You are on page 1of 15


As an entity, the 16 nations that comprise the geographic region of West Africa is among one of the poorest regions in the world in the 21st century, even though the region is among the richest in the world in its stock of natural resources and raw and underdeveloped human talent. The natural resources of Nigeria for example, include: natural gas, petroleum, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc and arable land; in Liberia: iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold and hydropower; in Sierra Leone: diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, chromite; in Cote d'Ivoire: petroleum, natural gas, diamonds, manganese, iron ore, cobalt, bauxite, copper, gold, nickel, tantalum, silica sand, clay, cocoa beans, coffee, palm oil, hydropower; and in Niger: uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, molybdenum, gypsum, salt, petroleum (Compiled from the 2005 CIA World Factbook). Liberia also has one of the largest rubber plantations in the world. According to modernization theories, internal factors in the countries, such as illiteracy, traditional agrarian structure, the traditional attitude of the population, the low division of labour, the lack of communication and infrastructure, etc., are responsible for underdevelopment. Differences in structure and historical origin are considered of little importance; international dependencies are not taken into account. Consequently, a change of these endogenous factors is the strategy for development. The industrialized countries are the model for economy and society, and this model will be reached sooner or later. There is a continuum between the least and the most developed country and each country has its position on this line. The difference as compared to the industrialized countries is the degree of backwardness which has to be made up for. Suitable measures

are the modernization of the production apparatus, capital aid, transfer of know-how, so that the developing countries can reach the stage of industrialized countries as soon as possible. Development is seen as an increase of production and efficiency and measured primarily by comparing the per capita income.

WHY WEST AFRICAN COUNTRIES ARE SAID TO BE UNDERDEVELOPED A historical perspective is essential in order to understand why West African countries have failed to take part in the international economic development we have seen in this era of globalisation. Geographical and demographic conditions are key factors in West Africas development, as is confirmed by many of todays crises. West African Countries are said to be underdeveloped because of the following reasons list hereunder: 1) Prolonged Military Rule/Intervention in Governance: It is believed that meaningful development cannot take place in a country where democracy cannot thrive. Democracy is seen as bedrock of development as evident in most developed nations such as United States of America, Britain, Japan and some other countries in the world. Therefore, with prolonged military interventions and rule in most of the West African countries, development was hampered. 2) Technological Underdevelopment: An important reason for the continents technological underdevelopment is the geographical obstacles to

communication both internally and with the rest of the world. The Sahara has been a barrier in the north, and the Atlantic coast had no contact with the rest

of the world until the first Europeans arrived around 1500. Influence from the Arab world and India came mainly via the Nile Valley and the East African coast, and had little spillover effect further inland. With the exception of the Niger and the Nile, the continents rivers with their large waterfalls have not provided a navigable route to the interior, in contrast to the rivers of Europe and Asia. The problems of todays land-locked states illustrate the great importance of communication for economic and cultural development. 3) Poor Health System and High Mortality Rate Factor: Among the five geographic regions of Africa (Eastern, Northern, Middle, Southern and Western Africa), West Africa has the lowest average per capita Gross Domestic Products, and the second highest average infant mortality rate after Middle Africa. This has added a great deal to underdevelopment of West Africa. Any country with a very high mortality rate will be regarded as underdeveloped, little wonder West African countries are said to be underdeveloped. There are poor human capital development and poor health development policies and programmes in almost all countries in West Africa. This is attested to by the number of qualified Africans and technocrats in foreign countries where they are not better treated. Insecurity and poverty account for the brain drain (Emeagwali, 2004). A healthy nation is a wealthy nation. When the citizens are poor, they cannot access health care facilities, their capacities are not developed, it implies that the resource endowments in the area are dormant and unexplored. Developed human capital is the catalyst for resource development. This gives the foreigners engaged in foreign direct

