It is a typically distressing but frank portrait of Africa. It goes as follows: “If potential were edible, Africa would have the best-fed people on earth. The vast continent has 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, most of it unfarmed. The land already under cultivation, mostly by small farmers, could produce far more. Crop yields in Africa are between one-third and one-half of the global average. The quality of soil is often poor, because of over farming, but that could be fixed by fertilisers. With the right know-how and inputs, Africa’s farmers could double productivity. Yet Africa’s huge potential clashes with a brutal reality documented in a new report from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a think-tank with headquarters in Kenya, (“Farming in Africa; Cold Comfort Farms” The Economist, Sept 4th, 2013).
This sort of portrait makes one to ask: what do political parties exist for in Africa. Let’s take the African National Congress, (ANC) in South Africa and the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) in Nigeria as case studies. Although the two political parties differ remarkably in ideological orientation and age, they have essentially the same task as far as the fate, fortune and future of Africa’s two most unique power houses is concerned. Just as the ANC was to remake South Africa beginning from 1994, that was also how the PDP, was to remake Nigeria beginning from 1999.
Last week, the PDP had its elective convention after falling into crisis in the aftermath of crashing disastrously from power in 2015, leaving behind a messy record in looting. It is doubtful if it impressed Nigeria with the National Executive Council, NEC that was supposed to have rebranded it. This week, it is the African National Congress, ANC in South Africa that is holding its elective convention. Will it be offering anything different from the PDP in terms of a democratic meal that is conscious of the fact that no African country is an industrial power? That is the embarrassing dot in global politics now. For, the question would then be why? Is it that the Africans do not want industrial civilisation or they just do not know how to go about it or are there powerful forces preventing them from attaining industrial transformation?
Any of the three questions you take has its proponents and opponents. In other words, there are many people who believe that Africans do not want industrialisation to the extent that they just don’t have what it takes to get it. There are those who would dismiss that as racial nonsense even as they would be hard put to defend that when they analyse the brutal or sit tight African leaders. But, many are out there who would frame the question in terms of who brought each of those characters into power or who sustains them in power if not powerful Western countries. That question explains widespread belief that powerful external forces are behind Africa remaining the only continent without an industrial power since human history.
The consensus, however, is that there are two African countries that are immunised or should be immune to external control when it comes to industrialisation. These are Nigeria and South Africa. Nigeria because God simply made it Africa’s leader, considering the tremendous wealth locked in it. There is nothing anyone needs that is not available in Nigeria. It was once said that Nigeria is capable of independent industrial transformation under three years. This statement was in 1999. Since 1999, no presidential aspirant has even made industrial transformation a campaign issue. Instead of talking about industrialisation, they talk about infrastructure, regular payment of salaries and mount meaningless phrases such as dynamic foreign policy. Or those who could mention such a thing can never smell presidential power. So, those who read between the lines have since come to the conclusion that there is a relationship between keeping quiet about industrialisation and getting into power in Nigeria.
The Republic of South Africa is the second country on the list. These are for several reasons. Apartheid regime has paradoxically delivered on relatively qualitative infrastructure as well as a low level of industrialisation. At Independence in 1994, South Africa’s self-understanding was to become a regional financial hub. That is, unlike Nigeria’s rather overstretched agenda of Africa as centrepiece of her foreign policy, South Africa had a more specific sense of itself although that made it to over-rate foreign direct investment as a factor for development.
In this regard, 1999 was a turning point. In that year, Thabo Mbeki became the president of South Africa followed by the emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo as president of Nigeria, two different individuals but who had built personal rapport before 1999. It was a diplomatic spectacle as Africa seemed to have got it right after all. Then disaster struck. It is not clear who convinced the other between Mbeki and Obasanjo that the way to go was to try to undercut neoliberal world order from within rather than shout at it from the margins. It was that strategy of going to rail at it from inside that made them follow the path of the G-8 and ending up with NEPAD. It is nearly two decades of NEPAD and Africa has been de-industrialising rather than industrialising. What a pity!
Disaster number two is the unbelievable increase in the degree of corruption in both countries. In South Africa, some former security operatives and journalists have just released a book in which they have put Jacob Zuma, the incumbent president, as the ultimate looter. In Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, a PDP president presided over a looting spree that is, by any standard, mind boggling. Archbishop of Canterbury’s testimony that the incumbent president of Nigeria is corruption free is the only bright spot in this story of how Africans are stealing their own brothers blind, making some people to question Walter Rodney’s title for his classic How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. They are insisting that a new book should be written titled How Africans Are Underdeveloping Africa.
What is then at stake in the ANC Convention in South Africa? It is the question of who succeeds Jacob Zuma? The party has on offer Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa to choose from. Both are well groomed party cadres. Dr. Dlamini-Zuma is not only a product of British university education, she speaks Africa. That is a reference to her resort to original African proverbs when she was wants to be ‘mischievous’ about one aspect of Africa’s difficult historical relationship with Europe or another. She has been a Health Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs during the difficult period of putting together NEPAD and the transition from OAU to the African Union. There is no hubris or overbearing traits about her. Ordinarily, there should be no question mark here but there is a strong fear that Jacob Zuma, her former husband, would be such a corrupt influence on her if she wins the power. To make matters worse, she is Jacob Zuma’s choice for the job.
Cyril Ramaphosa, on the other hand, is the cadre’s cadre who, but for the complexities of politics, should have been in power since, having been a key player in the negotiation of South Africa’s independence. Things didn’t work that way and he had to take a detour to business, ending up a wealthy businessman. There are some labour activists in Nigeria who won’t hear this but that is what The New York Times wrote about him, (20/12/12). It is tempting to say, since when did The New York Times become a very good source of information in relation to an ANC cadre but the fear is not exclusive to the New York Times of this world whether a tycoon would have time for the masses. Some people would say though that being such a success story in black empowerment makes him the most qualified for the job because he then acts as the image breaker in that regard, not only in South Africa but across the continent. Instructively, he has won many more if not most strongholds and there must be a basis for the popular preference or attraction for him.
What this shows is how good fit all two aspirants are in the case of the ANC. None of them is untested in party ideals or organisational essence of the ANC and its rich struggle for freedom. The doubt now is on who might take the ANC back to the principle of Reconstruction and Development, RDP. Why might that be important or decisive point in terms of choosing the ANC at this convention? Depending on the literature one reads, one explanation for the collapse of Apartheid apart from the demise of the USSR is how the economy had basically collapsed by the late 1980s and 1992, forcing the Apartheid leaders to rethink. The same scenario could apply: if the South African economy continues its failure to respond to popular expectations, the ANC could also collapse.
In what appears a sharp awareness of this, the ANC has, since 2007, spoken to the imperative of the developmental state. Should that happen now, it would make South Africa a more interesting case study in the politics of development because it would have reversed the traditional trajectory along which states normally move from developmental to liberal state, not from liberal political economy to developmental state. But, it would be understandable if it does. And it should. The consequences of not doing so could make the great party dance naked on the street in South Africa as the PDP is already doing in Nigeria. This is not to say that the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja or many other parties across Africa are such wonderful performers when it comes to a theory and practice of rapid industrialisation. Or the quotation that opened this piece would not have been the case!