Light at the end of the tunnel for the “Dark Continent”? (Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam)

(Author’s note: This commentary appeared on  Pambazuka.org  on May 29, 2014 as part of a mid-century outlook on possible scenarios in Africa. I make my “predictions” debating myself as a political scientist and a defense lawyer.)

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for the “Dark Continent”?

“Making predictions is hard. Especially about the future”, said the famous American baseball player, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra facetiously. Likewise, predicting whether there is light at the end of the tunnel in 2050 and beyond is hard. Especially about the Dark Continent. Making predictions about Africa based on the facts of the last half century will surely make one a doomsayer. Not looking in the rear view mirror would make one a soothsayer. I am neither.

As a political scientist, I am grudgingly guided by the reputed “founding father” of “modern” political science, Nicolo Machiavelli, who instructed that “Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times.” Machiavelli took a dim view of the human capacity to learn from mistakes. He must have believed man is doomed to incorrigibility.

As a lawyer, I take cue from Jean Paul Sartre who unabashedly declared, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” Sartre was preempted by his intellectual forbearer Jean Jacques Rousseau who proclaimed, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.” Are Africans condemned to be free and live under the rule of fair and just laws; or are they damned to perpetual slavery in the service of African tyrants who are themselves enslaved by their former colonial and neocolonial masters?

In making “predictions” about the future of Africa mid-century, I am guided by two questions: Is Africa’s “future history” determined by its “past history”, or is it yet to be written by free Africans yet unborn? Will the cradle of mankind become the graveyard of freedom and human rights in 2050 and beyond?

I shall use neither a rear view mirror, a crystal ball nor mathematical models to predict Africa’s future. I will leave that to the professional futurists and turbaned seers. I choose to look into Africa’s future as a “political lawyer”, a human rights advocate looking through the opaque prism of justice, freedom, rule of law, equality and other such sublime virtues. The question for me is not whether demographics, economics, sociopolitical change, the environment, and human development factors will shape and determine Africa’s future in 2050 and beyond. These factors are unquestionably decisive. My concern is how the rule of law and good governance in Africa can avert the doomsday scenarios of socioeconomic, political and ecological collapse in Africa.

There is an old Ugandan saying which cautions, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Where is Africa going in the next 50 years? Will Africans take Mandela’s long walk to freedom and prosperity as they march to 2050 and beyond, or find themselves caged in a poverty and tyranny trap and self-destruct in an Armageddon of ethnic strife, sectarian warfare, corruption and uncontrolled population growth? Will Africa be the Promised Land for Africans in 2050 and beyond or remain a newer unkinder and un-gentler version of the “beggar continent” that it is today? Will there even be an Africa as we know it today in 2050 and beyond? Is it an exercise in futility to even venture to make predictions about Africa?

The (Machiavellian) political scientist in me whispers prophetic words of doom and gloom in my ears. “Africa emerged from the colonial tyranny of the white man only to be trampled by the tyranny of the black man. Over 50 years of independence, Africa has fallen into a bottomless vortex of dictatorship, corruption, poverty, war, ethnic strife, famine and disease. It will be Apocalypse Africa in 2050. Africa will remain chained in Plato’s Cave where she can see only shadows but never light. It will be the end of times. Africa has no future.”

The defense lawyer in me whispers prophetic words of optimism and exuberance. “Africa’s future is bright as the sun. Tyranny will be swept into the dustbin of history in the inexorable march of freedom across Africa. Dictatorship will inevitably be replaced by genuine multiparty democracy; injustice and inequality vanquished by the rule of law; corruption will evaporate in the sunlight of transparency and accountability; prosperity will grind down poverty; peace will prevail over war; ethnic strife will be overcome by ethnic harmony; famine will be consigned to oblivion by plenty; and ignorance will be banished by enlightenment. The rule of law will replace the rule of evil men. There is bright sunlight at the end of the tunnel. It will be the beginning of times, a new epoch in African history.”

So here are a few audacious “predictions” for Africa in 2050 and beyond as “calculated” by the political scientist and the lawyer.

The Political Scientist: Africa’s principal problem in 2050 and beyond will be famine and starvation, or “food insecurity” as the international poverty pimps conveniently call it. By 2050, Africa’s current population of 1.1 billion is estimated to increase to at least 2.4 billion. Nigeria’s population of 174 million will increase to 440 million. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Ethiopia, in particular, with an estimated fertility rate of 6.0 children per woman in 2011, is projected to vault from 13th to seventh on the list of most populous countries by 2050, tripling in total population from 91 million to 278 million.” In 2050, Africa will find herself in a “poverty trap”(intergenerational poverty perpetuated by bad governance and economic mismanagement) and a “Malthusian cage” (population growth will outstrip food supply). Africa will be unable to increase food production and will implode from runaway population growth. The “population bomb” will finish off Africa by mid-century.

The Lawyer: An estimated 70 percent of Africa’s population today is under 35 years of age. The youth bulge will likely persist through the middle of the century. Improved education for Africa’s youth and changing youth aspirations and values will reduce the traditional large family size. The younger generation will adopt effective family planning practices and birth control measures and delay child bearing. Africa’s youth will take advantage of innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities. They will take control of the helm of government and practice good governance as part of their value system. Africa will have genuine multiparty democracies with functioning independent judiciaries and legislatures, a free and independent press and civil society institutions and regular free and fair elections. Africa will be the breadbasket for the world with abundant fertile land and water on the continent. Africa’s best days are yet to come!

