Recently, London has been awash with conferences and seminars on Africa's development. The approaching first anniversary of the British inspired Africa Commission report seems to have galvanised the city's academic and development circles into fresh bouts of discussions.
I was invited to participate in a few of these events and was particularly keen to address younger audiences such as students at the famous London School of Economics. Although many of my fellow panellists were august experts in economics, development and Africa, I felt that what they had to say had been heard so many times before, I wondered what benefit the audience might gain from these discussions.
Essentially the main line of argument was that Africa was poor, in need of aid and that a good deal of the current state of Africa was the result of bad and corrupt leadership.
While all this is true, it is not the whole truth; it is a part, and in my opinion, a small part of the true picture of Africa today.
But their line of argument seems to be the dominant theme when Africa is discussed abroad. Yet the development models which derive from this perspective have been in use for the last 50 years and produced little progress. Perhaps the models are flawed.
Whenever the argument that Africa is poor, in need of aid etc, etc was paraded, you could sense that the young audience, including many Africans, becoming resigned to despondency and dismay. They felt powerless to do anything meaningful.
Consequently, I felt it my duty to present to them another picture of Africa and to lay some of the myths to rest. For example, the myth that Africa is poor. Africa is not poor. It is rich in land, waterways, seaboards, natural resources of all sorts and its people are dynamic and determined.
Very few of the so-called rural poor are poor in the absolute sense. They live in self-sustaining communities with clear leadership structures; they enjoy a bewildering variety of festivals; they create their own music, songs and stories; they have herbalists to take care of their ailments; they educate their children in the essentials of living, including farming, fishing and hunting; they have very little waste and generally they appear to have happy, fulfilling lives.
It is sometimes said that the average real income of an African farmer (unless affected by droughts or conflict), in terms of satisfying basic needs, is around $15,000 to $20,000 a year. If you find these figures hard to swallow,...