Image Credit: Mark Kucharski


The unnecessarily low living standards and limited economic opportunities of most Africans are matters of both concern and frustration for many citizens, scholars and development practitioners. Given the continent’s resources and the historical achievements of many of its indigenous people groups, the stunted and episodic nature of its development begs the question – how did we get here? Part 1 of this two part series addressed the question by outlining the persistent ills of extraversion, exploitation and extraction that perpetuate underdevelopment across the continent. Part 2 proposes responses to these issues that could catalyse the impact of more topical developmental interventions. If history has shown that a few systemic injustices underlie many of Africa’s social and economic problems, then future developmental efforts may be more impactful, the more we recognize and address these core challenges.

To definitively deal with the identified drivers of underdevelopment, Africans must re-examine and re-order the governance systems, power relations, and ideologies that sustain them, from within and without. Given that the political and economic power to effect the needed change is presently vested in centralized nation-states, much of the required change must come at national and regional levels of authority. However, there is much that citizens can achieve directly by marshalling their collective voice and influence to drive reform initiatives and demand policy change from their public representatives. Africa’s development may rely as much on effective public policy as it will on dedicated private efforts – such as the application of individual skills, resources and positioning to advancing continental interests across numerous spheres of influence.

Three overarching strategies correspond to the core drivers of Africa’s underdevelopment. Extraversion must be countered by a renewed introversion of education, industry and public media. Exploitation must be eradicated via the introduction and strengthening of credible and stable institutions that protect African citizens and resources from state abuses and external incursions. Extraction can be reduced through a policy emphasis on accelerated industrialization, well managed liberalization of cross-border trade and investment, and increased monitoring and transparency of export related transactions.

A new African introversion involves the rediscovery, embrace and valuing of African identity, knowledge, and priorities within social, intellectual and commercial structures. This does not preclude exchange with the rest of the world, including the global North, but reframes it to occur on African terms. It prioritizes the local over the foreign, reversing the centuries-long trend of eroding African dignity, aspirations and innovation. School curricula – particularly the sciences and social studies – and the mass media elements of popular culture – public art, news, radio and television content – must include a new focus on African history, perspectives and contributions to world knowledge at the expense of Eurocentric models and patterns of thought. This is not a step too far. The re-education of an entire generation is a necessary pre-cursor to the launch of a sustainable, serviceable, self-defined path of socioeconomic development. The undoing of persistently reinforced mental and cultural subjugation involves remaking the very fabric of society – digging up entrenched inferiority complexes and laying a new foundation for the assertion of the rights, aspirations and autonomy of the previously oppressed. A commercial pivot toward increased intra-African trade and regional development is necessary to break African economic dependence and subservience to industrialized economies in the global North. Appendage strategies of economic development – positioning Africa primarily as a supplier of raw materials, cheap labor and captive consumer markets – must be disdained in the pursuit of genuine catch-up development, which involves building continental industries and markets into self-sustaining engines of opportunity, commerce and prosperity.

Combating the exploitation of Africans by local and international actors, public and private, requires the demolition of structures set up to facilitate such abuses. This requires the creation of systems that make it increasingly difficult for malefactors to mechanize their misconduct. This will most often involve the reshaping of power relations between African states, their counterparts and international institutions, and between citizens and their elected officials. Examples of the former are the rejection of lopsided Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses, extreme caution in further trade liberalization, global integration, and the negotiation of bilateral treaties in international trade.

A reconsideration of the legitimacy and conduct of Bretton Woods Institutions in international finance is necessary, given their inequitable, undemocratic governance configurations and their de facto commitment to the geopolitical interests of their originators over the welfare of their clients. Also timely is a critical examination of the character and efficacy of international organs such as the UN Security Council in international security. It requires the strength of a united African bargaining position, and increased responsibility of continental institutions in filling roles currently falling to the international community.

The African Union, cannot afford to be associated with irrelevance or sycophancy in its framing and pursuit of pan-African ideals. Member funding must be enforced, deviant states must be excluded, dictators and warlords must be held to account, and the voice of the common people must be reflected in AU policies, programs and interventions. Fragile states can no longer be left to falter and fester while their mineral resources are looted by illegal mining, forced labor and undeclared exports. Unwelcome dynasties cannot be allowed to violently crush local dissent with the quiet complicity of their neighbors. Sub-regional groupings are increasingly stepping up to answer some of these challenges, but this does not absolve the African Union (AU) of its unique role and responsibility in charting a path toward a stronger and more united Africa. The AU is aware of its current deficiencies and has signaled some desire to better fulfil its responsibilities by appointing an institutional reform commission in 2017, to increase its relevance, effectiveness and assertiveness. At the national level, many African constitutions, criminal and judicial systems, and electoral processes, are in need of complete overhauls to increase representation, transparency, and accountability. Formulation, application and policing of laws must foster increased civic engagement, and nation-wide civic education must be fostered to match. The average African citizen must be equipped to participate in local and national affairs beyond the occasional ballot, and a spirit of collective self-help, public service and communal responsibility should be inculcated from the nuclear family and public education system onward. This will allow for more informed selection of leadership, more inclusive policy debate and freer public scrutiny of official actions, both refining the character and restraining the conduct of political parties and national governments.

Stemming the constant outflow of wealth extracted from the continent depends on Africa’s ability to rise above commodity dependence, and to evaluate and influence cross-border flows of goods and money. A primary objective of economic development in Africa must be to increase, internalize and invest wealth created from natural endowments. This wealth must be allocated to more high-productivity uses, and the proceeds must primarily benefit indigenous populations. Localized value-addition and technological upgrading is key. Africa must rapidly industrialize and redefine her role in global value chains, increasing her participation in and direction of high value activities. Indigenous ownership and control of natural resources and their price-setting mechanisms is a strategic target in this endeavor. There is a role for private innovation and investment in this regard, but this must be fostered and prioritized by public policy. Industrialization, and particularly late industrialization in an increasingly globalized and policy-constricted world, is not a natural product of laissez-faire economics or market fundamentalism. African states will need to be more creative, responsive and assertive in their approaches to resource mobilization, business-state relations and trade and investment policy. ‘Donor-driven’ models of development that emphasize financial transfers from industrialized countries without stemming illicit outflows from the continent or emphasizing productivity-enhancing transformation of economies, misdiagnose and maltreat Africa’s underlying problems in this area, thereby requiring a reorientation the international aid system. Firstly, a clear demarcation between humanitarian response and development assistance is required to clear the haze of palliative development, so that real economic transformation can be effectively and efficiently prioritized. While humanitarian and emergency response remains an important contribution at the discretion of donors, the objectives, means and mechanisms of economic development must be the preserve of African states and regional bodies, independent of the narrow conditions and ideological commitments so often reflected in the finance and technical assistance packages of international development partners.

The time has come for Africans to chart their own path towards their own vision of development, and to deconstruct the anti-developmental patterns of the past such as, extraversion, exploitation, extraction and tributary dynamics – is the necessary prelude to building a future that will serve future generations better than our present underdevelopment has served us. We may not have been able to control the history of how we got here, but we can still make strategic choices – however, difficult they may be – about where we go from here.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Future Africa Forum.