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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Paradox of Bharat and Africa’s contributions to world leadership

The fourteen leaders from Europe and the United States at the 1884 Berlin Conference that carved up Africa would be surprised to find so many descendants of the colonies amongst their successors; however, the situation is far from unique. Myth and pop culture both romanticize characters who have risen from humble beginnings and history is peppered with prominent people from social, economic, political and geographic peripheries who rose to leadership at the center. 

Despite Rishi Sunak’s loss to Liz Truss for the position of Prime Minister, a conspicuous number of second-generation immigrants were promoted to the front bench.  James Cleverly was appointed Foreign Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Suella Braverman Home Secretary and Kemi Badenoch to Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade.  All were born in the UK, but their parents come from the former colonies. 

There is a similar collection of Bharatiya and African ethnicities amongst members of the opposition Liberal Party. Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron predicted almost a decade ago that it was only a matter of time before a UK-Indian would be appointed Prime Minister.  Across the Atlantic, US Vice President Kamala Harris is a second generation American. Harris’ mother was born in Bharat and her father in Jamaica of African descent.  It is well known that former US President Barack Obama’s father was Kenyan.

The colonial powers trafficked people around the globe to maximize the extraction of resources from the periphery. Over 12 million slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas and hundreds of thousands of people were moved from Bharat to Africa to work as laborers, administrators and artisans. Many former colonial states today import human resources from the peripheries to deal with the challenges of aged populations and falling fertility. 

Dramatic improvements in transport and communications has significantly increased the mobility of goods and services strengthening the global neo-liberal economy.  Wealth continues to concentrate at the centres of world power.  Economic immigrants to these centres integrate quickly and often excel–at least the initial generations. While the establishment of such diverse societies it not without challenges, North America and much of Europe are rapidly becoming more diverse and increasingly cosmopolitan. 

The trickle down of wealth from the centres back to the periphery that provides the moral basis for the Washington Consensus remains elusive.  Few if any of the leaders named above have contributed to the redistribution of resources. The International Monetary Fund’s (IMFs) criticism that Kwarteng’s budget adjustments fuel inequalities underscore this.

Obama’s links to the continent were weak and his powers within the US Government Administration to direct support to Africa limited.  Appealing to right wing elements of Britain’s Conservative Party, Ugandan born former British Home Secretary Priti Patel spearheaded Britain’s program to move asylum seekers to Rwanda under the Nationality and Borders Bill.  Described by many critics as cruel, the last on board invariably close the door hardest. 

While these leaders may have failed to contribute to the equitable redistribution of wealth, each of these leaders disrupt stereotypes. They provide shining examples of the potential of individuals from their respective ethnic and demographic groups–invaluable to their constituencies and the world in general.  As Obama’s first campaign slogan declared: “Yes, we can.”

South Asia and East Africa were undisputed jewels in the British Empire. To this day, Bharat and Africa have large and growing populations, virgin markets, and tremendous agricultural and mineral resources. Both regions are highly dynamic with phenomenal potential. 

Bharat’s economy is remarkably robust registering an average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 5.81 percent since 1951. Earlier this year the World Bank reduced the forecast for Bharat’s GDP growth through fiscal year 2022-23 from 8 per cent to 7.5 per cent indicating a recovery from the pre-pandemic real GDP levels against a global GDP growth of 2.9 percent.

Though largely peripheral to global markets, the social, economic and political dynamism of Africa is extraordinary. According to the World Bank, GDP growth across Africa was is projected at 4.1 percent in 2022. The focus continues on Africa’s tremendous natural resources, but the continent’s market is a more immediate commercial attraction. 

Africa has the fastest growing population in the world projected to reach 2.5 billion in 2050.  By 2100, one full third of the world’s population will be African.  Purchasing power parities are comparatively low, but the sheer volumes of goods and services consumed are already demonstrating exponential growth.  The consumer market combined with the continent’s resources represent phenomenal potential.

Agency is determined by structure.  Some western societies provide opportunities for talent to rise to the upper echelons of world leadership at the very centers of world power, but the benefits to Bharat, Africa and other countries at the periphery remain meagre.

-by Christopher Burke (He is the managing director of WMC Africa, a communications and advisory agency in Kampala, Uganda.  He has over 25 years’ experience working on communications, development, governance and peace in Asia and Africa.)

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