In 2017, YNaija committed a big part of its time and resources towards carefully documenting the big stories happening in the country and on the continent and highlighting the efforts of young Nigerians and Africans challenging the tired narratives around the continent through personal achievement and social good. Sometimes these stories are forgotten, buried under the avalanche of a year’s worth of news reporting and spot analyses we
Our reporting has been diverse and extensive, and we have chosen to start our reporting in 2018 by returning to these stories, to remind ourselves and our readers just how much ground was covered in 2017 and reaffirm the level of quality and care we commit to telling our stories in 2018.
We hope they resonate with you now, as well as they did when they were first published.
I’m still looking for who or what to blame for Africa’s backwardness. In my last post, I blamed colonialists for stopping us killing ourselves to glory and universal suffrage for inflicting Dino Melaye on us.
Today I have another culprit — fighting the wrong type of wars.
Nobody can look at Africa and say the continent is too peaceful. Africa does not lack wars or conflicts. What it lacks is the correct type of war.
Think of all the big wars and conflicts in Africa in the last couple of generations. The Biafran war, the Liberian war, Sierra Leone civil war, the numerous wars in Congo, the Angolan war, the Sudan war, the Somalian war. And so on. There is a theme to these African wars — they are almost always conflicts within a country i.e. different parts of the same country at war with itself. Civil wars are the wrong type of war to fight.
War Is Good
If Africa wants to develop, African countries need to start fighting with other African countries. This is the correct way to fight wars for development. There are a lot of benefits. The most obvious is that it speeds up technological advancement. Here is Professor Tyler Cowen discussing the issue in 2014:
Counterintuitive though it may sound, the greater peacefulness of the world may make the attainment of higher rates of economic growth less urgent and thus less likely. This view does not claim that fighting wars improves economies, as of course the actual conflict brings death and destruction. The claim is also distinct from the Keynesian argument that preparing for war lifts government spending and puts people to work. Rather, the very possibility of war focuses the attention of governments on getting some basic decisions right — whether investing in science or simply liberalizing the economy. Such focus ends up improving a nation’s longer-run prospects.
It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.
For a practical illustration of the point above, here is an excerpt from a recent article in The Economist about China’s first aircraft carrier:
Commissioning the Liaoning was a good way to start. Much modified and fettled by the Chinese, the ship is based on the Soviet Kuznetsov-class design. It is big, with a displacement of about 60,000 tons, but nowhere near the size of America’s super-carriers such as the USS Ronald Reagan, which is based in Japan. That Nimitz-class ship displaces around 100,000 tons.
In other ways, too, the Liaoning pales in comparison with America’s 10 Nimitz-class carriers. They can carry more than 55 fixed-wing aircraft. The Liaoning can only handle 24 J-15s (based on the Russian Sukhoi SU-33) and a handful of helicopters. Unlike the American carriers, itlacks a catapult to propel aircraft from its deck. Instead it relies on a “ski-jump” prow to provide extra lift. As a result, the J-15s have to carry a lighter load of weapons and fuel. Heavier, slower airborne early-warning and anti-submarine aircraft cannot take off from the Liaoning at all. That limits the type of missions the ship can perform and makes the vessel vulnerable when operating beyond the range of shore-based aircraft. The Liaoning also depends on a notoriously unreliable Soviet-era design for its steam turbines, which cuts its range and speed compared with the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class carriers.
China has come a very long in terms of modern military technology (it now sells weapons to countries in Africa), but look how far it still is behind America. It has just one steam powered carrier while America has 10 nuclear powered ones. (If the ‘nuclear navy’ interests you, read the wikipedia page of Admiral Rickover, a truly fascinating man).
How did America manage to move so far ahead militarily? A big part of the answer is the Cold War. It wasn’t even a ‘real’ war in that the USA and the USSR didn’t face off on a battlefield to settle the matter once and for all. The war they fought was even better — it made both sides paranoid and fearful. Since America didn’t really know everything the Soviets were capable of, they just ramped up as hard and fast as they could. The Soviets did the same thing — being a totalitarian state, they simply directed all resources to military development. This explains why Russia has more nuclear warheads than America even though its economy is smaller than that of New York.
It also explains why Pakistan and India are on that list. Just in case they need to wipe each other out at a moment’s notice, it is quicker to do it with nuclear weapons.
The added sugar for America is that it is a country with plenty of economic freedom. So when things were invented for the purpose of fighting Russia, that didn’t stop people from using that same technology for other commercial ventures. This is why America could invent the washing machine and Russia didn’t even though they had the technology:
To give a concrete example: to run tractor wheels, or tank tracks, properly you must be able to make ball bearings. They’re the crucial and essential technology to really power the whole wheeled transport thing. And the Soviet Union most certainly had ball bearing factories just as they had tractors and tanks. Being able to make ball bearings is also the essential technology you need to a washing machine or a tumble drier. And the Soviet Union never did make either of those despite having that basic technology. I’ve actually owned a Soviet washing machine and it didn’t wash and was hardly a machine (more like a bucket with a hand crank in it). So, what happened? In a planned economy we’ve got just the one filter through which all ideas must pass before they are tried. In a market economy we’ve a multiplicity of them. Once the idea of a drum, a ball bearing and an electric motor combined with water was hatched, it was obvious that a market economy would supply it in volume. Every household would want one. In a planned economy not so much — either people couldn’t see it, only men were the planners, maybe they were more fixated upon tractor production — doesn’t really matter why the idea was never tried. The fact is that it wasn’t. And this extends to all exploration of that available technological space.
