The respected Kenyan scholar Ali Al’amin Mazrui would have had interesting things to say about Africa’s current dalliance with Asia, especially the rise of Chinese business interests and influence across the continent.
Increasingly, companies from Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea have also been boosting their national GDPs with Africa-based projects. According to Linklaters, a commercial law firm, Asian-sponsored project finance funds in Africa grew by over 160% during the last decade, with Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo the leading destinations for these commitments, which were in excess of $12 billion.
Mazrui would have advanced a quaint thesis for re-balancing Africa’s trade, cultural and diplomatic ties with Asia’s power blocs. He would have been especially aggrieved by the current state of inertia in the political economy of Africa’s most populous nation. A pan-Africanist and student of Nigerian affairs (his wife Pauline Uti, mother of two of his five sons, is Nigerian), the late professor is credited with stating way back in the 1970s that, “Africa produces what it does not consume and consumes what it does not produce.” And those were the early days of continental profligacy.
Nigeria could be Africa’s biggest culprit in this regard. The country is consequently experiencing its first recession in 30 years. Tired of waiting for the promised hope of a better nation, Nigerians now, rightly or not, accuse their current leader of bringing Africa’s largest economy by GDP to its knees.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been blamed for not ‘radicalizing governance’ fast enough, which was one of the reasons Nigerians voted for his All Progressives Congress (APC) party in 2015. Nigeria is engulfed in a torrent of crises never before seen in the history of the nation.
Clearing the cobwebs of the past is proving to be a delicate dilemma for the taciturn president and his team. Grappling with sluggish growth, dwindling external revenues, double-digit inflation and a prolonged currency constipation, he is leading the ethical campaign to wrestle with the seen and unseen forces of corruption and ineptitude. His seeming preference for advisers from his northern base is also being openly examined by civil society.
For Nigeria’s sake, Buhari needs to win the war against graft and impunity. His victory will begin to recreate a new nation, sealing his place in history and in the soft spot of a large-hearted nation.
But, can he do what is required to transform the ethos of governance, business and society? Will “the Nigerian system” allow him?
Will confirmed and well connected crooks go to jail? Will reportedly recovered looted funds be reinjected into the treasury? Will massive recovery of this commonwealth mean less recourse to external loans? Will the judiciary invoke its constitutional principles on its own stables? Will the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) ever successfully convict any person of influence?
Will federal and state legislatures reduce their allowances and salaries in tandem with the austere times? Do we need a referendum on their astronomical salaries? Will the Nigerian state significantly increase investment in education, healthcare and the police, using advanced technology tools and techniques to revamp these ecosystems? And when will politics with principles become the order of the day?
These are the sort of questions Nigerians are asking themselves. But they also realize their quest for jobs, stability and development is hobbled by a subculture of guile and graft.
Teaching at Uganda’s Makerere University between 1963 and 1973, the late Mazrui was known for poking fun at the megalomania of Africa’s fat-cat leaders and speaking truth to power. Naturally, Idi Amin disliked him a lot. He was also not able to get a job in any Kenyan university during the regimes of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi. Were Mazrui alive today, he would have also queried the absence of truth and the dearth of altruism in the politics of modern Nigeria.
Mazrui would have encouraged Nigeria’s business, political and military intelligentsia to openly discourse their festering sores. He would have prayed for peace, unity of purpose and nation-wide reflection. He would have said hope should never be allowed to get into a cul-de-sac.
So will 2017 be the year Nigeria begins to recalibrate its moral compass? Nigeria desperately needs to lead Africa out of the nadir of homegrown frustrations.