Why is Africa behind the rest of the world economically?

Girl's hands holding globe

The interesting thing about all this is that Sub-Saharan Africa is slowly moving away from discussing ideologies and economic theories to practical issues of creating wealth at personal level. For many years, we have been asking questions about why the African continent is not as successful as countries in the North. Up to this day, answers are still mottled.

Some analysts believe African poverty is in its history. Slavery that occurred up to the 19th Century stripped Africa of its resources. Another argument points to colonialism as responsible for growing levels of poverty across the continent. Colonialism is believed to have depleted the resource base for the continent.

Academicians and scholars blame neo-colonialism for Africa’s poverty levels. The trade patterns and resource allocation system strongly favour the developed economies. Consequently, Africa has largely remained an over-dependant continent through unequal terms of trade perpetuated by concentration of exports of raw materials. There are others who believe that there is something genetically wrong with Africa in general!

In my book “Business Values for Our Time” launched last August, I do not blame anyone for what we have and what we do not have in Africa. The many people hungry for success are no longer interested in the theories. They want information about how to succeed. The new thinking is that success is not solely a product of good national economic policies but good personal economic policies too. It is for this reason the book is among many that have been published in our times with the key objective of supporting people run successful enterprises.

The book is simply a motivation to value systems that have made many people very successful. However, some of the values associated with achievement are found in our cultural systems. The African culture is associated with wealth. All entrepreneurs I profiled in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa agree that value systems have something to do with how one makes money. Below is an excerpt from the Preface of the book.

“Zimbabwe and South Africa are going through different phases in the pursuit of empowerment or indigenisation policies. The common weakness in the Zimbabwe and South African empowerment drives is the over-emphasis on ownership as opposed to a good appreciation of business, business training, good business practises and good values. Consequently, black populations have ventured into businesses they do not understand, and have entered into them with the mindset that everything will just work itself out.

Thus, the fall of some of these businesses has been spectacular. The fall in production from the farms acquired under the Land Reform program in Zimbabwe is a typical example. The need to embrace good values in business can not be over-emphasised. This book addresses the issues that determine the difference between a successful or failing business venture. I recommend it for all those who are keen on empowering themselves.”

Tawanda Nyambirai, Group Chief Executive Officer
TN Financial Holdings, Zimbabwe (March 2010)

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13 Responses to “Why is Africa behind the rest of the world economically?”

  1. avatar Nyau says:

    I agree that the focus in Africa today is moving away from “ideologies and economic theories”. The pursuit of personal wealth and success is very apparent pretty much anywhere you go on this continent.

    I’m not sure how far this trend will take us in the journey toward development of our countries. I think many successful Africans do invest in the local economy. But they also spend a good chunk of their wealth educating their kids abroad, vacationing abroad, shopping abroad, etc.

    The idea of copying an economic model that worked elsewhere is not necessarily the ideal way for a struggling economy such as ours. But at the same time, I think there is plenty to be learned from other societies that have had successful economies.

    The far east economies of Japan and South Korea are a good example. There are many factors that led to the success of those economies, not least of which was massive aid from the West. But these two economies also share a unique feature whereby in the infancy of economic growth, citizens had to sacrifice a lot of personal interests for the greater good of the nation. This is a spirit I do not see in Zambia today. And this is where the new trend of pursuing personal wealth could perhaps, work to our disadvantage as a nation.

  2. avatar Tina says:

    Corruption!! Corruption!! & just greedy.. it’ all about how much will i benefit out of this.. simply that

  3. avatar Wanya Wanya says:

    Chibamba, we are actually behind due to our attitudes. Why is it that Zambians in diaspora perform better than the indeginous people out here? We do not have inspiring leadership, amafontini are in leadership positions. We also need a leadership that will create a constitution which addresses ur issues, like the president has too much powers. A lot of disgusting stuff pulls us back.

  4. avatar didier says:

    “the new thinking is that success is not solely a product of good national economic policies but good personal economic policies too. It is for this reason the book is among many that have been published in our times with the key objective of supporting people run successful enterprises”.I very much agree that success is an ideal which is best suited at personal level rather than mainly depending on the political management of the country.While this is true, maybe we should understand that personal economic policies do not often flourish when the overall political management is not favorable. For this reason, some enterprising individuals tend to loose out due to unfavorable economic decisions. I can safely say that this argument is only acceptable to certain types of business activities. It is good that the author has qualified in this article with the adverb” solely….” Success to me even at personal level is dependent MAINLY on the political management. this is why many Zambians perform better away from home.

  5. avatar Mwenya says:

    I agree,that economic polcies play a big role if a nation is to proeper.productivity accompaned by sound understanding of global economical trends,are what africa needs if it is to go forward economicaly.i also think that if conditions at home culd be made condusive,zambians wil perform just like they do outside.hence the need to vote for sata.

  6. avatar Gromyko says:

    Some fantastic insights and Ideas.But i think to put it in Simply is Good Governance.We have the best Economists in the world,best businessman and very good citizens but Bad governace is killing all enterprize.

