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Africa: Old continent, new spirit?

Africa: Old continent, new spirit?

By MA, Johnson

History has it that African Moors conquered Spain in 711 AD and ruled it for 781 years, bringing Europe out of the dark ages and into Renaissance. While Christian Europe had a 99 percent illiteracy rate, they introduced education to Europe. Africans taught Europeans how to read, write, bathe and much more. Africans brought orange, lemon, peach, apricot, fig, sugar cane, dates, ginger and pomegranate including saffron, cotton, silk and rice to Europe. They improved and expanded on the Roman irrigation systems and helped develop the agricultural sector in Spain.

The Moors brought innumerable cultural innovations such as alchemy, algebra, astrolabe, and chemistry. The concept of zero chess, and the use of numerals originated from the Moorish influence in Spain. The Moors were pure black from the Nubian Kingdom, present day Sudan and Southern Egypt. Shall we then say that the current occupants of North Africa are immigrants? Because, historians believe that “they never built or influenced anything. The Blacks did.”

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The pyramids in Egypt were built by blacks using homegrown technology. What is disturbing and disquieting today is that we don’t have a black African country at the threshold of economic development. Almost all African countries are struggling for economic survival.

Ironically, a time traveller who visited the world on a comparative development study of the continents when the Moors reigned would have seen Africa in a different light. The Egypt of that time would have been regarded as the most economically developed place on earth. Egypt was a country where foreign scholars such as Plato, Pythagoras, Demokritsos and Eudoxos, just to mention a few studied. But where is Africa in the realm of development in the Twenty First Century? Will Africa rule the world again? Affirmative! Perhaps, it will just be much later in our time.

As Africans, we must forge ahead, no matter the barriers placed before us. Today, the world we all inhabit is often unkind and uncertain. Regrettably, history and contemporary global difficulties argue against our future success.

 “But where is Africa in the realm of development in the Twenty First Century?”

Today, there are viral conspiracy theories that a new scramble for Africa exists. While it is acknowledged that a forced withdrawal of more than one thousand U.S Special Operations troops operating in Chad and Niger was announced, how the White House, Washington, received the news of forced withdrawal remains very unclear. The forced French military exit from Niger by the military junta is also a devastating blow on President Emmanuel Macron administration. Because of insecurity within the Sahel region for a couple of years, the U.S policy towards Africa is to strengthen security partnership rather than support democracy. This policy has not worked because what Africa needs urgently is economic development.

China, Russia, Iran and others are currently in Africa doing their businesses their own way. Some of the countries that plundered the continent of Africa in the past and still seek to impede its development may likely not find it easy to manipulate the people of Africa. Africans are now wiser than they were before.

Africans are now enlightened and they are no longer going to remain passive as they are going to harness their vast resources to improve their wellbeing. “But here and now, let it be said that our continent may be old, but our spirit is new,” according to President Tinubu, in an address to his counterparts at the 5th Mid – Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union in Nairobi, Kenya. Mr President further emphasised the need for Africa to overcome its challenges and work towards a prosperous future, focusing on inclusive growth, good governance, and leveraging on the opportunities provided by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). As we write, the Biden administration has endorsed Kenya as a non-NATO ally of the USA in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some analysts knew that one country in Africa would be selected to be a strategic partner to the US but not Nigeria. Not Nigeria because the country is currently weak in all components of national power: Diplomacy, information, military and economy. I don’t want to analyse all these components of national power in this article because that is not the objective. But I want all my readers to look at all the components and score the country. Africa’s debt burden is a huge problem for the continent. Africa’s debt burden, according to the African Export-Import Bank, has risen significantly in the last 15 years.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the aggregate debt-to-GDP ratio of the African Continent has surged by 39.3 percent points between 2008 and 2020. And thereafter decreased to 68.6 percent of GDP in 2023. Debt burden negatively impacts development in many countries . For instance, debt burden and opaque resource-backed loans particularly in Nigeria hinders its potential for growth, according to the African Development Bank. Why? Rising debt burden restricts the ability of governments to pursue more productive investment programs in infrastructure, education and public health services.

Read also: Why Africa must integrate with global financial markets to generate wealth Aig-Imoukhuede

Some influential individuals have argued that democracy is a distraction from development in Africa. But what is really the alternative to democracy? Autocracy? Monarchy or “militocracy”? Or, a life presidency by fraudulently altering the constitution of the country? Honestly, there is nothing wrong with democracy, in my view. What is of strategic significance is the view expressed by S Todd that :”We cannot vote into existence a leadership that is fundamentally different from what our culture produces. A democracy gives us back the types of people we have raised from childhood.”

It’s the people who want to benefit from the dividends of democracy that need to change their ways. I say with a deep sense of responsibility that democracy still remains the best form of government elsewhere and in Africa. We are just going to be 25 years old in this democratic dispensation which started in 1999. It can only get better.

But some international relations experts have argued that clearly democracy, like most human concepts, has its discontents. It’s subsistence on having the will of the majority over the minority irrespective of the difference which makes it vulnerable to chaos as we have witnessed over time. Undoubtedly, democracy has been abused not only in Africa but also in developed societies. But we have equally seen monarchies and “theocracies” that have brought development to individual nations. Therefore, democracy has more to do with the quality of leadership than the mode of leadership. Thank you.


MA Johnson, Rear Admiral (Rtd)