Why Africa remains poor

Why Africa remains poor

It is not a blue Monday that one sees on this fourth day of the month of February, the beginning of autumn and the end of summer. There is thick fog and for as long as I have stayed on the peripheries of the city in a tenement, I have come to realise that each passing season comes with changes that are visible and physical, but they are not seen by all for the life of the city is a rush that offers man or woman brief moments of repose which are usually spent watching the television screen ensconced in the softness of the couch or the lazy chair.

That the seasons will change is a reality as old as the earth itself, and each season comes with changes in the weather that are both peculiar and particular to the season, and the fogs in this part of Lesotho (and perhaps somewhere as well) mark the beginning of autumn and the end of summer, sort of like that Alex La Guma book In the Fog of the Season’s End.

It is in the hazy (foggy) mornings that one begins to realise how nature really works, that each entry and exit of a season is clearly marked, that there will be peculiarities particular to that point in the season. Of life this reality, and there is just no way any human man or woman can ignore it. Pretty soon the flimsy rags of summer will be replaced by the heavy jerseys and jackets from the bottom of the kist to fend off the cold and the chill of autumn and winter. It is the beginning and the end of the seasons of life.

The biggest question of the day is whether truth is being told as it is, or whether we are just told what the tellers think we want to know, or, what is convenient for them. It is polite speech, but it is by its very nature a falsity; a pretence at speaking and not talking frankly to those one should speak to. The continent of Africa never really progressed because the speeches made are of the kind meant to aggrandise or patronise the listener and not really address the need and the basic necessities such a listener may have. Political speak makes sense only to those that want to be told the lies, it does not make sense to those who are interested in listening to the truth, who are not interested in the collateral details of what is told but only the gist of it. This is the way of the researcher and the journalist, those types of people that make their living from lifting stones and revealing scorpions, that is, getting to the gist of the tale. It is an honourable way of making a living, but it is also a way of life fraught with daily danger on a continent where telling the truth is inconvenient for some of the powerful. Telling the truth in such circumstances becomes a game of Russian roulette.

The story and purpose of the truth and reconciliation commissions, the commissions of enquiry, and other sorts of caucuses is to get the finer details of the truth that would otherwise not be found in everyday political and other speak. Such commissions have actually never reached a point where there are satisfactory answers for all the parties involved. This is due to the simple reason that the truth is actually never told, only the sensational details of what happened but not the actual truth as to what led to such atrocities being committed.

The truth does not mean that we hear what we want to hear, but that what we hear is actually what happened and the underlying details are brought to the surface for the perusal of the larger part of the masses. The continent is largely in a foggy state of understanding of issues related to their livelihood and their welfare because what the masses get are often just snippets of the actual truth, useless bits and pieces of news meant to appease the speaker rather than to address the real issues of concern that affect the progress of the continent.

We are a continent plagued by lack of progress, and it is largely attributed to the colonial past. I personally find this a lame excuse, for if colonialism went away progress should be the responsibility of the local and not that of the colonist that left. Our lack of progress stems from the fact that we hardly share vital information related to the process of progress. What we often share are useless bits of inefficient information that get no one anywhere significant, and so we find an entire continent going around in circles instead of moving forward.

This is due to the simple fact that Africa revels in useless self-aggrandisement and wishy-washy window-shopping sessions on what the West has achieved instead of focussing on what it is that is preventing the continent from proceeding. One hears tales of how fine the cities of Europe are, how awesome Dubai is, how progressive the Far-East is, and never what Africa can do to get itself out of the current rut. The presumption is always that it will never be reached in the course of a lifetime despite the fact that states such as the People’s Republic of China have proven that regress can be turned into progress in less than a lifetime.

This means that we lack the spirit of sacrifice of the self for the benefit of the following generations; that it should not always be about ourselves. The figure that behaves as if the whole world should be for their enjoyment will contribute nothing to the progress of their country and state. It cannot always be about one’s wishes in this lifetime, it can be about those ones that shall come after one is dead and gone: this is the spirit of self-sacrifice that sees entire countries succeed to levels beyond what was originally envisioned.

The true visionary thinks not of the present circumstances but what the future possibilities are and how they can be improved for the benefit of the following generations. This country has had only two visionaries until the present day, and those are Morena Moshoeshoe I and the late Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan. The two figures did not live in a modern democracy, but they understood the true meanings of the term.

