. Africans now dispatch more money to Africa than “Western aid” to the continent, year in, year out. In 2003, according to the World Bank, these African overseas residents sent to Africa the impressive sum of US$200 billion – invested directly in their communities (World Bank, “Migrant Labor Remittances in Africa”, Africa Regional Paper Series, No. 64, Washington, November 2003: 12). This is 40 times the sum of “Western aid” in real terms in the same year – i.e. when the pervasive “overheads” attendant to the latter are accounted for (cf. Fairouz El Tom’s recently concluded informed research, “Do NGOs practise what they preach?”, In a sentence:  The African humanity currently generates, overwhelmingly, the capital resource that at once sustains its very existence and is intriguingly exported to the Western World. It is precisely the same humanity that those who benefit immeasurably from this conundrum (over several decades and are guaranteed to benefit indefinitely from it, except this is stopped by Africans) have consistently portrayed, quite perversely, as a “charity case”. The notion that Africans are in any way dependent on a European World/Western World or any other overseas’s “handout” is at best a myth or at worst an all-out lie – perpetuated by a circle of academics and in the media who in fact in the not-too-distant-past would have been in the vanguard “justifying”/“rationalising” African enslavement or/and the conquest and occupation of Africa.
Surely, this historic big lie of characterisation can no longer be sustained. Africa is endowed with the human resource and capital resource (in all its calibration and manifestation) to build advanced civilisations provided Africans abandon the prevailing “Berlin-states” of dysfunction that they have been forced into by the latter’s creators as we shall be elaborating soon. Thus, Africa’s pressing problem in the past 57 years of presumed restoration of independence has been how to husband incredible range of abundance of human and non-human resources for the express benefits of the peoples rather than it being fritted away so criminally.
Population, food, future
There has often been a “politically correct” rhetoric bandied about incessantly by some in academia, media and elsewhere who discuss this grave crisis of contemporary Africa in the context of population (as a useful background to this rhetoric, see, particularly, Roland Oliver, “The condition of Africa”, Times Literary Supplement, London, 20 September 1991: 8). Africa, it is concluded in these assertions, requires some “decrease” in its population and/or population-growth as an important measure towards achieving a “solution”. On the contrary, as we now demonstrate, Africa is, indeed, in no way overpopulated. The population argument is usually advanced on a number of fronts. First, there is a “theory” that the given landmass which presently defines Africa and its various so-called 54 nation-states cannot sustain the existing populations, but, more critically, the “projected populations” in years to come. We shall examine the degree to which this “theory” is able to stand up to serious scientific scrutiny first by comparing Africa’s landmass vis-à-vis its population and those of some of the countries of the world.
Africa’s population is currently one billion covering an incredible vast landmass  of 30,221,533 sq km or about four times the landmass of Brazil (all the statistics here on countries’ population, landmass and the like are derived from The World Bank, World Development Report 2012 and United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2012). Ethiopia’s landmass is 1,221,892 sq km, five times the size of Britain’s at 244,044 sq km. Yet Britain’s population of 62 million is three-quarters that of Ethiopia’s 83 million. As for Somalia, it is 2.6 times the size of Britain but has a population of only 9 million. Sudan and South Sudan provide an even more fascinating comparison. Whilst both countries are 10 times the size of Britain, they support a population of 45 million – about 70 per cent the size of Britain. In fact the Sudans have a landmass equal to that of India which is populated by 1.22 billion people – i.e., more than the population of all of Africa! Britain is one-tenth the size of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has a landmass of 2,345,395 sq km, similar to the Sudans and India. In other words, the DRC is about ten times the size of Britain but with a population of 71 million, nine million more than the population of the latter. Even though the DRC landmass is about twice that of all of Britain, France and Germany (1,275,986 sq km), it has just about one-third of these three west European countries’ total population of 208 million. Inevitably, the evidence does beg the question as to where this population really is!
Second, let us examine similarly sized countries. France has a landmass of 547,021 sq km close to Somalia’s. However, France’s population of 65 million is about seven times the population of Somalia. Similarly, Botswana is slightly larger than France at 660,364 sq km but with a population of 2 million, a minuscule proportion of France’s. Uganda’s landmass at 236,039 sq km is about the size of Britain’s 244,044 sq km. Yet with a population of only 33 million, Uganda is about half that of Britain’s. Similarly, Ghana’s landmass of 238,535 sq km makes it approximately equal to the size of Britain. Ghana is however populated by only 25 million people, far less than one-half Britain’s population.
Southern World to Southern World comparisons can also prove useful in exposing the fallacy of either Africa’s “large population” or “potential explosive population”.  Iran’s size of 1,647,989 sq km is about two-thirds that of Sudan and South Sudan combined. Yet its population, unlike the Sudans’ 45 million, is at least one and one-half times as large at 75 million. Mexico´s landmass is 1,943,950 sq km. This is approximately the same size as the Sudans but with a population of 115 million, Mexico is two and one-half times the former. Pakistan´s landmass of 803,937 sq km is just about Namibia’s 864,284 sq km but Pakistan’s population is 174 million while Namibia’s is 2 million! Even though Bangladesh’s 143,998 sq km-landmass makes it roughly one-eight the size of Angola (1,246,691 sq km) as well as that of South Africa’s (1,221,029 sq km), Bangladeshi population at 159 million outstrips Angola’s 13 million and South Africa’s 50 million. If we were to return to our earlier comparisons, Angola and South Africa are about 4-5 times the size of Britain but with one-fifth and four-fifths respectively of the latter’s population.

