Restoring Africa’s Innate Self-Confidence

AllAfrica.com. Africa is still to record a balance sheet that answers the spirit of seeking a better life and economic independence, more than half a century after gaining political independence. Regardless of the many problems the continent faces, Charles Ebugre, the UN Millennium Campaign deputy director for Africa says lack of self-confidence, self-belief and failure to appreciate and recognise the importance of the nationalist movement that brought independence to most countries on the continent some 50 years ago is largely responsible for the appalling conditions for the majority of the poor in Africa.

In a wide-ranging interview on the sidelines of the just-ended Media Roundtable on Millennium Development Goals in Zimbabwe, Ebugre says it was extremely worrying that the younger generation across the continent had lost faith in Pan-Africanism and were looking elsewhere for role models disregarding the history and culture which shaped the direction of the social movements on the continent.

“Conditions in which black people lived under during the colonial era were harsh and inhuman.

“Despite the failures of our African governments, it is important to appreciate the nationalistic struggles and the social movements which sought to improve the living conditions of Africans on the continent in the 50s and 60s,” Ebugre, a Ghanaian says.

The younger generation will fail in its duty to develop the continent in future if it does not walk with history, self-confidence and faith in Pan Africanism.

Young Africans, he says, need to have self-belief, faith and confidence in their own abilities to shape and influence their own destiny.

Young people are disconnected from the history of Africa.

About 70 percent of young people (20 – 40 years) are totally disconnected from the nationalistic struggle and the conditions that existed in the colonial era.

“They don’t realise how far we have come. There is no sense of how far we have come. Because there is no appreciation of African history, they don’t see the progress,” says Ebugre

In all their endeavours and engagement with the West, he says the young generation must acknowledge this history and base their dealings on mutual respect and partnerships to help improve living conditions of the poor on the continent.

“In engaging with the West, self-belief and faith in Africa’s intellectual capabilities, culture and history are critical,” Ebugre says.

“We need a critical mass of a youth that will question the root cause of deep-rooted black grievances in our trade relations with West.

“We need to keep the majority of the poor in our minds in everything that we seek to achieve from our engagement with the West.”

Africans, he says, understand their problems better and are responsible for finding solutions to their problems.

He says African professionals and governments should condemn the structural adjustment policies imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which brought untold hardships on the majority of the masses on the continent.

Ebugre spoke strongly about the link between trade and poverty in Africa.

He says when the 1970s crisis unfolded, developing countries which depended heavily on commodities were caught in a serious debt trap.

With no choice or means, developing countries borrowed heavily from multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the private sector.

Government leaders in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, he says, bulked to the conditions of the World Bank and the IMF.

He says the configuration of leaders in the West in the 1980s — Ronald Reagan (US), Margaret Thatcher (Britain), Helmut Kohl (West Germany) and Francois Mitterrand (France) with the neo-liberal agenda made the conditions of the poor in Africa and in the developing world worse as they pushed governments in the South to cut expenditure, minimise their role in business and privatise critical institutions providing basic services to the poor.

Basic services collapsed and poverty levels rose to unprecedented levels when Structural Adjustment Programmes were forced down the throats of governments in the developing world.

Abugre says there was a drastic cut in the provision of basic services — health, clean water, agricultural input support for smallholder farmers, education and other services.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, he says, SAPs created serious social problems for Africa leading to massive demonstrations, strikes, sharp rise in the price of food and other basics. Growing global pressure by the pro-poor movement forced the IMF and other multilateral lenders to review SAPs.

Social movements, he says, played a critical role from the 1990s to jettison neo-liberalism and bring dignity to the poor.

African economists, he says, need to play an important role to influence and shape macro-economic policies at the Bretton Woods institutions and also on multilateral financing institutions on the continent to help build pro-poor policies that will address the grievances of the majority of the poor in Africa.

African economists were marginalised from the structural adjustment process and this largely contributed to the failure of the SAPs on the continent.

Ebugre says Africans need to be conscious of their history, culture and the struggle for emancipation and build self confidence to fight for social justice in all spheres on economic activity — agriculture, trade policy, business, finance, the environment, politics, education, health and in all other programs on poverty reduction.

This, he says, would help counter the racist world economic order, build African solutions that work for Africans and assure the majority of the poor on the continent of their inalienable right to human dignity and a life free malignant poverty.

Of course, many of the youths who believe religiously in Westernisation (ice cream and popcorn culture) will dismiss Ebugre’s arguments as tired and useless.

They will argue that it does not bring bread and butter on the table. They will further argue it is old fashioned and archaic and negates the individual ‘choice and freedom.’

Their eyes are so much fixated with the cosmetic benefits of consumerism — fashion, sex, music, which Akua Djanie, a Pan African writer says features “women seductively caressing themselves while sprawled across huge beds, to videos which portray the artist as the ‘don dada/oga/ playa ‘Big boy’ coming out of a limousine or another luxury vehicle, sipping champagne, several scantily clad women by his side (all desiring him), where he’s smoking his cigar, tossing dollars in the air on the girls.”

R ‘n’ B music as duplicated here in Africa never tells the story of our own history, culture and struggles but is just a “copy and paste” of the American pop culture — with little imagination and creativity.

Djanie rightly points out: “It is time young African artists stopped blindly copying their American counterparts.

“African artists have to be true to themselves and tell our stories, not stories about gunshots in the hood. They have to be trendsetters who create new dances and fashion to go with their music.”

Without self-confidence and faith in African values and the African story, how then can the younger generation articulate the struggles of their own people, protect that which is African and walk with their heads high in the achievements that are truly African. It’s difficult to fathom.

What Ebugre and other pan African scholars are saying is, you can be modern using your history, culture and faith in African abilities. You don’t need the West to tell you that this is modern, fashionable or trendy.

They fear lack of self-confidence and belief in being African will eclipse African pride and the African spirit which is struggling to awaken from the slumber of divisions, ravaged historical memory and a recollection starved of the African abilities and potential.

Africa has its own problems — wars, hunger, poor leadership and governance, weak infrastructure and a whole chain of other problems. Is there a race or continent without problems?

What Ebugre is saying here is that Africans need knowledge that frees them from crippling mental poverty and realises and taps on the vast possibilities and abilities that exist on this vast continent of more than one billion people.

With the right kind of knowledge and frame of mind, there is nothing that can prevent Africans from excelling using whatever skills they possess in science, music, arts, trade, education, film, ICT, politics and in any field.

Africa needs to clear the confusion on the Western consumerist culture and its myth of fulfilment and “modernity” and build knowledge that will free it from the malignancy of low self-esteem, perpetual dependency on the West, lack of pride in African values and history and the sad episode of stereotypes that undermine African intellectual potential.

Once Africa escapes from such trappings, it will move into an envisaged era full of vitality of united thinking and action to solve the problems that confront the continent.

The road to economic self-confidence will not be easy. Bringing African resources under African control and making sure the continent’s resources serve to uplift the majority of the poor on the continent is complex matter. But Africans have to pursue this struggle despite the challenges.

Ayi Kwei Armah, a renowned African writer and cultural researcher rightly sums it up in his article on the Berlin Consensus: “It will require a knowledgeable generation of conscious Africans, able to turn themselves into skilled organisers, and determined to keep working steadily until they reach their goal.”

A united Africa, home to a people that knows its history from the beginnings of recorded time, and which knows enough about its cultural resources to understand that in order to find the intellectual resources any society needs its future, it need not go cadging concepts from alien sources.

“What we have to do, to start with, is to remember our dismembered heritage.”

This article published on AllAfrica.com was written by Sifelani Tsiko.

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