26 Oct 2012

Africa holds the key to own development

Professor Giles Mohan

Professor Giles Mohan

“We buy things like mobile phones; therefore we are indirectly responsible for some of the violence we see in South Africa or Zambia, even if we are not to blame for them.” A strong statement by Giles Mohan, Professor of International Development at The Open University, at his inaugural lecture on 24 October.

In Making space for African development, Professor Mohan outlined how development is not something that happens “over there”, but is closely linked to what we do. “We are all consumers of products made in China using minerals and commodities from Africa, therefore we are implicated in what happens in Africa.”

The series of violent incidents in Africa’s mines, including 34 deaths earlier this year at the Lonmin platinum mine in South Africa, was largely framed as a problem internal to the country with its legacy of apartheid. It is hardly ever mentioned that Lonmin is a UK company, and that pay rates for South African rock drillers were $400 per month compared to $2000 per shift for a similar operation in Australia.

“Countries like Zambia and South Africa are resource rich, but forced to take low-paid jobs, suffering damaging environmental impacts, and producing cash flows for wealthier countries. Resources have the possibility to bring development, but this has not happened. The challenge for governments in these countries is to harness their resources more for their own benefit.”

The rising power of China could provide opportunities for African governments and entrepreneurs, but the commodities boom won’t last indefinitely. The challenge therefore is to redistribute, re-invest and diversify, which requires a commitment to development by governments.

Professor Mohan also referred to Africans constructing their own welfare system through migrants working in Britain, but sending money back to support families in Africa. By focusing on international connections, it is clear that development in Africa is closely linked to Britain, for example the medical staff trained in Ghana and now working in UK hospitals, or taxi drivers and shopkeepers contributing to the UK economy.

“Development is not just an overseas aid activity supported by our taxes; it closely affects us in Britain. Africa’s position in the global economy is usually viewed from a western perspective, established during the colonial period. But ultimately Africans themselves hold the key to their own development,” Professor Mohan concluded.

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