The Political Scientist: George Ayittey observed, “Africa is poor because she is not free.” In fact, Africa is not poor. Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources. Africa is poor because her leadership is morally bankrupt. Africa’s leaders are scraped from the bottom of the barrel. Despite alleged runaway economic growth in Africa (‘seven out of the ten fastest growing economies in the last decade are African’), often trumpeted by the international poverty pimps and indolent Western media parrots, poverty shall persist as an inescapable fact of life for the descendants of the 85 percent of Africans who today live on less that USD1 per day. In 2050, poverty and disease will reduce the average African life expectancy to no more than 37 years. Africa will remain shackled in a poverty and tyranny trap.

The Lawyer: The coming generations of Africans will rescue Africa from the poverty and tyranny trap. They will not be addicted to Western aid. They will forswear the culture of beggary. They will use their knowledge and technological sophistication to solve problems and liberate Africa from the poverty trap. They will take responsibility for their own failures. They will not blame colonialism, imperialism, communism and all of the other ‘isms’ for Africa’s failure. They will stand proud and self-confident. They may not be able to solve all of Africa’s poverty problems but they will surely solve Africa’s bankruptcy of leadership. They will pull up Africa out of its poverty and tyranny trap by its bootstraps.

The Political Scientist: It is written that ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Africans today are perishing by the millions in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mali, Chad, Somalia and elsewhere. Africa is cursed by visionless (benighted and blind) leaders. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership, the largest annually awarded prize in the world (USD5 million over 10 years, and a lifetime endowment of USD200,000 per year), has been given out only three times since it was established in 2007. The awardees have come from Mozambique, Botswana and Cape Verde. None of the “new breed of African leaders” sanctified by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair made the cut. The leadership bankruptcy in Africa will economically bankrupt Africa in 2050 and beyond.

The Lawyer: By 2050, Africa’s leaders will be proactive and not as reactive as their forbearers. They will be well-educated and trained (in contrast to the benighted and corrupt ignoramuses who hold the reins of power today). They will plan to avoid problems instead of muddling through problems after the problems have become insoluble. They will be flexible and adopt to new circumstances. They will listen to their young population and act to meet the needs and desires of their generation. They will be open-minded, open to change and resourceful in solving and anticipating problems. Africa’s leaders in 2050 and beyond will be honest, transparent, accountable, self-confident, creative and inspirational. They will be guided by Mandela’s prescription: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

The Political Scientist: “Africa is a continent of failed states. Africa is a failed continent.” So say many in the Western media. The euphemism of failed and fragile states is used to hide the truth that African states are actually thugtatorships, kleptocracies and corruptocracies. The African state is a glorified criminal racketeering organization for the elites to rip off the national treasury and resources. Nowhere on the planet does one find more corruption, political and economic mismanagement and human rights violations than on the African continent. By 2050, nearly all African states will be failed states or “thugistans” ruled by thugtators. Few African states will be able to deliver the most basic political goods to their citizens. Few African states will have legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens; almost all African states will be held in contempt by their citizens and others.

The African state will be an object of contempt and derision throughout the world. Recently, US Senator John McCain giving advice to President Obama said, “I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan to go into Nigeria to search and rescue some 300 girls abducted by the terrorist group Boko Haram.” Goodluck Johnathan has yet to deploy significant military assets in a mission to search and rescue the girls. The US has sent troops and drones to “help” the Nigerian military rescue the girls since Nigeria cannot do it on her own. Such has been the fate of the “Giant of Africa”. Likewise, when the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali faced internal strife, they called in their former colonial masters to save them from themselves. By mid-century, Africa will be fragmented into bite size ‘thugistans’ (more than one hundred bite size countries under the rule of thugtators, warring warlords and mercenaries). Africa will be transformed from a continent of failed and fragile states to completely flopped states by mid-century.

The Lawyer: Africa will complete her transition from dictatorship to democracy by mid-century because she is condemned to be free. Much of Africa in 2050 and beyond will be like today’s Botswana (I deplore and condemn the displacement and “resettlement’ of the “San” people (“Bushmen”) by the Botswana government). They will have free and fair multiparty elections. African countries will take the democratic path like Ghana and South Africa, led by the cheetah (young) generation. There will be robust institutions including independent courts, professional civil servants and civil society institutions. The rule of law will be institutionalized and human and property rights respected. Africa’s newer generations will be raised in a culture of openness and tolerance. They will condemn the culture of impunity and corruption that has kept the continent at the tail end of the community of nations.

As Africa’s enlightened youth begin to control the destiny of the continent, they will reject the benighted ways of the preceding generations. By mid-century, Africa will have made up for its democratic deficit by greater and more effective and widespread use of communication technologies. Africa’s youth will join with the worldwide youth community and spearhead unprecedented change throughout Africa. They will have the knowledge, wisdom and technological sophistication to solve Africa’s problems not only with borrowed ideas but also original ideas rooted in African cultures and societies and dreams. Africa’s long, cold and hard winter of tyranny, poverty and discontent will be made glorious by a bright and gleaming African Spring by mid-century.

Looking through a glass darkly at the Dark Continent, it is impossible to see light at the end of the tunnel. The fog of tyranny, corruption and abuse of power that shrouds the continent is impregnable to light. The miasma of uncontrolled population growth, unmanaged urbanization, endemic corruption, cataclysmic income inequality, catastrophic climate change, ceaseless brain drain and cyclical conflict and strife is blinding. Yet, I am certain as the sun will rise tomorrow that there is a bright future for the Dark Continent in 2050 and beyond. I, free from the trappings of profession and occupation, am a die-hard optimist about Africa’s future. It is in my nature; after all, I am a utopian Ethiopian.

There is not light at the end of the tunnel for the Dark Continent. There is a bright African sun!

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.  

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