The Challenge Shaping African Political Economies: Geography, History & Cultural Patrimony

Africa shouldn’t have the sobriquet:  the dark continent; even clowns like Hugh Trevor Roper, Cambridge Regis chair in modern history knew the limitations of his myopic pronouncement that “Africa had no history“, but the damage was done! Nevertheless, following Hegel should fortify every intellectual in town to the ramifications of silly statements with 24 hour news cycles.  Remember Nixon’s defensive retort to his executive staff, an insight prior to the Saturday Night Massacre, “they’ll always get to weather” referenced a laziness insulating Nixon and his administration from the wiles of reality. Knowing that news networks have to get to weather, coddled Nixon toward Watergate and careening both his career, the nation and family.

Its no different with the dismal science and its hold on the emerging challenges of Africa’s political economy.  What old colonists knew is true enough today, geography, history and theology are foundation stones for political economy.  The African continent is too unwieldy to study cohesively, quadrants dividing the continent along geographic axis makes it easier to view the informing contours that shape Africa.

Here’s a difficult indigenous truth that’s coming clear in Africa’s engagement in ‘the long war.’  African nation states are quickly coalescing in favor of Israeli bilateral ties eviscerating long held racial typologies that have underwritten previous imperial, Islamic regimes. These fault lines are discovered deep inside East Africa, especially the Horn of Africa where we find hybrid ecumenism of the Swahili linking medieval nation states along Zimbabwe’s Limpopo River, Tanzania, Mozambique and Kenya to Mughal dynasties in Kabul.  The truth is, U.S. war planners in AFRICOM and Defense-State have unrivaled resources at their hands when they link the challenges of economic growth to regime change in Africa.

I mean something very specific.

Its a defeat in Malthusian proportions, but more of Africa’s population growth is moving out from agriculture and subsistence living into service economies.  The challenge for African leadership is a difficult one because trade patterns change quickly; Africans are not just competing with low wage workers in Bangladesh, but with automation.

We’ve left the paradigm followed by East Asian ‘tiger’ regimes.  China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea moved from agriculture to manufacturing.  Most are transitioning toward service based economies.  But Africa must discover a way to insert themselves into supply chains that are global.  This means a view of structural reform outside the positivist hold of Keynes.  It means African nation states that readily avail themselves to the challenge of human capital will succeed.  It means examining the religious foundation of African culture.

A quote from Churchill’s The River War:  “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

Revisiting our map of the African continent subdivided along an axis reveals a startling insight; those nation states that succumbed to Imperial Christian Europe have a patrimony from which to defeat both militant Islam, atheist secularism and Keynes.

Remember how Arthur Lewis observed a simple paradigm that fast growth accompanies labor shifts out of subsistence farming into heavy capitalist production.  Well, movement out from heavy capital intensive productivity procured by technologically lead structural change has elicited a surprising new challenge; sectoral distribution of productivity variants no longer requires mass, its endemic to digital mediums. Those nation states that possess a strong Judaeo-Christian moral framework are poised for a run!

Look at it this way, massive productivity growth throughout sub-Saharan Africa was the result of population shifts out of agriculture.  By any reckoning, Africa’s manufacturing has stagnated; but illicit markets in service based industries are booming.  While Asian chaebol’s needed government authority to monopolize and thrive, African nation states with minimum comity can launch themselves into productivity with minimum effort.

So how does Africa take off?

Simple.  It openly promotes easily tradable, transferable sectors that don’t require heavy capital; it simply permits the liberty of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

The immediate future of the African continent can no longer be reduced to quantifiable data encapsulated by neoclassical shop talk.  Its future lays in unleashing the very capital   cherished by Christianity:  the gift of humanness, as a unique repository of value, not chattel property.


Zheng He Arrives In China with Giraffe


About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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