Crucial reminders, genocide, post-Berlin states
Finally, we should turn to the question of resource, its availability or lack of it, and therefore its ability or inability to support the African population – another component of Africa’s “over-population” fallacy. Well over 50 per cent of Uganda’s arable land, some of the richest in Africa, remains uncultivated. Were Uganda to expand its current food production significantly, not only would it be completely self-sufficient, but it would be able to feed all the countries contiguous to its territory without difficulty, and GM free too! The overall statistics of the African situation are even more revealing as with regards to the continent’s long-term possibilities. Just about a quarter of the potential arable land of Africa is being cultivated presently (FAO and IIED, “What effect will biofuels have on forest land and poor people’s access to it?”, 2008). Even here, an increasingly high proportion of the cultivated area is assigned to so-called cash-crops (cocoa, coffee, tea, groundnut, sisal, floral cultivation, etc.) for exports at a time when there has been a virtual collapse, across the board, of the price of these crops in international commodity markets. In the past 30 years, the average real price of these African products abroad has been about 20 per cent less than their worth during the 1960s-70s period which was soon after the “restoration of independence”. As for the remaining 75 per cent of Africa’s uncultivated land, this represents 60 per cent of the entire world’s potential (John Endres, “Ready, set, sow”, The Journal of Good Governance Africa, Issue 6, November 2012: 1). The world is aware of the array of strategic minerals such as coltan,** cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, industrial diamonds, iron ore, manganese, phosphates, titanium, uranium, and of course petroleum oil found in virtually all regions across the continent.

Africa remains one of the world’s most wealthy and potentially one of the world’s wealthiest continents. What is not always associated with the profiles of Africa is its vast acreage of rich farmlands with capacity to optimally support the food needs of generations of African peoples indefinitely. In addition, the famous fish industry in Sénégal, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana for instance, Botswana’s rich cattle farms, west Africa’s yam and plantain belts extending from southern Cameroon to southern Sénégal, the continent’s rich rice production fields, etc., etc., all highlight the potential Africa has for fully providing for all its food needs. Thus, what the current African socioeconomic situation shows is extraordinarily reassuring, provided the acreage devoted to cultivation is expanded and expressly targeted to address Africa’s own internal consumption needs. Land-use directed at agriculture for food output must become the focus of agricultural policy in the new Africa, as opposed to the calamitous waste of “cash-crop” production for export and/or the more recently observed “land-grab” – parcelling away of land to foreign governments and organisations – occurring across the continent (on this, see the excellent work of Emeka Akaezuwa’s “Stop Africa Land Grab” movement – [accessed 14 May 2013]).

