The whole world has been poor longer than it has witnessed prosperity. Once upon a time, poverty was the common theme across races, countries and continents. This is, however, changing, with countries now grouped into different tiers, according to their stages of development, and invariably prosperity. England led the renaissance of the North Western Europe- through industrial and agricultural revolutions-, starting in the 18th century, and spread prosperity to their offshoots in North America and Australasia.
In Asia, Japan’s modernization was preceded by the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century, which provided the impetus for the political, economic and social restructuring that catapulted the hitherto Asian minnows into the league of the First World countries. Singapore also transited from a Third World to a First World country in a single generation, starting with their independence from Malaysia in 1965. More recently, China has also crafted its own success story, evolving as the fastest growing economy globally over the past two decades, and now poised to overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world over the next few years.
In stark contrast to the prosperity witnessed in other parts of the world, Africa has always been poor and remains mired in poverty, instability and gross underdevelopment. Indeed, no single African country has successfully navigated that transition to the comity of developed nations. It is also instructive that there is no single developed black nation in the world. Why this is the case is open to many suggestions and theories. Can Nigeria break this jinx to become the first developed African country? Is the new administration the divinely ordained group that will lay the foundation for that much needed but elusive development? To correctly predict the likely outcome, it is important to identify those critical factors that have been common to those countries that have defied the odds, and rapidly transformed into prosperous economies.
The development of England coincided with the rise of a particular system of governance, which is participatory in nature and has now been fine-tuned, and widely known as democracy. Although the origin of this political system can be traced back to Athens in the 5th century BC, with the word itself derived from the Greek word demokratia, the English evolved a system of governance that met their own needs. To go with the political restructuring were the industrial and agricultural revolutions as well as openness to trade and investment. These opened new frontiers for the English economy and businesses, and heralded their emergence from widespread poverty to prosperity. Developments in science and education also played important roles in sustaining their new-found status.
Over in Asia, Japan initiated the Meiji Restoration, which led to a chain of events from which the practical imperial rule and a consolidated political system evolved. The consolidated power accelerated the industrialization and modernization of Japan, while combining modern global advances with their traditional eastern values. The emergence of Singapore from a colonial outpost to a First World country was engineered by the founding father of independent Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Meritocracy and multiracialism were the governing principles under his rule, and he favoured long-term social and economic plans rather than populist policies. His system of governance was often criticized by the West as autocratic, but he maintained that the measures instituted were necessary for economic development. China also has a similar story, introducing economic reforms, tagged “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” in 1978. Although up till this day, the West still complains about the political system in China, labeling it autocratic, but only few will argue with the economic progress that has been made in the second largest economy in the world.
Bringing these lessons home to Africa and Nigeria in particular will be key to any lasting improvement in the lot of the average Nigerian. Are we on the right track? Have we evolved a system of governance that meets our needs or are we struggling to understand and practice a political system foisted on us by our lords and masters? Do we have an educational system that caters to our developmental needs? Are our economic policies thought through or informed by the predilections of the ‘higher beings’? Are we foresighted or we only live, plan and die for the now? Do we recognise our own traditional values that can be augmented with modern global advances in order to create our unique advantage?
The development of any people can only come from within and it starts with the realistic understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses. None of the recently successful economies has done so by carrying begging bowls around the world. When we fix our systems and economy, the world will perceive the aroma of success and come chasing the opportunities. It’s time to stop the ridicule and find our homegrown solutions. Only then can we re-write that poverty narrative about Nigeria and Africa as a whole.