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Adebayo Okeowo: Africa Must Grow Up



With the amount of information I was recently exposed to about the African Union’s budget, I feel very ashamed! After looking at the African Union’s 2014 budget, I started wondering how African heads of State get the nerve to challenge the West for interfering with Africa’s internal issues when these same leaders have practically turned Africa and her institutions over to the control of the West! The AU’s budget for the 2014 Financial Year is US$308,048,376. Of that sum, only US$126,050,898 is to be contributed by member states, while the remaining US$170,098,545 comes from ‘International Partners’ – predominantly the EU.

Even at that, Kenya, like many other African countries, still owes its annual membership fees. Nigeria is there sacking its economic reformists and risking the country’s financial market. Ugandan legislators are busy passing anti-mini skirt laws (yes, they just did that this February. No jokes. Mini-skirts are now a no-no in Uganda), and the Gambian President is consumed with the need to wipe out gay people the same way they wiped out Malaria.

Speaking of Malaria, it is another sour point to note that the Bill Gates foundation has committed more funds into helping eradicate malaria on the African continent than the health budgets of all African Nations combined! For the citizens who bear the brunt of bad governance, we certainly will ask that Gates stays on! At least if African leaders will not commit to better healthcare, someone else is doing just that! This however does not make the reality less worrisome.

In terms of resources, Africa is the world’s richest continent. We have 50% of the world’s gold (check out South Africa), 90% of the cobalt (check out Congo), most of the world’s diamonds (check out Botswana), 60% of the manganese, the world’s largest oil producer (after the middle East), vast lands and so much more! In fact, the Democratic Republic of Congo is capable of generating sufficient hydro-electricity to power the entire continent! Our mass of resources should actually make Africa the leading continent on the globe! It therefore breaks my heart and I find it a total embarrassment seeing how dependent we have become on other Western nations.
Even the Holy Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive! Givers never lack! But for the African continent, we are so fond of receiving gifts but hardly ever give. In 2012, the new $200million headquarters of the AU in Addis Ababa was handed over by China as a gift to Africa. Germany is also constructing a 26.5 million Euro building for the African Peace and Security Council. Little wonder the proposition to have an African Country as a permanent member of the UN Security Council has stalled because, apparently, our funders can’t imagine us clogging their veto in any way.

As if these are not bad enough; when we want to settle our own scores, we still run to the West for help! For instance, the African Union on December 5, 2012 appealed to the United Nations for financial aid for its military intervention in the crisis in Northern Mali.

Africa needs to grow up! Some still argue that the colonialists raped the continent of its resources and therefore owe it some form of recompense! Please, that argument is so 1960!!! Besides, it has been reported that the amount embezzled by African governments, when summed up, exceeds the amount the continent has received as aid money. So tell me, are we still not our own problem?

Nigeria and South Africa extend help to their African counterparts once in a while by way of funding for some projects and especially in contributing to the peace keeping missions of the AU. But even between these two, I am highly disappointed! They spend more time bickering than they do cooperating to push the continent forward. How amazing it will be if these two African giants could have more cooperative economic policies.
Africa today may boast of 54 independent States. But are they really independent in the true sense of it?

Photo Credit:
Adebayo Okeowo is a human rights lawyer whose experience traverses both government and private organizations. His most recent engagement was as Program Officer for the Nigeria office of Global Rights – a human rights organization headquartered in Washington. He is the founder of the White Code Centre and is currently studying at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Adebayo Okeowo is a human rights lawyer with significant experience working around using video evidence to seek justice for international crimes. He is currently the Africa Program Manager at WITNESS - an international organization that empowers people everywhere to leverage the power of video and technology in the defense of human rights Twitter: @AdebayOkeowo


  1. whocares

    February 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    AHH YES!!!1 The voice of reason. You have written a nice and succinct explanation of what I have been trying to tell people. One the one hand you have people that argue that the Western world should compensate Africa for robbing her, or be more involved in crisis, and on the other people who call it “bullying” when they do!
    I was speaking to my Public International Law professior the other day about sovereignty and democracy and what he felt about “neo-colonisation”. He said something that made me think. sovereignty should be seen not as an individual right, but a collective one. If a country’s government proves inefficient in taking care of its people, then the international community can decide to take away its sovereignty (I think this is harsh) but I understood where he was coming from. Where do people run to when their countries are in crisis, or in breach of human right conventions? The Western world! So of course they will have a say in what goes on in Africa, they are protecting their investment. I am not saying I approve of this, but it is just the way the international community is for now. Till African leaders change their ways, this will continue to be the trend.

    • whocares

      February 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      nonsense ting posted before I had finished.. Lost my train of thought now. But a wonderful article. Having a little PIL rant is cleansing!

  2. Stranger

    February 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    No truer words…
    We the uncorruptable youg generation need to form an alliance… starting in Nigeria if we can’t do Africa to start with.

  3. AA

    February 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Finally!!!! A voice of reason in the sea of stupidity. We as Africans are busy chasing shadows and deceiving ourselves that we are working. We have refused to face the facts that this continent is f*ed up.

  4. Iris

    February 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    This is why I laugh when people say the West has no right to interfere in our business. We WISH they didn’t have rights, but they’ve pretty much “bought” the right to do so. After all they are not a charity to be giving money for free.

    • ada

      May 12, 2014 at 9:19 am


  5. Ayo

    February 25, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Nowhere is our dependence more apparent than in public health arena. We have a needy, inferiority complex. Its dangerous to depend on others for basic needs.

  6. Confuzzled

    February 25, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    But what can we do about it?

    What we need is a plan for action that can be implemented by the everyday Nigerian (or African). When problems are discussed in this manner, they seem too big for the everyday person to tackle, and as such we fold our hands and wait for our leaders to act on our behalf or wise up. What effect can I have on something as distant as the AU budget? How can I influence the way healthcare policy and funding is developed and implemented? The average African (and I will include myself here) lacks knowledge on how to influence such things.

    We are educating ourselves about the problems (and that is great), but its time to start educating ourselves on how we can contribute to the solutions. If not, articles like these will still be written 50yrs from now.

  7. Jumai

    February 25, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Bayo, this makes absolute sense, I love being an African, it’s just so annoying sometimes and to think that scientists attribute the origin of human life to us. Every time the word malaria or third world country is mentioned in class, I simply cringe inside waiting for the earth to swallow me up till the class is over. Shouldn’t a child start walking at a point? Shouldn’t we also start supporting innovation? That’s a reason I’m choosing to come home after my studies, we’ve gotta face this head on. It’s about time we cleaned up home.

    • AA

      February 25, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      Good for you dear! For me, I came home and got disillusioned. But I am sure it will work out for you

  8. Obi

    February 25, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    The game is called IM (for Igbo speakers it means Iru Mma – the face I know; or Ima Mmadu – to know pesin). Since that is the status quo, then let’s use it to solve our problems. Let me concern myself with small matters first. Cos I believe in building from the inside – out. In Abia, the Ngwa people are crying that since the inception of the state, no single governor has been an Ngwa person. Yet, Aba is the heart of Abia and Aba belongs to the Ngwa … bla bla bla. Being from Aba myself, I argued that perhaps the Ngwa people need to start fixing their broken windows and mending their fences & leaking roofs first. Then, when they come out en masse, unified, then Abia as a whole will have no choice but listen. Its not about making noise about potential and hoping/ begging/ screaming to be heard – and perhaps the big boys will give an ear because they are tired of your incessant noise making – Rather you have to come with a CV filled with your past successes, no matter how small. At least then, you can speak with the authority of one who knows what he or she is talking about. That’s the case of Africa and the world. We need to show what we have done (not necessarily what we can do) before we will be taken seriously. And in my mind, once we can do that, the sky ceases to be the limit.

  9. Obi

    February 25, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    O, and in reference to IM, if the government & politics in general has become a game of IM, knowing insiders, then let us use those insiders to fix our communities and not just to enrich our pockets. I used to be all about merit. People should get stuff purely by merit. But after years of learning the hard way, I decided that perhaps the worst thing is putting a grossly unqualified person in charge due to IM/ godfatherism. A person can merit a position, but due to the nature of our society, gets it through IM. I can’t bicker, as long as they do a great job. I just count it as a small blessing.

