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Africa at the Crossroads

Africa at the Crossroads
February 22
23:38 2018

Front-line observers of the turmoil and the triumphs of modern Africa share their views on which routes lead to progress and uplift, and which lead to regression, repression, and strife.

by Jesse Mullins

It was George Kimble who said that “The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.” Kimble, a geographer from the West, knew in the mid-20th Century what too few still realize today—that Africa defies easy generalization.

A few facts, though, are clear. Today, the continent of Africa confronts myriad challenges—poverty, hunger, political unrest, cultural clashes, health issues, human rights issues, and corruption—and all of this overlaid with the prospect of the continent seeing a doubling of its population by 2050, little more than a generation away.

And while relief for some of these problems can possibly come from humanitarian aid, the whole answer, and the lasting answer, must come from Africa itself. Outside interests can lend their support, but ultimately Africa must come to terms with its needs and its future. That’s what’s revealed in conversations with individuals on the front lines of the African struggle. Africa’s own people must rise to the challenges, and they can, with the right kind of help. Some of that help is being homegrown and educated in Africa itself.

Francis Horton pic and quoteSources at Samaritan’s Purse (a Christian relief organization) and the Institute for Global Change, as well as educators at an African college, voiced similar views in saying that while aid can temporarily relieve suffering, only change within African societies and cultures can improve standards of living and give African nations hope of truly being competitive in the world economy of the 21st century. The question of “how?” has many answers that vary based on whom you ask, but practically every source offers recommendations holding promise, recommendations worthy of hearing.

Meanwhile, fresh challenges arise almost daily. Francis Horton, Regional Director for West Africa for Samaritan’s Purse, said that media attention paid to Africa has been diminished in recent years, and, as media attention has waned, awareness of and response to needs has diminished accordingly.

“Right now, in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], we’re seeing what is probably the largest ‘displaced’ crisis on the planet,” Horton said. “But [most people] probably have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Samaritan’s Purse has an office in the DRC, as well as in the West African countries of Liberia and Niger, and he remarked that lack of awareness, and increasing competition for resources for meeting needs, are trends he’s observed growing over the past five years.

“There’s a lot going on in the world, for one thing,” he said. “I mean, there’s a lot of hurricanes and disasters that are happening around the world, so it’s a lot of ‘competition.’ Unfortunately, in the West, our attention span is pretty short. Whatever is on the news today is what we know about.”

The crisis in the DRC is simply one of those developments that are not in the news. “It’s just not something that’s being publicized, but we’ve got 2 million, people that are displaced within the country of DRC,” Horton said. “We’ve got half a million children who suffer from acute malnutrition today. There are very few organizations reaching into that, to meet those needs, because it’s not known about. That’s a bit of a change too. That change is I think due, as much as anything, to just an overwhelming number of needs in the world.”

Three years ago—early in 2015—when attention on Africa was somewhat more focused, an event occurred that shocked the world. On Jan. 17 of that year, Muslim extremists burned 69 Christian churches in Niger. Samaritan’s Purse was already active in Niger, and the organization went right to work—rebuilding those churches.

By the end of 2017, 54 of the churches had been rebuilt. And the effect, in a nation that is 98 percent Muslim and only 1 percent Christian, was extraordinary.

“Just the very fact of the rebuilding was amazing to everybody,” Horton said. “Nobody could imagine that a church would be rebuilt, much less 54 being rebuilt in two years,” Horton said. “That’s just unheard of in Niger. It’s caused those resistant communities that are around those churches to take notice there’s something different about these people. For the churches themselves in Niger, it’s provided incredible opportunities to share the Gospel.”

That uplift notwithstanding, there is no shortage of crises across the continent.

Jakkie Cilliers pic and quoteIn a Jan. 4 article on “What Needs to Be Done to Make Africa Politically Stable?”, published on theconversation.com, author Jakkie Cilliers remarked that the continent is witnessing an increase in social turbulence, unrest, and protest. Cilliers, who is Chair of the Board of Trustees and Head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies, wrote that, “This is being driven by development, urbanization, and modernization, all of which are inevitably disruptive.

“Development has been driven by the fact that, since 1994, Africa has experienced the longest sustained period of growth since decolonialization in the ’60s,” Cilliers wrote. “The other major factor driving unrest is the fact that democracy is expanding on the continent. Pressure is mounting on autocracies. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised by widespread violence in countries ranging from the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] to Burundi and Uganda. And in countries run by small elites or a family—such as Gabon, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.

