Africa’s image has been in global perspectives over the years such that travellers to foreign countries are often subjected to serious scrutiny. Thus, the Faculty of Social Science, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) First Internal Conference held recently, attempts to dialogue a way out of the illusion. MARTIN PAUL writes.
The convocation arena of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) was filled to capacity on Monday when scholars from African continents and Nigeria universities, gathered to discuss on the topic: “Imaged or Imagined: Africa and the Contemporary World: Issues in Security, Governance and Sustainable Development”.
Renown Professor, Horace G. Campbell, open the discussion as Keynote Speaker 1 with the topic: “Saving Lake Chad and the Rejuvenation of Africa: Beyond Imaginary”, and was backed up by Keynote Speaker 11, Emeritus Professor Akinjide Osuntokun on the topic: “Image or Imagined: Issues in Security, Governance and Sustainable Development”.
On the third day of the conference, Professor Afis Oladosu opened the discussions on the topic: “African/nist Studies of Africa: Re-reading, Interrogating Theories, just as Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, followed suit with the topic: Nigeria: Contemporary Security Challenges”.
The no-dull moment conference also had over 250 abstract papers on contemporary issues, a situation the Vice-Chancellor of NOUN, Professor Abdalla Adamu, described as largest in history of a conference.
Adamu also described the conference as apt, particularly now that many African countries, including Nigeria in particular, are going through insecurity challenges.
Emphatically, Professor Osuntokun in his paper said: “My approach to this keynote address is to take account of the reflected reality (image) of the current situation in Africa and to reflect mentally (imagined) on the way forward and the future. It is a cliché to say the world has become smaller because of the advancement in science and technology, particularly in information and communication technology as well as transportation with particular emphasis on aviation”.
He went further to acknowledge that “there are no longer any remote areas of the world as it used to be in the past, in other words, there is no terra incognita any more.
Factually, Africa is not a dark continent unknown to the rest of the world. Whatever affects the world affects Africa in equal measure. The irony, therefore, is that there is also a disparity and yawning gap between the political economy of the developing and developed world.
“The challenge, therefore, is to find ways by which common humanity can together solve the problem of the world for the benefit of us all. These problems, according to Osuntokun, are those of security, governance, sustainability, food security, over population, environmental degradation and climate change.
“These are no problems limited by national, regional and continental boundaries, but are universal and global in nature and have to be commonly tackled.
It is becoming increasingly clear, in spite of the rise of nativism and nationalism in some parts of the world, that a common multilateral approach to these issues would be more meaningful and effective than retrogressive tendencies of unilateralism that may lead to violence, if care is not taken.
Effect of globalisation
He said the last decade which emphasised globalisation, in spite of its unequal benefits to all, nevertheless, saw millions of people in Asia and in particular, China lifted out of poverty.
Millions of people benefited in the west and the new countries of Eastern Europe and Russia albeit not equally. Globalization has brought the world into closer contact and possibly conflict because of the knowledge of what is possible and in the inequality that nevertheless exists.
Africa, he continued, is becoming part of a world driven by the knowledge industry in the sense that she is increasingly becoming part of the global highway of information and communication networks and her people are also finding their ways into the rest of the world through emigration when their local environmental conditions are not intellectually friendly or stimulating.
Year 2006 to 2016 witnessed a shift in global wealth from the West to the East and the arrival of China as the workshop of the world and corresponding shift in power relations.
Whatever affects the global economy, Osuntokun, stressed, has ramifications in Africa in spite of its little contribution to global trade. The down-turn and upswing in global commodity prices have corresponding effect, not only on African economy, but on its politics.
Africa is also not untouched by the globalisation of terrorism with its implications on the security of the continent and rise in the Defence budgets of some countries including spending huge amount that would have been spent on development, but which is now spent on security and pacification.
Governance and development
There are very few federations in Africa apart from Nigeria and even then, the military regimes the country had between 1966 and 1999 did more damage to the federal system and this constituted a challenge to the national unity and security of the country.