investment opportunities to exploit the area and further under develop the economy. 4) High Literacy Rate as Causative Factor: The region also has low rates of individuals who can read and write; this means that with low level of education in the countries, underdevelopment looms. High level of illiteracy thus accounts for West Africa being called underdeveloped. 5) Lack of Political Stability: Lack of political stability accounts for many of the development problems in post-colonial Africa, and has deep historical roots. The ethnic diversity of the continent is extraordinary; linguists have identified around 900 separate language groups. Nation-building in Africas independent states has thus been particularly difficult. National endeavours have been hampered by internal conflicts and civil wars, and at worst a form of anarchy, as seen in the Congo. The forces behind these conflicts are often complex. But once the parties have resorted to violence, we see in Africa, just as in the Balkans and the Caucasus, that ethnicity overrides all other forms of loyalty with a ferocity that defies belief, but is easier to understand if we bear in mind the role that nationalism has played in European history. Shrewd and ambitious politicians are aware of this, and know how to take advantage of the tribal instinct for all it is worth. 6) Slave trade and colonialism: Can the slave trade and colonialism be regarded as a cause of underdevelopment in West Africa today? Africas integration into the world market following 1500-during what we may term the protoglobalisation era-took on a perverted form when slaves became the dominant

merchandise from around 1650. The cruelties of this trade have left deep scars in both the African and the European psyche. The export of an estimated 12 million people across the Atlantic, and possibly a similar number to the Arab world in the course of a full millennium may have been a factor in Africas lower population growth compared with that of other continents. In economic terms, the slave trade tended to overshadow trade in other goods, and although it enabled certain strong kingdoms to increase their power, it was devastating for the groups affected by the kidnappings and conflicts that the trade entailed. In political terms, the rulers who controlled the trade on the African side were caught up in a particular form of dependence that had profound effects on African political culture. At the same time, African labour played a key role in building up the Atlantic system, and was thus a decisive factor in American and European (including Norways) development. Here the foundations were laid for a closely knit web of development and underdevelopment. The present day African claims for reparation are understandable. But slavery was also widely practiced in African societies, and it was African leaders and intermediaries who brought almost all of the slaves to the coast. African historians have long sought to put the record straight on this chapter of the continents history. Colonial rule can be regarded as the next phase of Africas integration into the international system. European policies varied considerably between regions and over time, from a brutal period of conquest at the end of the 19th century to active development efforts following the Second World War. The main achievement

of colonial rule was state-building. However, this involved imposing the European system of competing nation states onto the continent through a process of conquest that was largely motivated by European strategic interests. The result was a political map that is economically irrational and dysfunctional. Basil Davidson sums up this state of affairs in the title of one of his books: The Black Mans Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation State. One of the most important tasks today is to offset and overcome the limitations of the nation state through the development of regional and continental bodies based on the European model. The colonial powers developed modern export systems, infrastructure and education facilities that were necessary to make the whole colonisation venture profitable. And indeed, it is difficult to envisage any other way in which Africa could have become integrated into the world market so rapidly. Various counterfactual development scenarios have of course been discussed, and there is an ongoing debate on how realistic they are. Nevertheless, the colonial system can be criticized on several points: for its extreme use of violence during the first phase (for example in southern Africa, where land was confiscated and Africans subjected to forced labour); for taking a disproportionate share of the value created; and for failing to use state power to promote broader development until after the Second World War (particularly regarding higher education). However, the connection between colonisation and

underdevelopment is not straightforward. Independent Ethiopia came at the bottom of all tables of development statistics at the time colonisation was

coming to an end in the rest of Africa, and most of the successful newly industrialised countries in South East Asia are also former colonies. Cultivating a victim image will not lead to a productive development strategy. 7) War as Causative Factor: Moreover, since the 1990s, the region experienced civil conflicts or wars in a number of countries, including Liberia and Sierra Leone, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and the destruction of billions of dollars in infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and businesses. The interesting irony about West Africas underdevelopment is that, although the people in that region are among the poorest people in the world, individuals of West African descent outside of the region and the continent tend to be in significant to substantial numbers among some of the most influential and highly-respected scientists of all sorts, world-class entertainers, professional athletes, politicians, business men and women, etc., especially concentrated in North America and the rest of the Western Hemisphere, and other parts of the world. 8) Foreign Aid Factor: Foreign aid serves a useful purpose when it is provided to alleviate temporary hardship as in cases of natural disasters such as droughts, but, experience in West Africa has proved that aid recipients could easily construe foreign aid as a substitution to their own productivity. Across the continent, food aid has suppressed food production, undermining the prices of local produced foods. Agricultural production has declined significantly, as farmers migrate to urban centers to create a shortage of farm workers and exacerbate food production deficit. A mentioned earlier, a major

