Post-independence, Africa’s failure at self-sufficiency and economic development has been one major issue the world has tried incessantly without success to deal with. A great deal of effort (local and foreign) by way financial, governance, educational and humanitarian assistance has been channelled to Africa over the last century to help struggling nation states to overcome their economic challenges. Africa’s great natural resource endowments have done little in this vein to help restore Africa’s glory to what it was before the colonial masters arrival.
Year on year billions of dollars have been poured at the “African problem” to not much avail.
Over the last 40 years, Africa has also received over $400 billion in Aid from the developed nations around the world but has little to show for it. Per researchers, if Africa had achieved what was intended with these financial interventions then it should be the richest continent outside Western Europe and North America. The opposite however is what pertains today. I am at this point befuddled why many years on it remains the poorest.
By 2010, Africa was indebted to the World Bank and the IMF to the tune of $4 trillion. These often represent development loans for which very little development can be evidenced.
Beyond the investment of capital, Africa with the help of development partners has attempted several strategic programs designed to jump-start ailing economies and herald the new dawn of self-sufficiency. I have witnessed first-hand how the outcomes of these efforts have been consistently inconsistent and any successes chalked across Africa have been at best dotted and unstained.
Take the case of Nigeria for an instance, Africa’s most populous nation and its largest economy attempted its first National Development Plan (1962 – 1968) aimed at higher level of growth and a second National Development Plan (1970 to 1974). A Third and fourth National Development Plans were implemented in (1975 to 1980) and (1981 to 1985) respectively with similar objectives centred around growth, poverty alleviation, universal free primary education etc.
Modest strides were made but largely, nothing went per plan.
These were then followed by the Integrated Development initiatives: Structural Adjustment Programme and “Rolling Plans” (1990 -1999), Vision 2010, National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (2004 – 2007) and then most recently the Vision 2020 agenda.
The outcomes of these programs in Nigeria have never been commensurate to the intention and efforts invested as evidenced by a rather low per capita income of $2,548.
Many African countries have followed the same example and attempted similar programs with sadly similar results.
This has not been the trend in other nations that have encountered similar near fatal or disastrous consequence of acts of war, slavery, colonisation or other similar deprivations.
The likes of South Korea, Singapore, India, Germany represent examples of nations that have portrayed a demonstrable positive response to such stimuli over the years.
Consider the impact the Marshall Plan had on the economies of Western Europe.
On April 3, 1948, President Truman signed the Economic Recovery Act of 1948 that made available $12 billion (Equivalent to $120 billion as at June 2016) to Western European States to help rebuild their economies post world war 2. The plan sought to assist Europe to rebuild war-devastated regions, remove trade barriers, modernise their industries and make Europe prosperous. The program was in operation for four years and achieved great success. Today, Western Europe contributes circa 30% of world GDP.
I am intrigued by the particular case of Germany. Its cities had been completely carpet bombed by the allies. Millions of lives had been lost, its economy was in total tatters and the national disgrace of the defeat and the atrocities such as the holocaust weighed heavy on the German conscience. The nation had been divided in two; half to the Russians and the other half to the US, France and Britain. About 7 million of the forced labour which they had used to build the economy and support the war efforts left for their countries. 14 million Germans returned home to live in dismal camps.
Under the Marshall Plan West Germany received $2 billion in aid. With this, the Germans managed to transformed itself into Europe’s largest economy by the mid-1960s.
Japan is another example of a nation state that managed to rise from the doldrums of catastrophe to attain enviable world status.
Japan exited the second world war a humiliated nation and by September 1945, it had lost 3 million men and 25 % of its national wealth to the war efforts. Post second world war however, Japan achieved an almost improbable feat in world economic history when it increased its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) from $91 billion in 1965 to $1,065 trillion by 1980. This has been dubbed the Japan Economic Miracle by many intellectuals. This achievement made Japan the world’s second largest economy in the world exactly 35 years after the most humiliating chapter in their history.
China, Singapore, South Korea, India and Brazil are all similar examples of nations that have recently achieved notable economic progress that has altered the fortunes of their people.
Naturally my inquisitive mind has always wondered; what is it that makes these nations capable of rising from the ashes after such devastation to once again achieve great success? Did they have superior plans or better leadership? Did they have more funds available to them than Africa has had? Or is there a global conspiracy to keep Africa subjugated and easily exploited?
How can Africa a continent so blessed with so much account for so little? Why should we need aid?
