BEAUTY, according to the old adage, “is in the eye of the beholder.” This allegory seems to mean far more to those beholding Africa than to Africa itself, going by growing interests in the continent by foreigners as investors, tourists or development actors. Also relevant to this parable are actions perpetrated within the continent by nations against nations and from within nations. The beauty of Africa is becoming more and more recognised and appreciated as a development frontier of the future, a continent that holds over 40 per cent of arable lands that would be play a decisive role in world’s food security in the future and a continent that will be relevant to climate actions in years to come.
Despite the optimistic outlooks, which many leaders try to present to the outside world – and which, indeed, are well deserved – disenchanted voices from within the continent continue to echo the gloom, misery, failures, poverty, underdevelopment and hostilities that characterised Africa’s uninspiring history, with a near total disqualification and condemnation of the continent. They would rather see an Africa with a glass half empty rather than one with half full. From labour leaders, civil society activists, politicians, media practitioners, religious figures to academics, the common mindset that seems to receive more attention is that of a continent that is doomed to failure.
With an attitude of self-fulfilling prophecies and refusal to act in ways that could turn around the sour narratives, such parochial and pessimistic perspectives have retarded – rather than accelerated – Africa’s growth and development. Contemporary examples can be found in the subtle hostilities between countries that ought to realise that there’s much more to gain by cooperation, collaboration and partnership than confrontation, competition and petty rancour. The deep-running differences and discontents are hardly discussed, let alone resolved. And attitudes turn to ideologies and gulfs between continue to deepen.
The Index of Ignorance, produced by Ipsos MORI reveals some startling outcomes. Questions about the society, including country’s population, healthcare spending, home ownership, among other things are asked during Ipsos MORI’s surveys. The levels of ignorance in countries contribute enormously to the extent of standoff within and between them and others. Such ignorance fuels hostilities that sometimes become intractable. Sometimes, this ignorance is manifested at the levels of the governed, who are detached from those who govern them. At other times, such ignorance stems from leaders who propagate doctrines of division, hate and intolerance in their desperate bid to win and hold captive followers.
Surprisingly and strangely, South Africa is one of the most ignorant countries in the world, a new Ipsos Perils of Perception Survey has found in its 2018 poll. The recent happenings could then be easier to understand against the backdrop of such a survey. Since all politics are ultimately local, toxic political environment being promoted locally end up spilling over to international turfs, either deliberately or inadvertently. Such cases could be found in Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, Nigeria’s “Ghana-must-go” policy of early to mid-80s, the recent but reciprocal policy of Ghana’s restrictions on certain types and levels of trades to indigenes and the exclusion of foreigners, especially Nigerians.
Although South Africa was acclaimed as the biggest economy in Africa until 2014 when Nigeria rebased its GDP and emerged as a truly bigger one, South Africa has been riding high on the score as the leading economy within the continent. Who could have doubted that, especially as South Africa was the only country to be a member of the powerful block of BRICS nations? Since 2008, however, South Africa, which was held out as a beacon of hope for Africa, began a gradual but avowed downward slides by failing to realise and affirm its strength, but chose rather to condescend and emphasise fear over fortune, thus exhibiting intolerance, presumption and hostility against people from other African countries.
A country recognised as the financial hub of the continent was operating from two different extremes of governance. The enviable image it had from the services sector appeared to have been seen and known more to the outside world than to those governing from within, especially since after the exit of the revered Nelson Mandela. The nine years of Jacob Zuma as president has been reckoned as a dark period in South Africa’s history, riddled with high level of corruption and impunity. The arrowheads and dramatis personae of xenophobic attacks that started in 2008 apparently went unpunished. Culprits were never jailed, thus fuelling repeat actions.
The most recent xenophobic attack in some parts of Johannesburg and environment, in which five people were reportedly killed, has become an eyesore for Africa, with the tendency to pit Nigeria and South Africa against each other – an ill wind that blows nobody any good. If the leading stories from Africa to the world are a rehash of Mugabe’s unpopular land expropriation and the sack of white farmers, or they are of a Ghana that is seeking to circumscribe enterprising Nigerians, or yet of a South Africa that must kill and forcefully expel foreigners, then this beautiful bride called Africa is not yet mature for the kinds of suitors coming.
The problems South African leaders have failed to face up to are numerous and far reaching in implications. South Africa’s lack of resources and a growing level of poverty are evident. The lack of jobs predisposes many young folks to violence and crime. The unemployment rate in South Africa has increased to 29 per cent in the second quarter of 2019 from 27.6 in the preceding quarter. Corruption, treasury looting by politicians, poor government services and the neglect of schools and hospitals during the Zuma era are bearing predictable – albeit undesirable – fruits now. If the perpetrators of the 2015 xenophobic attacks on foreigners went unpunished, then there are good antecedents to provoke the recent attacks of 2019 in which five people were reportedly killed.
As South Africa now cuts an image of pariah nation, leaders across Africa need to rise up and rethink. It got so bad last week that even the on-going regional World Economic Forum in Cape Town received far less media coverage as it was overshadowed by the reports of the xenophobic attacks going on at about the same time. Chances are that, if investors abandon South Africa, many of them might leave the continent altogether as Nigeria, which could easily have passed off for an alternative destination for foreign direct investment and services sector, does not show serious signs of preparedness. The alternatives then could be Kenya or Ethiopia, or both, on the eastern flank of the continent.
South Africa is sending a strong message to the rest of Africa; to Nigeria, which has suffered untold hardships and its economy has been nearly crippled by the Boko Haram and Fulani terrorist herdsmen and internecine hostilities, killings and kidnapping. It is sending a message to Mali, to Somalia, to Kenya and to other countries that almost become self-destruct as a result of internal haemorrhages. If Africa is truly to remain that beautiful bride that the world would embrace, there is therefore an urgent need to straighten the rough edges and bring good governance, peace, security and good diplomatic relations to bear. These will boost investors’ confidence, accelerate regional integration, economic cooperation and overall growth of the continent. Perverse local politics that frustrate peaceful coexistence with immigrants will not only ruin individual countries, these will shrink Africa’s prospects of greatness. The time to change track, attitude and relational approaches is now. Otherwise, the bride Africa may end up a recluse and one without any committed suitor.