LONDON, United Kingdom – In 1977, the Community Development Project (CDP) published Gilding the Ghetto, an analysis of urban development projects throughout the United Kingdom. It gained notoriety, particularly among human geographers, for its novel suggestion that the best way to cure urban blight was for the disadvantaged to invest in their own local environments – socially, economically, and politically.
This suggestion was based on the finding that government-run programs made very little lasting impact on the poorest communities. Often criticized since its publication for racist undertones, it may now be time for African nations to revisit the idea.
A number of facts support this idea. Perhaps most importantly is the direct corollary between British ghettoes and Africa, and their relationship to development programs. It would be difficult to accurately estimate how many billions of dollars have gone into Africa since the end of colonialism, yet, despite successes in a few urban centers, the continent’s economic development remains far behind that of Europe and North America.
Like the British ghetto, aid is simply insufficient to solve the fundamental weaknesses in Africa. In both cases, almost any individual who amasses the means to leave a bad situation will do so – moving to wealthy cities within Africa, or leaving entirely. What remains is the poorest of the poor – making it even more imperative for the next generation to leave as soon as they are able to.
Another difficulty Africa faces – linked very strongly with that discussed above – is the absence of any true regional leader. A divide between North Africa, where a successful country like Tunisia could ostensibly grow into the role of a continental capital, and sub-Saharan Africa means that countries like South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya must be looked to.
But all three countries are themselves major recipients of foreign aid. South Africa receives $1.5 billion annually in aid, making its donation of $93 million to Zimbabwe seem trivial proportionally. In Europe, by contrast, countries like Germany, France, and the UK have strong voices in economic and political discussions and have the potential to set unified courses which steer the European Union in a single direction.
This leads to the third great difficulty facing Africa – the impotence of the African Union. In America, congressional districts are often restructured in such a way that disenfranchises demographics which are projected to vote in a certain way, meaning that the political voice of ghettoes barely raises past a whisper. Likewise, the AU – of which every African country except Morocco is a member – has a history of being subordinate to NATO and EU concerns.
With countries like France, China, and the USA trying to maximize their influence in the developing markets of Africa, individual countries will, conceivably, be tempted into loyalties to aid-giving nations which supercede their loyalty to the AU, thus subverting its power to speak and govern as a collective, African body.
To circumvent these weaknesses, Africa may want to consider the CDP’s strategy, something that Nigerian High Commissioner to Rwanda, Ayibakuro Peter Ogide-Oke, has already expressed support for. Building an economic, political, and social environment that encourages African nations to look to each other – rather than the outside world – for assistance, resources, and ideas, the AU could become the most important influence in the region.
That, after all, is what Africa needs most. International influence will come in its own time; but, first, the most disadvantaged continent on the planet must look inward to build trade relationships and political loyalty between countries which remain divided by historical differences.
– Alex Pusateri