Abolaji Kazeem Olalekan: SYPALA 2015 and Africa’s Path to Development

The IMANI Center for Policy and Education, a Ghana-based Think-Tank, organizes the Student and Young Professional African Liberty Academy (SYPALA), an annual symposium for students and young individuals in Africa. The symposium is part of the Center’s vision of ‘training a new crop of visionary African leaders who will carry the torch of prosperity and blaze the trail for a free Africa’. The Business School of the prestigious University of Ghana hosted the 2015 edition of the symposium, between August 25 and 29, with 40 participants, 12 speakers, and one theme, ‘Africa is rising, where is the evidence?’ Eleven delegates represented Nigeria in the symposium. Earlier in August, AfricanLiberty, a subsidiary of Atlas Economic Research Foundation, called for essay entries for the topic, ‘Economic Liberalization: Path to Nigeria’s Economic Development’, and the winners, of which I am one, made up the delegation from Nigeria.

Here are some lessons I learnt from the programme:

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On Corruption

Corruption is rife in Africa, to the extent that some of the most corrupt leaders agree with the fact; and the consequence for development and good governance in Africa, to put it mildly, is more tragic than funny. Africa, indeed, is a classic example of how institutionalized venality, carried out with complete impunity, can sink a continent. And, despite several efforts to control it, it remains a major problem to any prospect of prosperity. Japheth Omojuwa explained the causes, effects, and solution to corruption in Africa, drawing extensively from the Nigerian experience. In Nigeria, everybody shares the burden of corrupt practices, as a victim or perpetrator, to the extent that everybody seems to know the solution. In this regard, Omojuwa’s diagnosis buttressed what we know, what we don’t, and what we need to do.

The banality of impunity is, essentially, the driving force of corruption in Nigeria, as in other countries in Africa; and, any act of corruption that goes unpunished will, almost by definition, engender more. With time, the circle of corruption reproduces itself. As such, Omojuwa warned, and I agree, that the battle for a corruption-free Africa must be pro-active, not passive: anti-corruption policies in Africa, to be successful, need to shift from the usual reactionary, fire-fighter method, and focus on how to create a broad scheme that rest on fighting incentives for corruption. Open-ended war against corruption is needed, then, in which everybody, not just the government, sees and understands the myth of development in a corruption-ridden Africa.

On Sustainable Development Goals

On the fourth day, August 26, Yaw Adu Gyamfi, a Ghanaian social innovator and public speaker, who, no surprise, co-founded the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) in Ghana, talked on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—and what it means for the proposed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Africa.

By the end of 2015, MDGs will hand over to SDGs as the blueprint for engendering international development, what can we learn from 15years of MDG that can benefit the framing of SDGs? Active indigenous participation. Africans need to wake up to the reality of the problems embattling the continent. A set of goals, such as MDGs and SDGs, require determination and dedication of the beneficiaries for any chance of success. But, one can ask, where is the ‘determination’ and ‘dedication’ in a continent where political elite compete for the trophy of the most corrupt? Or what is the prospect of prosperity in a continent where it is easier to pay bribe than start a new business? People that criticize MDGs usually miss the point that it is a call for action, not an imposition, or denial, of responsibility; MDGs offer, as SDGs will, a set of goals governments in Africa need to dedicate their resources and energy. Individuals, private organizations, and governments must act in their respective capacities to actualize the goals.

On The Tripartite Solution

Yes, the solution to Africa’s development crisis lies in the tripartite solution: Democracy, economic liberalization, and good governance. The history of Africa is punctuated with how some political leaders attempted to have good governance without economic liberalization and good governance. Some wanted effective democracy under a regulated economy. This pattern of thinking was prominent in the 70s and 80s, and they were not more successful than any attempt to make an elephant out of a mosquito. In Africa, third wave democratization began in the 90s, but democracy was not in sight, neither was economic liberalization and good governance. Even today, democracy, economic liberalization, and good governance are not the defining characteristics of most countries in Africa, despite the need for development.

Sydney Casely-Hayford, a Ghanaian social activist, lectured on good governance and efficient public goods. With breathing wit, soaked in timely humour, Sydney used Ghana to locate the faults in patterns of governance in Africa, how governments feed their people with the stories of the coming paradise while at the same time denying the factor that engender it. But the right answer is usually the simple answer: democracy, good governance, and economic liberalization are part of a whole, and until African states can harness and deploy them effectively, until Africa can move beyond the mimic men and their mimic promises, the much needed economic developments and political stability may occupy more space in our imagination than in reality.

Against Gradual Fatalism

The seminar ended where it started. Youth agenda. Each participant took charge of the podium for five minutes to share how s/he wanted to contribute to Africa’s success story. Such, such were the joys and enthusiasm. Ideas built on ideas and passion aligned with passion. Africa is the target, development the goal, and we, the youth, the agents. The potential is endless and the imagination boundless. From pushing the boundary of agro-business to breaking the jinx of gender inequality to fighting crimes with technology, participants understood the need to take charge of the wheel of development in Africa, and how individual actions can make a big difference. We left Accra with a crown of energy and passion to transform the Africa of our dreams into reality. SYPALA2015 honoured its objective.