Africa's choice

Phumlani Majozi says blaming colonialism and imperialism will get the continent nowhere

Six of the world's top ten fastest growing economies this year will be in Africa. That's according to the latest forecasts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is good news, obviously. We are glad that at least there is growth taking place in the African continent. However, it’s important to remind that this is growth of countries with very small economic outputs. Africa remains the world's most economically challenged continent in the world.

The current dire state of our continent is unfortunate because we are supposed to be amongst the most prosperous nations in the world, with functioning institutions and stable governance. We lack functioning institutions and stable, good governance, at the detriment of millions of hopeless young people who now see themselves having no future in Africa.

In my observation - and it’s an observation shared by Africa's expert and author Greg Mills - Africa remains at the bottom because of bad governance and bad policy choices. What this observation implies, is that we cannot be blaming colonialism for Africa’s failures 65 years into Africa’s independence. We are now responsible for our development and the fate of our continent.

On one of the Goodfellows podcast episodes last year, Hoover Institution historian, Niall Ferguson, argued that the key to economic development or strong economic development is institutions. Africa’s institutions are underdeveloped.

The argument that institutions are key to economic development has been made by many scholars over the past decades. In their book titled “Why Nations Fail”, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that it’s failure, collapse of institutions, that make nations fail. In Africa at the core of our problems is the absence of institutions that work.

It’s tiring to hear people blaming colonialism and imperialism for Africa's current dysfunction. Such arguments annoy me because they are, in a sense, a blockade to real conversations we should be having on the real problems we Africans face. We get stuck in the mindset of colonialism and apartheid.

It’s counterproductive because it does not change the reality that we have the responsibility to fix our countries in the continent. Crying apartheid and colonialism will not fix our institutions, increase our economic productivity. Working institutions and right policy choices are what will expand our economic output.

The victimhood mentality is perpetuated by politicians, the media, and academia.

Greg Mills’ new book, “Rich State, Poor State” is a brilliant product that destroys the victimhood mentality that constantly attributes Africa's failures to colonialism and apartheid.

Greg argues that wherever you go around the world, it all comes down to policy choices. He discusses numerous African countries that made right policy decisions post-independence.

Like Acemoglu and Robinson, Mills also points to institutions as critical for economic development.

Pope Francis visited Africa in January 2023. Speaking in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, he condemned “economic colonialism” in Africa. “Political exploitation gave way to an economic colonialism that was equally enslaving,”, the Pope said.

The Pope should have spoken about the problems of governance affecting African nations, and perhaps offer solutions to those problems. The real problem in Africa is that there are no strong competitive markets. There is no strong capitalism.

In his latest book titled "The Capitalist Manifesto", Johan Norberg argues that the problem in Africa is that there is no thriving capitalist system. We must fix that as Africans.

We are caught up in the past as if that will be of great value to us in the future. Such mentality is stifling our potential.

In an era that has become hyper-competitive, we will only survive by investing in our growth. We will survive by making our environment attractive for investment.

Former President of the World Bank, David Malpass, once said that developing nations must make their private sectors attractive for investment. Africa is one of the developing regions.

In my view, companies like Tesla and Apple should be coming to Africa to invest, not going to Asia. However, it must be understood by Africans that such companies cannot just invest. We are not entitled to their investment. They are capitalists and therefore take risks. If the risks are relatively too high in Africa, they will invest elsewhere.

There are no imperialists in Africa. Imperialists are long gone. In governments where foreign influence persists, it's because Africans themselves have allowed that to happen.

It's time we stop complaining and whining and get to work on our economic productivity.

Phumlani M. Majozi is author of a new book “Lessons from Past Heroes” and a macroeconomist and political analyst. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi