Economic backwardness has become a synonym for Africa. Africa has been relegated to the fourth world. Even Nigeria, the economic hub and giant of Africa, is currently facing an economic recession for the second time in her history. Given this plight, the obvious question that comes to mind is; how can Africa expunge herself from the bottomless pit of the fourth world? Answers to this question, forms the main thrust of this article. At this juncture however, it is expedient to give a concise but detailed analysis of how Africa's economy came to be in shambles.
Africa indeed, has the longest and oldest economic history in the world. Historically speaking, agricultural practices in Africa first reared it head in the sahara desert in 5200 BC. Despite the limited rain of the region, farming was quite easy due to it wide open fields. Africans at that time were all farmers and hunters. In fact long distance trade between states, existed in precolonial Africa. An example of this was the agricultural trade between Egypt and Sudan. Other factors that aided economic growth in precolonial Africa, was the expansion of the Bantu culture which began in southern Cameroon and spread to all other parts of Africa. The Swahili culture also began to expand from the eastern part to all other parts of Africa.
As a result of these expansions, African farmers were able to make trade with other countries outside Africa, between 300 and 700 AD. An example of this trade was one between Zimbabwe, South Africa and China, India, in which the African states traded beef, ivory, iron and gold to foreign States. Also there were agricultural trades in the forest region of Africa, especially amongst the Yoruba people of West Africa. Vegetables, meats, beef, meat, maize, yam and other agricultural goods, were traded amongst themselves using seashells, called Cowries, as means of exchange.
Given this historical analysis, it becomes crystal clear that the agricultural economy of Africa was robust. At that time, Africa had one of the richest economy in the world. However, it is also obvious that the dominant kind of economy in precolonial Africa was agriculture, farming and hunting. Africa at that time also had the manpower to boost her agricultural economy. In a single sentence, Africa was an agricultural continent. But the table was turned around with the coming of the Europeans to Africa.
According to Chiakwu, "One of the factors that led to the colonization of Africa was economical in nature." Before the 19th century, the economic relationship between Europe and Africa was on an equal basis. Trades were made with Africa's coastal States. But in the early 19th century, this mutual atmosphere witnessed a sudden dramatic change. European countries were no longer contented with making trade deals with the coastal States in Africa. They wanted to invade and dominate the whole African continent, basically for reasons that were not far fetched.
The industrial revolution that swept across Europe, had led to the mass production of goods, and the need for raw materials to feed the industries. To achieve this, they needed to build industries elsewhere for their manufactured goods, and a place which had access to raw materials. Hence, their domination of Africa. Thus, by the 1890's, all the States in Africa, except Liberia and Ethiopia, were conquered and dominated by the European powers- Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium. It was at this point that the Europeans tactically converted Africa, from an agricultural continent, to an industrial continent, just to satisfy their selfish needs. This invasion and occupation of Africa by the Europeans, was later known as "The Scramble for Africa". Hence at this juncture, it is completely safe to affirm that the economy of precolonial Africa, was rearranged to serve European industries.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that the industrial economy ushered in by the Europeans, was completely alien to Africa. African states were not used to this kind of industrial economy. Africans were indigenous farmers, Hunters and traders. During this period, Africans found themselves struggling to fit into this industrial economy. Unfortunately, Africans are still struggling to fit into this industrial economy, even till today. Perhaps this is the cause of economic backwardness in Africa. Even with the global advancement and widespread of education, science and technology, Africa is still struggling to fit into an industrial economy.
However, without being too negative about the Europeans, it is important to affirm that their coming to Africa, had positive consequences. Their introduction of industries in Africa meant that Africans could now trade with other countries and continents in a modern way. The latter which had been done traditionally. But the negative aspect in that this industrial revolution in Africa, created industries that were basically meant to serve European industries. In fact, this article will argue that industries in Africa are still serving European industries today. Hence, the current problem of economic backwardness, unemployment, corruption and nepotism.
According to Lawrence Mbae, "Without strong industries to create jobs and add value to raw materials, African countries risk remaining shackled by joblessness and poverty". According to a 2013 report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), "Africa possesses 12 percent of the worlds oil reserve, 40 percent of its gold, and between 80 percent and 90 percent of its chromium and platinum." Even with this, it is quite unfortunate that Africa's economy is still in shambles. Perhaps modern Africans no longer have the passion for that kind of indigenous trade and agriculture that existed in precolonial Africa.
Today, it is unfortunate and sad that most African youths are filled with the mentality of getting white collar jobs in industries that only serve European industries. No one is thinking of embarking on agriculture to feed their Nation. As earlier stated, Africa's economy today is still serving European industries. A typical example of this, is quite evident in Nigeria. Today, Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producing Nation in the world, which export 80 percent of her oil, but still depend on foreign countries to refine her oil for local consumption. On an agricultural terrain, Nigeria still import foreign agricultural food in spite of her large forests and fertile lands. Another example is Ghana, that produces 53 percent of the world's cocoa, but the shops and supermarkets in the country, are still being stocked with imported Candy. Given this problem, an economic backwardness in Africa, becomes inevitable.
In all, if Africa's economy must become buoyant again, her industries and farms must put an end to serving European industries. Her industries must now focus on serving its own citizens, and embark on foreign and local trades only, rather than serving foreign industries. On an agricultural level, African youths should channel their thinking towards agriculture, rather than white collar jobs. According to Babatunde Raji Fashola, "There is also money in getting your hands dirty." Therefore, African youths should become modern educated farmers with sophisticated farm tools at their disposal and should also provide goods that will serve their people, and also move forward to establish equal trades with foreign and local countries. When this is done, Africa's economy in a modern way, will gradually become robust and buoyant again. Hence solving the problem of economic backwardness in the continent.