By Lovemore Chikova
Africa this week reached a milestone, celebrating 57 years on Monday since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, but the slow pace of development amidst plenty of resources is a paradox that now needs to be broken.
Of course, the OAU has since turned into the African Union, with a much broader mandate that includes the economy, as the liberation of the continent from colonial rule has been achieved.
But Africa needs to start living up to the reality that it is a continent endowed with so much natural resources as compared to other areas, making it the richest in terms of what it possesses.
Yet, the richest continent is actually the poorest when it comes to what accrues to the citizens and their standard of living.
This is the jinx that the modern African leaders mandated to be part of the African Union must strive to break and unpack, to ensure the continent claims its rightful position in world affairs.
It is a huge inconsistency that needs urgent action.
Africa Day was marked under the theme: “Silencing The Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development and Intensifying the Fight against the Covid-19 Pandemic”.
While the theme captured the sad situation in which Africa Day was marked under the existing threat of Covid-19, it also touched on what has always been close to the hearts of many Africans — development.
It is time Africa takes its rightful position in development, and the transformation from the OAU to African Union in 2002, was meant to accelerate economic growth on the continent.
The change marked a new direction that the continent was now taking as a bloc, especially to ensure that the gains of the liberation struggle, which the OAU gallantly fought for, were transformed into tangible economic benefits.
As the continent marks the 57 years of unity, it is equally important that there is an examination of development models that have been applied so far to help address why Africa finds itself in the position it is today.
The purpose being to take stock of what has been working and what has been dragging the continent backwards in terms of development.
With vast natural resources and a good human resource base, there should be a way to ensure the countries on the continent turn a new page in terms of development.
Countries on the continent need to follow development models that work, or at least those that have proved to work in other developing countries, especially the economic giants of Asia.
But this does not mean taking everything from these countries hook, line and sinker, as it requires the ability to apply what works in the situation obtaining in African countries.
For example, many countries in Africa have in the past decades tried Western prescriptions of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), but with little or no tangible results.
In Zimbabwe, everyone knows what happened to the standard of living during the days of ESAP, which eroded most of the gains of the first 10 years of independence in health, education, industrial growth and employment.
What seems feasible is for African countries to seek partnerships that promote a quick economic progress through a win-win situation.
One of the reasons why some African countries appear stagnant in economic development has been their reliance on partnerships skewed in favour of foreigners.
The continent’s Agenda 2063, which is anchored on industrialisation and modernisation of economies, is noble if appropriate measures are put in place to facilitate the exploitation of natural resources for local growth.
In fact, many investors and countries out there are now focusing on Africa with the purpose of getting their hands on the existing natural resources, but not for the benefit of Africans.
Investors, of course, will get their share because they would have invested huge amounts, but their benefits should never exceed what accrues to the local populations.
It is a fact that many African countries lack capacity to fully exploit their resources, and this is where foreigners with the expertise will be most welcome.
Foreigners should bring capital, new technologies and advanced human resources expertise for the benefit of African countries, which possess the much sought after resources.
What is needed is for the African countries to create conditions which make capital comfortable to migrate to the continent to enable the transformation to take place.
Abundant natural resources buried under the soil and laying unexploited are of no use to any country.
Of course, the natural resources can provide a good point for boasting about how Africa is endowed and rich, but they are as good as nothing, as long as they are not being exploited.
The continent should strive to build an image as the best investment destination in the world, complemented by policies that accept the easy flow of capital, but with policies that favour local development.
Zimbabwe, for example, has taken a step in the right direction through the setting up of the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (ZIDA), meant to ensure the ease of doing business by investors.
ZIDA handles all business concerning both local and foreign investments, with clear rules and regulations that are favourable to both the investors and the development of the country.
African countries need to come up with such institutions that are crucial for the attraction of partners that help exploit the abundant natural resources for the benefit of the people.
The arrival of investors will result in setting up of modern industries for value addition and beneficiation to ensure that the natural resources fetch more money on the world market.
This will feed well into the continent’s ambitions as it totters towards achieving Agenda 2063, for industrialisation and modernisation.
There should be massive investments directed to mining, infrastructure development, including roads and railways, construction, energy and manufacturing sectors.
Whoever coined the theme for this year’s Africa Day celebrations and included the phrase: “Silencing the guns” was right on the point, as no development takes place in a state of armed conflict.
There are just too many armed conflicts in Africa that need to be stopped.
Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, jihadists attacks in some west and central African countries, armed terrorist attacks in Cado Delgado in Mozambique and internal armed conflicts in Libya and South Sudan all need to be tackled.
The 57th Africa Day commemorations should provide a chance to reflect and make bold and radical interventions when it comes to tackling the continent’s problems.
This will create a conducive environment for economic growth.
Africa: 57 Years On, Africa Must Now End the Paradox