Why Africans seem unable or unwilling to industrialise?

30 Dec, 2022 - 00:12 0 Views
Why Africans seem unable  or unwilling to industrialise?

eBusiness Weekly

Clifford Shambare

Before we go further with this discourse, let us clarify a number of aspects of the matter.

First of all, the industrialisation phenomenon is often taken for granted and /or misunderstood by many people, especially the Africans.

As a result of this state of affairs, many Africans, even today, are not even aware that there has been such a phenomenon as industrialisation that occurred through the Industrial Revolution in the 17th Century. In this state of mind, they assume that the state of the world economy has always been what it is today.

Here are the main ones of these assumptions:

All machinery is made somewhere else, not in Africa. According to this thinking, in the past the West was that place but now the Africans are aware that other non Western countries can also make the same machinery.

Interestingly, when it comes to this matter, as the Africans began to become aware of the latter possibility, they placed themselves in a state where they were in denial of this progression.

For example, when the Japanese started to export some of the machinery they had begun to make — of which the Daihatsu Motor Car Model was one — the African’s attitude was; ‘Their machines are not as strong and durable as the British and German ones’.

When the Chinese came along many years later, the attitude was the same; ‘The Chinese make zhingaz’; meant junk — became the mantra among them. The interesting but most worrying aspect of this matter still continues to be the detachment of the Africans from the whole business of machine making.

Unfortunately, this mentality inadvertently places them in that state in which they do not consider themselves to be part of the whole process of industrialisation.

As we carry on with this discourse, we begin to appreciate how this mindset has considerably reduced the chances of the African to make progress towards economic prosperity.

On the other hand, the attitude of the Westerners to this matter is a source of fascination to any analyst. Initially, they seem not to have imagined that the African may one day, want to also add value to his natural resources. At that time, they used him as forced labour and/or slave to loot his resources. This is an irony in itself since the Africans were made to steal from themselves for the benefit of foreigners, not for themselves.

Now that the African is making noises over the matter, in the process mulling industrialisation, the Westerners are very worried about such a prospect. Interestingly, as a result, they are now furtively discussing the matter among themselves, hoping that the African will not hear about it. But ironically, and fortunately for the African — social media being what it is — their expression of such fears has now gone viral.

And the current looming confrontation between Ghana and Corte de Ivoire on the one hand, and the EU on the other, over the processing of coffee beans by the former, is another telling indicator of the future regarding such a conflict between the Africans and the OECD economies over the continent’s resources.

So, the Westerner is now well aware that if ever the Africans succeeded in industrializing their economies, such a development would certainly deprive him of his current source of raw materials for his industries. Such a trend may well lead the Westerner to a state of depravity and eventually, that of poverty.

And Sub Saharan Africa is one part of the world that they now worry about the most in this respect. But why?

First of all, capitalism, the current vehicle for economic development— uses natural raw materials that are spread throughout the earth and its immediate environs — for purposes of self actualisation and growth. These constitute the actual land and /or soil and its contents of minerals, vegetation, air and water.

As far as this matter of natural resources goes, we can say a few pertinent things about it. To date, the Westerner has used up a considerable proportion of his natural resources. Here we have coal, oil, iron ore and copper among the main ones. Then there are those minerals whose availability in the West is either precarious or absent but are vital for ICT development purposes. These rare earth minerals such as cobalt, tantalum, yttrium, cadmium, and others. Most of the latter are still found in reasonably large reserves in regions such as the DRC.

As far as these minerals are concerned, it cannot be farfetched to assert that the Westerners have so far, managed to create a condition of general confusion in the mind of anyone who might have an interest in the matter.

They managed to do this because of three major reasons. Firstly, they have the capital. Secondly, they have the technology. Thirdly, they have the information on the world distribution of these resources. The three are interlinked in a rather fascinating way for the Western analyst. This is a way that would be alarming to the black African if he/she were aware of such a condition. But of course, he is slowly becoming aware of these challenges. (We shall discuss this issue in other articles).

The gist of this matter is that the Westerner wants to continue looting the Africans’ natural resources while hoarding his for future use.

In the process, he has spread the myth that Sub Saharan Africa is one part of the planet Earth that still has reserves of these natural resources that are as yet not fully exploited.

Unfortunately, the African himself—led by his politician — is currently at the forefront of such deception. Why he is doing this is the source of another puzzle. Is he misinformed on the issue? Or is he doing it for political self enhancement reasons; is the question?

On continuing to scrutinise this matter still, we come to realise that sub Saharan Africa is one part of the world where the extraction of these resources has resulted in a dysfunctional condition on many fronts.