“In the long-term, only rapid, inclusive economic growth combined with good governance can make Africa less volatile.”

Commenting on Twitter about Cilliers’ conclusions, Jonathan Said offered these thoughts: “Building state capacity and responding to growing demands for democracy is difficult.”

Said should know. He leads the Inclusive Growth team in Africa on behalf of the Institute for Global Change. He added this thought: “We’re not yet acknowledging this [difficulty] and this is bad because we’re not equipping ourselves to adequately help low-capacity governments to govern.”

Said, in a separate conversation, remarked that “some of the most difficult challenges in the world” are found in Africa, and that the Institute for Global Change has a significant and growing presence there.

Founded and headed by Tony Blair, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, the Institute for Global Change is a force not just in Africa, but around the world. Its precepts are simple. Its stated aim is “to help make globalization work for the many, not the few.” As Blair has said, “We do this by helping countries, their people, and their governments.”

Said remarked that the Institute is helping governments across Africa implement their priority programs.

J. Said pull quote“The Institute believes that development has to come organically, and it comes, at the end of the day, from good governance,” he said. “It comes from the ability [of countries] to actually put in place their development agenda. So what we do is provide support to governments that ask for it. It’s on a demand basis. If a government says to us that their priority is energy, then we provide advisory support [for that sector]. We’d provide only advisory support—mostly through long-term embedded advisers. Often they would work in that government’s Ministry of Energy.”

When governments are not able to build their capacity to govern, and not able to deliver services and programs to the citizenry as needed, then more citizens live in poverty—and the consequences of living in poverty are many and severe, Said observed. That gap creates exposure to disaster, conflict, disease, and other ills. “And on top of that, there is Africa’s rapid population growth, with its population not only set to double in 2050, but to double again after that—in the following 50 years or less,” he said. “So the jobs shortage in Africa is a great challenge. The [governmental] structure of many countries in Africa is such that they are not able to produce enough jobs and livelihoods to meet the rising needs. This is a serious concern.”

A bright spot in the African panoply is the nation of Ghana, whose progress and reforms offer a model other African nations could afford to emulate. Steven Feldstein, a U.S.-based academic who closely observes the politico-cultural landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa, sees much in Ghana to be optimistic about. “When you look at places like Senegal, Ghana, Botswana, Namibia—these are all countries that have managed to tamp down corruption, that have diversified their economies, and that are moving ahead in pretty impressive ways,” said Feldstein, who is Associate Professor in Boise State University’s School of Public Service.

Steven Feldstein pic and quote“Ghana is one of those places that, like other countries that have done well in West Africa, have really emphasized certain things. They have a democracy where you’ve seen changes of power between parties and where there is a real belief and investment in peaceful transitions and participation,” added Feldstein, who serves as a nonresident fellow for the Democracy and Rule of Law program administered by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He specializes in Sub-Saharan Africa for the Carnegie Endowment, but for the purposes of this report he maintains that he is not speaking for the Endowment, but rather sharing his own personal observations.

Where Ghana is concerned, “There is very good governance. There is very strong respect for the rule of law,” Feldstein said. “And so that means that, politically, you have more certainty in terms of how the country will continue. But it also gives businesses more of a sense of confidence when it comes to investing there, because they know that if there’s an issue, they have courts that they can turn to. They know that if they make an investment, it won’t be expropriated by a corrupt leader. Plus Ghana has made very good investments in the human capital of its own people. It actually has put a lot of money into social services, building up its infrastructure, building up its health services, and its education as well.”

Education is, indeed, a bright spot in Ghana and one of the best hopes for Africa on the whole. New institutions of higher learning have sprung up in the nation. One particularly innovative institution is Heritage Christian College, which this year launches its Center for Entrepreneurism, Philanthropy, and Ethics (CEPE). The Center is to be a resource that touches more than just Ghana—its sphere of influence is intended to reach all parts of Africa, and beyond.

Dr. Williams Atuilik, the founder of the center, was recently named Provost of Heritage Christian College. Atuilik has high hopes for CEPE.

“Here at the CEPE, and at HCC on the whole, our aim is to provide quality training for the next generation of leaders of this country, and for Africa, and possibly for the rest of the world. The college’s president, Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah, and myself, and a lot more people are making many sacrifices to create an environment where we can develop the imaginations of leaders. I see a lot of noble ideas and good intentions coming together to build a brighter future for the next generation.

