The annual United Nations General Assembly normally provides opportunities for world leaders to express their desires on national and international issues. Many leaders, mainly from Africa, see such a forum as an opportunity to show off that they are among world leaders. They go there for appearance and shopping. They do not show interest in presenting any address. Many of them have been presidents for many years, and they have not uttered a word on the floor of the United Nations on behalf of their countries, region, continent, and humanity. Fortunately, Nigerian leaders have never been part of those docile leaders. Our presidents always have something important, something reasonable and something comprehensible to say about Nigeria or Africa. No one is disappointed with the speech by President Bola Tinubu at the just concluded UNGA. More importantly, it was one speech that Africans should not only be proud of but also work hard to make it happen.
President Tinubu opined, ipso facto, that “other nations and their private sector actors must see Africa’s development as a priority, not just for Africa but in their interests as well.” The question to ask is whether African leaders themselves place Africa’s development over and above self: whether the environment is conducive to promote development, to absorb foreign investments with mutual benefits, or whether African countries are ready for equal partnership.
History, whether past, recent or current, is replete with many African leaders illegally transferring their countries’ resources abroad. As the advanced countries are busy stealing physical resources and attracting locally trained human resources, the African leaders and businesses are also busy stealing and transferring the countries’ financial resources abroad, only to go back and borrow the same financial resources at some costs. The resources so transferred are effectively used by the foreign countries for the development of their industries, physical and social infrastructure, as well as to provide welfare services for their people. How do these things happen?
The leaders of various African countries transfer funds through direct stealing, attendance of scheduled and unscheduled meetings abroad with a large unimaginable crowd in the name of seeking foreign investments, health tourism, and engaging in investments of their countries’ funds in financial markets abroad. African businesses, on the other hand, do their dealings, make money and keep the money abroad in foreign banks, euro currency markets and even purchase commercial property, yet the seed money comes from the local foreign exchange reserves. The profits are hardly repatriated home like foreigners who do business in Africa. These activities deprive Africa of the domestic investible funds which would have generated employment, and increased domestic outputs and incomes.
Africa has the lowest literacy level and highest mortality rate in the world. These factors do not promote development. It is not that the African leaders do not cherish education because they send their children abroad to study various disciplines, particularly leadership courses with the hope that those children will inherit their positions. It is probably because African leaders are much more immersed in family growth than community development. The United Nations recommended that 26 per cent of the annual budget of each country be devoted to the education sector. How many African countries have been able to achieve that? Yet, in the personal budget of leaders, they spend more than 26 per cent of their incomes on educating their children.
Investors, local or foreign, look for skilled manpower among other variables when thinking of citing businesses, particularly industries. It is not just about the demand and supply of goods produced but the demand for and supply of skilled labour. China has a population of approximately 1.4 billion by 2021 estimates and the literacy level 99.83 per cent. When the Chinese Revolution started in 1949, the literacy level was far less than 50 per cent. The country was then poverty-ridden and that was the rationale for the revolution. Education and agriculture were the cornerstones of the revolution. Today, with the level and quality of education, China has overtaken virtually all the countries of the world in terms of economic growth and development. In the scientific field, China is in the forefront. That is the power of education.
Statistics show that in 2021, only 67.4 per cent of people aged 15 years and over in Africa can read and write with a population of approximately 1.4 billion. Approximately half of Africans are illiterates. The majority of Africans are young, including a large number of illiterates. If Africans want to be reckoned with among the comity of nations in terms of businesses and equal partnership, education must be the priority from now on. If African leaders are committed to educating their citizens the way the Chinese did, the turnaround in 20 years will be tremendous. China not only promoted free education at home but also sent her citizens abroad to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to prepare the youths for the technological advancement that we see today.
Africa, particularly Nigerians and Ghanaians, already have a pool of human capital in the Diaspora. If an environment that is conducive to job creation and employment is provided, many of them will start returning home. Making education a priority by law and finance in African countries implies that within the next two decades, Africans will take control of their economies. We will be able to exploit our resources by ourselves for our development and depend less on foreign experts.
One of the major problems with African countries is the promotion of exports of natural resources without value addition. This cannot continue if we deserve the respect of the rest of the world. It may be possible to tolerate this situation in the next few years but if the rest of the world is to respect Africa as being envisaged by Tinubu, a work in progress must be seen to be maturing within the next decade. The sacrifice and results on the level and quality of education provided by our forefathers are instrumental to the high level of administration that older generations of Africans are enjoying today in global organisations. The African leaders today, including Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, have been playing with the education of the younger generation. The students are encouraged, if at all, to study religion and entertainment. The orientation needs to change. We have to begin as if we are just waking up from slumber.
For now, Africa seems to be the baby factory of the world, producing diaspora children, promoting the association of the Diaspora mothers, and inadvertently destroying family ties with abandoned grandfathers. All the Diaspora children and mothers will become enslaved in foreign lands with the short-term joy of receiving remittances at home. By the time all the present crops of African workers in the Diaspora grow up there with their children and the grandparents are dead, the remittances will fall drastically and eventually cease. We published the result of a study on this recently but what is the business of African politicians with reading academic papers?
If we recall the 1970s and 1980s, when foreign investments were moving from developed countries to emerging and developing countries, the issues relating to technology transfers were part of the attractive incentives. While emerging and developing countries in Asia and Latin America benefited in terms of technology transfers because of the high literacy levels in those countries, Africa was unable to benefit for the same problems of low literacy level and inconsequential skills. Education will not only reduce rapid population growth but also reduce all social problems like violent extremism and harmful traffic that undermine peace and stability. It will promote global trust and security to secure the continent’s mineral resources from pilfering and conflict. Education will promote technology transfer and more importantly, promote respect and equal partnership between Africa and the rest of the world.
We cannot afford to have recolonisation in Africa as warned by Kwame Nkrumah in his 1963 speech at Addis Ababa but that seems to be the path African leaders are taking us through with policies that send our youths abroad in search of jobs or greener pastures, promoting low productivity in output through labour policies that not only underpay the labour but also allow foreigners in Africa to maltreat African workers; downplaying the importance of education in development through the imposition of school fees that the low income cannot sustain, and throwing the economies into debt traps while building safety nets for themselves abroad with stolen funds.