Africa’s Crisis of the State – the Nemesis of Development


Dr Feyi Ogunade

Africa, a continent endowed with immense natural and human resources as well as great cultural, ecological and economic diversity, remains underdeveloped. Most African nations suffer from military dictatorships, corruption, civil unrest and war, underdevelopment and deep poverty. The majority of the countries classified by the UN as least developed are in Africa. Numerous development strategies have failed to yield the expected results. Although some believe that the continent is doomed to perpetual poverty and economic slavery, Africa has immense potential.


Africa is closely watched as the next big growth market – a description that has persisted for a while. There are many reasons for optimism: the African continent is home to some of the youngest populations in the world, it promises to be a major consumption market over the next three decades, and it is increasingly mobile phone-enabled. An emerging digital ecosystem is particularly crucial as multiplier of that growth, because access to smart phones and other devices enhances consumer information, networking, job-creating resources, and even financial inclusion.


Despite these reasons for optimism, the promise remains unfulfilled. Growth in Africa has stalled; both the IMF and the World Bank have cut their 2019 economic growth projections for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to 3.5% and 2.8%, respectively, with growth in 2018 at 2.3%. Poverty has increased — 437 million of the world’s extreme poor are in SSA — and 10 of the 19 most unequal countries in the world are in SSA. The World Bank projects that if poverty reduction measures and growth remain sluggish, Africa could be home to 90% of the world’s poor by 2030.[1]


Those two paragraphs are lifted directly from: The World Economic Forum magazine, titled, “Africa’s digital revolution: this is what you need to know”. Africa faces many complex and interconnected challenges. Many of them like poverty is man-made. Fragile democracies, low and precarious standards of living, a harsh climate jeopardizing livelihood, weak and corrupt governments, artificial and porous borders, security threats in the forms of human trafficking, drugs and arms smuggling and radical religious factions are some of the most prominent difficulties encountered in a continent of 1.4 billion inhabitants.


Just as humans have created great wealth, we have created great poverty. Whilst we know that the causes of poverty in Africa are deeply rooted in the global system, which has been programmed over the last one thousand years to advantage and benefit of the richest and most powerful countries – from colonialism, to structural readjustment and the global spread of neoliberalism today. The British, for example, have invaded all of the countries apart from twenty and have extracted wealth from most of them to build their country.


We also know that illicit financial flows, unfair trade policies and costs of adapting to climate change drain the continent of its resources. The report “Honest Accounts: The True Story of Africa’s billion-dollar Losses”, published by Health Poverty Action and co-authored by a range of other civil society organizations, contrasts both inflows to and outflows from Africa and comes to a staggering conclusion: that Africa loses about US$ 58.2 billion mostly flowing into the pockets of Western governments or transnational corporations, according to the report. 


Although the causes are complex, the fact that they are programmed into the system by humans gives us hope. It means they are solvable and changeable – it means we can work to re-programme the system, especially when you think of the abundance of resources Africa is endowed with. This is why AU Watch embraces the Agenda 2063 program and campaigns for policy change within the AU and AUMS, as well as working with local communities to tackle the injustice of poverty and exclusion.


So, we are not naïve about the serious challenges of ‘sustainable development’ in Africa – some of which are insecurity, lack of good governance, human rights violations, climate change, large amounts of our youths not in education, unemployment and general poverty and exclusion. We, however, need to challenge the current development discourse which seems to underplay the primacy of what we Africans have done and continue to do to ourselves. One can postulate, for example, about the colonial effects of borders to explain our seemingly unending civil conflicts, and give countless reasons why the world market is skewed against us[2] and tons of excuses, from flash floods to drought why Africa is the poorest region. A huge part of the truth is that, we as Africans have not been kind to ourselves. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we in Africa, we know it’s the truth.


Africa has not given its youthful population hope! It has not given anyone hope for that matter! For many of us our time on God’s footstool is limited and fast approaching! We must hand over the baton to our children and grandchildren. But what are we handing over? Some of us are ashamed and even afraid that posterity will judge us harshly if we do not act now to save succeeding generations of Africans from the scourges of war, poverty, human rights violations and injustice! Africa has not educated its most promising resource to the point where they can have meaningful well-paid jobs after school or college![3] Africa has not given its teeming millions of young people enough choices to reject irredentism, drugs trade or trans-boundary criminal activities. What really do we expect from our youths when all what we have given them as future is hopelessness, and poverty? Honestly, what do we expect from our youths when our legacy to them is state ‘kleptocracy’ packaged and glamorized as the norm? What type of leaders do we expect from future generations when all they see around them are old men parading as leaders and role models, but who have long past them sell-by-date, yet adamantly refusing to leave office?


