Title: The African Dream: From Poverty to Prosperity
Author: Bingu wa Mutharika
Reviewed by Brian Ligomeka
The African Dream: From Poverty to Prosperity, the latest book by Bingu wa Mutharika (deceased) is a great inspiration of a
modern day Pan-Africanist who would like to see his continent defy all odds by wobbling out of poverty and becoming a political and economic giant of the world.
Bluntly acknowledging the fact that most African nations are enmeshed in dire poverty, in his dream for the continent, Mutharika “introduces an Africa of new hope and of a new beginning.”
The big question is: How will Africa, pregnant with a myriad of problems ranging from poverty to autocracy, accomplish this? Responding to this question in his preamble, Mutharika believes that: “The new paradigm for African economic thought will influence the direction of Africa’s growth and development. The general consensus is that for Africa to escape poverty, the African people must take control of their resources and re-order their own development priorities and strategies.” With this strategy in mind, the book’s chapters centre on Pan-African philosophy which has for a long time been defined as the belief that African people have a common bond and share common objectives, aimed ultimately at unifying themselves on their own continent as a dignified people.
Like all Pan-Africanists such as Henry Sylvester Williams, Nkwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, Mutharika’s dream was of an Africa which revolves from Afro-pessimism to Afro-optimism by postulating that the continent will industrialise and develop “using its own natural resources, using the skills of its peoples and taking full control of its own destiny.”
What’s in the book?
Downplaying all the cultural differences that exist in Africa, Mutharika calls for solidarity and resistance to exploitation. He successfully does that by analysing historical, cultural, economic and philosophical legacies of Africans from past to present, with emphasis on his rosy vision of the future.
In the first three chapters of the book, Mutharika, who recently stepped down as African Union chairperson in style by launching the African Dream in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, narrates the history of Africans, their common dream and how the continent is rich in natural resources. The capstone of the first three chapters is Mutharika’s assertion that despite its not-so-admirable history, and some serious challenges currently prevailing on the continent, some countries have proven that practical implementation of good policy reform can transform the once-underrated continent.
“ . . . Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Senegal, South Africa, Mauritius, Botswana and Malawi have managed to implement policy reform that have clearly propelled their economies on the road to prosperity.”
Mutharika’s Pan-Africanism philosophy is conspicuous in the early pages of his book in which he is strongly contending that the power to govern is a fundamental right of every state and that no state and no nation has a right to interfere in the internal affairs of others.
“Therefore to allow the African dream to be realised, the respect for national sovereignty of both the rich and poor nations should form the cornerstone of new global institutions for political, economic, social and cultural development.”
Surely you do not expect an economist to write a book without discussing some economic fundamentals. Mutharika, a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Development Economics from the Pacific Western University, is not an exception: Chapters Four and Five of his latest book examine global economics issues. He laments how Africa has been marginalised “to the extent that the global north does not realise that a more industrialised Africa can serve as the new safety valve for the boiling global economy.”
As he has done at podiums locally and at international conferences, Mutharika rubbishes assertions that Africans are poor because they do not believe in their ability to pull themselves out of poverty.
According to Mutharika, Africa is poor because “Africans do not derive benefits from institutions created for them by the North. Africans are classified as poor because they do not own or control the science and technology and research and development for economic transformation that benefit their people.”
From Chapter Six to 10, Mutharika still advocates economic emancipation by laying stress on the fact that wealthy nations should change their attitude by stopping their exploitation of Africa which they simply regard as a source of raw materials for their own industrial development. He tears apart the divide and rule strategy by Western nations which creates a weak and fragmented continent. After being decorated international awards of all colours from all corners of the world because of the successful implementation of his policy on subsidised fertiliser, which has turned Malawi into a food secure nation, the African Dream celebrates this strategy in Chapters 11 through 14, where he contends that food security is the basis for transformation and hence the realisation of this colourful continental dream.
