One of the more specific “ideological” schisms associated with the intermittent discourse on the nature of Africa’s development challenges is the one between the liberal non-African’s take and (what I prefer to refer to as) the radical native perspective. Of course the more obvious tension is the one between the conservative (until recently “colonial-imperialist”, and then “non-colonial, neo-imperialist”) non-African worldview and all the domestic (albeit, largely left-leaning) perspectives that have ever existed. I confess (these days, and only quite recently, too) to belonging to a fringe weltanshauung. One in complete sympathy with conservative Western thought on these matters. Precisely, agreeing with the sense that the world is a better place if all participants can first delineate what their (usually) collective self-interests are, and then proceed to act either in advancement of these interests, or in their spirited defence.
I imagine that the contradictions attendant on the latter process are not necessarily easily resolvable. In other words, that the point may be reached where dialogue yields to the seduction of aggression. War, in this circumstance, permit the cliché is then nothing but politics by other means. And where parties to this ceaseless dialogue (as with many African states) can neither properly define events and processes that are in their own self-interest, nor muster the will to act in pursuit of these, what should their interlocutors do? As it was in the beginning (with the slave trade, colonisation, and the imperialist phase), so shall it be at the end. China is currently taking advantage of its new found “friendship” with key countries on the continent.
For starters, it is investing (as with past colonial interlocutors with the continent) extensively in infrastructure that support its large and growing appetite for primary commodities, including the conceptually important completion of the Benguela Railway, that long stretch of track connecting the Angolan port of Lobito with the copperbelts of Katanga province, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia. But now that the Chinese labourers who worked on the latter project have re-trained as entrepreneurs, and settling in places like Angola, the old tension between native Africans and light-skinned settlers have re-emerged.
Angola, incidentally, is a useful example of the confluence of that dissonance that I had earlier referred to between the liberal non-African and the radical native perspective. One of Africa’s more obviously clientelist states, it takes the mickey out of the general charge of corruption leveled at governments across the continent. What matters anyway to most non-Africans looking in on the continent is that since the discovery of crude oil deposits in commercially meaningful quantities, Angola has been at the top of annual output growth measures on the continent. It has spent huge amounts re-building infrastructure shattered by decades of war, and bidding to host some of the more prestigious events on the continent’s social calendar.
As was the case with Nigeria several years ago. So many decades post-Oloibiri, Nigeria is failing. Or so the radical native perspective would have our story told. Imagine therefore my shock and consternation at being told at some fancy dinner in the heart of an extremely cold London, late last week, that Nigeria’s corruption levels are just right! Apparently, as countries develop, a certain amount of corruption is necessary. Indeed it would seem that both the United Kingdom and India, at similar GDP levels as Nigeria, had just about similar levels of corrupt practices. So, nothing to worry about? Just keep trudging down this road, and in two generations from now, will be “there”! Forget about the question: “What part of the corruption/development relationship is causal, and what part is correlation?”.
I focussed instead, as the night got colder, darker, and sodden, on snippets of an earlier conversation at the margins of the same event. My caucasian interlocutor wanted to have my take on the medium-term outlook for Nigeria in the light of Samuel Huntington’s prescient call several years back on Sudan’s eventual destiny. Is a carve-up of Nigeria a possible prospect? And how soon? I did not (and still do not) think a break-up of the country is an imminent fact. But like a friend wrote quite recently, a break-down is currently taking place. And the exertions of a succession of corrupt and inept governments have merrily helped this process along.
Corruption in Nigeria is not normal. It is the bane of unsung efforts over the years to make this country a normal place.