What is it about the psychology of these people that makes them to aspire to greatness even when the odds are inordinately stacked against them.
Whereas several reasons have been adduced for the current state of affairs in Africa, one area that has received very little attention and focus is how the mindset of a people affects their economic fortunes and prospects. In what ways does the African mindset vary from others and does this collective African consciousness aid or inhibit development?
S.K Pipim in his book The Transformed mind summarises my suspicions perfectly; “The African mind-set is the result of mental chains that still bind us, despite our liberation from the metal chains of colonization and slavery. We may legitimately talk about other chains that shackle Africans—chains of poverty, chains of neo-colonialism, chains of slavery, chains of racism, chains of exploitation, chains of dependence, chains of ignorance and superstition, and all kinds of other chains. These other specific chains exist. But we need to realize that these are only symptoms of a deeper problem; they are not the root cause.
The root of our woes is mental. It is not our minds, but our mind-set”. Ours is not merely a need for more educated minds, but also for more transformed minds”.
But what exactly is wrong about the African mind-set and what can be done to bring about this needed transformation? To do this we need to break down the African Psychology and understand it in greater depth
Psychology in general is the study of behaviour and mind, embracing all aspects of conscious and unconscious experience as well as thought.
This field of study has advanced a world of knowledge in how the mind influences everyday life and an almost universal understanding backed by inductive reasoning is that every action of success or failure starts with the mind.
Analysing the psychological construct of a people can be a challenging task, however one can quickly arrive at a good understanding by trying to know these five basic determinants; their history/experience, their belief in God, their value for family, their passion for wealth accumulation, and what their future ambitions are.
Quartey’s Five Determinants of Mindset
The relative importance that are placed on each of these determinants and interplay of how each can influence the others results in unique psychological constructs of a people.
“Religiosity” and the Belief in Self
Some of the yarns that determine how the psychological construct of a people is woven are between (i) the reliance on God (an unseen force that has the power to influence the affairs of men for good or for bad) and (ii) reliance on Self.
Where ever there is an over reliance on a God factor the balance is upset and research has rightly shown that development and advancement of the person/people suffers. When people expect God to do for them what they are to do for themselves little gets done.
On the other hand, where there is an over reliance on Self, decadence sets in and history has shown that nations on this trajectory are headed for a near certain decline.
The table below shows the correlation between religiosity and per capita GDP.
(Religiosity in this context is defined as the belief that a super natural force is responsible for our day to day successes and failures.)
Per capita GDP versus Religiosity
The graph here reveals a rather disturbing trend where although Africans are clustered in the top left hand corner implying that they have the highest level of religiosity they rather have the lowest per capita GDP.
It could be argued that religion plays a more functional role in poorer nations in helping people cope with life challenges and providing hope for a better tomorrow. It could be counter argued that this type of religiosity exonerates the individual from depending on Self and taking personal accountability for his day to day successes and failures.
Western Europe is the exact opposite. Although there is very low reliance on religion the per capita income is significantly higher.
The USA is a complete outlier in this relationship. It has a higher level of religiosity than West Europe but also a higher per Capita GDP. This is the case where the belief in God is as strong as the belief in Self and proving that the two beliefs need not be mutually exclusive. When faced with adversity and challenges, they don’t fold hands and expect a miracle.
They know that if anything must be it is up to them and that nothing will happen unless they take action.
As shown in the Quartey’s God-Self matrix, nations often start their journey to dominance from the first quadrant where belief in themselves is low but this is balanced off by an obsession with God. This is where most of Africa finds itself.
A critical and desirable transition which ought to occur is when the Belief in Self is matched by the existing belief in God. This is where most of the western world were at the pinnacle of world dominance.
As seen in the previous table the USA is the only nation that has been successful at maintaining this delicate balance at this point in history. But it is not an easy balance to maintain.
It is in fact a very slippery slope into the third quadrant where the belief in Self now clearly outweighs that morale counter balance as we have seen in the case of Western Europe. This is an inevitable path that many great civilisations like Greece, Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt have had to traverse.
The fourth quadrant is very often a brief stop. There cannot be meaningful existence without a firm belief until the cycle repeats itself again.
Africa is currently in the first quadrant. Africans practise the type of Religiosity that ascribes all responsibility for all daily outcomes to a supreme being and expect miracles from heaven to solve earthly problems. Africans pray to God for everything from a toothache to currency depreciation.
An unintended consequence of an over reliance on Religion is a very low self-worth and belief in one’s self. This is a debilitating illness that is eating away the soul of the continent.
