Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

African development problems need 18th century answers (Part I)

By Mrs J. Maud Kordylas

As a follow-up to her three-part series entitled "Subjugated People Cannot Evolve a Constitution", recently published in this magazine, the writer presents this paper with suggested answers to the problems raised in the article.
Twenty to twenty-five years ago when African nations began to become independent, to the rest of the world they appeared determined and enthusiastic, eager, purposeful, full of hope and ready to march into the future. They were energetic and bubbled with the excitement of building their countries into nations among other nations of the world.

After two decades of independence how have African nations emerged in the eyes of the rest of the world? Although the world may not come out bluntly to say so, most African nations appear lost and bewildered; insecure; without confidence; desperate to achieve something but unable to do so; and are unable to feed their growing poverty stricken populations. They are in debt, without any concrete ideology, and are without any substantive leadership. A large number of their people roam helplessly about as refugees in other countries. The bulk of the people live without much hope for the future, while their governments turn around in circles without going anywhere. And yet a small minority lead a life of luxury and affluence.

The people keep looking forward to something to happen to jolt them into a positive direction of hope, but nothing happens. In their state of desperation, they hail in coup after coup thinking they are the expected something they are waiting for, only to realise sooner or later, that their so-called saviours also have nothing much to offer. If anything, they come to aggravate their already unbearable situation or to add new burdens to their ever burden-laden lot. Thus the average African has come to believe that he has no one to look up to to extricate him from his torrential problems.

An infant learns to sit before he crawls, he crawls before he walks; and learns to walk before he runs. No one expects a child, even if he were the son of an athlete to jump straight from his mother's breast and start running, just because his father happens to be the current Olympic gold medalist.
But yet we are told over and over again by international experts and local economists in terms of economic jargon which we hardly understand, that there has been positive economic growth in our respective countries. Economic growth for whom or from whose point of view? Is it a growth in relation to the small minority who live in luxury and affluence? Or is it in relation to the disillusioned majority who can't make ends meet? Or is the economic growth in relation to the members of past and present governments who have and are accumulating wealth for themselves without regard to the rest of the people?

Or is it in relation to the fact that there is no other obvious way that African leaders can create a sensible self-renewing future for the people, and, therefore, we must accept what is happening and consider it as economic growth? These are questions that African graduates are now asking, because most of them are beginning to find themselves face to face with unemployment and want. Where once education assured them of a job and a rosy future, they now see a bleak future ahead.

Policies And Actions Taken In The Past

Although African nations wish to be considered independent, they hardly look at major issues that concern them from their own point of view. They allow outsiders to define what ails them while they sit back and wait for the same outsiders to prescribe cures for their ailments. How can anyone describe and define your illness when that someone does not ache where you ache? African nations fail to grasp the fact that the experts from developed nations who look at their problems are not in a position to understand the problems. For those who could have understood our problems, unfortunately, lived in analogous state of development several years ago in Europe, and about 200 years ago in America.

Our present problems are, therefore, at least 200 years behind the foreign experts t of today, and they are, therefore, in no position to look at them from an identical point of view, for the problems are not derived from equivalent and parallel planes. Where the problems need to be examined under lantern light, the experts tend to look at them through ultraviolet light and see what they want to see, for which they propose solutions which are 200 years away from the actual answers needed.

They offer sophisticated 20th century theories to solve our 18th century problems, as if those were the solutions their forefathers applied 200 years ago, when they were at analogous state of development. An infant learns to sit before he crawls; he crawls before he walks; and learns to walk before he runs. No one expects a child, even if he were the son of an athlete, to jump straight from his mother's breast and start running, just because his father happens to be the current Olympic gold medalist for the 100 metre dash.

But yet, developed nations expect infant African nations to achieve such a feat and, therefore, continue to pump aid money, huge loans, large scale sophisticated equipment, modern technology and expert advice to help them to do so. They are then amazed and puzzled when African nations fail to achieve instant development.