Consider England and France. They are ‘friends’ today in the sense that they are not at war. But beginning from 1066 when William The Conqueror invaded England, they fought each other soooooo many times, inluding The Hundred Years War (even lasted longer than 100 years 1328–1453). Sometimes they were fighting each other in one place and fighting together against a common enemy somewhere else. The origins of the conflict are too long for a blog post about Africa, but suffice to say that, from an English point of view, the threat of being invaded by the French was an ever present one. Given that the country is an island, this led to the development of the Royal Navy which once dominated the world. Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean someone is not trying to kill you.
Beyond just military technology, fighting wars with another country increases jealousy. This has the effect of cultural development, too. England has been influenced greatly by France (language) and vice-versa (rugby). You can see this rivalry in the Republic of Letters — a long distance intellectual debate across Europe that sparked The Enlightenment.
Pan-Africanism Is Really Silly
One of the things you hear a lot is how Africa needs to be ‘united as one’. This is partly a reaction to the continent’s numerous conflicts and colonialism. The idea being, perhaps, that a united Africa will be difficult for outsiders to exploit. This is not just wrong, it is dangerous. Imagine a united Africa and then a wrong idea takes hold — there will be no way to test that idea (by someone else doing something different) until it has failed completely and collapsed on itself.
America went around the world fighting real and imagined enemies of freedom wherever it saw communism. Things are bad enough in Africa as it is with most leaders (and people) subscribing to the same ideas. Imagine the carnage in a continent united in foolishness.
What we need in Africa is proper rivalries. Countries that hate each other so deeply that they are ready to wipe themselves off the face of the earth if their presidents get a phone call at 3am in the morning saying ‘e don be!’. Oh yes. When countries are at war with themselves (internally) it creates so much division that echoes through the generations. Biafra is a case in point — there is still so much pain and hurt out there because the issues have never even been properly discussed let alone resolved. This is the kind of useless war that does no good for countries.
But imagine Nigeria fought that war against Cameroun instead after the Camerounians provoked Nigeria by dropping surprise bombs on Lagos one night. The Nigerian president addresses the country the next day promising that every single life will be avenged as we prepare for war with our neighbours. Do you think we will be doing seminars and having useless debates on what is the correct exchange rate for 2 years during such a period? The country will be suddenly united against this common enemy. The government might decide to sell war bonds to Nigerians to fund the war and you will see poor old women (who can’t fight) buying bonds with their small savings as their contribution to the war — boosting financial literacy and national unity at the same time.
When a country is united, it can do amazing things. The NHS was created in Britain after World War 2 when the country was almost totally united. Compare that with the hard time Obamacare has been getting in America — they have no real external enemies so it’s Democrats vs Republicans instead.
What we have instead is just one kind of lukewarm water situation. We are neighbours with Cameroun just because. We don’t trade with each other — Nigeria exports more to Sweden than to Cameroun — neither do we fight with each other. So what are we doing with each other really?
Giant of Africa?
Nigeria goes around Africa calling itself the Giant of Africa. The real problem is not that it makes such a stupid claim repeatedly. The issue is that no one seriously challenges her when she says it. Imagine if there was another large African country with 150 million proud people. They too call themselves the Giant of Africa. At the very least, Nigeria will be forced to back up such a claim with real achievements. Pride can be a useful fuel booster for advancement.
Instead, when Nigeria says this, some countries just accept it while the majority of countries just wait for Nigeria to turn its back and then either laugh at her or call her unprintable names. Now that we have twitter, Nigerians at least get abused directly. The Ghanaians insult our jollof rice while we complain that their skin is too dark. This happens every 3 months and it is now very boring. Imagine if the response was for Ghana to fire a missile at Abuja as a warning shot. That would be proper hatred that is useful, not phoney jollof wars.
Let Us Fight
Would Taiwan have come this far in terms of GDP per capita and technological development if it didn’t have a hostile China next door? Would China itself have come this far without a hostile Japan nearby? Was a siege mentality not a big part of how Lee Kuan Yew dragged Singapore to development by constantly telling them some enemy out there was going to invade them and make mince-meat of them?
We don’t need any more African unity in Africa. Scrap the African Union today. We need Zambia to send soldiers into Zimbabwe sparking a 20 year war between both countries. We need the presidents of Kenya and Uganda to be threatening launch missiles at each other on twitter every 6 weeks. Instead of ECOWAS and all those forced notions of unity, we need Ghana to send a war ship into Nigerian waters, test a missile and say it was just passing through. Then Acting President Osinbajo to send that war-ship the Americans gifted us into Ghanaian waters, too.
Paul Kagame has been doing this already by causing trouble in Congo, but the reality is that Congo doesn’t really need any external help — it is quite capable of being at war with itself indefinitely without anyone interfering.
Fighting external enemies will increase unity and allow people forget their differences while they face an external threat. It will help governments make decisions faster especially the ones for the national good. It will also help governments learn how to protect its citizens within its borders e.g designing and building underground bunkers. It will teach countries how to utilise scarce resources and prioritise usage/consumption because citizens will be more accepting. It will aid cultural development to the extent that we will be able to insult other countries with finer English and in more creative ways. You will also have better songs and better memory since you will have better incentives to remember the wars you fought with an external enemy especially the ones you won.
War is good. This is what Africa needs. But it has to be the correct type of war.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
*If after reading this post, you order a rifle online and start taunting a Ghanaian with the aim of starting a war, I will not be held responsible for your foolishness. As King Louis XIV — Le Roi Soleil- famously said — ‘Don’t believe everything you read on the internet so that you will not be unfortunate.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija