Monday, January 16, 2012

Contemporary Africa's implication in its own underdevelopment

In early April of 2010, I was hosted at a Public Library for the presentation of my book, A Healthy You: Tame Africa's Child Malnutrition. I was quite surprised at the interest the contents generated: I had assumed the book would primarily interest Africans, but the audience was predominantly American. To cut a long story short,the presentation went well, and gave me fresh food for thought.

One issue that came to the fore during the question and answer session was the poor utilization of quality protein maize (QPM) in the place of ordinary maize to tame childhood malnutrition on the continent. Other developing continents seemed to have made greater use of this resource than Africa. One participant in the audience hinted that the African establishment seemed to enjoy "victimhood." The person speculated that they preferred to exploit the sympathy that poverty, disease, the orphan burden, and violence attracted than to do the hard work that was necessary to undo institutional dependency on foreign aid.

Globally, research on QPM has been ongoing for many years. On the African continent, it is only in Ghana that  community studies have been documented. These studies have shown that Ghanaian children with Kwashiorkor fed on QPM recover. I have thoughtfully compared these with my own casual observations that Western Kenyan children, fed predominantly on a white hybrid maize staple diet continue to suffer from Kwashiorkor. The high infant mortality rate in Wetern Kenya is a crying shame, yet any possible solutions must come down to political will. When political will catches up with the reality on the ground the problem will receive the attention it deserves. The officials concerned with addressing malnutrition nationally then will be well advised to break down the national statistics for disease burden, poverty rates, and child mortality into regional figures. It will be important to identify the communities most afflicted and to apply the most intense programs within them.

Several reasons have been cited for the minimal undertaking of QPM research efforts on the African continent. One of these reasons is that many nations do not have the technical capacity to support such research. However, if Ghana can do it, why can't other African countries do it? Keep in mind that much of the hard scientific work that would facilitate such research has already been done. It seems more likely that the absence of such research efforts is attributable to the absence of coherent national development goals in many African nations. Such goals are rendered impossible because of the degree to which resources are commandeered for ethnic interests rather than national interests.

Leaders focus more on meeting the superficial needs of "their people" so that the tribal voting blocs on which they are dependent can get them back into office during the next political cycle. There really isn't much time or energy left to look into the more profound needs of their communities in the long-term, or to even think about other communities nationally. What this means is that ordinary Africans who want to see Africa change for the better have to learn to do the dirty work themselves, often without government support.

The African culture of poor leadership is bred in our homes. We must start taking responsibility for this culture: If there is something you can do to change Africa for the better, do it now, starting in your home. Don't just complain about "Africa's poor leadership." Leadership should start with you, dear reader. If you can't make the necessary sacrifice, why should you expect that somebody else will? Leadership arises from the people.

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