Africans export out all their raw materials to other nations, shun their own made in Africa products and rather import their own raw materials (now in as finished products) using a foreign currency. Ali Mazrui sums it up beautifully, “Africa produces what it does not consume and consumes what it doesn’t produce”.
Although research has shown that the Melanin makes the African skin age at least 10years slower than other skin types, Africans are obsessed with destroying this God given advantage through the deplorable activities of bleaching. In Lagos, Nigeria, one survey found that up to 77% of all residents use skin-lightening creams. By 2020, the lightening skin industry is estimated to grow to become a $23 billion industry – the largest market share being poor Africans.
According to an article by Antonia Opiah published by the Huffington Post, the size of the Black hair industry if you include “general market brands, weaves, extensions, wigs, independent beauty supply stores, distributors, e-commerce, styling tools and appliances” is potentially $500 billion dollars. That is more than the GDP of South Africa in recent times. Why would the poorest person on earth invest so much in non-productive effort to look like anything other than themselves?
Nothing much can be achieved with this mind set. This kind of Religiosity is what has kept Africa from being a dominant force in this age.
Once you begin to believe in yourself you are ready to develop mastery in your chosen field of endeavour. The love for doing one thing exceptionally well leads to mastery. By definition Mastery is comprehensive knowledge or skill in a particular subject or activity. The nations that dominate often start by having mastery in specific spheres of endeavour. The Germans have mastery in the field of Engineering and efficiency, Japanese have mastery in the fields of Technology, Britain has mastery of professional services backed by most of the world’s best universities. Success in this chosen field will often translate into financial/economic success which then leads to the overall development of the nation.
The inevitable consequence of mastery that leads to economic prosperity is the development of a jealous sense of superiority.
Much attention must be devoted towards aiding Africans to stop seeing the super natural as responsible for the outcomes of their actions.
The Sense of Superiority
The Americans and Europeans both have a strong belief in Self and this forms a strong foundation for a belief of Superiority. The Japanese and the Koreans are likewise taught right from infancy to believe they are superior to the Chinese, all other Asians and the Westerners.
What is this belief in one’s superiority and its relationship to mastery, world dominance and economic prosperity?
Every civilisation that has risen to make History has had consciousness and an awareness of superiority and indomitability to other cultures.
This feeling of being better for one reason or another is what makes nations strive to achieve mastery and excellence in all endeavours of life. It is what makes them successful in achieving lofty ideals and to surmount the direst of difficulties. Belief in one’s self is key.
It is not enough to think equality when everyone you are competing with is thinking superiority. This competitive mind-set brings out the best in you and forces you towards a life of continues improvement. It will eliminate your tolerance for mediocrity, incompetence, ineptitude and waste.
The claim to dominance is always predicated on a plausible concept. Your quest to dominance must also have a purpose that your people can identify with and believe in enough such that it serves to motivate them to action.
Take Nazi Germany for example. Hitler believed he and the Germans were of Aryan blood- the purest blood of all bloods on earth. Based on this he led his people in a quest to create a German master race. He used this reason (Race) to anchor a vision of German supremacy. The people bought into it. For this same reason, they sacrificed everything to find the resources and motivation to take on the entire world in a failed attempt to establish world dominance. The ideal was fraught however the positive effect race had in engendering the needed momentum towards action cannot be denied.
Religion is another powerful rivet that anchors in place the vision of superiority and world dominance. This is the belief that it was the interminable will of the divine (their object of worship) for them to dominate.
The Jews believe they are Superior because they according to their history and religion they are God’s chosen race, preferred above all others.
Take the case of Vikings, they believed Odin their god to be far superior than any other and that he had destined them to sail to the ends of the earth and to dominate. They further believed that Odin, demanded of them to die in battle (still holding their battle axes) to make it to Valhalla (their Heaven) where they will dine and merry for eternity. This made them want to rather die in battle than live to celebrate the spoils of victory. This made the Danes one of the fiercest warriors the world has ever known. Spurred by this belief, they conquered and dominated vast portions of the earth during their time.
The British Empire also used the proliferation of the Christian gospel as an anchor to spread their dominance across the entire earth. They deemed all else as heathen and their God as the one true God who was interested in bringing the whole earth under His reign through them. As Christianity expanded so did the Empire.
The same can be said of the spread of Islam across the Arabian Peninsula to north Africa and beyond. The Islamic state spread quickly after the death of the founder Prophet Muhammad. The wars of expansion were also towards advancing devotion to the faith. It was the will of Allah that many be brought to the faith even if it meant the total annihilation of other nations and peoples. Today Islam can boast of at least 1.9 billion followers.
