African Problems for African Solutions (By Babatunde Fagbayibo)

Posted: November 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


At the very definitive elitist, upper crust spectrum of African politics, there is no mantra as alluring, seductive and manipulatable as “Africa’s solution to African problems”. In its theoretical conception, it easily lends itself to the need to recapture our traditional knowledge systems and apply them to problems. Be it in its political, legal, social and economic dimensions, we are urged to tap into our cultural “tool box” and find the appropriate instrument for solving our issues. But in its applicative dimension, one begins to see deep levels of contradictions, betrayals and policy somersaults by those that are supposed to be the guardians and technicians of this ideology. The so called “African solutions” have played out in shameful and destructive fashions, that anytime I hear this mantra, what easily comes to mind is the inverse: “African problems for African solutions”. This statement aptly captures the iatrogenic application of this mantra to situations requiring serious attention.

Barbara Tuchman, the late American historian, in her book, “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam”, provides a statement that succinctly explain my position about the application of “African solution to African problems” She noted: “Wooden-headedness the source of self-deception … consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs”. The substitution of workable and truly beneficial solutions for wrong-headed, selfish motives continues to define the approach to this mantra. Over the years, African leaders have perfected the art of organised hypocrisy as the answer to solving malignant issues of bad governance, insecurity, economic underdevelopment and regional disintegration. At some point, the contrived idea of “Government of National Unity” became the quick fix solution to protecting a leader who has rigged out the opposition. Knowing fully well that this contradicts justice and further entrenches bad governance, African leaders engage in this act of unenlightened self-interest, and shout from the roof top that they have actually applied African solution to the problems on the ground. This to me is the application of African problem to an issue that requires a true African solution. In this regard, it is an African problem since it is essentially devised by our so called African leaders.

Another example is the laughable gathering of African leaders at summit after summit to ratify the donorisation of the integration process. Few months ago, African leaders at the African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, ratified the AU budget which indicates that 54 African countries will only contribute a paltry 28% of the budget, with external partners (European Union, China, etc.) contributing the remaining 72%. As Thomas Sankara rightly pointed out, “he who feeds you controls you”, and this situation undercuts the issue of legitimacy and ownership of the process of African integration. While external support is not necessarily a bad thing, it should be minimised to the extent that such support does not grant donors the “divine” right of interference.

The lack of active commitment to finding lasting solutions to serious issues is another concern. African leaders act as if the constant regurgitation of this mantra will automatically fix the problems. At critical periods when action is required to implement many of the projects that were birthed within the rhetoric of “African solution to African problems”, governments suddenly develop amnesia and lethargic feet. Some revert to neo-colonial logic (a la Françafrique), others foster or reinforce xenophobic measures, and the rest simply act as if they signed the agreement in a narcoleptic state. “Africa must unite”, they scream, yet they know it is only mouth deep, a position they have no idea of implementing.

The above scenarios are not exhaustive, I am sure readers can add more examples to the broad picture I have painted here. The narrative of “African solution to African problems” is one that will adapt to different contexts and situations, and will have to be applied on a case-by-case basis. There are situations where this mantra has been applied in a positive manner, for example in relation to issues of conflict resolution, financial and human resources assistance, and regional security. However, the non-application in fundamental circumstances and the resultant festering of the problems on the ground has to be fully addressed.

The first step is the acknowledgement of the true situation, a position that wrongly refers to the problems as solutions. The true “African solution to African problems” posits a milieu that matches conception and application of shared values and norms, eliminates inconsistencies, and places Africans at the core of any processes central to their development. As the late Nigerian political economist, Claude Ake, once noted, “Development has to begin by taking people and their culture as they are, not as they might be, and proceeding from there to define the problems and strategies for development”. Only then can we really affirm that we have applied “African solutions to African problems”.

You can follow the writer on twitter @babsfagbayibo or facebook


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