The term “Dark Continent” made its debut in Henry Morton’s Through the Dark Continent published in 1878. Yes, the same Henry Morton who was King Leopold IIs’ boots on the African ground, enabling his navigation and mapping of Central Africa and the Congo. The trip that birthed this (un)popular moniker culminated in the King’s private acquisition of that beautiful, blessed country at the 1875 Berlin Conference which he then proceeded to plunder and mutilate.
Ever since, the term has become synonymous with various unfortunate meanings including but not limited to complexion, terra incognita, intellectually benighted, backward, or simply the part of the globe without electricity when viewed from space.
I will now try to explain why Africa is a paradox; the most regrettable spiral down the abyss in the six million-year history of any human civilization.
The glimmer of hope at the end of Africa’s dark tunnel didn’t appear recently: circa 79 A.D Pliny the Elder famously quipped “Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre” [Africa always brings us something new]’!.
In 1906, Pixley Ka Isaka Seme standing tall at New York’s Columbia University, delivered the explosive speech titled “The regeneration of Africa” (you should read this, by the way). In this historical enunciation, he warned the world to look out for Africa as she was suited to reclaim her spot on the world stage.
51 years after Pixleys’ rousing speech, the Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah in 1957 offered the colonial masters a jarring caveat: “There is a new African in the world!”. Sixty-four years later, that new African Nkrumah foresaw; is yet to emerge.
THE DARK PERCEPTION
In the 21st Century, the color “black” is still analogous with evil, disease, poverty, deprivation and dereliction. At present, Africa is a dreamer’s wasteland which the rest of the progressive world feels morally obliged to save but never to interact with. Africa is still a missionary’s destination where images of malnourished, disease ravished children without pipe borne water or access to education are used to elicit teary eyes and sympathy at charity events and religious gatherings, with the prospect of a compassionate tinkle in charity bowls. The Dark Continent is the biggest beneficiary of IMF and World Bank loans for fighting malaria, Ebola, HIV, poverty, and providing education to the backward populace. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa was the biggest beneficiary of the IMF’s emergency funding under the Rapid Financial Instrument, to the tune of US$4.3 billion.
For further context, China, which was a global backwater in the late 20th century at a time when Africa was deemed the future, shot up the ladder of global dominance and as of 2019 invested US$2.7 billion in Africa through their OFDI (Overseas Foreign Investment) program. From Zimbabwe’s US$140 million six-storey parliament building to the US$200 million African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Chinese “philanthropic” investments across Africa are at an all-time high. Sixty-four years later, “the new African” still does not have a seat among the Committee of nations; instead, he is perfectly comfortable picking crumbs.
The racial principle of Eugenics was first propounded by Sir Francis Galton in 1883. Among other things, this theory proposed that the black race was inferior and rightly backward in developmental indices. Several researches have elucidated the false positive that the black IQ is an underling to her Asian and Caucasian counterparts. The mere existence of the likes of the great Achebe, Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, Tidjane Thiam, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Wa Thiong’o, and a plethora of intellectuals and achievers would debunk this claim effortlessly. Africa is blessed with more human resources than any other continent on earth, and with the youngest, most vibrant population in the world (average age of 19.7) one can see why the failure of the continent to take off is a paradox wrapped in an irony.
WHEN WILL AFRICA EMERGE FROM THEIR RUINS?
Our continent, which was the beacon of hope in the ‘60s; a budding, nascent continent offering dreams of democratic ideals, has become the bane of dictatorships complete with father-son handovers, heavily rigged “elections” and brutal repression of free speech (Yes, I’m looking at you Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad etc.)
Despite the immense intelligence and innovation replete among Africans, for some reason we are saddled with the most clueless, inept, greedy, kakistocratic and kleptomaniac leaders, who would do anything to stifle any meaningful leap forward. We have continued to produce an elite that is intensely incentivized with maintaining the image and reality of a poor, diseased, intellectually challenged people to their benefit.
The streets of Paris, London, Dubai and Manhattan are lined with properties of people charged with the affairs of the common African who do not have decent living spaces for their families. These people drive expensive toys at the expense of a continent that is yet to go through the Agricultural or Industrial Revolution and have plump Swiss bank accounts, fattened by the sympathy elicited by the African who cannot afford meals worth $1/day.
The World Bank has estimated that 40% of Africa’s private wealth is held offshore. A report prepared for the AU in 2002 estimated that corruption costs Africa $148 billion annually; more than a quarter of the continent’s GDP, yet the continent’s collective economy composes about 2% of World GDP.
At the inauguration of the AU in July 2002, the celebration was euphoric. Mbeki declared:
“This is a moment of hope for our continent and its people, the time has come that Africa must take its rightful place in global affairs. The time has come to end the marginalization of Africa. Through our actions, let us proclaim to the world that this is a continent of democracy, democratic institutions and culture!”
The UN Secretary-General, late Kofi Annan sounded a more somber, cautionary note: “Let us be careful not to mistake hope for achievement”. Clearly, advice was not taken.
This tome was not intended to prescribe or speculate but it is an invitation to ponder: at what point shall Africa emerge from the blissful darkness into the marvelous light?
What must we do to midwife effective institutions that will birth the Africa of which the Osagyefo prophesied?
When do we convince the world to replace “what can we do with Africa” with “what can we do WITH Africa?”.
Where are the new people who would regenerate the mother continent?
Nations and subcontinent’s like China, India, Singapore, South Korea have demonstrated that in this jet age it doesn’t take much to catapult a people from abject dejection to the zenith of ascendancy, enlightenment and prosperity.
Per Ann Sullivan Macy, “Every Renaissance Comes to the World with a Cry; the Cry of the Human Spirit to be Free”.
The spirit of the Africa has wailed for freedom for far too long.