African capitalism: Economic growth without human development (1)

(By Chambers Umezulike)

Most African economies are not diversified in any sense. The countries that have petroleum products like Nigeria are solely dependent on just oil, as far as their economy is concerned. Major manufacturing is low or not happening at all. Most African countries are still battling with common developmental essentials such as steady electricity, water, efficient public transportation, and efficient health care. The citizens of most of these countries live on less than a dollar a day.

ALTHOUGH I am not happy saying this as an African, but I think very deeply inside of me and very convincingly that 80 per cent of all the African countries have failed woefully; economically, politically and socially since their various independence dates. I think that most African countries and leaders are not serious. I am bitter about this fact. Many African countries got their Independence around the 1960s, more than five decades ago; and till now, many of them have barely anything to show that they have been able to govern themselves better and make life better for their citizens. They have not been able to achieve enormous feats nor take their countries to greater heights since their independence.

 The past and present leaders of many of these African nations have not even been able to build a nation-state; e.g. there are so many states in Africa but there are not so many nation-states. Most of these countries have so many ethnic groups and many African leaders have not been able to harmonise these different ethnic groups in their respective countries to build a nation-state. During elections, there are serious ethnic tensions, and leaders are chosen in most African countries based on ethnic sentiments. And after elections in many African countries, there are always ethnic-influenced protests and killings here and there.

 So, most African  leaders past and  present have not been able to harmonise their countries into having common values; feeling of belongingness  or oneness; collective goals; pursuit for greater good of country and not ethnic group; and pursuit for the glory of whole country. Most African countries got their independence alongside countries like South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore which were third world countries. Comparing these countries, economically and socially; with most African countries, their contemporaries around the 60s, is like comparing one Zimbabwean dollar with $1 (American dollar). Agriculture for example, has been grossly neglected in most African countries, maybe until lately. In the 60s, Africa was leading the world Agriculture wise, and has most of her Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) built on solely Agriculture, but not same today. Africa has a lot of arable lands, but African countries are today the greatest importers of food in the world. Agriculture contributes about 3 per cent of United States of America’s GDP, and many African countries import most food products from the United States of America currently.

 Most African economies are not diversified in any sense. The countries that have petroleum products like Nigeria are solely dependent on just oil, as far as their economy is concerned. Major manufacturing is low or not happening at all. Most African countries are still battling with common developmental essentials such as steady electricity, water, efficient public transportation, and efficient health care. The citizens of most of these countries live on less than a dollar a day. Currently, the countries have the highest number of patients that troop to the United States of America, India, Germany and so many other countries for most severe ailments. In terms of Human Development Indexes (HDIs) of most African countries are the lowest in the whole world.

 Politically also, they have failed in terms of leadership. Corruption has been a serious menace and most of the leaders have helped to institutionalise it. Most African countries have had leaders that were not prepared for leadership; they came in thinking about enriching themselves alone. Regardless of the military coups that brought in so many military leaders in most African countries, in the past, most especially, I think that African countries have been most unfortunate with very terrible and dumb leaders. I mean, where are the African examples of “Lee Kuan Yew” that “single-handedly” transformed and changed the story of Singapore?

 Africa is one of the wealthiest continents in the world in terms of natural resources, but the poorest in terms of every other thing. A case in point is the Democratic Republic of Congo which is the richest country in the world but the second worst in terms of HDI. Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia etc. have nothing in terms of natural resources to be compared with what abound in most African countries. By the 2014 HDI estimates of 187 countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo with all her natural resources, for an example, has the HDI of 0.338 (186th); Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa has the HDI of 0.504 (152nd); Ghana, 0.573 (138th); Côte d’Ivoire, 0.452 (171st); Ethiopia, 0.435 (173rd); Kenya, 0.535 (147th); Uganda, 0.484 (164th); Namibia, 0.626 (127th); Zambia, 0.561 (141st); Mozambique, 0.393 (178th);  Central African Republic, 0.381 (185th) etc. The few countries that managed to be within High Human Development are: Libya, 0.784 (55th); Mauritius, 0.771 (63rd); Seychelles, 0.756 (71st); Tunisia, 0.721 (90th); and Algeria, 0.717 (93rd).

 Because of the corruption of many African leaders, and their unseriousness, the delivery of public services and welfarism has been seriously neglected over time. Inequality rates in most African countries are thick. Now there is a wave of international capitalism that started from the West sweeping across the world. Africa is following suit and she prides herself in not being left out. Most African countries have free market based economies; the governments are not supposed to interfere with the prices of goods and services.   The prices are determined by market forces. This is good in terms of encouraging entrepreneurship; failure of public institutions to run factors of production, after years of neglect and abuse. It is also good to have the private sector run factors of production efficiently, and provide employment and economic growth.

 A terrible fact, however, is that many African economies have been growing rapidly based on their GDP’s (nominal), but the HDIs are not coming up at the same pace. For an example, the GDP of Nigeria is $522 billion but the HDI is 0.504 (152nd); Morocco’s GDP ($105 billion), HDi (0.617, 129th); Kenya’s GDP ($55 billion), HDI (0.535, 147th); Tanzania’s GDP ($34 billion), HDI (0.488, 159th); Cameroun’s GDP ($27 billion), HDI (0.504, 152nd) etc. This is an acute contrast to countries referred to earlier. Take for example, South Korea (GDP, $1.449 trillion; HDI, 0.891 (15th)); Malaysia (GDP, $367.712 billion; HDI, 0.773 (63rd)); and Singapore (GDP $295.744 billion; HDI, 0.901 (9th)); where HDIs are growing with GDPs.

 Most economists and the elite in Kenya have been so happy that Kenya’s economy has been termed a “middle income” economy. But the question remains: what does this mean to a corn-roaster at Ngara, a neighborhood in Nairobi, or a poor farmer, very far away. Or what would it mean in their lives, even in 20 years time?

 That means there are appreciable economic growths in some African countries but there is no human development. Standard of living is very low in many countries; and many African countries are claiming middle income economies. The inequality gap is thickening. This is because the political and economic sectors are run by the elite, the same people. In most instances, the politicians, when they have left power now become the proper business men.

 Currently, public services and welfarism are being neglected by most governments. They remove subsidies on commodities like petroleum etc. based on the advice from IMF, World Bank etc. It can never be denied that the thriving of the private sector is the best way for most African countries to get out of their prolonged mess but there are still very clear roles for the public sector. There are certain things the governments should provide, and governments should not neglect their role in providing them. Public institutions are dying in many countries. Public schools and hospitals are dying because of the mentality that these things should be left for the private sector alone.

• To  be continued.

*Umezulike is an activist and writer.

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