• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Africa’s ‘wakanda complex’ – Kill it with fire

Africa’s ‘wakanda complex’ – Kill it with fire

Some years back, an African country unexpectedly lost its dictator, triggering a bloody succession battle between rival factions vying for control. Peace was only restored when the dictator’s son defeated the rebels and assumed power. His first act in office was to take control of the country’s sole economic lifeline – a crude natural resource – which he used to make himself incredibly wealthy and powerful, after which he then stuffed all key state appointments with his family and kinsmen.

If this story sounds like something you vaguely remember, that’s because you probably do – the country was called Wakanda and it made over $1.2bn for Walt Disney in 2018. You also probably remember parts of this story from the real places across Africa where it has played out, including the DRC, Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Angola and many other places. The entire geopolitical story of the post-colonial African state is basically that of a never-ending struggle by individuals and factions to control and partake in its natural resource extraction.

“Vibranium” obsession is a sign of failure

I call it the ‘Wakanda Complex.’ I define the Wakanda Complex as a state of political and economic consciousness that exclusively and obsessively revolves around the alleged mineral wealth of Africa. In the fictional country of Wakanda, Vibranium is more important than food, clothing, shelter and indeed Wakandans themselves. Vibranium is what gives the Wakandans their technology, their health and all their global leverage. Indeed without his Vibranium suit and his special Vibranium-infused drink, King T’chaka himself is a weak nobody.

Read also: Gbemisola Abudu heads NBA Africa’s new Nigeria office

This is strikingly similar to how African people and African governments think of their economies today. We have all seen that map of Africa demarcated along political boundaries with each country labeled with its chief natural resource export – Nigeria with an oil barrel, Cote d’Ivoire with a cocoa sack, Botswana with a diamond mine. Africans are probably the only people on earth who do not immediately recognise this map as a giant insult.

It quite literally says that the value of our continent lies exclusively in what is buried under it, never mind the 1 billion+ human beings living on it. The U.S. is the world’s largest oil producer, but no one would ever think of representing its 320 million people on a map with an oil barrel, because America is so much more than oil wells in Texas and New Mexico. Africans however, suffering from the Wakanda Complex – which is really a post-colonial inferiority complex – are happy to spend their whole lives doing nothing other than jostling for access to a share of this mining and extraction pie.

Death to the wakanda complex

Now the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is not bound by real-world economic rules, allows a tiny African dictatorship running a single-commodity, centrally planned autarky economy to somehow become fabulously wealthy and highly developed. Out here in the real world however, national wealth is not a function of what “resources” lie under the ground.

All of these resources in fact, have no intrinsic value whatsoever – they are objectively worthless. A diamond is just a hard piece of carbon. Crude oil is just sludge. The only value whatsoever that these things have is whatever the industrial economy – located in Europe, Asia and North America – decides to ascribe to them. It is an everlasting buyer’s market and that is how capitalism works.

Moreover, a diamond can now be created in a lab. Fossil fuels are going extinct. If Africa insists on trying to be a continent full of standalone Wakanda economies instead of pursuing intra regional trade integration and R&D, I hope we all understand that the poverty we are currently experiencing will continue up to our tenth generation and beyond.

And if you take nothing else away from what I have said today, let me sum everything up in one simple sentence: Africa’s biggest economic opportunity is and should always be the human beings that live on Africa’s soil – not the ‘vibranium’ buried under it.

Death to Wakanda.