debilitating by-product of foreign aid to Africa is the culture of corruption that has taken root at every level of every government. Foreign Aid is a bribe given to poor countries by rich nations to enable the latter access resources, and markets cheaply. It is also a bribe to poor nations to prevent the migration of poor people to rich nations. It is a bribe to poor nations meant to address rich nations interests. We all know what bribes (aid) do to our police force (governments), the police get fatter but the crime and traffic offense related highway accident rates go up (under development of people). To the robber who bribes a policeman to ensure he/she is not caught bribery is a good thing that promotes the looting industry. But if one were to ask the citizenry whose relatives perish on highways and their property get looted by thugs - a future without bribery is what they will go for. In line with explanation and definition on aid the good intentions of the West (de jure purpose of aid) have resulted to a de facto looting of the resources of the Africa people by the West through the accomplice of African leaders who analogically represent the corrupt police forces in their countries. In this regard role of aid in bringing development in Africa tends to be very doubtful. Thus the verisimilitude of development (conditioned) aid and the cold war contribution to political developments in African are exposed by the varying but most often clearly negative overall and varying consequences. The analysis of the role and consequences of foreign aid and the cold war could be divided into: i) aid and politics of tyranny, ii) the impact of the West as a consequence of the Cold War, and, iii) the disembedding of the democratic debate from within

national borders on the continent and re-embedding within the international arena between national leaders and Western powers. 9) Corruption: Today, corruption has become the way of life in every country in West Africa, and the theft, bribery and embezzlement of aid, and other government resources are so endemic, they are not considered as crimes. African politicians and government officials have engaged in corruption practices, and a 2004-2005 World Bank Report showed that $148 billion were embezzled out of Africa by politicians and bureaucrats; a significant amount of it being aid and loans earmarked for development activities to benefit Africa's poor. Without transparency, accountability, and good governance, Africa's future will continue to remain bleak. No wonder West Africa countries are said to be underdeveloped. There is the get - rich quick-mania in West Africa, especially among the political leaders. The inordinate ambition for wealth accumulation is an offshoot of corrupt practices which are aspects of underdevelopment. An African appears to be contented with stealing public money and eventually remitting same to other foreign banks, yet the industrialized countries that claim to be corrupt-free accommodate such practices. An African also appears to be happy stealing from one side of his pocket and transfers the loot to the other side of his pocket and congratulates himself for a job well done. These acts have no multiplier effects on national economy since the booties are not invested for regeneration. This culture of inordinate material acquisition accounts for underdevelopment in West Africa. There is a noticeable increase in the

deterioration of infrastructures and social services in underdeveloped countries as a result of poor management of resources, poor governance and corruption. Where infrastructural development is carried out at all, it lacks quality, integrity and comparable standard. Reducing public expenditure and reordering of government priorities and removal of subsidies on essential facilities and commodities implies deepening the poverty situation and underdevelopment. There is need therefore, to explore ways of mitigating underdevelopment in West-Africa. 10) Low Labour Productivity and Per Capital Income: Low labour productivity is a consequence of capital shortage which is a result of the population's low saving ability. As the saving rate is determined by the low real income, the circle is closed. Strategy theories intend to break up this cycle at a certain point which they consider critical and which varies according to the different theories. Thus, they want to initiate development and transform traditional subsistence economy into a modern market economy. Their main emphasis is on capital formation and investment (investment theories) and, by and large, they prescribe action for overcoming underdevelopment while they contribute little towards explaining the causes of underdevelopment. 11) The Challenges of Leadership Crisis and Underdevelopment in West Africa: Development, as a multidimensional process, is much more than an economic phenomenon dealing with the material and financial growth in a peoples lives. It involves the reorganization and reorientation of the peoples entire economic and social systems. Apart from improvements in incomes and


