Investing in a Vacuum

Sub-Saharan Africa is currently experiencing phenomenal increase in the inflow of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), FDI flow into Africa peaked at $88 billion in 2008 – up from $9 billion in 2000 – overtaking foreign aid, which stood at $44 the same year. The Time Magazine of March 13, 2009 in the cover story, “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now” lists Africa under number six as the next global “Business Destination.”

Shielded from the global economic recession, partly as a result of the non-initiation of her financial institutions in the sub-prime mortgages, African economies are under intense scrutiny by what remains of Western capital in search lucrative investment spots. FDI is needed by every country as it is expected to spur development through the injection of capital, new technology and experienced human resources. What is not often said, however, is that the effectiveness of FDI in generating development in any economy leans heavily on an enlightened and patriotic population.

Courtesy of IMF

FDI works effectively in countries where citizens are not just armed with technological and managerial expertise, but most of all, a strong sense of loyalty to the state. For FDI to successfully spur development, citizens must be empowered enough to be able to borrow ideas from foreign investors, and use same to develop indigenous technology and systems.

Increased FDI flow without concomitant development of African people through appropriate education would result in a novel variant of economic imperialism. As a matter of duty, foreign corporations employ most managerial staff and import machinery from their home country, and remit most profits home. Therefore, Africa would once again, be left steeped in want – as has been the case since the formal inception of colonialism in 1884/1885.

To spur development, FDI must rest on citizens who can be a voice against the notorious exploitation of international big businesses. Citizens whose formal and informal education instills in them a sense of national consciousness and pride, and who are willing to defend the country against abuse by foreign interests. While this might ring true of the education citizens receive in other parts of the world, the reverse is sadly obtainable in Africa.

In formal education, the African is taught that Europe and American have almost complete franchise over knowledge. The History textbooks of African pupils and students are filled with the Western history of Africa. The Science and Technology textbooks and curricula dismisses indigenous African science and technology as irrelevant. Informally, parents forbid their children from speaking indigenous languages and encourage them to speak only Western languages; English or French, as the case may be. At dinner tables Westerners are deified in conversations and African values and culture are dismissed as backward. The result is collective inferiority consciousness to the West by several Africans. In this manner, Africans have been taught to abhor themselves and whatever they represent; indigenous political systems, economic structure, values, culture, medicine and thought processes, and instead, to deify that of their Euro-American neighbors. This by itself is a strategy for self and national failure.

For a morsel, the mis-educated African citizen forges documents to assist the foreigner in evading taxes. S/he refuses to be part of organized trade union activities to check the excesses of the foreign investor. S/he has no interest in keenly understudying technological know how, with a view to adapting same to indigenous circumstances, processes and materials, in order to produce a hybrid or even an entirely new product that could be exported by his home country.

If appropriate education of Africans is not at the core of the global increased-FDI- flow-to-Africa- discourse, then the continent should expect no more development than it has already achieved. Perhaps, only more colonial type infrastructures, established for the sole aim of siphoning resources to Europe, the United States and increasingly Asia, and to the detriment of ignorant and gullible Africans. In essence, the current desperation with which African leadership clamor for FDI as the panacea to the continent’s economic advancement dilemma, conjures fearful images of a fourth wave of massive and unchecked exploitation of the continent, especially in the face of the collapse of Euro-American economies.

While FDI should not be discouraged in Africa, the same gusto, if not doubly more, displayed in chasing after FDI should equally be applied in seeking for quality, relevant education geared towards self empowerment, national transformation and state building. The type of education being promoted here is such that would ensure that Africans like the Chinese and Indians have a sense of pride in being who they are.

For sustainable change to occur in Africa, authentic history of Africa must be taught in African schools and not the European history of Africa. Authentic African philosophy must serve as the foundation for other philosophies being introduced to students in tertiary institutions. Pharmaceutical students must go to the bush and research the chemical components of herbs used for generations to treat various tropical ailments. Western orthopedic medical doctors in Africa must seek out the traditional bonesetters and rub minds with them towards up-scaling of available indigenous knowledge for development and export to the rest of the world, just like China is doing with its various alternative medical practices. African students of government and public administration must begin to study indigenous systems of governance and conflict resolution techniques. Trained African agriculturists ought no longer ignore the time tested organic farming practices in use by Africans for centuries, especially in the face of the bad press generated by the various chemical based farming techniques prevalent in the West and now being shoved down the throat of Africa. The list is endless; architecture, midwifery, economics, to mention but few.

History must be re-written by Africans. The present must be re-examined, in order to determine what Africa has and what Africa can give. The most important step for Africa towards the reversal of the present decadence is a positive turn around in the paradigm and philosophy of education and communication – both formal and informal, from one of self-loathing to that of self-acceptance towards self-discovery and ultimately self-actualization.

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