For example, conflicts and their attendant impact(s) — that is loss of life, poverty and disease, are galore there.

Then there is one case that occurred in Guinea in 2015. In that case, three major commodity companies — that is Brazil’s Vale, Australia’s BHP Billiton and Britain’s Rio Tinto engaged in running battles over mining franchises in Guinea that spilled into Western courts. These were battles that roped in big Western law firms.

What made this case more disturbing was the involvement of politics therein. This is one aspect of the matter that brings to the fore, the fact that democracy in the African context is often a can of worms. Here there was a clear case of regime change. In that case there were two presidents with rather similar names — that is, Lansane Conte and Alpha Conde whose terms of office in Guinea followed each other. In the process some of these companies took advantage of these changes.

So in order to clarify this matter, let us look at specific examples. Some of the most precious metals on earth are fast approaching a state of extinction on the African continent. Gold is the first one followed by diamonds.

Regarding gold, South Africa had the biggest reserves on earth but now that era is fast coming to the end with Impala Mine in Gauteng being one of the last. As for diamonds, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe had the largest reserves but now these are either fast getting depleted or have almost run out.

Today Russia (650 million carats) with Congo and Botswana currently hold 80 percent of the world’s diamond reserves.

The other minerals that are a critical component of capitalism and economic development are iron and what are referred to as pgm metals led by platinum, as well as rare earth metals or semi-conductors (see above).

With regard to mineral deposit distribution, Africa’s position on the world scale today, is far from being clear. For example, Australia, Brazil, Russia, China, Ukraine, Canada and India constitute the top seven iron ore reserves in the world.  In this case the top Sub Saharan countries with substantial quantities of iron ore — these being South Africa, Mauritania and Algeria — do not even feature in the abovementioned top seven countries.

Regarding oil reserves, Saudi Arabia comes in the first position followed by Iran, Russia and Canada. On the world scale in this case, Africa led by Libya only comes in at number 10.  On the African continent, Libya, Nigeria, Algeria and Angola make up the top four in terms of oil reserves. As for iron ore, Guinea, Mauritania and Algeria have the largest reserves while for coal, the largest reserves on the continent are South Africa at number (1) Mozambique (2) Zimbabwe (3) and Nigeria (4) as the top four.

When it comes to human attitudes to these mineral resources, those of the Africans — particularly the blacks — becomes rather fascinating — sometimes even puzzling — to those who are either aware of what is happening and/or what it implies to the latter’s future well being.

And even though it is not unusual to hear some experts in this field — who may be either Westerners or Africans — express the view that these resources are ‘non renewable’, in practice this is a view that is not appreciated by the majority of the Africans.

Zimbabwe is one country where these attitudes have, for a very long time, played out in a fascinating way, among the people; in this case both blacks and whites. Originally, the latter comprised mainly European explorers, some of whom later became settlers/colonists. The first group to come here were the Portuguese while the second were the Germans, then the British.

The blacks were the first to mine these minerals, comprising mainly gold, which they traded with the Portuguese for porcelain and silk and to some extent, spices. Later the British were the ones who took the trade to a higher level in which they took the gold to the Bank of England and later, to the London Bullion Market in 1987. Since then, London has been the world centre for gold trade.

Meanwhile, at that time, the Africans did not seem to care where their gold ended up. Sadly, up today, this attitude has not changed much. If we juxtapose these attitudes to the other people—specifically the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Americans—those who have been involved artisanal mining in the past—we come across a fascinating scenario. While all these nationalities gathered all this gold in their stores back home, the Africans were left with nothing in the process.

When considered holistically, this is where the black African begins to fall behind the rest. But why and how, is the question?  In searching for answers to such questions we gradually realize that it is all about connecting the dots, creating systems, building culture(s) and values. Here we find the African falling behind the rest on all these aspects.

But again, why is the African in such a condition today? At this stage, one is compelled to continue asking more questions. Is it a matter of attitudes on his part? But if so, this situation still does not fully explain our case. So the next question to ask is this; does the black man lack ambition? Or does he lack vision, courage or what?

To my mind, one way to make it easier to answer these questions is to juxtapose all these questions to the condition of those nations that have so far, made it to the top development wise.

These are the Western nations, followed by the emerging ones.

If and when we do this, we find that the latter have taken a very long time— over 160 years actually—from the time of the Industrial Revolution to the present—to get where they are now. This is the period during which the gap between the two groups widened the most.


Clifford Shambare is an economist who has qualifications in agriculture. He is a practising farmer and a business consultant and contacted at [email protected]


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