by Hannes Wessels
It’s almost 60 since Ghana became independent from Britain. The world was jubilant as the sun began to set on the age of European imperialism. ‘African Nationalism’, in the form of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah entered the stage and all celebrated the breaking of a golden dawn bringing light to the ‘Dark Continent’ as the colonial shackles were broken and ‘liberation’ belatedly arrived.
Since then some 200 coups or attempted coups have taken place, 25 heads of state have been assassinated, roughly 50 wars have been fought and the majority of the population is the poorest it has ever been and getting poorer in spite of the fact that over one trillion Dollars has been pumped into the most resource-rich continent on the planet. Surely there is no precedent in history for so much being spent and so little to show for it?
Despite multiple interventions Africa remains the most corrupt continent by far with Transparency International reporting that illicit transfers out of Africa far exceed the total value of all foreign aid to the continent (currently estimated at over 50 billion a year).
Liberal economists and journalists repeatedly tell us Africa is on the mend and registering economic growth. Well, one of the country’s allegedly showing impressive ‘growth’ is oil rich Angola where it is estimated a tiny cabal of President Dos Santos’s cronies who constitute the ‘leadership’ grab a third of gross oil receipts little of which stays in Angola. Forbes reports his daughter Isabel, the richest woman in Africa, is worth $3 billion. In a recent scam in Nigeria (also ‘growing’ fast) one politically connected company nicked just under $7 billion in oil revenues recently.
Sadly it’s getting messier because of rank bad governance and the virtual absence of the rule of law leaving human and property rights open to routine violation. But lectures on bad governance always trigger the same reaction from the accused; ‘racism’ and ‘neo-colonialism’ is back in play! Mere mention of these words puts the fiercest critics to flight and the preferred option, historically, has been to then simply throw more money at the problem and walk away.
It is at this juncture Boris Johnson has an opportunity to bring a new direction to British policy towards Africa and in doing so he might better the lives of millions of poor people while also benefiting Britain.
The simple fact is Africa does not need money as much as it needs the right people. It is blessed with natural wealth but systemic failure and lack of entrepreneurs, engineers, business managers, farmers, lawyers, accountants and technicians, all imbued with the desire and the acumen to drive small businesses are missing. Britain boasts plenty of these people.
The problem is African leaders don’t like Europeans. Not because they’re horrible people as most guilt-struck English and Europeans like to believe, but because they insist on a level of probity and fairness which is an unwelcome quality that the despots abhor.
The fact that the average ‘Brit’ is a pretty decent individual, intelligent, industrious, caring, socially aware and comes from a pedigree of the greatest nation-builders the world has seen is ignored in Africa at the political echelon. Instead the Chinese are welcomed in their droves. Not because they bring prosperity (much to the dismay of the suffering masses who generally loathe them) but because they’re not squeamish about human rights and related trivia and they are happy to cut deals with the politicos. In return they have a license to plunder in many countries which they perform with alacrity in the extraction of natural resources from minerals to timber to ivory and rhino horn.
In reality this manifests roughly as follows. Chinese nationals have easy access to Africa in terms of work-permits, Visas and related documentation and very often they are granted tax-exemptions. However, for English (or EU) nationals wanting to start a small business in an African country, a brutal, bureaucratic assault-course awaits that will consume much time and money at the end of which, expect every single statute that has ever been passed (going back to the dreaded colonial era) to apply simply because of skin colour and ancestry. By the end of it most people are exhausted by red-tape, they are poorer and the entrepreneurial flame has been doused.
A recent observation helps explain this. A European run safari camp (in an African country) which creates excellent employment opportunities, finances almost all the anti-poaching activities and is heavily involved in poverty alleviation in the neighbouring villages recently sought to plant a small vegetable garden within the camp perimeter to supply guests and staff with fresh home-grown produce rather than having to truck it in. A criminal prosecution was immediately threatened on the basis of some petty prohibition against exotic plants and the garden was ploughed under. Meanwhile, in the nearby forests the Chinese plunder timber with impunity, kill the wildlife and the locals complete the devastation by illegally chopping down the remaining trees for charcoal. This is of no interest to the authorities whatsoever. So if your skin is yellowish or black no rules apply, but if you happen to be too pale beware, you have about as much chance as a ‘porker in a Synagogue’.
Underlying all this, probably the best kept secret in the Commonwealth countries of Africa is that the overwhelming majority of Africans like and revere the ‘Brits’. I have no doubt that if some brave soul ran up the Union Jack in Harare, Lusaka or Entebbe and proclaimed a slice of territory that would revert to the ‘Realm’ that person would have to cut and run. Not from malevolence but because the stampede to be included in the new dispensation would be frantic and colossal. Condemned as they are to a life of hopeless poverty by the kleptocrats who abuse them, the majority would rejoice because right now they’re all struggling to get to Britain, but if Britain came to them, it would save them the trip.
So when the next despot or his proxy (recently it was Mugabe’s Minister of Finance Chinamasa) arrives in London with the begging bowl the answer should be simple and blunt – no more money, but we’re going to give you people. With all its richness and endless opportunities if this fundamental approach was driven home countless skilled Britons might build new lives, escape unemployment at home and at the same time add value to Africa in the form of private-sector growth which will bring prosperity and desperately needed change.