At this stage of his development, an infant requires only milk and baby food. Some vitamins and minerals may do him some good, but certainly, not steak and chips with ketchup, and apple pie with some vanilla ice cream on top. Although these may be considered good food, they are hardly appropriate for an infant's digestive tract nor for his metabolism and assimilation.

Yet, since independence, African nations have looked at themselves through the eyes of the developed world. They set their national goals as defined by western experts and adopt western pronouncements as their policies. They echo what is said about them as their own impressions and make their intentions and decisions known according to western expectations. How can the rest of the world take us seriously and grant us the respect we crave for as Sovereign partners, when we are not even sure of what we want and are full of turmoil and indecisiveness?

In this state of confusion and indecisiveness, we have allowed our national goal to be defined for us as wanting to become modernised just like our colonial masters, or like the western developed countries. Every action taken has, therefore, been geared towards achieving such an end. This accepted concept of us wishing to become what we cannot has warped and distorted the very basis of our existence.

Our cultures, our customs and our environment; our history, our geography, Our climate, our heritage; our likes and dislikes, the way we look at things, resources and our everything pertaining to us are basically our behaviour and different from that pertaining to colonial masters. How can we, therefore, our hope to become like them? This basic erroneous view put forward as national aim, has led us to follow many costly actions which have contributed in our no small way to our failure and our inability to bring about a self-sustaining economy and a self-renewing future.


No one can hope to improve himself without self-examination and self evaluation. It is, therefore, important that at this transitional stage in our development and nation building, we sit up and take a critical view of ourselves and the type of actions we have taken in the past. The only way we can hope to come out with any workable solution to our numerous problems is to study our communities, analyze our current political and socio-economic events and actions taken, and see where they have led us.

All communities divide themselves, somehow, into a minority and a majority. The minority are the rich and well born. The masses are the majority and they remain turbulent and changing. When we examine the economic status and well being of this majority we then come face to face with the effects of our past policies and actions, and we see the type of progress those actions have brought to us.

For a nation to have truly progressed and to have had a positive economic growth, there should have been an upliftment of the majority of the people. They should have moved from where they were before to a better state of well-being commensurable with the resources of the nation. In examining our nations, however, this expected upliftment has not national happened. Rather, the majority of the people have become poorer, and a small minority have become richer than they were 20 to 25 years ago.

Development By The People

Somehow, we have always pretended to cherish the saying that development by the people and for the people is what we are after, but we have never managed to make that happen. The means whereby the majority of the people would get involved in development for their own benefit has never been discovered, because we are not aware of the fact that development of the people is the development of a nation, and that people have to be made the centre of development for development to happen. To achieve development, therefore, our national goal must include the development of the people as its central pivot. Without this fundamental fact, we cannot hope to ever achieve a genuine self-sustaining development.

A national goal that aims at developing the people so that they can modernize their culture and develop their environment, will be a more beneficial goal that would involve the people in development. It will yield a more satisfactory socio-economic structure and make the people more productive, than the goal we have set ourselves since independence, which aims at adopting alien modernized culture as a means of modernizing our society, and as a means of developing our environment.

Following such a development strategy has been costly indeed to us. It has turned our attention away from ourselves and focused it outside ourselves. This, however, has not achieved for us a satisfactory socio-economic growth, rather it has managed to bring us to a painful situation where we find ourselves at an economic stalemate: a dead-end point which leads nowhere.

Although we live in the 20th century, unfortunately, our development problems are not of the 20th century. They are 18th century problems. We cannot, therefore, hope to solve our 18th century problems by applying 20th century solutions. A lesson which we are learning the hard and painful way. A goal aimed at developing the people by giving them skills relevant to their level of development will be more appropriate to help them tackle their corresponding development problems.

It is in tackling these problems that we would raise problems that may need 19th century skills to solve. It is after we have solved our 19th century problems that we will be prepared for any 20th century problems that would come about. By then we hope we would have learnt the basic lessons about development and how it is done, and would have achieved a self- sustaining socio-economic growth with a self-renewing future, and we would, therefore, continue our development through our own efforts.

talking drums 1985-11-25 Ghana-CIA spy affair - swap deal in the making