Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why is Africa poor?

Excellent article by Greg Mills here. I think he touches on the key issue but doesn't develop it sufficiently - a weak sense of national identity in many African countries is at the bottom of the issue. The provenance of this weak identity comes directly from late colonial period divide and rule policies.


The danger is that he comes close to lapsing into the simplistic blame the leaders perspective of Achebe's The Trouble with Nigeria. African leaders are a reflection of the society at large - they are not parachuted in from Mars.

In many respects, the difference between Ghana (rapidly losing its 3rd world status) and Nigeria (rapidly retrenching it, with cholera spreading through the land as the most recent indicator of decay) is the difference between a country with a relatively strong sense of national identity (many if not most Ghanaians think of themselves as Ghanaian first, and by ethnicity/tribe second), and that with a relatively weak sense (most Nigerians define themselves by ethnicity/tribe first, and as Nigerian second). This is the difference that Confucianism makes in East Asia.

15 comments:

Anonymous,  2:37 pm  

truer words have not been spoken. It's the bane of our existence and the achille's heel our detractors exploit. the saddest part is that we are clueless as to the harm it causes; we are truly not yet 'a people'...sad

CodLiverOil 4:18 pm  

Ah Jeremy
Me, I've said many times when people like to lay the blame solely at the feet of the leaders. I said the leaders didn't grow up in a vacuum, they breathed the same air as everyone else, the values and characteristics they display is what is commonly circulating in society at large. Therefore, people can not cop out and say it's all the fault of the leaders, society at large is complicit in it's demise. Remove the current leaders, and you'll get another crop of similarly poor leaders to make a mess of things. When people learn to face the truth, and act accordingly, they will have gone a considerable way in beginning to tackle the immense mess that Nigeria has become.

What you say about Ghana is largely true, Ghana has a Sahelian region (like Nigeria), that is also predominantly Muslim, but no matter where Ghanaians are from they will proudly tell you they are Ghanaian, compare that with Nigerians, who will take pride in distancing themselves from other Nigerians, as if it makes them any better.

When one says Nigerians should be humble and learn from Ghana, you are greeted with stoney silence, or people will let the pride they have incorrectly revelled in, like Nigeria being the obese idiot of Africa (or "giant of Africa" - the popular refrain), with however many millions of people, etc, get the better of them and start deriding Ghana, and accusing one of being pro-Ghanaian. It's not a matter of being pro-anyone. It's a matter of not needlessly wasting time in re-inventing the wheel and learning from others and trying to move forward.

I have not read the article yet (I intend to). However, from observation Botswana and Namibia are doing well, and are stable countries.

There was another article with a similar title, that I read, here it is

Click here

Anonymous,  6:01 pm  

i have to agree with the identity problem even as i'm guilty of neglecting my Nigerian identity.

also agree with you when you say African leaders are not from Mars. i tend to always mention problems present within the Nigerian society at large when others bring up how messed up our leaders are however this tends to get me labelled as a 'hater' who is ashamed of being Nigerian.

Controversial Anon 11:23 am  

Yay \o/, bravo Mr 'All knowing' Jeremy! All hail thee! Where have you been all our lives? Thank goodness you have, at last, identified our problem, and from now on, as long as we go about thinking of ourselves first as Nigerians, all will be well.

You know, your half-baked, psuedo-intellectual attempts at analysing Nigeria is fun most of the time. What is scary and sad is the number of people (mainly Nigerians) who nod along like brainless robots everytime you attempt to articulate your non-logic.

Going by your assersion, a state such as Ekiti - where everyone from Governor to pick-pocket is Yoruba - must be doing swimmingly well, since there is no conflict there between ethnicity and statehood. So should Sokoto, and Zamfara, and Ebonyi, in fact, all States and countries where people are of the same 'tribe' should be up there with Norway. Since we now know that the problem with Nigeria is that Jonathan feels too Ijaw and David Mark feels too Idoma, this eternal problem that bedevils the centre must therefore have no consequence is states like Ekiti?

Also by your logic, Belgium should be less developed than say Chad. Afterall, everyone including Wallonians, Flanders, Henin-Hardenne, Clijters, and Nigel Farage agree that Belgium is a Non-Country!

Best apply your energy to matters in which you are better schooled, and might be more proficient.

Happy Holiday!