It is an inexplicable and inexcusable tragedy that any African child, woman, or man could go without food in the light of the staggering endowment of resources in Africa. Africa constitutes a spacious, rich and arable landmass that can support its population, which is still one of the world’s least densely populated and distributed, into the indefinite future. There is only one condition, though, for the realisation of this goal – Africa must utilise these immense resources for the benefit of its own peoples within newly negotiated, radically decentralised sociopolitical dispensations which must abandon the current murderous “states” or “Berlin-states” as they should be more appropriately categorised (Ekwe-Ekwe, Readings from Reading: 27, 41, 44, 69, 200). These principalities that dutifully go by the very fanged names of their creators (Nigeria, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, Central Africa Republic… whatever!) are an agglomeration of inchoate, inorganic and alienating  emplacements that have been an asphyxiating trap for swathes of African constituent nations with evidently distinct histories, cultures and aspirations. 
We now no longer require any reminders that the primary existence of these principalities is to destroy or disable as many enterprisingly resourceful and resource-based constituent peoples, nations and publics within the polity that are placed in their genocide march and sights.  Here, the example of the Igbo people of west Africa cannot be overstressed. This is one of the most peaceful and industrious of peoples subjected to the longest-running genocide of the contemporary epoch by the Nigeria state. The Igbo genocide is the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. It inaugurated Africa’s current age of pestilence. During the course of 44 months (29 May 1966-12 January 1970) of indescribable barbarity and carnage not seen in Africa since the German-perpetration of the genocide against the Herero people of Namibia in the early 1900s, the composite institutions of the Nigeria state, civilian and military, murdered 3.1 million Igbo people or one-quarter of this nation’s population. To understand the politics of the Igbo genocide and the politics of the “post”-Igbo genocide is to have an invaluable insight into the salient features and constitutive indices of politics across Africa in the past 50 years. Africans elsewhere remained largely silent on the gruesome events in Nigeria but did not foresee the grave consequences of such indifference as subsequent genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan (all three in the Sudan) and Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in other wars in every geographical region of Africa during the period have demonstrated catastrophically. Just as the Nigerian operatives of mass murder appeared to have got away without censure from the rest of Africa, other genocidal and brutal African regimes soon followed in Nigeria’s footpath, murdering a horrifically additional tally of 12 million people in their countries considered “undesirables” or “opponents”. These 12 million murdered in the latter bloodbaths would probably have been saved if Africans had intervened robustly to stop the initial genocide against the Igbo people.
It is abundantly clear that the factors which have contributed to determining the very poor quality of life of Africa’s population presently have to do with the nonuse, partial use, or the gross misuse of the continent’s resources year in, year out. This is thanks to an asphyxiating “Berlin-state” whose strategic resources are used largely to support the Western World and others and an overseer-grouping of local forces which exists solely to police the dire straits of existence that is the lot of the average African. As a result, the broad sectors of African peoples are yet to lead, centrally, the entire process of societal reconstruction and transformation by themselves. Surely, an urgently restructured, culturally-supportive political framework that enhances the quality of life of Africans is really the pressing subject of focus for Africa.
One immediate move that states across the world, especially Britain, the leading arms exporter to Africa, and the rest of the West, Russia and China and others can make to support the ongoing efforts by peoples across Africa to rid themselves of such frighteningly genocidal and dysfunctional states is to ban all arms sales to Africa. This ban must be total and comprehensive. A total and comprehensive arms ban on Africa will radically advance the current quest on the ground by Africans, across the continent, to construct democratic and extensively decentralised new state forms that guarantee and safeguard human rights, equality and freedom for individuals and peoples. Africans have both the vision and the capacity to create alternative states – for them it is an imperative upon which their survival is based.
Forty-seven years and 15 million murders on, Africans finally realise that there cannot be any meaningful advancement without abandoning the post-conquest state, essentially a genocide-state. This state is the bane of African existence and progress. It is in the longer-term interest of the rest of the world, especially in the West, to support African transformations initiated by the peoples rather than the “helmspersons”/“helmsconstituent nations” ostensibly entrenched in the hierarchical architecture that maps the typical continent’s genocide-state.

*Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is visiting professor in graduate programme of constitutional law at the Universidade de Fortaleza, Brazil, and specialist on the state and genocide and wars in Africa. This is a keynote paper he gave to a one-day conference on Africa on Monday 20 May 2013 at the Universidade Estadual do Ceará, Fortaleza. He wishes to thank Professor Mônica Dias Martins and her team for a very successful conference which featured a very engaging and rewarding stretch of discourses among scholars and students from an array of disciplines well into late evening. Obrigado!

**Refined columbite-tantalite, coltan, is critical in the manufacture of a range of small electronic equipment including, particularly, laptop computers and mobile phones; 80 per cent of the world’s reserves of this mineral is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is being currently subjected to a genocidal conflict where 5 million people have been murdered since the 1990s.

Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe

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