The Problem with Africa: What Went Wrong?

Although I believe that  Africans are going to one day rise and take control of our own destiny, I’m afraid it’s going to take a long time to achieve this. Most of us don’t even know what went wrong. How do we know where we are going without knowing where we are coming from? The same follies of the 1980s are still going on.

The Asian miracle of the 1980s could have been the African miracle. Instead the 1980s were Africa’s catastrophe. Up to the 70s most African nations did not depend on foreign aid, it has now become a necessity! How does a nation move forward when more than 50% of its budget comes from Western and Chinese donors with political and economical strings attached?  For most nations, including Ghana, there’s no way out of the labyrinth. So what has gone wrong?

We do indeed have issues. Unfortunately Africans don’t know anything about our own  identity and why we arrived at in our predicament. We seem to be fleeing away from Africa; we are lost! In our mad scrambled for Western materialism we have collapsed Africa and the madness continues.  We do this through high living by a minority of political leaders…building the biggest church in the world would cost Ivory Coast 300million in 1980s…what for? In that same period Ghanaian ministers would have golden beds made for them, Mobutu, would drink pink champagne every day and hire a Concorde to fly his family to New York to go shopping. By the way, the guy died richer than his country as a president. Where’s the money? Sitting in untraceable foreign accounts!

Meanwhile, the government’s cash box would become empty. Ironically, these madmen we had as leaders (and some we still have) across Africa would forget to do the most fundamental thing in today’s world: investing in Africa’s human development. At the time most of our leaders were semi-literates, they innocently were ignorant of the fact Africa’s greatest resources were its people and not the vast material and natural resources the land possessed. They weren’t aware the potential human resources are useless without the knowledge to make them serve our needs without giving them away to finance their greed, wars and stupidity.

Whilst they were busy enriching themselves with diminishing resources, the masses were left to grow in ignorance. It never occurred to them that the colonialists (British,French, Portuguese) had left behind states without any sense of nationhood and that it was up to them to create this spirit by investing in the people aiming for unified nationhoods and economical progress. This failure would give us outrageous and demonic wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo and Rwanda. Wars that would destroy centuries of what a country had built. I dare not  talk about the psychological impact on the children that were turned into soldiers to kill, loot and rape at will.

All along uneducated soldiers were killing their boredom with series Coup d’état. As a result, generations of African children and youth would never recognize their potentials and live up to them, growing up to be ignorant, incompetent and/or corrupt. I hope by now that we do not have a hard time explaining why Africa, sadly, is worse now than in the 1970’s. And I believe it would turn out even worse unless the right measures are put into place now. Africa depends heavily on foreign aids but the total amount is nothing compared to the amount Africans in diaspora send through international money transfers like Western Union and Money Gram.How many young people in Ghana would have never been to school if it weren’t  for the help of parents or other family members remitting money home? How many of our grandparents would have been dead by  if their children weren’t struggling in foreign countries to take care of them? Do I need to go on with the questioning?


But what happens when the generation that left home in 1980s start going back home leaving children behind in UK, USA, Canada and Germany who don’t have that sense of sending money back home to distant family members they don’t even know? Three days ago, I talked to a Kenyan friend who during a meeting with the Vice President of Kenya informed him about the pains of living outside and a desire to return home. The Vice President told her it isn’t advisable to come home because Kenya wouldn’t survive without the money they send home.  I guess that it is this money that goes directly to family members that enable enough people to blind themselves to the incompetence and negligence of our leaders.   Who would exchange his country for a foreign land if his country afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life?


Africans must rise and develop Africa but we can only do so after taking note of where and what we went wrong. In Africa; Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, Richard Dowden, observed in 1970s, Ugandans (Africa) had a pretty good way of life and that it was stupid to throw it all away in a mad scramble for Western materialism. He warned that our wrong definition of development by indiscriminately craving for Western lifestyle at the expense of rejecting African culture and investing in Africa mind with long term benefits would have regrettable consequences.  He noted that at the rate our economies were developing, Africans would take decades to provide a Western lifestyle for more than a tiny minority. Our leaders were blindly spending beyond our means and each year, our development regresses.

Ghana, the first African state to gain independence would go bankrupt within eight years if foreign aid was to end. Regrettably Africans are still not equipped to compete in today’s economy. All because our leaders 20-60 years ago never cared or were too ignorant to invest in our minds. Sadly, our leaders haven’t learned from this erroneous enterprise They continue to sell us the idea of rapid development whilst repeating the same mistake; meaning Africans 20-50 years from now would still have to travel with the hope and illusion of securing a better life or become beggars in our homelands serving the interest of China.

During the 18 years after Independence Ghana would venture a series of false needs that would deplete our resources, leaving a vacuum at the bottom. In 1978, Ghana would waste billions on her health system doubling her health workers and facilities from which only the top 20% of the population would receive any benefit. 90% of Ghanaians, who working in rural areas, produced the country’s principal exports and source of wealth would go home with empty pockets. At the same time South Korea was  diminishing illiteracy in its country.  I don’t have any training in the health sector but I know the top health problems (malaria, cholera, malnutrition, etc.) are all preventive illnesses and we needn’t spend billions of  Cedis on people for anything other than hospital work.   Yet the same madness and false needs continue. Billions are wasted on the modernisation of the capital city when the majority of Ghanaians live outside Accra and all parents struggle to put their children (the future of Ghana) through schools. Does anybody benefit from the government of Ghana when it comes to obtaining good education? And yet our alliance-for-promoting-our-selfish-interest-parliament think its members could need more honors and increase in salary.  Who needs a city looking as splendid as Dubai when a great majority of its inhabitants are  ignorant, and ill-equipped for tomorrow’s world?  Oh Africa, is there hope?

Dominic Mensah

A young man who is chiefly passionate about the big questions of life. Philosophical ideas give my life meaning. The joy of thinking, the challenge of understanding, the inspiration as well as the consolations of philosophy- welcome to my world! On Africa, knowledge is prerequisite to its liberation and survival. The progress of Africa must be sought by improving the intelligence of every African soul. I seek to serve Africa through critical thinking. Therefore I became a thinker to serve Mama Africa.