Heart of Arts

Book Review: Africa and the Challenge of Underdevelopment

Honouring Professor Akinjide Osuntokun

(A review of Africa and the Challenge of Underdevelopment: A Festschrift in Honour of Akinjide Osuntokun)

Toyin Falola

On April 25, 2022, I confessed my desire for the personality and achievements of Professor Akinjide Osuntokun on the celebration of his eightieth birthday in a piece published by Tribune: https://tribuneonlineng.com/opinion-professor-akinjide-osuntokun-at-80-the-tour-de-force-life/. I stated that Osuntokun’s life exemplifies the Nigerian dream and desires despite the unfavourable odds. He was able to transcend beyond limitations and challenges and show the world that there is always strong hope for success when hard work meets determination. The trajectories of his life and career are full of lessons and inspiration. However, what strikes many is that he is not just one of the best historians in the country’s history but a patriot and leader.

As a citizen, Osuntokun feels discomfort when things are not right in the country, such as a parent’s discomfort for his or her disturbed child. This best depicts the love for the nation and the continent. He made this appropriate in his several criticisms and channelling his intellectual contributions towards the good of the nation and the continent. As a public commentator and historian, he consistently antagonized those factors that may jeopardize the nation’s and continent’s development, and when assigned some duties in service of the nation, his philosophies of what is expected of the society drove him through those stages. As an African intellectual, Osuntokun is notable for his firm stance on racial liberation and advocacy for Africa’s development.

So, when I saw this book written by fine scholars in honour of Professor Osuntokun, what attracted me the most was how relatable the topic is to the values that Osuntokun stands for. The book evokes a nostalgic feeling about his past achievements and activities, and bringing up issues threatening the continent’s development is certainly a discussion Osuntokun would welcome.

The writers of the different contributions that form this masterpiece have made a clarion call to Africans to pause, reflect on the past, evaluate the present, and think of future expectations. Today, the continent has the highest rate of people living in extreme poverty. We are faced with an unimaginable level of social unrest and security challenges. Numerous deficiencies, including the lack of infrastructural development, have defined the continent. What baffles thinkers like Osuntokun and others concerned about the continent’s state is that despite the available resources that even the West would like to plug into their abundance, the continent still wallows in such grave limitations and challenges.

I will always be a Pan-Africanist, but we also owe ourselves the truth. The nation has not done much for itself in contemporary history, and it is high time we started calling for answers and reeling out questions to those we should hold responsible. So, you will understand why I am glad that a collection of ideas like this will raise that conversation for us, guide us through the vision of our problems, and flash future possibilities in our faces.

The book lays the theoretical and philosophical foundations to understand Africa’s underdevelopment. The writers have done well to reiterate how the continent has squandered the potential that was capable of causing transformation for the people. Africa had its chances, but the cankerworms called politicians and other distractions made the continent lose focus on how to build the future, the consequences of which are evident in the contemporary lifestyles of the people. It also reminds us of Africa’s position in international relations and how the continent is gradually becoming a player in the plot developments in the grand stories of Europe and other parts of the world. Unfortunately, this problem conditions those relationships while the romance continues in different shades. Knowing a problem is the first step to a solution, but being the antagonist of a possible solution is like signing a long-term contract with misfortune. The book has shown how the continent quickly throws caution to the wind and is gradually quenching the light to guide our paths to a favourable future. The educational system in Africa is degenerating, and countries like Nigeria have not woken up to the urgency that is supposed to be attached to it. We know all these, so there is no need to remind the continent of the place of education in the scheme of things, but how do we awaken the continent to action? The book has provided reasonable thoughts and answers to these questions.

The book further explores the effect of how we relate to other parts of the world. It shows the reality of integrated and coordinated efforts towards development and some of the attempts of the continents at that. International interactions and collaborations in trade, security, economy, education, and other fields have shaped intra-continental interactions throughout African history and contemporary development. However, it has also highlighted how African nations have taken dangerous steps against one another and the effects of the same. Most importantly, the book examines foreign interests in the continent’s wealth, the new scramble for Africa disguised as aid but seeking oil and other trading opportunities, and the emerging neo-colonial effects on the continent’s state.

I cannot but agree with this book’s philosophical and contextual foundations. I also agree with the views that help the continent recognize the danger of a cracked wall where any reptile can creep in. What has the political environment got to do with the efforts toward the development of Africa? How have individual states attempted to solve their various problems, including unrest? Are some nations’ federalism policies for integration and peace kept in good faith? These are the evaluative questions this book has raised, and it has done well to lead minds through possible answers.

To understand underdevelopment, especially in the context of this book, one must realize that it touches both people and the environment. How people have been able to transition from one stage to the other, especially to an unfavourable position, denotes underdevelopment. Also, environmental degradation, a lack of sustainable protection of the atmosphere, and issues affecting livability form other parts of the concept of underdevelopment. This book has been able to outline these instances and treat each differently but explicitly.

Today, peace is becoming a luxury in Africa, and terror is gaining ground. South Sudan, Somalia, the CAR, Sudan, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, and many other African countries are positioning themselves as the epicentre of social unrest, insurrection, civil wars, coups, interethnic rivalry, political upheaval, terrorism, kidnapping, and other forms of insecurity that interfere with the processes of development. Someone once said it might get to the point where it would be easier to buy guns than clothes and other necessities. There is a sporadic circulation of firearms across the continent, especially among people who are not supposed to own firearms. All these will always make every nation lose sight of its ambitions and responsibilities, as attention is often diverted to other things.

Underdevelopment in African countries goes to the core of our existence and could threaten it. The development could be in the spheres of orientation as well as the well-being of the people. I agree that the African nations have been able to develop their ideas and cultures, which have long served the purposes of their respective societies, and ensured peaceful coexistence and respect. However, many of these convictions have long outlived their applicability as people constantly change. This touches on the position of women in Africa and other cultural issues. This book creates an engagement to evaluate the subjects of gender in African societies and their roles in development. I believe that if anything encourages us to see everyone as equal, regardless of gender, it should be the benefit of collectivity. If everyone made efforts towards development with equal opportunity to do so, maybe the continent would have been able to reach its much-desired goals.

In addition, aside from development as regards orientations, it is also reflective in the well beings of individuals. Unarguably, Africa has a reputable traditional and modern medical system drawn far back into history and responsible for the sustenance of human health and well-being. However, medical conditions have changed, and diseases previously unknown to African medical science and practices have emerged. After contact with other parts of the world, the continent started understanding the medical explanations behind some conditions that were thought to be curses or normal. But, while the advancement in knowledge has put the continent in a good light, has the continent been able to catch up with other medical developments around the world? In some parts of Africa, maybe a bit, we cannot boast that development is needed enough to solve most of the contemporary world’s critical issues. These are issues addressed in this book, and it does justice to the conversation.

Lastly, the book recognizes the importance of trade and commerce to the continent’s development. In all ramifications, national, intra-continental, and other international trades are pivotal to development. Recognizing this, the book has deemed it fit to explore issues surrounding the free flow of trade and commercial activities on the continent. With some of the recommendations and insights, the continent can explore options to turn around current situations.

I salute the initiative of the three editors—Olufunke Adeboye, Benjamin Anaemene, and Bernard B. Fyanka—in initiating and completing this book. I wish Professor Osuntokun a happy celebration and book launch on Tuesday, December 20, at the University of Lagos.

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