After years of post-colonial failure, Africa is rapidly growing up – Cross
When my father was born in 1909, it was into a world where Britain was perhaps the most powerful nation on earth, supported by an Empire that spanned the globe. Germany was perhaps the most powerful State in Europe with Russia not far behind. The United States was still recovering from the Civil War and was trying to find its way in the new world order. China was a remote, isolated country that kept to itself while watching its nearby compatriot, Japan.
The First World War changed all that and the new World Order that emerged meant that nothing would really be the same again. Germany was defeated but the cost of the War left many European countries destitute. The countries less affected, the USA, Japan and the Chinese Empire were pretty much intact, probably having benefited from the conflict which had spurred industrialisation and opened up global trade.
What it also did was to change the nature of War in all respects. The horse was replaced by the tank and the machine gun. Aircraft made their debut and technologies emerged that were to make war in the 20th Century bloodier and more destructive than any in history.
My family fought alongside Robert the Bruce in the early 1300’s and then war was conducted in valleys with the leaders of both armies on the hills watching. When the dust cleared, those with the majority still standing, won.
But of even greater importance was the emergence of new ideologies. The Russian Revolution in 1917, the emergence of National Socialism in Germany under the Nazi Regime. The emergence of Nationalism in China and the strengthening of the Japanese culture of the Emperor and militarism.
The stage was being set for a clash of ideas that was to dominate the rest of the Century. The Christian consensus in Europe, South America and the USA was peaking and the missionary thrust of the 19th Century coming to an end.
Then came the Second World War, this time embracing the whole globe. Japan invaded China, Germany the rest of Europe, Russia and the USA were drawn in as combatants. A whole generation of young people were wiped out, but at the same time new technologies were created and mass produced.
Eventually it was the factories that defeated the Axis Nations of Germany, Italy and Japan. But this conflict also brought in the British Empire – millions of men and women from the Colonies volunteered to serve and die. This sowed the seeds of destruction and change in the colonial world system.
My father spent the War in a reserved occupation in Harare, Rhodesia had the highest ratio of volunteers to population in the Colonial world. Our pilots fought over Britain and then bombed Europe. Our men fought on the beaches of Normandy and then up through Italy and over France and Holland.
The United States became the heavy industry centre of the world while the war destroyed its competitors. We learned how to mass produce ships and aircraft. How to move essential needs across the Globe, Rhodesia supplied orange juice for the mothers of Britain, bully beef for the men in the trenches. Trained pilots in its clear blue skies over Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru.
But after the War, the world was never the same. Colonial soldiers had seen their British and American compatriots die like them, they went home with a new appreciation of their own abilities and value. They demanded independence and freedom. It came, the British dismantled the Empire and when the dust had settled, it was no longer a major power.
By contrast the new leaders of Europe, having seen their countries devastated by two senseless wars, resolved to rebuild Europe around the idea of never to allow that to happen again. The first effort was the Iron and Steel Group of 6 States, now they are 27 countries and it is the European Union.
Today the EU is the largest trading and financial union in the world. It’s not unified in the American sense but it is cohesive and can speak with one voice when needed.
Whereas the Soviet Union – established after the Second World War by Russian expansionism out of 15 Euro Asian countries, including East Germany and much of what is now part of the EU.
The Soviets failed to meet the ambitions of its creators and eventually collapsed as a result of the relative inefficiency of its economic system and excessive expenditure on maintaining its oppressive State system. With this collapse, the threat of Soviet Communism as an alternative ideology was virtually eliminated.
However, the new dispensation failed to accommodate Russia which remans one of the largest countries in the world with a capacity in military and technical terms that far exceeds its economic status. It remains a relatively poor country but with big ambitions and a proud heritage.
Its nationalism remains a problem which is currently expressed in the war with Ukraine which can only end badly for Russia. The world needs to think about how to accommodate and bring Russia in from the cold once the war ends and Russian leadership changes.
While all of this was happening in Europe, General Douglas McArthur was rebuilding Japan as a modern democracy within Japanese culture and tradition. This remarkable effort created the Japan of today which is the third largest economy in the world, a functioning democracy with a stunning record in technology and trade.
It follows a policy of strict non violence in military terms and creates so few political problems for the rest of the globe that we sometimes forget it is there, until we want to choose a car!
China emerged from the Second World War severely damaged and totally divided on ideological lines. This quickly deteriorated into a full blown civil war with the Communist Party of China taking control in 1949. Under Mao Tse Tung, China slowly rebuilt its economy and when he died in 1976, a new generation of leadership took over and the rest is history.
China has used the new world system created by Western leaders after the War which has allowed them to borrow money from the older economies of Europe and America, trade freely with the rest of the world and adopt and adapt technologies developed elsewhere.
The result is that they have lifted over 1,4 billion people out of poverty into middle income status and in the process created the second largest economy in the world on the back of rapid industrialisation. It has to be the most dramatic development of any major country in the world and in the process it has shifted the balance of power from the United States to Asia.
Where does this leave us in Africa? Apart from the fact that we are recolonising our former colonial masters by migration, Africa remains the major hope of meeting the demands of the future for resources and food. We have 60 per cent of both going forward and increasingly the rest of the world is going to have to invest in us to gain access to this potential.
After years of post-colonial failure, Africa is rapidly growing up. It is slowly understanding its own potential and self-confidence. What we have to do is to take charge of our own destiny and not allow the neo-colonial forces in either the West of the East use their capacity to control what happens in our countries.
They can buy our goods and services, but we need to increasingly take charge of the industries and resources that make it possible to turn our assets into wealth for our people.
Our demography for once, is on our side, as the developed regions of the world see their populations grow old and tired. To equip our young people for the future, we need to use modern technologies to give them skills and knowledge. These are the new tools of our liberation.
Eddie Cross is an economist and former opposition Bulawayo South MP. He writes here in his personal capacity. You can follow his blog African Herd