Giving in Africa: Ubuntu or perpetuation of dependency syndrome?

The average African is not immune to global trends and influences, with the more affluent sporting top brands such as Nike, Prada and Louis Vuitton, and those that are quite well off driving Porches and Jaguars, even in the very dusty, muddy and pot-holed roads that are poorly maintained, if at all. Here and there in the affluent parts of the continent especially, one comes across posh women sporting Peruvian and Brazilian weaves that do not necessarily come cheap. 

African trends are also set or influenced by Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, with its movies broadcast on numerous channels in all regions of the continent. Cultural identities are also pranced by fashion designers from around the continent that combine African prints with modern twists that match ethnic hair-dos or those with imported extensions from South America or Asia. 

Although the picture shifted slightly in 2016, with Africa seeing a fall in commodity prices, the last two decades have seen most countries in Africa experience sustained economic growth, with growth rates often exceeding 5 percent per year. This period of rapid economic growth, fondly called ‘Africa rising’ by optimists, is now mired by large levels of inequalities between the Haves and Have Nots. 

The economic boom is attributable to several favourable conditions such as: High commodity prices (based on high international demand) and readily available investment money in search of new opportunities and markets. At the domestic level, according to Zamfir (2016), “The improvement of the macroeconomic climate – especially the reduction of external debt and of current account and fiscal deficits – as well as the decline in the number of conflicts and improved political and economic governance have also been, without doubt, central contributors to growth. However, the general economic context is now turning less favourable, with growth slowing down, especially in oil and mineral exporting countries. On the whole, overall growth is expected to continue, but at a slower pace.” 

 And now, on to the Have nots. Africa’s burgeoning population sees about 12 percent of its youth unemployed. What is more, Kelvin Balogun, President of Coca-Cola, Central, East and West Africa, says that “Almost half of the 10 million graduates churned out of the over 668 universities in Africa yearly do not get jobs.”

This scenario has some political leaders scratching their heads over fears of what idle and frustrated youth can get up to. Challenges and frustrations that people face on the continent daily include inadequate access to nutritious food, good healthcare and employment. 

 In some ways, I feel like Africa is still stuck in its precolonial era, even before Cecil Rhodes’ embarked on the ambitious project of connecting British territories by railway from Cape to Cairo. To this day, a person cannot easily traverse the continent by road or rail due to lacking infrastructure that can facilitate the easier movement of goods and people. Most countries even find it much easier and cheaper to bring in goods all the way from China than to trade with countries in their own regions. 

On the social front, the continent’s people are on average hospitable, with most communities looking out for friends and relatives, and even strangers. This spirit of “Ubuntu” as it is called in southern Africa, is formed on the foundation of what it means to be human – humanity does not exist in isolation. Ubuntu is not widely practised in urban centres where survival is for the fittest. In some rough neighbourhoods, heartless thugs have been known to stab, shoot or even kill their victims for their mobile phones. 

Instances of Ubuntu are by default more easily found in rural outskirts where even the poorest of the poor will kill their last goat or chicken to be cooked for a weary visitor who might arrive tired and hungry at the doorstep of their hut. This mixed basket is Africa. It is the place I know, love and call home.

©Mwanja Ng'anjo #BeingAfricanInAfrica