With so much happening on the domestic and world stages, it would be no surprise to find that Americans generally did not pay much attention to President Barack Obama’s visit to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania on his limited tour of parts of Africa that ended on Tuesday. One big reason would be that Africa is not seen playing much of a role in the progress of human affairs on this planet. And the reason for that is the woeful lack of economic development.
It is not that Africa lacks natural resources. The problem, as the assassinated Guyanese historian Walter Rodney wrote in his seminal 1973 work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, is that the world’s economic powers have deliberately suppressed prospects for economic advancement so the continent can continue to be a source of natural resources without the capacity to develop the technology to exploit those resources for its own benefit.
How Europe did this is no secret. The European colonial powers laid the foundation for continuing exploitation of Africa’s riches in the way it enabled “independent” countries to be created and the imposition of vicious dictators to keep the population under control. The end result has been almost perpetual instability on the continent, with wars and rumors of war more prevalent than news about industrialization and technological advances.
This neocolonialism has prevented any effective efforts by Africa to unify, merge its resources, enhance its ability to leap into the 21st century and shed the stigma of being the “dark” continent. It has also made the continent a mendicant part of the globe, where many people live below acceptable subsistence levels, disease is rampant and even everyday survival depends on handouts from the neocolonial powers and relative newcomers such as the United States.
There has to be a new way for this the second most populated continent, with nearly one billion Africans spread across 54 nation states. That hope has to reside in the young African men and women – the vast majority of the continent’s population – whose duty it is to wrest control of their countries from the tired, old and discredited leaders, many of whom have prolonged their stay in office. President Obama was right, therefore, when he told Africa’s youth, during a speech Sunday in Cape Town, South Africa, that they should seize a “moment of great promise,” according to the Associated Press. He suggested they should take their cue from the great Nelson Mandela’s vision of equality and opportunity.
All Africans must become engaged in the struggle to throw off the shackles of neocolonialism, resist all efforts at interference in their affairs and seek their own partners to help them realize their continent’s full potential. Indeed, the time for Africans to seize the moment is now.