output, radical changes in institutional social, administrative structures, peoples popular attitudes, customs and belief systems, development involves a fundamental modification and reorganization of the international economic and social system to accommodate equity that negates global inequality (Todaro and Smith, 2003). If development involves the above, there is the necessity for visionary and dedicated leadership that is imbued with the desire for change that is anchored on patriotism and democratic governance. The current world economic system demands total reorganization in economic relations and trade in line with the forces and facilitators of globalization. For the reorganization and modernization to achieve development targets and be effective, leadership everywhere should be adequately equipped with the requisite knowledge, motivational force, managerial ability, forthrightness, accommodating spirit, flexibility, acuity, organizing capacity etc. to identify the necessary institutional structures for reforms. This is expedient to drive the wheel of development in this era of information and communications technology (ICT), Knowledge - driven economic production and knowledge leadership for millennium governance. Leadership implies critical

management of critical resource endowments in a country. West Africans are endowed with critical indigenous knowledge, traditional technologies and wealth (Gakuru, 2005). Indigenous knowledge encompasses traditional knowledge, innovations, technologies and practices. It involves broad based subject matters such as traditional agriculture, biodiversity-related and medicinal knowledge and folklore. On its part, traditional technologies are


defined as processes and products that have been valuable sources of technology even before western industrialization. They include, among others, agriculture, food production, processing and preservation and brewing; water procurement and storage; health and medicine; plant and animal breeding; forestry; engineering; energy; architecture; textile; cosmetology; music etc. When these are preserved and encouraged, they can boost entrepreneurship, economy through foreign exchange etc. and subsequent development. The question however, is: have West African leaders and government ensured these technologies and knowledge to achieve diversified economy, food security, job and employment generation, entrepreneurship, leadership and capacity building and wealth creation?

West African countries are said to be under-developed as a result of the above factors such as leadership problem, corruption, prolonged military rule, colonialism and slave trade, war, poor health system and high mortality rate, high level of illiteracy, low level of technological advancement in terms of communication and agricultural development, reliance on foreign aids amongst many other factors. Any serious effort to engage development problems in West Africa must begin by taking notice of the reality that socio-economic development in the West African countries may be attained, and sustained only if the processes engaged toward these ends are properly mindful of the cultural and social experiences of Africans. This means looking at things from the point of view of those whose welfare one seeks to improve; for


only when the life experiences of the indigenous people are clearly understood would it be possible to work within the context of their cultural and traditional observances to establish accommodative social and economic institutions necessary for sustained development. This approach is what is termed 'contextual development'; a process that requires a balanced integration of indigenous cultures, religious beliefs, prevailing social arrangements, and new ideas from developed nations into a unique development strategy that suits a particular nation-state. Contextual development thus requires a good understanding of the needs of the people, and how to design and implement programs that take advantage of the peculiarities of the society, and expectations. It also requires, as an imperative, that one who embarks on development programs in West Africa be acquainted with the cultural belief system in the country, the role religion plays, the level of literacy, availability of skilled labor, traditional roles of the sexes, prevailing social arrangements, and most importantly, what development means to the people. It is an intellectual challenge to fully grasp the historical causes of Africas underdevelopment and to distinguish between internal and external factors. On the one hand, many of Africas problems are due to a combination of Western and African factors and the fact that Africa has been integrated into the world economy on unfavourable terms. This, together with intrinsic geographical and demographic disadvantages, means that an international effort on a completely new scale is needed to lift the continent out of its present state of underdevelopment. This has been referred to as a reformed globalisation. On the other hand, many of the problems facing African countries are due to internal causes. Ethnic differences and political and cultural traditions have made it


difficult to build strong institutions of the kind developed in Asian countries that are able to address the challenges of globalisation. This means that African leaders at all levels must take responsibility for improving the situation through self-help, awareness raising and discipline in the broadest sense of the word. African critics have spoken of the need for a structural adaptation programme, also with regard to culture.


CIA World Fact Book (2009): Equatorial Guinea.

Eke, P. P. (1983):Colonialism and Social Structure: An Inaugural Lecture. Ibadan: University of Ibadan.

Emeagwali (2004):How Do We Reverse the Brain Drain?

Frank. G. (1966): The Development of Underdevelopment. Monthly Review, Vol. 18 No.4.

Shillington, Kevin (1989): History of Africa. Revised Edition. New York: St. Martins The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.3, no.10, September 2010.

World Bank. (1997): World Development Report 1997: The State in a Changing World. New York: Oxford University Press.