One other interesting reason which has been used to instigate action towards the establishment or maintenance of dominance is the concept of a common enemy. Japanese animosity towards China’s quest to dominate the pacific is one of the major impetuses that fuelled Japanese nationalism and their accent to becoming the world’s second largest economy.
In the aftermath of the September 11 bombings, America defined itself a new identity based on a common enemy – radical Islam identifying several enemy states who they named the “the axis of evil”. A new vision for dominance by the United States of America etched out of this tragic event and was crafted around these common enemies. The new cause strengthened nationalism and brought a renewed vigour towards maintaining world dominance in the 21st century.
A belief must first be established before the action that leads to realisation of the ideal in question can be harnessed.
I am wondering at this point if the African and those of African descent has found for himself any reason to believe in his ability to be dominant amongst other nations.
I liken Africa to a child who has been ridiculed, bullied and abused for so long by everyone in the class including the teacher to the point where she doesn’t deem herself good enough or useful. He no longer puts up a fight when the big bullies take away her lunch and push her about. The fight and will to carry on is gone. She believes she is not good enough to be an equal.
Such a student doesn’t need more financial investment or extra tuition. What she needs is counselling and some psychological support to re-discover his self-esteem.
This journey to that sense of superiority must therefore be commenced from a period before the present when the situations would have been more favourable. Africa, like this school child must consciously and consistently re-call her great and illustrious past, a very long period unrivalled in the annals of history when it ruled the world unchallenged.
This kind of knowledge when presented has the power to make Africans and those of African heritage believe again that they can once again rule the world. It weakens the shackles of inferiority that binds the mind and burrows massive craters of doubt in any recent evidence of failure that supports may confront the them.
Calling back the Ages
Therefore, one of the other key determinants of psychological construct of a people is their perception of what their history is. If it is a history of conquest, achievement, legends and dominance then it will without variation build a stronger mindset that aspires to live up to the heights attained by illustrious forbearers. If the opposite is true it will create a weak-minded race of people who have no reference to aspire to.
It is therefore of utmost importance what aspects of their history a people are conscious of and deliberate attempts must be made to accentuate the positives that will embolden and elevate the psyches. Of what benefits is a fact if it doesn’t aid to edify and spur man towards his highest achievements
The British can feel superior and dominant because they can re-call the memories of the days of the Empire when Britannia ruled the Seas and the Lands, conquering and colonising just about every continent on the surface of the earth because they possessed mastery in many areas.
The Americans can re-call a time- 1870 to be precise when they became the world greatest economic power and attained world dominance. They can recall how they led the Allies into victory over the Nazis in the Second World War.
The Chinese can lay claim to a 5000-year history of dominance on the world stage in many human endeavours.
In fact, by 1110 they had already invented gun powder. In 1405 the Chinese Admiral Zheng He led a fleet of nearly 300 vessels and over 27,000 sailors from Nanjing to Sri Lanka – a journey of 4,753km. Some of his other voyages reached Java, Malaca Straits and East Africa. In sharp contrast, Christopher Columbus when he set sail from Caiz in 1492 (87 year later) led just 90 men in three ships.
Yet when history is recalled, Colombo is said to be the greatest discoverer of all time. He is not the only one whose achievements have been over-hyped. These claims to great achievement are necessary building blocks in developing belief in Self and a sense of superiority. These were done deliberately
Africa’s history didn’t start with slavery and colonisation. Africa’s history is an illustrious one made up of over five thousand years of world dominance, discoveries, economic prosperity and intellectual advancements in almost every field unrivalled any other race. This knowledge is critical in helping the African to believe that what was can once again be.
Africans in Africa and those in the diaspora must be able to rightly conceptualise the last 500 years as a dark chapter in a very long and successful history – a chapter that will soon pass. It is also imperative that Africans understand that those who now dominate are recent entrants and have not and will not always be at the top. It goes against the very cycles of history. To put this in context, the United States of America has only been a world power since 1890 – some 127years. Japan has been leading economy since 1980 – 37 years and China over took Japan as the second largest economy in 2011. By Contrast Africa was the first super power starting with Egypt, to Kerma (Sudan), to Kushite kingdom (Sudan), back to Ptolemaic Egypt, Askumite Empire (Ethiopia) which lasted some 1110 years.