We at AU Watch are of the view that a lot of the irredentism on the continent that has had a devastating effect on development, is a direct result (whatever the other arguments one might make) of not engaging with the minds and hearts of our youths and whole communities – what we would like to label as the ‘Irresponsible Marginalization of the Youth and Communities’.[4] As is frequently the case, these youths and communities feeling alienated by what they see as a hostile state, become embittered, restless and feels discriminated against. Many of these youths and communities left with little alternatives enroll themselves in illegal trans-border trades, drugs trade, criminal gangs, rebel movements and spreading terror across porous borders. The state is seen as an outsider, a predator, an enemy mainly because it has not only failed to secure its people and provide for their needs, but has robbed from them as well.


Take the current situation of the Sahel, as an example – the challenges are convoluted: mass impoverishment and food insecurity; identity-based violence and mass atrocities; destitute or failed institutions; compromised elections and authoritarianism. Many of the young men who join armed groups in the region do so for reasons that are practical, which if addressed could provide some solutions to conflict. Many young people are joining these groups to protect, lucrative smuggling operations of petrol, cigarettes, food, medicines, cocaine, and even people. Or they simply want to protect their cattle against thieves.


Honestly, we don’t have to be engaged in academic polemics to sound convincing – or to satisfy funders, who may want a complex proposal to justify a particular point of view. Many of what we would like to describe as worn out arguments from some writers on the issue of development may sound like English, and to the untrained some of the language and arguments used in trying to understand irredentism or poverty are as comprehensible as understanding the theory of ‘Klingon.’  As we stated supra the facts are out there, and they are not terribly complicated. As a matter of fact, in many instances it’s pretty simple to understand why Africa is still a basket case. In our view it is a disgrace, a scandal unredeemed by any extenuating circumstance, given all the natural resources we have, that we still have to go cap in hand begging for loans and aid. That embarrassment and shame cannot be more poignant and indelibly etched in the annals of our history when the AU allowed the Chinese Government to construct[5]the pre-eminent building where our Heads of State and Government seat and meet in private discussions! That will never happen in any other part of the world, but Africa, where we have presented ourselves as paupers deserving of handouts.


As Africans we all know what is happening in our backyards. We all know what our children are saying about the continent they live in – the lack of opportunities and hope![6] The sad truth is they are right! We all know where our boys and girls have gone or what they are up to! Why should it be a surprise that thousands of our young men and women are travelling the ‘back way’ in search of better economic fortunes in Europe?[7] And those are the ones that are kind to Africa. Many others have been sucked into a poisonous ideological vortex of fundamentalism believing they can overthrow the nation state and usher in Gods Kingdom on earth. While we are not suggesting that we have the panacea for insecurity and poverty in Africa, but think about it, why on God’s earth would a sane 21- year old girl, just out of trades school, college or university, with a promising future and meaningful job ahead of her and the possibility of raising a family, don a suicide vest, go to the market place and blow herself up killing friends and family? Africa, listen to the voices of our youths! AU, listen to the cries of our disadvantaged communities! Give our girls and women justice and a voice! Empower them to claim their basic human rights, so that they can escape poverty and social injustice! Give them education, give them hope, give them opportunities, offer them possibilities and see the possibilities Africa holds!