Jeremy 11:40 am  

Controversial Anon: that's a response worthy of the beer parlour. Its precisely because the concept of the nation state is weak in Nigeria that the treasury can be so easily looted, both at Federal and State levels. The relative mono-ethnicity of certain states is besides the point. Comparisons with western countries with relatively weak national cores are also not relevant or helpful, given they have entirely different historical trajectories. The concept of the nation state in the west developed over centuries through class struggle. In Nigeria, no such struggle ever took place.

However, in line with your beer parlourism, you don't put up a counter-argument, you simply negate. Its a weak and unproductive form of response.

Ghana had Nkrumah: a founding father who crossed and continues to cross ethnic barriers. Nigeria had 3 potential founding fathers, with Zik having the edge intellectually over the other two in my opinion. However, colonial policies destroyed any of the three rising to prominence. If you read up closely, you'll find all this out. The consequences of diluted nationalism are everywhere to be seen today...

kiibaati 11:55 am  

"African leaders are a reflection of the society at large - they are not parachuted in from Mars."
But if leaders cannot be different, if they do not in fact lead,why should they remain leaders? Achebe got it right. When fish spoils, it starts to smell at the head.

Controversial Anon 2:17 pm  

I'm glad to see that my 'Beer Palour' line from a few years ago has made it into your vocabulary :) I feel proud already. You should credit me next time you use that line, as you know, the line between borrowing and plagiarism is very fine. Hehehe

As for putting up a counter argument, well I don't need to. Blowing away baseless and illogical arguemnts is just as good a service as putting up counter arguments, sometimes it's even better. Think of it as a peer review mechanism :)
, and next time it will help you come up with credible analysis.

You may invoke as many Nkrumahs as you wish, it doesn't change the fact that your argument is baseless and non-scientific. Scots feel more Scottish than british, Catalonians feel more Catalan than Spanish, same goes for certain Jews, Russians in Crimea or Kazahkstan, Palestinians in El Salvador, etc. Yet all people manage to prosper and build relatively stable societies for themselves.

But you say that these examples are not relevant, so what then led you to your own conclusion? The holy spirit? What is the scientific basis of your argument?

Is there, in a non homogenous society, a causal corelation between weak National Identity and weak economy/low HDI/Corruption/poor infrastructure/weak government/poor education/crime/ etc? And if this corelation does not exist in many other multi-ethnic societies then why should it be a valid argument here?

On the flip side, is/was National Identity not strong/stronger in Pakistan, Iran, Soviet Russia, Palestine, Greece, Turkey, Ethiopia, than in the UK or Belgium? How come the latter are more prosperous? Why is an ethnic mash-up such as indonesia doing better than a relatively homogenous Vietnam, or Mauritius better than the Philipines?

The answer is simple, your analysis is baseless, and countries National Identities are actually fueled by 'success' and not the other way around. And Success is achieved by hardwork, discipline, leadership, good policies etc.

We put aside our ethnicity when our National Football team is winning, we would do the same if the economy was sound and we had reasons to be cheerful.

Let me rehash: your argument is that we will be a successful prosperous society is we had a stronger National Identity. I say: nonesense, we will have a stronger national identity if we fix the economy and record success stories that make us feel proud to be Nigerians, and after one generation of a sound and growing economy, everything will fall in place.

'It's the economy stupid'!

Jeremy 3:05 pm  

Controversial Anon. I believe you have been drinking again - why else would you post the same comment six times? Forgive me if I only publish one version of this. Perhaps you think by saying the same thing over and over it will appear more convincing?

The ultimate case study in the importance of a strong national identity in the midst of a plural society is of course the USA. American children, of whatever colour or background, are heavily indoctrinated with the American story/myth from an early age. Regardless of the turbulence over the significance of the First Amendment the US is going through right now, the firm secular foundings of the American state and the ideology of a 'manifest destiny' and American exceptionalism that underpins it will enable the country to continue to embrace cultural difference in the pursuit of wealth and the good things in life for generations to come. You have to see that a corollary of a strong national identity is a strong state.

I cannot speak for what happens in Catalonia, however, it may surprise you to know that whenever a poll on Independence has been conducted in Scotland, the overwhelming majority vote to stay in the Union. You may ponder on why that is.

All of which is to say, pointing to country after country on the basis of whether there is a correlation between strength of national identity and development is a false move. My argument is not that there is in every case that correlation.

The main complicating factor is colonialism. Where colonial policy allowed for a unitary founding figure, corruption post-Independence was kept to an acceptable minimum. Where it wasn't, it hasn't. This is what makes the Ghana vs Nigeria comparison significant, whereas comparisons with other places involve too many other factors for them to be significant.

I am glad I have managed to tease out a counter-argument from you: that old chestnut of economic determinism. The original article I linked to pointed to the cultural factor of Confucianism at work in the Far East. I allied the issue of national identity to this. Many leading economists around the world now accept that non-economic factors play a central role in determining how well a nation's economy does. Some point to 'trust', others to cultural factors, some to geographic/historical factors and still others point to religion.

I agree with you that national identity may well strengthen if the economy was felt to be growing for all in Nigeria. Note however that the reverse has also been true in history: German nationalism in the 1930s rose on the back of a devastated economy after the First World War.

However, the question to you is, what to do in the absence of non-oil economic growth - ie the kind of economic growth that ordinary non-elite Nigerians can feel?

Given that the resource curse has stopped non-oil growth in its tracks in Nigeria, your proposal - let economic growth come first - starts to seem like a chimera. What do you do if you can't even get non-oil growth off the ground, no matter how much the Finance Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank talk it up?

Jeremy 3:06 pm  

Controversial Anon. I believe you have been drinking again - why else would you post the same comment six times? Forgive me if I only publish one version of this. Perhaps you think by saying the same thing over and over it will appear more convincing?

The ultimate case study in the importance of a strong national identity in the midst of a plural society is of course the USA. American children, of whatever colour or background, are heavily indoctrinated with the American story/myth from an early age. Regardless of the turbulence over the significance of the First Amendment the US is going through right now, the firm secular foundings of the American state and the ideology of a 'manifest destiny' and American exceptionalism that underpins it will enable the country to continue to embrace cultural difference in the pursuit of wealth and the good things in life for generations to come. You have to see that a corollary of a strong national identity is a strong state.

I cannot speak for what happens in Catalonia, however, it may surprise you to know that whenever a poll on Independence has been conducted in Scotland, the overwhelming majority vote to stay in the Union. You may ponder on why that is.

All of which is to say, pointing to country after country on the basis of whether there is a correlation between strength of national identity and development is a false move. My argument is not that there is in every case that correlation.

The main complicating factor is colonialism. Where colonial policy allowed for a unitary founding figure, corruption post-Independence was kept to an acceptable minimum. Where it wasn't, it hasn't. This is what makes the Ghana vs Nigeria comparison significant, whereas comparisons with other places involve too many other factors for them to be significant.

I am glad I have managed to tease out a counter-argument from you: that old chestnut of economic determinism. The original article I linked to pointed to the cultural factor of Confucianism at work in the Far East. I allied the issue of national identity to this. Many leading economists around the world now accept that non-economic factors play a central role in determining how well a nation's economy does. Some point to 'trust', others to cultural factors, some to geographic/historical factors and still others point to religion.

I agree with you that national identity may well strengthen if the economy was felt to be growing for all in Nigeria. Note however that the reverse has also been true in history: German nationalism in the 1930s rose on the back of a devastated economy after the First World War.

However, the question to you is, what to do in the absence of non-oil economic growth - ie the kind of economic growth that ordinary non-elite Nigerians can feel?

Given that the resource curse has stopped non-oil growth in its tracks in Nigeria, your proposal - let economic growth come first - starts to seem like a chimera. What do you do if you can't even get non-oil growth off the ground, no matter how much the Finance Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank talk it up?

Jeremy 3:06 pm  

1. Controversial Anon. I believe you have been drinking again - why else would you post the same comment six times? Forgive me if I only publish one version of this. Perhaps you think by saying the same thing over and over it will appear more convincing?

The ultimate case study in the importance of a strong national identity in the midst of a plural society is of course the USA. American children, of whatever colour or background, are heavily indoctrinated with the American story/myth from an early age. Regardless of the turbulence over the significance of the First Amendment the US is going through right now, the firm secular foundings of the American state and the ideology of a 'manifest destiny' and American exceptionalism that underpins it will enable the country to continue to embrace cultural difference in the pursuit of wealth and the good things in life for generations to come. You have to see that a corollary of a strong national identity is a strong state.

I cannot speak for what happens in Catalonia, however, it may surprise you to know that whenever a poll on Independence has been conducted in Scotland, the overwhelming majority vote to stay in the Union. You may ponder on why that is.

All of which is to say, pointing to country after country on the basis of whether there is a correlation between strength of national identity and development is a false move. My argument is not that there is in every case that correlation.

The main complicating factor is colonialism. Where colonial policy allowed for a unitary founding figure, corruption post-Independence was kept to an acceptable minimum. Where it wasn't, it hasn't. This is what makes the Ghana vs Nigeria comparison significant, whereas comparisons with other places involve too many other factors for them to be significant.

Jeremy 3:07 pm  

2. I am glad I have managed to tease out a counter-argument from you: that old chestnut of economic determinism. The original article I linked to pointed to the cultural factor of Confucianism at work in the Far East. I allied the issue of national identity to this. Many leading economists around the world now accept that non-economic factors play a central role in determining how well a nation's economy does. Some point to 'trust', others to cultural factors, some to geographic/historical factors and still others point to religion.

I agree with you that national identity may well strengthen if the economy was felt to be growing for all in Nigeria. Note however that the reverse has also been true in history: German nationalism in the 1930s rose on the back of a devastated economy after the First World War.

However, the question to you is, what to do in the absence of non-oil economic growth - ie the kind of economic growth that ordinary non-elite Nigerians can feel?

Given that the resource curse has stopped non-oil growth in its tracks in Nigeria, your proposal - let economic growth come first - starts to seem like a chimera. What do you do if you can't even get non-oil growth off the ground, no matter how much the Finance Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank talk it up?

CodLiverOil 4:54 pm  

I read the article, the author (Dr Mills) pretty much covers all the aspects.

The only one that immediately springs to mind, is that civil society and by greater extension the masses excuse the wrong doings of prominent politicians because of some flimsy excuse ethnic or religious affinity. We saw how Ibori has been sheltered by his own ethnic group, Aliero ran back to Kebbi to hide when exposed, and he was sheltered. Tafa Balogun's people didn't not disown him despite, him being caught stealing from the public purse. It seems ethnic affinity blinds one to what is right or wrong, that being the case it it any wonder that the societies where such attitudes prevail are amongst the poorest on the planet.

Another one is relatively weak public organs like the judiciary which are not independent, and the administration of the courts is not quick, transparent and credible. This paves the way for the alleged political criminals to get away either completely free or receive a very light sentence, which serves as no deterrent. To cap it all, you may then get some self-serving prominent persons declaring an amnesty for previous abuses of office, whilst not laying the foundations to prevent any recurrence. So the whole thing is unresolved and is waiting to repeat itself countless times in the future.

Controversial Anon 6:13 pm  

Hmmm, I wonder what you've been drinking to make you post 4 replies? Hehehe

Glenfiddich? Or Jaggermeister? Lol

I think my point is made. Whatever else is the reason for our predicament, it is not weak 'National Identity'.

Kinna 9:43 am  

Provocative as usual, Jeremy. Leadership plays a big role in this "national identity' issue. Here in Ghana, Nkrumah showed us a different way of defining ourselves. Wasn't born then, but I think our independence movement and its figures at the top instilled in us a sense of working towards a united country, a Ghana. And we've been lucky in that nothing has happened in the country to fundamentally challenge or threaten our sense of Ghana.

But we also police ourselves. Over the past decade, civil society, some sane-minded religious and traditional leaders have been quick to quell any "tribalistic" discourse that finds its way into the national discussion.

Now I don't know how fast we are losing our 3rd world status.

Anonymous,  8:10 pm  

Jeremy,

I'm afraid that I have to agree to a certain extent with with Controversial Anon that the ethnic v national identity factor (which he correctly noted has strong parallels in Europe, regardless of centuries of nationhood), while an undoubted contributor to African problems, is often overblown and is simply insufficient to be placed at the CORE of these problems and quite often exposes the parachute nature of what passes for Western analyses of Africa.

Furthermore, as someone who had actually lived and schooled in Ghana (at Achimota, the cream of crop nonetheless) and retain familial and other personal links thereat, the aforementioned parachute nature of African analyses is reaffirmed by the propagation of any notion (often by folks who merely visit) that the Ghanaian sense of ethnic identity is somehow less than those of Nigerians.

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