“HCC wants to do things differently,” Atuilik said. “The first step has been to build a school that is centered on the principles of Christianity. We want students to train within a context of the principles that Christ postulated. That’s something you won’t find in many, many institutions here in Ghana.

Williams Atuilik photo“Here at HCC, we’re creating a business incubator that will be the very core of the whole HCC concept. It’s our goal that all our students, regardless of which department they are enrolled in, or whatever program they are following, will end up being entrepreneurs. And as such, they will not have to bother or worry about seeking jobs in the job market, because they will be creating jobs and bringing in others as employees and carrying them along.

“The Center for Entrepreneurship, Philanthropy, and Ethics, which represents the core of everything that we are trying to do here at HCC, sets the school apart from all the universities that I’ve seen here, in this country,” he said.

The “ethics” component of CEPE is especially meaningful to Atuilik.

“Here in Ghana, and for that matter in Africa, you will often encounter people who compromise their morality, their ethics, for some material gain—even a very small one,” he said. “That is one of the major causes of instability in the region. When you go in the street, you often find young people just idling, having nothing to do—because they don’t have the skills. And so, the devil always finds work for the idle hands, and this condition contributes to regional instability.

“Also, people might accept employment at something they ordinarily would not have done, just because they were pressured by the level of poverty they experience. The level of depravity can be so high—and it is because people do not have the skills to practice more ethical livelihoods. To survive, they give in. We hope to make a difference, helping people to have an alternative, so that they can keep themselves above a level of depravity or desperation.”

Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah, founder and president of the college, cited a societal factor that is affecting the youth of Africa: identity confusion. It poses a problem that he hopes the college can help answer.

Dr. Samuel Twumasi“There are young Africans who are growing up and getting their exposure to the world through the Internet,” Twumasi-Ankrah said. “Those youths are buying into anything. We are a Christian institution, and here, in certain circles, especially among the young people, one will hear it said, ‘Oh, Christianity is a white man’s religion.’ It is said that the white man brought Christianity here just to take advantage of ‘our ignorance.’ And so that is an area where HCC has a serious role to play—to teach people about the truth of the Bible, and about the truth of Christianity.”

Additionally, Twumasi-Ankrah hopes that Christianity’s moral and ethical underpinnings will dovetail with the “philanthropy and ethics” emphasis sought by the college and the CEPE.

Atuilik concurred. “And we’re looking beyond just Ghana,” he said. “We’re seeking to make, in the strongest possible way, a contribution to stabilizing Ghana, as well as the rest of Africa.”

Part of the challenge of educating a new generation of Africans comes in the phenomenon of “brain drain,” wherein many of the best and brightest of Africa’s youth are drawn to scholarships and educational opportunities in the more developed world, and end up living away from the African continent. Twumasi-Ankrah, Atuilik, and their peers are working to overcome that phenomenon by pressing hard for their graduates to give back to their African communities—even requiring their scholarship recipients to do so.

Feldstein, meanwhile, contends that the human capital of Africa has been underestimated.

“In one sense, I do agree with those who say that, when it comes to Africa’s institutions of higher education, the continent is under-represented, at least in terms of what actually exists in the continent,” Feldstein said. “However, what that means is not that there isn’t human capital in university-level student populations in Africa. They do go abroad. They do go to other places, whether it’s in Europe, whether it’s in Asia or North America. So one of the keys is how you tap into this population and try to get it to respond to [the plea to] stay within the continent—as opposed to seeing this human capital exported. And how do you ensure that even those that do go abroad and study overseas decide at some point to return and/or to reinvest in Sub-Saharan Africa? Some of that is changing in countries that are starting to thrive more [Ghana included], and a lot of Africans in the diaspora are returning to different [African] places. Meanwhile, many other places, like the Congo for example, which is really on a trajectory towards a failing state, are hemorrhaging future generations who otherwise would be the ones who would drive the country forward, but who, instead, are seeking refuge and residence in other countries, whether in neighboring states or in other continents.”

Feldstein stated that he did not believe the issue in Africa is an inability to innovate. He feels Africa has the ability to be innovative. But for him, “the bigger problem—and here I would probably take the same line as the Blair Institute—is the problem of ensuring good governance. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the capacity of the state to deliver services in a way that is free of corruption and that is efficient is severely compromised, at least in many countries. And so the problem is that you have a governing system that poses a shaky foundation, in terms of where Sub-Saharan Africa, as a region, needs to go.”

