This blog has not been kind to rural Tanzania or Africa in general. From criticizing the people's flippant attitude toward money to oddities of everyday life, it has made no effort to conceal that fact that it has portrayed the locations where the author has resided and traveled to in an overwhelmingly negative light. In the process, much doubt is cast on the future of the continent, much in contrary to the more and more common thesis of "Africa Rising" narrative that is growing prominent in some quarters of popular media and academic world.
The author is highly conscious that these words that criticize the continent has been widely read among many of its residents. While some stories of "strange" everyday behaviors of its populations can be laughed off as novel or amusing, more serious topics of corruption, careless government spending, and other real obstacles to economic developments cannot be dismissed lightly. In a continent that has dramatically fallen behind nations of Asia and South America that were equally impoverished mere decades ago, to avoid digging into the reasons for such is equivalent to burying any possibilities of an African nation achieving developed status.
But the author is also fully conscious that his critical words is a tiny minority when it comes to discussions among non-Africans here in Africa. The vast majority of discussions here fall into two categories. The first is the "blindly dismissive," a group of supposed Africa know-it-alls who have no qualms about launching sweeping generalizations with "Africa will never develop because..." Any nuance about difference in histories and institutions among different African states are ignored. Their rants often sound more like complaints of their own dissatisfaction with their Africa experiences than helpful insights for others.
The second is the "overly idealistic." By putting enormous emphasis on Africa's suffering in the hands of colonials (never mind the fact that Asia and South America also suffered similarly), people of this group talk on the presumption that it is ludicrous to expect any African state to make it to the "developed" world within their own lifetimes. Moreover, the same people often also hold the view that Africa should not go down the same route of development as today's developed world should, citing overt materialism, ecological damages, and other socioeconomic issues from "back home" as something Africa can avoid.
For both of these groups, Africa exists merely as a caricature rather than a real place with real aspirations to perceived as economic equals to the rest of the world. For the former, the land is an enigmatic black hole where the worst of human behaviors assert themselves. For the latter, it is a place where human issues pales in comparison to unspoilt and overwhelming natural beauty that should not be altered. Both would agree that despite any external efforts to spur human and economic developments, it is simply ridiculous to expect an East Asian-style economic miracle occurring anytime soon in Africa.
It goes without saying that such black-and-white attitude among the expats on the ground is definitely not helpful for Africa's future economic growth. The reality is that this group of expats in Africa is probably the best hope humanity has in analyzing Africa's current issues. They reside on the continents for years, interacting with local populations and institutions daily, and come to understand the culture firsthand to see how they affect development. They are in a position to give genuinely objective assessments as they are not emotionally attached to the continent, making them less likely to be defensive to its failings.
Yet looking at more "thorough" analyses of Africa's developmental issues, many are authored by bookworm academics, "developmental experts," and professional analysts who either have never or have not for a long time lived on the continent. Their words and advices depend too much on academic theories, third-hand observations, or past personal experiences, most of which quickly become outdated and irrelevant in the ever-changing economic and political conditions of different African states. These are people that can never match resident expats in their understanding of the continent.
For the sake of truly developing Africa, it is time for non-Africans in Africa to step up their game in analyzing the continent. Tossing away their one-sided, idealistic biases of the place would be a great first step in achieving true objectiveness in their observation. Without non-Africans living in Africa participating in the drive to create concrete steps to move African countries into the developed world, a "developed African country" may not exist, neither in the current lifetimes of the continent's residents nor in future ones. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy that the author would not like to see fulfilled.
Image Credit: http://www.energy.soton.ac.uk/files/2015/05/IMG_8100.jpg