By Tunji Olaopa
Racism has a global and transnational reach. The objective of the neoliberal capitalist hegemony is to make the whole world in the image of the United States. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has been slanted as the worst manifestation of the ideological battle between Beijing and Washington. And where two elephants are engaged in a death struggle, only the grasses are doomed! And one blade of grass bearing the brunt of racial aggression is Africa and its governance architecture. One significant import of Africa’s development impasse is the willingness with which the continent sold itself in a second slavery to the lure of the western template—from our American presidential system to the British bureaucratic system. African states pay obeisance to western and Asian leaders who invite them over and dish out crumbs of governance insights (that we are too dumb to grasp) at regular intervals. Western financial institutions dictate the dynamics and operational framework of our governance and well-being through the stronghold of their loans and aid. Western states have a hand in our institutional and structural effectiveness. The worst and most blatant manifestation of this is France and her bold involvement in the affairs of the francophone African states. Others maintain a behind-the-scene instrumentality that still enable them to dictate how things work, or fail to work, on the continent.
It is in this light we can begin to understand the travails of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and its president, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina. All postcolonial states in Africa and the rest of the world, have had to contend with the lingering interest of the colonial masters in the affairs of the ex-colonies. Neocolonialism, as an offshoot of the racial ideology, is founded on the belief in the fundamental inability of the former colonies to effectively and coherently articulate the dynamics for their own governance and to efficiently carry it out to transform the well-being of their battered citizens. Racism is founded on the inherent superiority of one race over all other inferior races. And it is that racist belief that led to colonialism and the ‘white man’s burden’ to lift the subhuman Africans out of their barbaric existence into the liberating light of civilization and modernity.
Independence for African states happened reluctantly. And this was due to the massive international rally that became a movement in support of the decolonization efforts that sought to dislodge the imperialists from the African continent and to undermine all their structural and value strongholds. The first step in the decolonization process—political independence for national states—succeeded. However, in Kwame Nkrumah’s vision, independence was supposed to lead to more than just a change of flag. According to his famous statement, “seek ye first the political kingdom, and every other things shall be added to you.” The capacity to sit over our own political affairs, which independence provided, was supposed to become the fulcrum through which the process of decolonization will eventually lead to the full liberation of the mental and institutional might of the African continent. Unfortunately, as it is now clear to us, this did not happen.
Decolonization became stalled for so many reasons. One significant one is that the nationalists and political elites who fought for independence failed to understand the many landmines that colonialism had already planted in both the consciousness of the African leadership, and in the political frameworks of the continent. The most atrocious of this colonial legacy is the mindset of Africans that still remained colonized even after the formal exit of colonialism. Africa remains in perpetual debt to the erstwhile colonizers. Once the pan-African dream of the most intellectual and the most radical of African leaders—Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sekou Toure, etc.—became lost in the complexities of national existence, the neocolonial overlords stepped right back in and took over and recommenced their exploitation of the continent.
Except for a few states which have been able, through visionary leadership, to relatively transform their governance dynamic, Africa has her development framework already hijacked by imperialist control. In the first place, colonial exploitation ensured the acceleration of African states into the world capitalist economy as pawns for economic maneuvers. Since independence, Africa has been struggling to achieve a modicum of control over her political and economic agenda. From the emergence of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and its transformation to the African Union (AU), we all are witness to its mighty efforts at undermining the imperialist stranglehold on Africa. Unfortunately, even the AU is caught in the global neocolonial designs. From the Lagos Plan of Action to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the whole gamut of Africa’s development planning and continental recovery have been snarled by imperialist intrusion and manipulation. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for instance, represent the two global financial institutions that have steadily mediated Africa’s economic and development frameworks.
The African Development Bank is one of the most formidable of Africa’s institutional conglomeration for Africa’s recovery and renaissance. It is the companion institution to OAU, both established in 1963. Both the AU and the AfDB are supposed to be pan-African institutions, founded on and pursuing pan-African ideals and imperative that will lead eventually to the renaissance of the continent, especially away from imperial domination and neocolonial global hegemony. The AfDB’s overall objective is to fight poverty on the continent and to thereby improve the living conditions of Africans through assisting with the development objectives of African states. This is critical because any dream of an African renaissance is entirely conditioned by the capacity of the African states to transform the welfare of their citizens. Unfortunately, by 1982, the AfDB allowed non-African countries to join the bank and hold controlling shares. Currently, apart from Nigeria that holds the largest share in the bank, the bank’s non-regional members—especially Germany, the United States, and Japan also have enormous voting powers that determine the governance direction of the bank.
This move had long been a source of worry for the founding member states of the AfDB. This is even more so for Nigeria and her leadership role on the continent. The former president Shehu Shagari not only warned about the danger of extending the bank’s equity to non-members in 1964, he determinedly vetoed the bank’s move in 1982 to bring in non-regional western donor states. But serious pressure from other regional members prevailed and the decision scaled through. Now, it should not be a surprise that these non-regional members must show interest in the running and even ideological direction of the AfDB. And it would be a gross illusion to think that the US, the UK, Japan, Canada, France, Germany and the other western members would serve any other interest than that dictated by their economic, development and ideological imperatives. This is one way to situate the Adesina Akinwumi leadership debacle. Those who are crying foul over a Franco-American conspiracy may not be far from the truth. The US has been vociferous in asking for an independent panel to look into the allegations against the bank’s incumbent president. But there is another angle that seems to me a complement thought that will facilitate a broader understanding for revalidating the AfDB’s, and even the AU’s, role in facilitating the African renaissance.
Outside of the controversy surrounding its president, all is not well in the AfDB itself. The current controversy is just a manifestation of the internal governance challenge the bank might be contending with that had extensively sidelined it from its vision and mission objectives for a long time. Internal jostling for positions among the regional members has led to accusations and counter-accusations about, for instance, the domineering status of Nigeria and her overrepresentation in the bank, to the exclusion of a fair dynamics of representation of other members. Even worse is the long list of accountability and governance issues that have dodged the capability readiness of the bank for years to doggedly pursue its urgent goals of helping regional member states and their development needs.
We cannot keep flogging the imperial dog while leaving out our own complicity in our own underdevelopment. Of course, the United States, for instance, is the worst of all the states to point accusing fingers or to even demand accountability as if it is interested in the future of Africa. Yet, if our own continental house is in dissonance, then it becomes easier for outsiders to penetrate through the institutional and structural cracks. The African renaissance will not be built, like the anticolonial outcry, on pointing accusing fingers at others (however complicit these others may be in undermining our liberation). The renaissance is a rebirth that must be founded on our own vision of who we are as a people and the vision we have to pursue. It is fundamentally about our determination to clear the Augean stable of our own complicity in our own oppression, while being vigilant about external intrusion through the prism of our ideological vision. Or else, Africa will keep crying wolf for all eternity.
To get back on the progress train, Africa requires an urgent imperative to re-strategize against all forms of colonization of the future. China is presently on the rampage in Africa, and this calls for a template for African diplomatic strategy that will forestall any imperial designs that are building up. The Vision 2050 and Agenda 2063 need to reprioritize and refocus a future founded on democratic governance, regional integration, socioeconomic development and sustainable security architecture. Between the AU and the AfDB, Africa requires a real time and critical assessment of her future, starting from her debilitating present and its various deficiencies. Between now and 2063, pan-Africanism needs urgent institutional scaffolding.
*Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Directing Staff, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos (email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org)