We are not sure whether it’s political correctness or down right hypocrisy, lies and blame shifting that a few of us Africans are not honest with ourselves – why we are in this sorry state of affairs. But have you ever imagined a world where our African policy makers and leaders stop stealing the monies that belong to all of us? Have you thought about the devastating effects of such theft since Africa gained independence half a century ago – one dastardly ‘Idi Amin Dada’ regime after another, one ‘Mobutu Sesse Sekou’ after another, inflicting excruciating pain and suffering upon our mother land? Have you ever imagined the difference it would have made, if our own leaders, not unlike the colonial grave robbers, have invested our monies in agriculture, schools, modern infrastructure, health and energy? Imagine an Africa where the stolen monies are even invested in Africa.[8] Imagine an Africa, where corruption is at the absolute minimum, where young men and women have a good education and meaningful jobs after school, where our leaders are having sleepless night because they are more concerned about providing low cost housing, city and rural electrification, clean drinking water and proper investment in agriculture. Imagine an Africa where our leaders spend more on educating girls, polio vaccine, malaria eradication and HIV R&D, rather than buying expensive military and security apparatus to protect not the country, but the regime in power.


Have you thought about the millions of our compatriots that have died from African oppression? Argue as much as you may want, but that is not only the fault of colonialism. Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines were all colonized – but look at where they are today. Have you ever thought about the millions of young men and women who instead of contributing to the growth and development of their countries have perished in meaningless wars fought over meaningless lines our leaders call borders? Imagine an Africa where there is gender equality, where the Constitutive Act is held sacred by our leaders, where the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights is TRULY respected – after all they created those instruments, signed and ratified them and swore to hold them dear. Is that too much to ask? Imagine an Africa where good governance, democracy and the rule of law, means exactly what they are – where our leaders don’t tinker with the constitution to perpetually stay in office, where old men gracefully leave office for the younger generation, where we don’t have to play the rabbit and hound game to chase them out of office. Do we really need a complex political, legal and economic theory to explain poverty and irredentism? Are those demands utopian? Is it beyond the African mind, soul and nature to give and achieve these basic human rights? Honestly, should we still be blaming slavery, (neo) colonialism or some other western plot to destabilize us? We are not suggesting that our past (slavery, colonialism and whatever else in which we had little option), and the way the present world is unjustly run and skewed against us in favor of the West have not contributed to our present sorry state of affairs. They have, and we are the first to acknowledge that. But have we not made matters far worse by the way we have dealt with ourselves?


Why is our intervention and initiative important? What difference will it make to the Nepad initiative? We are of the view that AU Watch as an organization, and the Community Development Directorate in particular, marks a seminal contribution in a systematic attempt to comprehend, disseminate and publicize Africa’s regional development strategy led by the AU. Through our media, outreach and education programs and other programs, projects and activities, we will take the issues to the people, examining the background, nuances, and dimensions of the AU development process, which include the basis and historiography of pan-Africanism, the transition of the OAU to the AU, the issue of popular participation in development, the NEPAD and APRM initiatives, the evolving regional peace and security architecture, and the efforts of regional institutions to facilitate democracy, human rights, rule of law and good governance on the continent. Our programs, projects and activities, though comprehensive in design, underscores the fact that formidable obstacles and challenges abound in the trajectory, politics, and processes of this regional development paradigm, especially as Africa navigates an uncertain future in a deeply divided and unequal yet globalized World.


[1] ‘Africa’s digital revolution: this is what you need to’ know: Accessed 21 December 2012.

[2]Africa’s longstanding economic growth, despite the global recession, has been at the heart of the ‘Africa rising’ narrative, as it has been argued that regional economic integration and national policy environments that enable business development are essential to ensuring that continental growth remains sustainable. However only twelve per cent of trade on the continent occurs between African countries, demonstrating how that intra- African business and commerce is lagging behind other regions!


[3]  One fifth of the population in Africa are jobless (BBC: Africa Business Report) Nearly all the jobs in most African states, (apart from international appointments) are basically hand-to-mouth jobs as they can never sustain an individual and his family. It is not uncommon for salaries to last for only one week. The effects are that people are forced to depend on richer relatives (whose source of income may also be unknown) or a family member living in the West or eke out a living in some other ways, many of them through graft or corruption.


[4] See my analysis about ‘The Crisis of the African State’, as Appendix 5. 

[5] For just a paltry 200 million dollars, we sold our soul to the Chinese!


[6] You have a different view? Conduct an anecdotal survey with friends and family and see the results.

[7]Gambian town mourns after Mauritania migrant boat deaths,

[8]See a BBC Report: ‘Nigerian former minister ‘stole $6bn of public money’, 28 July 2015 at; The article discusses how Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer, yet the majority of its citizens live in poverty, due to corruption.