Theresa May, Nigeria and Africa!

What Africa needs to do is to develop her human resource and technical capacities to rise up to the new global business frontiers.

Eric Osagie

She stopped over last week. Decked in a colourful jacket and smart pair of trousers, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, exuded the pomp and power of Great Britain, our powerful erstwhile colonial masters.

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May didn’t come with a haughty air. She didn’t come with any prescriptive antidote to our country’s myriad ills. She came with a briefcase to solicit business deals for her country, in the face of impending economic challenges occasioned by Britain’s exit from the European Union, codenamed Brexit.

She did what a focused leader should do when emergency stares her people in the face. She went round countries that had the potential to boost her country’s trade and commerce, as well as expand the market frontiers for British businesses.

So, she came to two of Africa’s largest economies: South Africa and Nigeria. PM May was honest to admit to what she saw as the reality and huge potential of the African economy. In her words: “In 2018, five of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa.” And that certainly includes Nigeria, if we could harness our potential and cut down on waste and graft, twin evils militating against the country and continent’s growth.

The British PM spoke about the need for collaboration between both countries, emphasising traditional historical and trade ties. Nigeria is one of the United Kingdom’s most important trading partners south of the Sahara. What could have been missing is the reality that balance of trade has often been skewed in favour of the UK due essentially to her industrial capacity and technological advancement. But that’s not the subject of this discourse.

However, when May left, what Nigerians remembered was the statement she made in Cape Town, South Africa, the day preceding her arrival on our shores.

That statement continues to reverberate days after her exit, splitting Nigerians down the line of those who see her statement as some kind of ‘gratuitous insult,’ and the other group that believes the PM simply told us the ‘incontrovertible home truth.’ She made us face the mirror, to confront the ugly reality of who we are and what we are, devoid of any colouring. Madam May, our August visitor who visited in the month of August, said the world’s poorest people live in Africa’s most populous nation. Yes, here in our country! In her words: “Nigeria is home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world.” She said about 87 million Nigerians, almost half of our official population figure of 180 million, live below the poverty line of less than $2 a day.

READ ALSO: Nigerians extremely poor, says British PM

May didn’t say anything new or what we didn’t know; that we are a rich nation (in terms of human and material resources) but populated with poor citizens, “the poorest than any other nation.” Of course, we know the reason this is so.

PM May didn’t need to remind us of what we have always known: that we have been in a steady contest with poverty since the 1980s, and poverty pummelling us to submission progressively. Today, the poverty index is 44.2 per cent. There’s the grim picture of the decline in standard of living and poverty worsening, if not addressed aggressively by Nigerian governments at all levels.

Theresa May’s statement should be seen for what it is: A timely warning on the devastating time bomb, which unemployment, job losses and poverty pose to our country and continent.

Beyond that, we should harbour no illusion that the West has the magic wand to take any country in the continent out of dire straits.

When superpowers run down here preaching economic partnerships and offering tempting packages, it is simply because Africa has suddenly become a global investment destination. The population is huge and the market is large. What Africa needs to do is to develop her human resource and technical capacities to rise up to the new global business frontiers. If this is not done, the continent will continue to operate at a disadvantage as the West and the rest of the world scramble for their share of the African market.

In a piece in this column on April 2, 2012, I made the point that Africa’s salvation or rescue from the doldrums did not lie in the hands of the West, which aligned with the position of Giles Bolton’s seminal work, AFRICA DOESN’T MATTER.

Bolton’s incisive and well-researched work has its theme centred on the continent’s worsening economic and social decay and the hypocritical posturing of the West in seeking solutions to them.

It’s a book I have read and re-read for its frank submissions, not to talk of its forceful, emotive and persuasive postulations. It is indeed a book about Africa and why Africa remains the way it is; why the continent remains poverty-stricken; how the West deceives itself and Africa that it is helping it overcome its challenges; why the different aids, grants and other incentives have failed to pull the ravaged continent out of the woods.

I honestly find Bolton’s work in the class of Walter Rodney’s HOW EUROPE UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA: the hypocrisy of the oppressor as liberator, the futility of dependence on a ‘saviour’ from outside when succour and what it takes to be prosperous lie within.

Bolton argues: “The idea that Westerners hold the key to Africa’s development is, of course, a myth, not to mention, patronizing. Most of the answers lie, as they should, in the hands of African countries themselves and especially their governments. Corruption, conflict, and lack of democracy: all three are primarily internal problems, and the frequent failure of the continent’s governments to achieve progress in these areas is depressing. But it is up to African countries to get their show on the road, it’s the duty of America, Europe, and other rich regions to ensure there’s a road to travel down, because it is they who set the rules both for the aid Africa receives and the system of international trade it must abide by.”

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The author then threw a poser when he asked rhetorically: “how come none of the forty-eight nations south of the Sahara have made sustained progress since most achieved independence in the1960s?”

Africans, argues the author, must blame themselves for the way Africa has been, even as he holds the West culpable for its underdevelopment.

“There’s one final line of produce going out of Africa for which the continent receives little or no payment at all … Africans themselves. In an era of modern travel, international qualifications, and email applications, the movement of labour is far easier than it used to be. So, when a hospital in the United States has a shortfall of doctors, it advertises for more, and when an overworked, underpaid, and highly stressed physician in a country like Sierra Leone (replace with Nigeria, if you like) sees the advertisement, he applies to fill the shortfall. There are said to be more doctors from Sierra Leone, a destitute, war-ravaged country with especially dire health problems, including thousands of amputees and a high death rate from basic diseases like diarrhea, practicing in Chicago than in Sierra Leone itself.”

When that same country is in need, the US dispatches aid and other interventions to the country!

Bolton, a Briton, attempts an explanation as to the reason the West often treats the continent shabbily: Africa, in their reckoning, doesn’t matter! Africa remains for them an outpost to play games with, an unequal partner, a region that poses no threat economically and socially.