Our Continent is rising despite its numerous challenges. Africa is home to many great and deeply admired people; I am an African and proudly so. This is not to say we in Africa are averse to public opinion or criticisms, or that Africa does not have serious issues – far from it. We are open to constructive criticisms, constructive engagement and constructive suggestions. We cherish and uphold the values of democracy and free speech, but naturally, we shudder and push back on collective denigration or criminalization of Africa.
While President Trump’s recent expletive comments – referring to Africa as shithole countries – on supposedly world’s poorest countries which includes most in Africa, is derogatory and worrisome, as a student of philosophy, I see his remarks as a clarion call for reflection and re-examination for African citizens, and their leaders, especially on how to build a better future for their people.
It is noteworthy that such negative comments are no longer being directed at Asian countries as they continue to improve. And to elucidate the situation further, it will be necessary at this stage to compare the situation in Africa to China. My reason for using China as a comparison, is that “much has been made of China’s influence in Africa”, but China-Africa relations present some instructive lessons for us to draw on.
Comparatively, the population in China was twice the population of Nigeria in 1980 and to date, remains about 200 million more populated than Africa. (In 2015, China’s population was 1.371 billion while Africa’s population was 1.186 billion). In 1980, China, with a population of 981 million, recorded a GDP of USD341 billion, translating to a GDP per Capita of USD347, while Africa, with a population of 478 million, recorded a GDP of USD556 billion, which translated to a GDP per Capita of USD1,168.
Now let me illustrate why Africa must see her negative situations or negative comments directed at her as a call to quick action. In the Year 2000, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which consist of eight benchmark goals with measurable targets and clear deadlines for improving the lives of the world’s poorest people, over fifteen years (2000-2015), was established. In partnership with the United Nation’s system office in China, China committed to integrating the MDGs goals fully into their national development strategies from the national to local government levels.
China ensured effective and coordinated planning and managing of their economic growth. China’s successful integration of MDGs into its national development planning helped it achieve an unprecedented transformative result. Example, using goals number 1 and 2, are mind-boggling and are as follows: a. China lifted 439 million people out of poverty. b. China achieved universal primary education ahead of schedule, achieving 9 year compulsory education and elimination of illiteracy among adolescence in local government units covering 100% of population. They achieved 98% enrolment rate among primary school age. C. China recorded tremendous improvement in healthcare of women and children in control and prevention of diseases. And you can go on and on.
Specifically, by lifting 439 million people out of poverty during the period of the MDGs, China’s achievement in MDG goal 1, singularly helped the U.N. to achieve her goal of halving the number of extremely poor population by 2015. Such success would have been impossible without China achieving its goals.
Within this period, what did Africa achieve? Evaluation reports show clearly that the African continent was off-track. Sub-Saharan Africa for example became the only region in the world where poverty rose from 290 million in 1990 to 414 million in 2010; undernourished children rose from 27 million in 1990 to 32 million in 2012; and children affected by stunting rose from 44 million in 1990 to 58 million in 2012.
Africa’s greatest achievement during the MDG days, which was in the area Education where male enrolment increased from under 60% to about 70% still fell short of the over 90% achieved in China. Presently, over 60% of out-of-school children globally reside in Africa (with over 10 million living in Nigeria). The task before us now is to find ways of turning adversities and challenges confronting Africa into positive gains.
With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), its set of 17 Global Goals with 169 targets, we aim at transforming our world in 2030. SDG is a universal call to action that will end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity (2015-2030). It is a follow-up on the MDG – the only difference is while the MDG is demand-driven, SDG is supply-driven. China has made great efforts in its implementation, linking the 2030 Agenda with its domestic mid-and-long term development strategies. The domestic coordination mechanism for the implementation, comprised of 43 government departments, has been established to guarantee the implementation. Great effort has been made to publicize the 2030 Agenda nationwide in order to mobilize domestic resources, raise public awareness, and create favourable social environment for the implementation. China will also strengthen inter-sectoral policy coordination, review and revise relevant laws and regulations to provide policy and legislative guarantee for the implementation.
In the next five years, China is determined to lift all the 56 million rural residents living below the current poverty line out of poverty, and to double its GDP and people’s per capital income of 2010. Meanwhile, in Africa, the SDGs have not been mainstreamed into the development agenda of various countries or domesticated at regional and local government levels, as in China. Consequently, there are no set out goals that are measurable and achievable even in key areas like: increase in education, lifting people out of poverty, growth in the economy.
Why this difference? The reasons are simple. In China, we witnessed visionary and committed leadership. Chinese Government integrated measurable and achievable goals into development planning from national to local government levels. Diversification of the Chinese economy towards export-driven agricultural and manufactured products added value.
On the contrary, in Africa, we observe lack of visionary and committed leadership across the continent. No African country has integrated the goals within development planning across Africa – in fact in most countries, SDG only exists in name. There is no coordinated planning from national to local government levels .
Africans need to act in concert or towards a commonly defined objective, by ensuring the emergence of a focused and committed leadership that will be transformational rather than transactional. Like China, African states can make tremendous progress if they can collectively focus on building viable and growth-oriented economies, managing their resources, investments and infrastructure more efficiently, while expanding their productive sectors, and investing hugely in education. Greater introspection is called for.
Despite the much touted dividends of democracy and globalization, today, very few African countries meet the U.N. recommended budgetary threshold for funding education. Yet we know that the more a country invests in education, the greater its developmental stride. Now that we in Africa are shifting away from baggage economy and embracing knowledge economy, investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education has become critical and fundamental. After all, this is a sector waiting to be explored as the world is going to have a shortage of over 25 million STEM workforces by the year 2020.
So, Africa has come of age, but despite vast global aid and contrived altruism, Africa’s sustenance and its unfettered development must now be based on its introspective approach and assessment of what is best for Africa. True enough, in this post- globalization era, Africa and her people must still contend and survive in an interdependent world. However, the freedom to choose must be theirs — so too what models of development to choose. And if the Chinese people-oriented development model works best for Africa, so be it.
Excerpts from the Remarks by Mr. Peter Obi at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States, on January 24, 2018.