Africa's formula for success: ingenuous rather than ingenious?

Author:Leishman, A.D.H.
Position:This Month's Prize Letter - Letter to the Editor

Your 'Formula for Africa's Rapid Growth' article (African Business Aug/Sept issue) posits a proposal which might be termed ingenuous rather than ingenious. Let me explain!


Western Europe's rapid 19th century industrialisation was a progression from the 18th century triangular trade, with the human traffic removed.

After Europe's loss of much of the productive North and South Americas, attention turned elsewhere, including Africa, to supply at cheap rates through colonisation the raw materials needed for the Industrial Revolution to forge ahead.

The other factors were rural land dispossession and therefore cheap urban labour; coal, in abundance in Europe, to provide steam power; and a hugely inventive capacity.

North America followed after its Civil War in the 1860s, later massively boosted by the addition of oil as a tool for industrialisation.

The Far East's tiger economies achieved much the same thing, from the 1950s onwards, in a similar way, except that they did it in a far more competitive environment with Europe and North America already there. The physically smaller Far East countries also had to buy raw materials on the open market.

The capitalist command-type governments and, dare it be said, the nature of the people themselves, drove rapid industrialisation in a highly productive and energetic way which helped overcome the higher input costs, and achieved in 30 years what it had taken western Europe a century--despite not having colonies, or perhaps because of that fact!

So, why not Africa? My contention, as a European involved with Africa for over 30 years, is that Africans are not yet ready to march into a new economic world, and I advance the following thesis.

Far more than in any other part of the formerly colonised modern world, the African psyche has suffered grievously from that experience.

North, Central and South America and Australasia were overrun by colonists to such an extent that it nearly caused the-extermination of extant communities.

South and South East Asian populations, due to their sheer size and thanks to the climate, withstood the onslaught, indeed often thrived on it, and emerged relatively unscathed.

Africa found itself with its pre-colonial populations extant, but culturally and psychologically damaged, and physically balkanised to the extent that I expect Africa to go on fumbling indecisively, a prey to outside forces and internecine factionalism, for another couple of generations...

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