The delivery of infrastructure constructed with borrowed skills and funds has been flaunted as indicators of progress by many of Sub-Saharan Africa’s post-Independence leaders and applauded by citizens. Sixty years after independence, this misconception continues to thrive, driving Africans farther and farther away from authentic, deep rooted and sustainable advancement.
This article reinforces the historically proven truth that a people who are developed are able to build and maintain infrastructure, in addition to other more outward advancement markers within their national territories. People development is foundational to national prosperity and there is no shortcut for Africa. Strategic investment in systems, processes and knowledge bases targeted at the intellect and emotions of citizens is the pedestal for endogenous infrastructural, technological and other forms of advancement.
Ancient Egypt was the greatest education centre in the ancient world; concomitantly,the infrastructural achievements of ancient Egyptians remain a wonder to date. The thirst for knowledge exhibited by ancient Egyptians, and the investment in knowledge production during that era, are yet to be matched by any other epoch. In more recent times, Western countries of Europe and North America have built a modest civilization on an investment in all-round education that emphasizes character, culture, the arts, politics, science and technology etc. The same history is a landmark of the path of every country that is considered infrastructurally advanced today, including China and other Asian economies.
One thing that is often overlooked about ancient Egypt and the present global world powers is the connection between culture and knowledge. In order to build the knowledge it used to develop infrastructure, ancient Egypt had the deepest reverence for the land and the culture. It was a land of people who were emotionally intelligent and looked inwards for inspiration for personal and community growth and national advancement. Ancient Egyptians viewed their locally generated knowledge with deference and de-emphasized the sole consumption of other people’s culture, knowledge and resources. The same applies to modern civilizations of today.
One of Africa’s greatest challenges to date is the intellectual strength and willpower to rid itself of the consumer mindset entrenched during colonialism. Indeed, hardly had the newly hoisted independence flags started flying over the land before African leaders began to embark on huge white elephant projects, for which their citizens lacked the technological know-how to construct and maintain, and the national treasury lacked the financial muscle to build. While many projects were abandoned halfway ‘for good,’ many were completed and functioned for a few years with heavy dependence on unaffordable external expertise and imported reinforcements. By the 1980s, a time when many such projects had turned into a shadow of themselves and their host countries were gasping for breath economically, the International Money Fund (IMF) came like a deluge, bearing the ill-conceived, ill-fated Structural Adjustment Programme, with unfortunate results for the continent.
If history was granted its proper place in the African clime, the futile loan of over three decades ago, forced on African countries by IMF and its Paris Club partners, for which many have little to show for today, will have served as a deterrent. That is not so. Many African countries continue to borrow to fund infrastructural development. Africa has spread its debt tentacles beyond the Paris Club countries to include other countries mainly in Asia. The consequences for Africa are getting direr with each new loan partner becoming more exacting.
The continued trend of borrowing money, knowledge and skills for infrastructural advancement must be strongly resisted by all well-meaning Africans. Borrowing for infrastructural advancement does not yield lasting benefits for the present and future generations of Africans, as exemplified in the continent’s post-independence history. It has chiefly served to empower the rich, perpetuate the class divide across the region and leave Africans’self-esteem hanging at the lowest point in history.
As in ancient Egypt, formal, informal and non-formal education across Africa of today must be firmly built upon respect for the land, the people and culture. The aim being to transform the mindset of the average person to such a point where innovation, creativity, character and the social-emotional connection necessary for accelerated advancement will occur spontaneously. Africa’s indigenous knowledge systems, across all sectors and disciplines, are necessary for policy action and in education.
In this era of knowledge liberalization which the internet has brought, the emphasis should be on governments strongly supporting Africans to access enough knowledge to build their infrastructure themselves with locally sourced materials and resources. Achieving this demands much more than setting up institutes of research and development. The moral values of the people, for instance, will need to be strengthened through exemplary leadership and education.
On the part of its citizens, Africa(ns) must embark on a desperate period of self-education spanning intellectual expansion in subject-specific fields, social-emotional learning, community, national, regional and global history, the arts and social sciences, to mention but a few. Citizens will have to begin to respectfully demand and advocate the building of their community and national knowledge base and the development of the human person on a holistic education aimed at transforming the human mind. Additionally, every concerned African should be a voice speaking against continued borrowing; we should work with the government to achieve this aim.
Infrastructural and technological advancement has rarely been a product of technology transfer nor of borrowing to build. Africa’s futile chase for advancement via the superimposed and debt-ridden infrastructure route can only result in ridicule for this generation of Africans, with untold hardship added to that for the coming generations. Africa’s sustainable advancement rests squarely on Africans building their own infrastructure, using mostly locally sourced physical and intellectual materials, as well as labour. Yet, that is the easiest thing to say, since building and maintaining infrastructure at the level envisaged can only be made possible where the human person has been developed on all fronts. The emphasis, therefore, should be on the social, emotional and intellectual training of the African to achieve accelerated advancement.
Dr. Esiobu is the principal of Julani Varsity. You may follow Dr Chika Esiobu on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @drchikaesiobu