By learning of a history that is limited to tales of defeat and domination by the Europeans for instance we are indirectly also learning about the European History which to us started with the victory and superiority over Africans -This is beginnings of the making of an inferior class of people.
The most recent recollection of Africans the world over of their history is limited to a very dark chapter based on the narrative of those who deemed and continue to see them as inferior. Successive governments in Africa have done very little to correct this erroneous rendition of the past events not being aware of the negative effects such impressions can have on self and the pursuit of one’s rightful place amongst his contemporaries.
Another variation to the impact of history on the formation of the psychological construct of a people is how the negative effects of a prolonged and terrible experience such as slavery, colonisation or Apartheid can leave indelible imprints on the minds and cultures of the victims. The undesirable effects of these are often handed down from generation to generation without a trace to what first caused it.
To satisfy their thirst for the raw materials that was needed to fuel their industrial revolutions, European nations in what has become known as the scramble for Africa, banded together over 60,000 ethnic tribes together into 40 countries for ease of exploitation. No regard was given to the historic rivalries that existed nor the variations in religious practises that divided these tribes. This created more confusion and fragmentation than unity. These divisions were further exploited under their colonial policy of divide and rule. They left behind a very divided people, incapable of partnering or collaborating meaningfully in trade, governance or security issues.
After successive generations of Africans had been colonised and forced to perform menial jobs that required no skill, no initiative, zero exercise of creative abilities and problem solving skills, you would inadvertently create a class of people great in following orders so long as the “master” is standing over them with a big whip but useless at anything else. You don’t go from taking orders for centuries to immediately responsibly managing your affairs overnight.
When your forbearers are forced to slave for a foreigner for hundreds of years on their own land mining their own minerals for a stranger in return for nothing they end up losing every sense of attachment, value and respect for national assets. It is for this reason many Africans look on helplessly as government officials squander their national assets and the inheritance without consequence of prosecution.
Another terrible effect of the recent African history is that years of exposure to death, violence, depravation, humiliation, loss of human dignity and untold hardship meant that the habitual thoughts of Africans around the world for many generations would have been predominantly negative, deeply sorrowful, unproductive and damaging. It is therefore no surprise that our reality has mirrored the same mental construct because “as a man thinketh so he is and as he continues to think so shall he remain”. This is by far the greatest cost of the experience of the last 500 years.
Your Vision of Tomorrow.
The great leaders who achieved great transformation are those who succeeded to arouse the imaginations of their followers by painting for them vivid pictures of what the future held for them and why they for one reason or the other deserved such a glorious future.
Africans have no vision of the future. Being inundated with the challenges in the present no effort has been invested in enabling Africans to see a world beyond the present predicament and preoccupation with survival. I do not see Africans and their families spread the world over rallying around race, religion, history, a common enemy or the hope of a brighter future as a catalyst toward excellence and the establishment of prosperous race.
A clear vision of the future influences the decisions you take today and pushes you to aspire. What will Africa look like in the next 200 years. This vision is yet to be defined on paper let alone imprinted in the collective consciousness of the African psyche. It is the reason why we countenance corrupt government officials who squander our wealth. It is why we utilise our resources judiciously. It is also the reason why we will rather trade individually with the foreigners than trade amongst ourselves in a common market. Without a unified vision to inspire, Africa carries on aimlessly only existing to provide raw materials for the advancement of other nations.
When you reside on the wealthiest continent on the planet earth you should never need economic aid or be addicted to foreign loans. What Africa needs is psychological aid.
The kind of aid that births a positive mind-set; the kind that liberates Africans from their mental shackles; the kind that will once again re program our collective consciousness once again towards the pursuit of world dominance.
It is what Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr, and the leaders that followed him like, Martin Luther King Jr, Kwame Nkrumah and like Colonel Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, tried to achieve. It was to provide the strong sense of African unity, identity, nationalism and pride regardless of geography. Much of their efforts are yet to yield the result hoped for.
Before any structural adjustment program or any economic policy will bring about a great renaissance worthy of a place in the great transformations in the history of humanity, the African leadership must first succeed in changing the minds and attitudes of Africans. This kind of psychological aid can only be administered by Africans for African.
Author: Nii Kpakpa Quartey ACMA, CGMA is a writer, a strategist and a fervent pan-Africanist who consults for businesses and also non-governmental agencies to address the socio-economic challenges of developing nations.
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.—S.K. Pipim, The Transformed Mind, p. 198-199.
Skin-lightening is a $10 billion industry, and Ghana wants nothing to do with it