If Nigeria is anything to go by, the African continent of some 800m people may be doomed to spend another generation or so in misery
The country is rich in resources — the United States may soon be getting a tenth of its oil from it—but most of its 140m-odd people languish in poverty. And yet their rotten leaders presume they have some kind of right, by virtue of their country's size and natural wealth, to strut the global stage as leaders of the continent. How wrong they are. Nigeria's new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, is tainted from the start. The elections at all levels should be held again — but of course they won't be. Any notion that Nigeria should be taken seriously as a continental spokesman, let alone a model, should be laughed out of court. But is Nigeria typical of Africa? And does its dismal performance as a would-be democracy cast a blight across the rest of Africa? The answer to both questions is no. Nigeria is not Africa. Over the past decade or so, the rest of the continent has on the whole been taking modest, belated but encouraging steps towards greater prosperity, security and democracy.
To be sure, there is a very long way to go. The African backdrop is still fairly bleak. Many features of this latest Nigerian farce, namely corruption and mismanagement, still scar many other parts of Africa. The post-colonial continent has hitherto been a colossal flop. The killer comparison is with Asia, where many countries suffered from the same colonial humiliations and rapacity that independent Africa customarily blamed for its early failings. According to the World Bank, real income per head in the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa between 1960 and 2005 rose on average by 25%, while it leapt 34 times faster in East Asia; countries like South Korea and Malaysia were once as poor as Ghana and Kenya. The excuse of colonialism wore out at least a generation ago — and Africans know it.
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