Many struggling democracies in Africa are in their unstable predicament because of lack of jobs for the rapidly growing youthful population, who easily lose hope and become agents of destabilisation. To stay in power rulers become desperate and dictatorial thus leading to the vicious cycle of political instability and economic underdevelopment.
This political instability was accentuated and worsened by almost three decades of military rule across the continent. Even where the military did not intervene as for example in Zimbabwe the sit tight syndrome is a malady affecting several African countries from Egypt to Algeria and until the overthrow in Libya , Cameroon, Chad, to name a few .
The imperative facing Africa is to add value to whatever primary produce it has, be it, mineral or agricultural produce. To be able to do this it must produce appropriate man power trained either locally or abroad, but preferably locally in order to save costs.
Africa is not funding the educational sector as it should, yet without education Africa will continue to lag behind other continents. In spite of competing demands, educational development must be seen in Africa as a fundamental imperative.
Africa suffers from poor business environment consisting of poor transportation and communication grid. Only South Africa has first world type of roads and railway net work and connectivity that makes investment profitable.
“If Africa is to develop, it has to rely on itself rather than on hand outs, philanthropy or investment from the international community. There is no free lunch anywhere. There is also deficient legal infrastructure and judicial system that would make arbitration easy in case of commercial disputes and conflicts. All these problems are issues of governance.
The only silver lining is that there is huge profit to be made in Africa much more than in many other parts of the world that intrepid and adventurous investors are likely to want to come to Africa. Besides, it is true to say that Africa is the last frontier.
Effect of terrorism
Terrorism in Africa poses serious threat to the political and economic stability and sovereignty of the continent, especially because of the fragility of many national governments in the absence of national unity arising as a result of plurality of their ethnic components.
In recent times, perhaps following the deleterious effect of climate change and proliferation of small arms and light weapons, West Africa, particularly Nigeria, has witnessed a rise in conflict between farmers and herders in which lives are wantonly lost. The result of all these problems is political instability with every election being a matter of life or death.
Future of Africa
What Africa needs more than any other thing is good governance and committed leaders, who have the interest of their people at their hearts more than the pecuniary rewards of holding office.
African leaders must be committed to transparency, and openness and readiness to transfer power to opponents when the electorate so decide.
Education for citizenship should be added to functional and utilitarian education. With an educated citizenry, mobilization for development will be much easier. So also will mobilization for citizenship from the plural ethnic societies inherited from the colonial states.
When people are educated they are likely to understand the basic commonality of all human beings than the current primeval and primitive solidarity with people belonging to the same clans, tongues and tribes. Proper educational foundation would also lead to the emergence of the right kind of political leadership and labouring class that would propel the continent to the appropriate level of development. If Africa can break the yoke of tribalism, it will be much easier to run democratic governments.
An educated citizenry would appreciate empowerment of women who, in most cases, constitute more than 50 per cent of the population, but are currently ignored in terms of representation in spite of the Beijing declaration of 35 per cent of the positions in legislative and executive branches of government.
Many African states are committed to diversifying their economies from dependence on one or two mineral or agricultural produce. Commitment is not enough these policies must be executed on sustainable basis. The way forward is to mechanize agricultural production away from peasant subsistence agriculture. Value must also be added to agricultural production before exporting them.
The key to Africa’s sustainable growth is its population policy. In most parts of Africa the population is growing at about 3% per annum. This is too high. With this kind of growth Africa may find itself unable to feed itself. For example the population of Nigeria at the current rate of growth is projected to reach 500 million by the year 2050, this is simply unsustainable.
We must do away with the rather indulgent cultural right of men to acquire more than one wife on the grounds that their culture permits it. This is one of the ways to control Africa’s galloping rate of population growth.
There must also be focus on the girl child. She must be kept in school for much longer than what is the present situation. The only way the girl child will fully realise her potentialities and make contributions to the economy of the continent and participate fully in governance is to have full access to education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
In this way girls will not be married off at youth and turned into child bearing machine as their role in society. This is one of the ways Africa would catch up with the civilised world through full mobilisation of its entire people for development.
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