In a “Daily Monitor” article published online on September 30 2021, Crispin Kaheru argues that “Africa should breed its own type of democracy.”
Let me attempt to offer a reimagination of Africa’s socioeconomic - and to a lesser extent, political past, present, and future; both in isolation, and in relation to the rest of the world.
Several years ago, a cousin once remarked while comparing the USA and Uganda: “…if only someone could just build up Uganda (!),” given its good climate and flora and fauna, rich cultures, etc. In other words, perhaps all that is needed is the type of organization seen in the west, or for local context, a city such as Kigali.
But as I mentioned in last week’s article, the socio-economic development of the West didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it took centuries of trial and error. And in regard to Kigali, sure, it is a beautifully-maintained city. But I for one have had a chance to travel to other urban, semi-urban, and rural parts of the country, and I can attest that most of those areas are nearly identical in appearance to Uganda’s towns and villages.
This brings us back to the thesis of this article: is it possible to reimagine an ideal alternative history and evolution, present, and future for Africa, in comparison to the West and the developed nations of the east? And I should note immediately that this exercise isn’t of a mere academic or wishful-thinking kind. Rather, it is arguably a vital first step vis-à-vis a deliberate planning and realization of our future.
Two resultant sub-points are worthy of mention here. First, there is indeed for a real ontological difference between natural/inevitable evolution, versus deliberate planning/organization. In this context, one apt example is that of the difference between the old capitals and other metropolises of Europe such as London and Paris, versus the newer planned cities of most of the USA, and/or other countries like Brasilia in Brazil, Abuja in Nigeria, etc.
The other sub-point is in relation to the precise meaning of the concept of “development.”One arguably outdated and simplistic conception equates development to features such as wearing of western clothes and habitation in brick and mortar — or other modern-material-based — houses. However, I hereby assert that development should have a paradoxically and simultaneously simpler but also broader meaning.
For instance, first, regardless of how a society discovers or evolves towards it, it is obvious that humans need the enlightenment of art, and science, and critical-thought. In other words, for instance, regardless of whether we live in huts or brick-and-mortar houses, we should utilize facilities — e.g. pit-latrines or septic-tank-connected toilets — to safely isolate our excreta for the avoidance of disease; 2) — relatedly, we need to observe hygiene protocols while cooking, or while tending to wounds; and 3) Equally important, we need to hone systems of critically reflecting on our ethics, as well as our learning methods (epistemology), etc.
With that said, we can then try to reimagine Africa’s past and evolution, its present, and its future. First, in regard to its past/evolution, and its present: how should the citizens and leaders of the continent have organized themselves so as to arrive at a more positive socio-economic present? If Africa’s kings and chiefs had united, they might have managed to repel the European invaders.
However, it is more-than-likely that the people and leaders of Africa would still have ended up absorbing a variety of cultural influences from any group of people with whom they dealt. For instance, the Arabs brought clothes, weaponry and other technologies to the coasts of East Africa without the colonial subjugation of the Europeans.
But they also introduced Islam and other cultural elements. Similarly, the Europeans — alongside the introduction of formal education and modern healthcare — introduced their own religion (Christianity), as well as colonial subjugation.
As for the future, how should Africa progress? According to Dr. Deckillah Omukoba, a Kenyan communication-studies lecturer and socio-political commentator, East African citizens need to realize that inevitably, societies experience sudden or dramatic turning points, be it via leadership, socio-economic systems, etc., from time-to-time.
However, these changes don’t happen suddenly. Rather, they either happen after a long deliberate planning and execution process, or they arrive after a long gradual evolution.
She also notes that in the case of Kenya during Covid-19, the internet has become indispensable. In other words, unforeseen “acts of God” sometimes propel nations towards change.
Regardless, just as it had the potential to enable a better future from the past, unity among Africa’s nations can similarly enable a better future from the present, i.e. vis-à-vis utilities such as the pooling of resources, facilitation of expensive and complex research — inclusive of fields such as space-exploration, and the enhancement of military-capabilities.
Finally, what can we do as ordinary citizens, regardless of our political-governance structures, to enable our ideal future? There is a lot that we in the diaspora can do.
The author is a communication and social-science researcher and mental-health advocate based in the USA.