  10. Olaronke

    February 25, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Well said Bayo!! I strongly agrEe with the fact that the uncorruptible young generation should form an alliance. Sometimes I feel we can’t make progress in Nigeria until we kill all our leaders and allow the uncoruptible youth to take over…I seriously hope it won’t get to this ….

  11. Dr. N

    February 25, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Join the givers. We can contribute more than we consume.

  12. Que

    February 25, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I just copied this link to a nuisance that has been in my ear all evening….this is exactly what I wanted him to understand…. You cant call d westerners all sorts of names for encroaching on our national space, when all you do is rely on same pple to think for you. Where does it happen?

  13. pynk

    February 25, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Africa doesn’t need aid. That has always been my position.

  14. Victor

    February 25, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    To buttress your argument…there are 2 things I see responsible for the whole mess in Africa…1. Greed 2. Lack or Loss of Vision . We can write a Library full articles addressing this issues….ask GEJ and co to come and commission it as part of the transformation agenda…but will they read it? NO. So, what I’ll say is lets start the change in a very simple way….

  15. Charis

    February 26, 2014 at 1:39 am

    Its the “me myself and I” attitude Africans have. Their patriotic spirit has long been murdered. Sadly this egoistic disposition spreads like wild fire. I’m currently writing a project on foreign aid in Africa, and my findings have me weeping for my continent. To be honest, Africa hollistically needs revolution because this problem is too deep for surface cleansing.

  16. ides of march

    February 26, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Truly enjoyed reading this article. Yes a lot of good can come out of Africa we just need to start somewhere no matter how small the effort may be

  17. Fancy

    February 26, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Finally! this has been a disturbing thought( shame on me for doing nothing about it) you would weep even more if you know how much we owe( gist for another day). Misplaced priorities everywhere sha. God help us, we need wisdom ,foresight and the will to turn things around…

  18. Tunde

    February 26, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    I love the line of thought Bayo…its so true. The roof is on fire and its about to fall right through the ceiling, we all can hear the fierce sound of the burning and the fumes are beginning to fill the rooms. Pieces of the rafters are starting to fall; still in bits though. ALAS!!! We should run quickly, get water and put out the fire -or at least something like that; how did it get this bad right atop our heads? But, we sit down and deliberate on how to better arrange the chairs under the burning roof…like miniskirts are responsible for the war in Somalia

  19. Blaise Aboh

    March 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Not until we stop begging with out BOWL, and our leaders stop squandering tax payers money and money from our resources, we’ll still be where we are.
    I look at the picture of Korea 1990, China 1990, Nigeria 1990 and then the picture of these three countries in 2013 and its amazing how much development has come to Korea and China, and how much underdeveloped Nigeria still remains. Its appalling.

    African leaders spend without remorse, take for example their lavish hotel rooms whenever they go for international conventions while their international counterparts go for middle key rooms.

    We know our problem and it is who will bell the cat.

  20. Famolu Samuel B

    March 13, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I want to ask every one who has read this article:
    1. What will you do to change the status quo! (Dnt gimme d big talk tin) I knw it could be difficult buy impossible is not an answer.

    2. Everyman has a price, will your be above a couple of pay off, cash and car benefits, trips abroad?
    3. Will you tell the truth in Honesty to every one and ask same from our leaders?
    4. Will you do all things in the fear of God and fairness to man?

    I am ready to join you, in the walk to greatness! The Gates of our Nation must not fall! Growth is a must! God bless Nigeria.

  21. ada

    May 12, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Africa, my Africa! it will take time but we will get there. it has to begin from the grassroots though. our generation has to start the change. imagine fellow passengers staring when i do something as simple as putting my biscuit/sweet wrappers back in my bag instead of throwing them out of the bus or trying to dissuade a neighbour from throwing out her waste onto the street in the midnight…

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