These chapters drive the point of food security home by focusing on the case of Malawi which he describes as not a poor country but a rich one endowed with fertile lands, freshwater lakes, mountains and valleys, but paradoxically has many poor people. Call it a tale of a rich country with poor people.
The final chapter is all about the colour dream which centres on a call for new hope and new opportunities.
His parting words are: “We conclude this treatise by asserting that The African Dream is not about waiting for or qualifying for or complying with the guidelines for donors funds. It is about devising home-grown policies and being at the head of the pack, on the cutting edge, and being open and determined to go further than ever imagined. This is not a small dream and it is not apologetic. When realised, the African dream will in fact surprise even the worst sceptics.”
“The Africa of the new beginning has come. The Africa that is now unfolding is the one the world has not been able to see through the maze of the habitually reported bad news of disasters, hunger, and malnutrition and armed conflicts. Yes this is another Africa, of new hopes, new visions, new aspirations and new hopes. This is the Africa we are all waiting to happen.”
Is the dream achievable?
Writing a book on Pan Africanism advocating a Utopian continent is one thing, but achieving that feat is a tall order. One question instantly comes to mind: Is the dream achievable or is it just a pipe dream?
This question needs an answer and Mutharika in his book, writes: “In a nutshell, the African Dream is about every country having good schools, good hospitals, good public infrastructure, good houses, good hospitals, good public infrastructure and good standards of living.”
“The dream is also about good governance, participatory democracy, guaranteed human rights and the rule of law.” Mutharika himself answers this question on Page 91 of his book by stating that “it has been difficult to achieve common dream anywhere in the world, due to efforts of some leaders to have and control power without regard for the welfare of those they lead.”
As Mutharika rightly observes, some African leaders kick-started their terms on a good note but later regressed into dictators. He writes in his book: “As time went by ‘a silent majority’ emerged that were happy merely to be alive. In order to survive, ordinary people, intellectuals and professionals alike all worshipped and showered praise on their presidents. Many were terrified by the mere mention of their leader’s name, and in some cases no one dared even suggest or offer professional advice regarding a country’s development for the fear of being misunderstood.
“This era witnessed an entrenchment of the ‘hero worship’ phenomenon where by political party supporters ferociously competed for recognition and favours, showering honour and respect on their supreme leaders. In some cases, people would begin any public statement by acknowledging that whatever they have done or achieved was thanks to their leaders’ wise leadership.”
The question which now comes to mind — isn’t Mutharika as an author of this book feeling that he is falling into the same trap by accepting titles such as Ngwazi, Mthesa Njala, Chitsulo Cha Njanji, economic engineer. Why should he accept these titles when in his book, he rightly observes that “one major outcome of above factors (such titles), was the development of a political continuum, which gave presidents absolute and unprecedented power in all aspects of political, economic, social and cultural life in civil society. This resulted in the perfecting of hero worship to an art form in some African countries.”
Launching the book in Malawi at the time when his administration was at loggerheads with some sections of the civil society, the media, the donor community, the opposition and the academia, some felt Mutharika needed to re-read what he had written in his luminous, unprejudiced and logical book that “several critical ideas must be addressed when engaged in democratic reforms and transformation.
Among them is the recognition that democracy, good governance and development go hand in hand and that appropriate human relationships within a society are just as critical to the success of a democracy. In that regard, bad political judgment by leadership can plunge a nation into a deep crisis where people no longer trust government, leadership or political system.”
The African Dream is one of the most excellent books to be written by a sitting head of state in our modern times. It is a must-read work for all the people who love Africa. If Mutharika’s dream can be pursued practically and to the fullest, Africa will never be the same. This is a book which demonstrates that the now late Malawian leader was not only an economist of repute but also a fine scholar of Pan Africanism, a historian, an economist and a fine writer.
But for the book to make sense, let Mutharika and his administration take the first steps, then all Malawians, followed by other African leaders and their citizenry, will experience transformation. Otherwise it will remain a dream just on a piece of paper.
This book review was first published in The Daily Times of Malawi.