It does not help to claim to have a democratic government that was ‘fairly’ voted into power but still be scared to express one’s opinions on the running of the state for fear of persecution in different ways. Such a type of democracy is not democracy but is in fact autocracy wearing the mask of democracy. All deserve to have a word on how a state should be run, and none should be shut on the basis of their status or party affiliation.

Poverty is the biggest enemy of the people, and it has its roots founded in corruption of the type where affiliates and members are granted the opportunity to gain wealth through tenders and related means in the name of improving the state.

In these cases, the tenders are granted for the maintenance of some part of the state infrastructure but the funds never actually go to the activity they were intended for, and so the project fails whilst the beneficiaries from the funds go on to live lavish lifestyles at the expense of the progress of the state. I see this behaviour as not based on greed but largely on vanity, the vanity the native that was corrupted by the colonist still has more than two generations after independence. It seems to please a certain sector of society that they fall within the ‘have’ group, and these are the type of individuals that are content with simply having more than the next person.

It does not bother this type of individual that there are beggars who will go to bed on an empty stomach: flaunting all the stolen wealth is the most important event in their lives. It is a high maintenance sort of lifestyle that necessitates constant stealing to the extent that some figures actually end up with more wealth than their states (remember the story of Mobutu in Zaire/ Democratic Republic of Congo). It is a crime, a crime that is accepted in silence whilst the continent regresses.

One can only watch as South Africa uses the race card as an excuse for the ANC’s failures in the past 25 years of rule, and one can only watch with utter dismay as the ‘national’ and ‘congress’ debate that has been going on from 1966 plunges Lesotho further into the clutches of regression. We actually never address the real concerns that affect the citizens of the state in Africa, the other card is of more use to the impotent politics of the continent that are in fact only there for the benefit of the ruling class.

If one listens closely to the conferences and debates, ad hominem arguments form a large part of the discussions instead of the impact the larger and more serious crimes of corruption have on the progress of the state and the continent. The African would rather attack the cleanliness of the fisherman instead of acknowledging the fact that the fisherman actually feeds the masses the government is failing to feed. The congress follower would rather criticise real efforts at progress because they were brought by a national leader, and the country goes around in circles because there is no real sense of continuity when it comes to the implementation and the maintenance of effective strategies on poverty alleviation from previous regimes. And so good plans are discarded not on the basis of their effectiveness but who their originator is, and the continent suffers from the constant stop and start.

We have seen good plans from previous regimes discarded because they were started by the opposition. It is as if each regime wants to prove how good their plans are (like the native begging to please the colonial master) and this leads to the constant abandonment of tested working plans for new untested ones that actually never work due to limited time frames of their implementers. If only the continent would be frank and honest when it came to the actual act of assessing what works and what does not, then the constant shifting that bears no fruit in terms of development would stop.

We know for a fact that Leabua’s plans actually worked, how they were discarded cannot be answered and one has to view futile attempts to emulate what his regime had actually established as efficient means to poverty alleviation and reduction of unemployment. It will only begin to make sense the day any regime that will come bothers to take at least two years to get back to the drawing board. The hate should not override judgement, for the calculated hate over the years is one of the factors that actually contributed to Lesotho’s undoing.

Every native wanted to be heard, every native actually thought their plan is the best, and the country teetered to the edge where it now hangs. I fail to acknowledge that behaviour where the blame game becomes the order of the day.
As a country, we are just the mirror image of what the continent is going through. Corruption is the biggest culprit when it comes to addressing the issue of unchecked underdevelopment, and as the developed nations have put forward this week, the main problem with Africa is not corruption, but the larger problem lies with it going largely unpunished where it occurs. It is no use wasting time watching commissions of enquiry that at the end of the day have no power whatsoever in effecting sentence and punishment where it is due.

The criminal minds on this continent enjoy the best of freedom in terms of having the financial resources to go to court and to invest in various activities whilst the rest of the continent suffers in the clutches of poverty.
It just is of no use to speak of crime and corruption, poverty and disease on radio when your silence actually contributes to the maintenance of these crimes against humanity for the perpetrators are never punished for their offences. We can (perhaps) only see the light as a continent the day we stop being the baby of the world, the day we start seeing the truth for what it really is, the moment we decide to set out on our own as a continent to carve new paths into progress.

The old way of setting records straight through perusing through old documents for wrongs done in the past won’t work due to its tedious nature. Setting the record straight means establishing new ways into dealing with issues, scenarios and things, it does not mean starting to point fingers and engaging in witch hunts as seems to be the custom of the day.

Tšepiso Mothibi

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