It is tricky to know where to start when one wants to catalogue the woes of the African continent. Do you start with poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption or the problem of leadership? All these are of mammoth significance to the African continent and have to be discussed at one point in time or the other, but the sooner the better. This is more so when, instead of moving forward, most African countries seem to be retrogressing. It is ironic to know that the African continent is so endowed with natural resources that it is unfathomable to see the poverty we wallow in. For instance, we know that Nigeria, the largest oil producer in Africa, has the eleventh largest oil reserve in the world. Yet Nigeria is plagued by constant and endemic poverty largely due to mismanagement of these natural resources. The case of Nigeria is not an isolated case as the same, or even worse, is observable in most other African countries.
Looking at the list of problems in Africa, all of them could have been or could be solved if the will was there. First, Africans have to work together in the area of trade and support each other economically without the interference of the West. If one African country has a commodity or product which is needed by another, then it will make sense if they trade with each other so as to promote wealth and economic activity. This will promote the creation of job opportunities for the youth of Africa as they are the ones who are involved in most economic activities.
The same could be said on the issue of disease control. African countries should work together to set up disease control centres who will do research and study particular disease and develop vaccines in a united effort to eradicate viruses which are wiping out our populations. Take the case of the current Ebola Virus which is ravaging the West African countries with no end in sight! The Western countries have their disease control centres and, of course, they will show interest because we live in a global village and anything that affects one country is likely to affect another as well. But if there had been research centres in Africa it would have made the development of a vaccine and a cure that much easier.
Illiteracy is another very significant issue Africa has to contend with. The lack of basic education in most remote African countries is damaging the chances of most African children. Certainly, great efforts are being made in some countries to provide basic education for all but that is also hindered by the ignorance of some parents who do not know the importance of education. In The Gambia, for example, the government has made great efforts in recent years and the enrollment has certainly improved. Also, more Gambians are now having access to university education not only here at home but there are thousands of Gambians studying abroad in various fields of knowledge at present.
With all the natural resources we have in Africa, development has been slow in coming, if it is coming at all. What is responsible for this sorry state of affairs? First, as has already been hinted, is the lack of a focused and determined leadership. With most African leaders so shortsighted that they cannot see beyond, ‘their pockets’ it is clear that they cannot move the continent in the right direction. We need leadership that is honest and selfless. Leaders who will put the national interest first, and the national interest second and then personal interest third. To achieve that, we need an informed and interested citizenry who are mature enough to choose the right leaders.
The issue of leadership is closely connected to the issue of corruption. When we talk of corruption, it becomes painfully clear that the leaders alone cannot, and should not be blamed for this. The ordinary citizen is as corrupt, if not more, as the leaders. People practice corruption at all levels of society and as such, they are as much to be blamed as their so-called leaders.
To recapitulate therefore, Africa needs to revamp its education system and make it more focused on practical output than entirely focused on passing examinations. What I want to put across is that the government should give guidelines to educational institutions that at the end of a given period, students should be able to do certain things on their own. But if the entire system is prescribed and students have to pass an examination, then that is the only thing the youth will focus on. Sometimes one finds out that having excellent grades does not translate into being smart in the work place. It is strange someone with very good results from high school, but taken to an office they will not be able to do simple things. Also, they will be as ill-informed about world issues as those who have never sat in a classroom.
Besides this shortcoming, exam focused education has another more dangerous disadvantage. When students are so much pressed about passing exams, there is a danger that those who do not come out with good grades will be viewed as failures in life. If, let’s say, they don’t have a credit in Math or English, they cannot go to university or college or do anything for that matter. They have been in a school system for twelve years. Meaning they did not learn any skills or trade, now they cannot further their education and as such will ultimately see themselves as failures. If we were talking of tens of youths the problem would not have been a source of great concern but we are talking of thousands here or perhaps hundreds of thousands all over Africa. They become frustrated and easy recruits for unscrupulous rebel leaders to wreak havoc on our continent. We must introduce or should I say reintroduce civic education in schools so as to prepare the young ones to love their countries and be models of self sacrifice. As this has been the trend in Africa in the past, it is not strange that coups and counter coups have been rife in the continent.
The way forward therefore is more focused and planned education for the youth. The creation of young people who know that they don’t have to depend on the government to do everything for them, but also who will have the skills to build something for themselves thus creating job opportunities. This will also promote self reliance with which comes dignity and self respect. We must stop looking to the West for solutions to all our problems and focus on what we have, what we can do and who we are!