Graphic for article - re povertyAsked what is the key to rooting out corruption, Feldstein acknowledged, again, that governance is a key, but he added that economics plays a part as well.

“You’re not going to have good governance if you have an economy that’s built on corruption and [mainly on] extracting resources. Does good governance lead to a change for the better in the economy or do you need a change in the economy to then bring about good governance? And I would say that they kind of have to operate a little bit in tandem, but some African countries have been able to get through and break that cycle.”

International religious freedom was, for Feldstein, his area of concentration when, earlier in his career, he worked at the U.S. Department of State. Asked to explain what effect religious freedom has on the quality of life within a developing nation, Feldstein spoke of human rights.

“When I was at the State Department, we considered religious freedom to be part of the broader human rights agenda, and that the two went hand in hand. A country that respects human rights is an open society and one that’s democratic. You can’t have a vibrant, pluralistic democracy that is repressive when it comes to human rights, and by extension, to religious freedom. So, in other words, a country that represses the ability of people to worship as they please, to practice religion as they would desire, is probably also going to be a country that suffers from a degree of repression. A country that is repressive is one that, in the long term, is not sustainable economically, and is one where increasing amounts of corruption tend to permeate.”

Does repression exist in Sub-Saharan Africa? Feldstein said that the region is too diverse for that label to be applied categorically.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, you have a bit of everything,” he said. “You have places that are notorious for being authoritarian, corrupt, and predatory, so much so that they are considered failed states. Places like South Sudan and Somalia. You have places which are nascent democracies, a lot of which reside in West Africa. You have countries like Chad and Cameroon, which are really authoritarian. And you have other places that are struggling democracies—places like Kenya that are working through electoral struggles but have managed to maintain a significant aspect of democracy.”

In Ghana, where individuals such as Twumasi-Ankrah and Atuilik are striving to be part of the uplift, recent times have been promising. The nation has come a long way. The two men themselves have come a long way.

Both endured extreme poverty in their youth. Twumasi-Ankrah, at about age 11, had to leave home because of familial strains within a blended family. “I had to work on farms to support myself. Today, people call it child abuse—child labor.”

Swinging a machete, clearing fields, working for paltry pay, he was taken advantage of. When he tried to attend school, he was sometimes sent home because he could not pay the tuition or he couldn’t afford the school uniform. Some days his hunger was so great that he would eat anything he could get his hands on. “Fruits, anything—whether ‘edible’ or not.

“I’ve done hunting in the bush. I’m an expert, and I say it proudly.” He smiled. “I’m expert in setting traps to catch all kinds of animals. I can walk through the forest and, just by the smells, tell what kind of animal passed that way. So, life was very rugged for me, from age 12 to 21.”

Graphic on the cultureBut by perseverance, and by exhibiting high intelligence and dedication, Twumasi-Ankrah managed to earn an education that eventually came to include multiple advanced degrees, including a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and Leadership.

Atuilik, for his own part, said he came from a very humble beginning, born to parents who never so much as went to elementary school. “My mother was a petty trader, selling on the streets,” he said. “My father was a laborer. They could not give us much, but they loved us.

“In my early years, I had to learn how to conduct a business. I had to sell on the streets of Ghana—to hawk, basically, in order to make money and go to school. That’s where I learned industry. I took care of cattle—shepherding cattle in the bush. I remember a particular day in my life when I went hungry for three days, because there was no food to eat. On the third day, my hands were shaking.”

Yet Atuilik, like Twumasi-Ankrah, survived, and by dint of personal application, also wrested for himself an education. He, too, earned multiple advanced degrees, including a Ph.D. in Accounting. He is a chartered accountant, as well as a barrister at law, tax consultant, chartered banker, and chartered economist. Atuilik’s influence is such that on various occasions he has advised four different presidents of African nations.

He offered a thought that seems to sum up the sentiments he and Twumasi-Ankrah have for their educational quest:

“We will equip our graduates with the necessary tools and resources to go out as ambassadors, starting ventures and bringing people onboard. And this, hopefully, will bring stability. Yes, we do have plans to go beyond Ghana—to affect the rest of Africa.”

Twumasi-Ankrah concurred. “Our work is a church response to a continental need,” he said simply.

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