  7. avatar Gertrude says:

    I totally agree and as long as we dont have a value system in place we will always be behind and development will elude us. The quick fixes will not work for us, work ethics have to change and change has to start from the self, at the individual level. The sooner we realise that there are no shortcuts to economic development the better for the country. Young people admire the “dealer” on Katondo street much more than that Professor who has written books. the socialisation has to start from the parents to the children. Zambia and Africa has so much potential with people of very high intellect, problem is how do we match the two and end up with economic development which will solve all the other problems. Just look at the profiles of the people in the Diaspora and that will give you a sample of what Zambia has. but as they say the good ones always shy away from the public eye because to succeed unfortunately in the eye of the African you must be related to the “Mafia” in all manner.

    Once upon a time I was working on the Copperbelt on a research study on the plight of retrenched miners and one business man of Asian origin when asked what he thought were the causes of poverty replied in one word “integrity” – the lack of – which after my analysis I also agreed with him, we seem to have thrown that away but this is the core of our humanity. Dear Zambians let us reclaim this integrity that we have lost and maybe there will be hope.

  8. avatar Thomas CHILAPALA says:

    I do not believe slavery and colonialisation stripped africa of its resources. More natural resources have been exported out of africa by african governments well after most african countries gained independence. Likewise more africans have voluntarily migrated to other continets than were shipped during slavery. Why then is Africa Behind?. In my view, Africa is behind simply because its consuming goods it does not produce. Our streets are jammed with vehicles we dont produce in every city from cape to cairo. Our hands are clutching cellphones we dont produce. Our offices are filled with computers we dont produce, softwre we dont make, furniture we dont produce. Our clothes are made from fabrics we dont make. Simple mathematical quantification will show that we Africans are spending Trillions of Dolars to import goods and services for every day use. If the status co is not changed, we will remain behind even by the 90th century. A japanese teacher with US$2000.00 can buy a toyota corolla with US1000.00 and Invest the other US1000.00. An African teacher with the same amount need to use it all and even borrow some more just to import the same vehicle . However if the tables are turned, you will realise with horror that a ton of copper doesnt cost cheaply to a buyer in Zambia than to a buyer in JAPAN.

  9. avatar Slim T says:

    Nice article Mr. Kanyama
    What i think is the main reason behind our lacking back economically is the lack of educated personel.
    Am sure only 1 in every 10 teenagers in Zambia graduate with a degree.
    If only we as youths can put more seriousness in education maybe we can see a better Zambia.


  10. avatar Honest woman says:

    In lay man terms, how about the fact that there is no proper foundation for growth of the Zambian economy? People are more concerned about what’s on the table. We should build a strong foundation – honesty and integrity are key factors. For instance if you are tasked to source a contractor to build a road, don’t look at nichekeleko. The consequences of nichekeleko are disastrous. To cut a long story short, bad roads will affect you because you will be using the same roads and so will your children, not to mention, your business will be affected, other people who want to develop will fail to get their goods to market because the road’s bad because of one dishonest fellow… and the list goes on. See, one thing leads to another.

    p.s It must be borne in mind that if you were brought up as a dishonest child, it will carry on in your family. Your children will behave the same as you and your children’s children – I would like to think you have grasped what I am trying to say!

  11. avatar MrK says:

    The reason Africa is behind economically is because we are following the policy prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank, and have been for 30 years.

    Asia has not, and they are flying ahead. Right now the World Bank prescriptions have been unleashed on the countries of Greece and the UK, and they too are suffering because of them.

    Google: the real causes of famine in Somaila chossudovsky
    Read by Cambridge University economics professor Ha-Joon Chang:

    Bad Samaritans

    Reclaiming Development

  12. avatar Micheal says:

    Having studied other countries’s politics, economy, societal trends and other attributes, I believe the West is successful because of entrepreneurship and innovation. If you watched the Olympic Launch Ceremony, you will see they depicted the summary of how industrialisation blossomed in UK. The reason the Western powers are more successful is they have the major technology, facilities etc…and where did these come from?? Do names like Henry Ford ring a bell, Daimler Benze, Benjamin Franklin?

    These people did not SIT and wait for government or for loans or grants, they envisioned something that they felt would make the world better and they invented it. In Africa, most of the time people act like a man in the middle of a shallow river…he is busy checking how deep his feet are in the water instead of looking at how far the riverbank is and how to get there. Africa spends a lot of time on trivial matters sometimes. Our nations need to be educated (not just going to school/varsity) because some may say schools are under-stocked. A lot of the inventors in England and Europe learnt their trade personally or on the job or by trial and error. The youths in particular need to spend more time thinking of how to solve problems than how to hang out. Do you know that in Asia, people work more hours and accomplish more in a day than in Africa. In Africa people like to leave work at 4pm even if their knock-off time is 4.30pm. How will anybody develop or become successful if and when they are lazy. Look at the Japanese, Chinese, South Koreans, they are doing bug things even though less than 30 years ago their economies where in deep trouble. Didnt most African countries attain independence around the same time as those Asian states? Africa is sooo used to the idea of importing things – including ideas?

    Think about it…Lets work hard to build a better tomorrow – instead of trying to IMPORT a better tomorrow.

  13. avatar Anonymous says:

    The problem is probably that you have socialist policies and a social democrat as president. Try a liberal approach instead. I recommend that you all start off by studying this great book and its content.


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