AFRICA’S image and that of her people has often been the subject of heated debate in media circles.
Opinion by William Muchayi
More often, the narrative that has shaped the image of this vast and populous continent is by others for Africans.
For long, the continent has been viewed by foreigners as a photo-opportunity to illustrate victimhood and desperation.
Images of emaciated children, with pot-bellies, fending off flies from their faces and women with flat breasts due to hunger are all meant to depict the degree of helplessness that characterises the lives of the people of this continent.
The African continent in this old narrative is stark in a vicious cycle of poverty and conflict with no end in sight.
This old narrative viewed as stereotyping Africans has of late come under challenge from proponents of the new narrative who seek to give positive trends and underlying successes by Africans.
Evangelists of the new narrative are usually Africans writing their own discourse for their own people.
The new narrative aims to articulate the history, vision, philosophy and aspirations of Africans, who for long, claims to have been inaccurately portrayed in the media on the global stage.
By so doing, Africans define themselves as opposed to being defined by others; they shape their story contrary to having it shaped by others; and articulate their agenda to be heard on the international arena.
Proponents of the new narrative have been energised by the story of the “rising” Africa backed by Western institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which projects that growth south of the Sahara is expected to surge to 6,1 % in 2014, well ahead of the global average of 4%.
As The Economist’s piece pointed out recently: “Over the past decade, six of the 10 fastest growing countries were African.” The list of some of the so-called fastest growing African economies is headed by Angola, Congo, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania.
How far have Africans been able to articulate their narrative and how loud are their voices?
To what extent is the international audience prepared to listen to this new narrative and has it changed Africa’s image? The new narrative can only hold if Africans become self-sufficient and be able to sustain themselves without depending on others for survival.
Africa’s dependence on foreign aid has not helped in her quest to articulate this new narrative.
Over the past 60 years, Dambisa Moyo notes, Africa received at least US$1 trillion of development-related aid from developed countries.
This figure amounts to roughly US$50 billion of international assistance being received by Africa each year. Ethiopia, which is heralded as one “rising” African state, has more than 90% of her annual budget made up of donor funding.
The same also applies to Malawi whose economy is unsustainable without foreign aid yet the two countries are paraded in international media as African success stories.
Most African leaders attend to international conferences not to contribute to discussions carried out at such forums, but to beg for aid which rarely reach its recipients.
Given this disturbing scenario, it therefore means the agenda pursued by most African states is dictated by foreigners (donors) since he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Africa’s voice can only be heard and listened to when she is able to stand on her own without need for support from outsiders.
Since when have beggars been privileged to become choosers and to influence policy on the international arena? Dependence on foreign aid chokes Africa’s voice, thus robbing her of influence which makes her narrative weak.
The continent’s misery to an extent is self-inflicting although external forces play a part in complicating the situation. Most African governments are corrupt and the practice deprives the continent of the much-needed revenue to uplift its people’s lives.
A study by the African Development Bank (AfBD) and the Global Financial Integrity, reveals that from 1980-2009, Africa has lost US$1,2 trillion to US$1,4 trillion in illicit financial outflows, or dirty money, like corruption, tax evasion, bribes and other criminal challenges.
This figure, as Obadia Ndaba argues, is more than three times the total amount of foreign aid received in the same period. It therefore implies that Africa does not necessarily need foreign aid if she manages her resources properly.
The same AfDB report says that South Africa, Africa’s largest economy, has lost US$170 billion in net resources over a period of 30 years in illicit outflows.
Nigeria, Africa’s second largest economy, is reported to have lost over US$400 billion to oil corruption alone since independence in 1960 from another report in 2012.
South Africa lost US$103 million in the fiscal year 2011-2012, up from US$38,5 million in 2001-2010, according to The Real State of the Nation report by the government.
Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary Committee on Mines and Energy recently reported to parliament recently that millions of dollars in royalties paid by diamond firms in eastern Zimbabwe have disappeared.
One firm, Mbada Diamonds, which works with in partnership government, says it has paid US$293 million in taxes over four years, but Treasury is reported to have just received US$80 million in total during the 2011-2012 period, with the remainder unaccounted for.
The chairperson of the parliamentary committee, Edward Chindori-Chininga, mysteriously died in a road accident less than a week after tabling the findings of the committee in what many suspect to be elimination by those involved in the murky world of diamond dealings.
The resource drain from Africa over the past 30 years, Professor Mthuli Ncube, chief economist and vice-president of the AfDB argues, is almost equivalent to Africa’s GDP and is holding back Africa’s lift-off.
This spiral web of corruption sucks the continent’s wealth, leaving her unable to sustain the livelihood of her people, but reduces them to beggars.
Once they are reduced to paupers, they are robbed of a voice and influence at home and on the international stage which in turn influences their ability to articulate their issues.
The narrative of a rising Africa might suit a clique of the African elite and Western chief executive officers, but it won’t do anything to improve the lives of ordinary Africans.
The image of an African man with a mobile phone does not in any way reflect a rising Africa at a time the continent grapples with rising unemployment, deplorable living conditions, with the majority of the population living on less than a dollar in a day.
It is a narrative peddled by the African elite and their foreign partners who benefit from the discourse at the expense of ordinary Africans.
Poor governance compound Africa’s plethora of problems. In spite of the continent’s vast economic wealth, the continent is still the poorest on the planet.
The African Progress Panel, headed by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, reveals that secret mining deals and financial transfers, corruption and weak leadership, have immensely contributed to the impoverishment of the continent. The report gave the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is estimated to possess in excess of US$24 trillion under its soil, but is reported to be the poorest country in the world according to the UN Human Development Index.
According to the same report, the DRC lost US$1,4 billion in secret deals as well as from five underpriced ventures involving top government officials in partnership with foreigners.
The report noted that “the figure was equivalent to double DRC’s health and education budgets combined”.
The African Progress Panel’s 2013 African Progress Report at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town recently concluded that Africa is losing more through illicit financial outflows than it receives in aid and foreign direct investment.
Foreigners collude with the African elite to drain the continent’s wealth taking advantage of weak and corrupt regimes through trade mispricing, misrepresentation of export and import values along other illicit outflows costing the continent US$38,4 billion and US$25 billion respectively between 2008 and 2010.
Foreign companies operating in Africa are also involved in this plunder of the continent’s resources. As noted by the report, “activities of these companies are characterised by extensive use of offshore registered and low tax jurisdictions”, and that “these arrangements come with weak public disclosure and extensive opportunities for tax evasion”.
The myth of Africa’s rise, peddled by the African elite and their foreign collaborators, comes from a straightforward interpretation of high growth rates and increased foreign investments in parts of the continent, without taking into consideration the continent’s dependence on the extractive industry as opposed to manufacturing.
In The Myth of Africa’s Rise, Rick Rowden highlights how Africa’s rising evangelists “don’t mention manufacturing, or its disturbing absence, in Africa”.
A recent UN report shows that manufacturing has stagnated across most of Africa and has even regressed in 23 African countries. As Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential argues, “there is a lack of value added on the African side”.
Parselelo Kantai observes “what is happening on the continent is a new era of massive extraction, catalysed mostly by Chinese domestic demands”.
The continuous looting of Africa’s wealth by outsiders in collaboration with the African elite will continue for generations and as long as the trend is not stopped, Africa will remain poor.
Muchayi is a political analyst who can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org