Having lectured at various prestigious institutions, the likes of which include Harvard University, London School of African and Oriental Studies, London School of Economics, Wellesley College, and Cornell University, Ahmed I. Samatar was the founding Dean of Macalester’s Institute for Global Citizenship. There, he was a James Wallace Professor of International Studies and chair of the department. In his lengthy career, which included a bid for the Somali presidency, Samatar has published over forty articles and authored/coauthored/edited 5 books. He is also the founder
and editor in chief of Bildhaan, an International Journal of Somali Studies established in 2001 to accelerate public engagement in political discourse. His scholastic interests continue to focus on the state of Somalia, its leadership, and the relationship between globalization and religion.

The following is a summary of a lecture derived from Power and Development, a class he taught at Macalester College, that addresses the contradiction between the potential of Africa and the parallel pitfalls hindering development- what he considers to be the dialectic of development.

For me, the three words that capture the essence of Africa are strength and resilience in the face of long-term challenges, beauty in diversity and cultural expressions, and sorrow relating to the lack of safety and security. Contemporary African leaders and scholars need to invest in narrowing the gap between African resilience and beauty, as well as its sorrows.

Resilience and vitality of the population

Geologically, Africa is the oldest landmass where humans first learned to tame the environment. Constituting 54 countries, and with a little under2.4 billion people, Africa is the second-largest continent contributing 2.7 trillion dollars to the global economy. The three largest GDP nations on the continent are Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa accounting for 480, 363, and 320 billion dollars respectively. *[1] In terms of population density, Nigeria leads Africa with a population amounting to 210 million followed by Ethiopia with nearly 117 million people. More than 60% of the continent’s land is arable, though the quality of the soil is not as productive as the soil found in temperate regions. Africa is also immensely resource-rich housing 90% of the world’s chromium and platinum and 40% of the gold. With 70% of the continental population under 35 years of age, it has the fastest-growing population with more demands made for democracy from its emerging middle class. Accordingly, the management of civil life is improving as signs indicate better quality of governance. And of course, the cultural diversity of the continent is extraordinary

The continent’s sorrows

Africa has issues with governance. Though there has been some improvement, there are limited ethical and competent leaders. Thus, pervasive corruption is a signature tune of many African societies. Weak rule of law, regimes incapable of creating constitutional integrity, and weak political participation, though there are anomalies, result in shallow and fragile democracies with limited transparency and brittle institutions leading to a fractured state.

This instability is compounded by the effects of global warming on the already vulnerable high temperature and water-stressed communities. *[2] Traffic congestion and air pollution, have also changed the composition of cities. And
though the number of young people has potential for economic expansion, it can also be explosive if unemployment rates go unchecked.

…to a whole system of administration and leadership with no analytical skills. The way to combat this liability is through a healthy and educated youth population. Brain drain is another prominent issue.

For example, Somalia has 70% youth unemployment. The rate of unemployment combined with the lack of good quality education leads to a whole system of administration and leadership with no analytical skills. The way to combat this liability is through a healthy and educated youth population. Brain drain is another prominent issue. Foreign remittance does not compensate for the brain drain from Africa as many of our doctors and nurses peruse better lives elsewhere. Poor or obsolete infrastructure drains economies. Just looking at electrical infrastructure, there is a 2-3% GDP loss because certain growing industries don’t have consistent access to electricity, not to mention the 600 million Africans that do not have access to electricity. Similarly, the lack of oil refinery infrastructure in Nigeria has resulted in losses of around 8 billion dollars a year despite

Nigeria being the 6th largest producer of crude oil. Health, a key indicator of the quality of life, is not widely accessible. The COVID 19 pandemic exposed many of the issues with health care in Africa as even in the case of COVID 19, a global pandemic, only 16% of Africans have received a single dose of the vaccine. Moreover, 30% of Africans reside 30 minutes away from safe drinking water. Furthermore, the long-standing struggle against external domination of imperial and sub-imperial influences has played a critical role in political and economic matters. This is greatly emphasized by the African Union’s incapacity to build coalitions amongst member states.

Power is who gets what when, and how. I want to add a modification: who gets what, when, how, and who
gets left out. The capacity to get others to do something they don’t want to do is power.

With these pitfalls facing Africa, how do we close the gap between the assets and the challenges?
By understanding modernization and transformation – without destroying history or cultures. To do this, we have to educate the civil population to cut across cultural taboos, update public health care, industrialize per the environmental and economic needs of the 21st century, innovate and produce firstly for local consumption and bolster the industries designed for exporting goods.

The concept of Politics

Politics, inalienable from the human experience, has two faces or two dimensions for me. One face looks to enhance the dignity and well-being of people. The other face has to do with managing the deep and persistent conflict amongst members of societies. Plato tells us politics is about the harmonization of conflict – with its core politics being about justice. Thus, if politics is a tool used to restrain injustice within society, the state is necessary to build a just community and protect against threats and misery. The goals of politics are to ensure peace and security, create wealth, and facilitate freedom and justice for both individuals and society. So even if politics is fixed, it’s not static and can adapt to the growing needs of societies.

Aristotle similarly expresses that politics is the collective strive to bring virtue amongst citizens, in effect asking citizens to be actively engaged in politics to be happy and virtuous. In our modern world, this concept is actualized by the happiness index (Gross National Happiness index) developed by the King of Bhutan in the 1970s.

Power and Development

According to Harold Lasswell, Power is who gets what when, and how. I want to add a modification: who gets what, when, how, and who gets left out. The capacity to get others to do something they don’t want to do is power. There are four classical means of power; physical/military, economic*[3], administration and bureaucratic management, and cultural. What’s fascinating about cultural power, the power associated with ideas, information, and belief systems, is that itfosters the desire of others to be like you – in other words, sticky power. An example of this is Turkey’s 40 years of attempts to join the EU to no avail.

Power is who gets what when, and how. I want to add a modification: who gets what, when, how, and who gets left out. The capacity to get others to do something they don’t want to do is power.

The concept of development illustrates the engagement of the historical, present, and future of states as it relates to power and politics. Development can be a cruel and perpetual process but if successful can be massively beneficial. Amartya Sen, an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics claims that development is the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people little choice and opportunity to exercise their agency. An African scholar has described development as the expansion of choice articulated by the individual and collective. My definition is that development (a perpetual project) can massively transform economic, political, ecological, and cultural life, with all coordinated at the same time with emphasis placed on different components based on urgency.

What is the most important entity that embodies these concepts in a way that generates energy out of them and uses them to close the gap between potential and pitfalls?

It is the state. The greater the positive capacity of the state the greater the potential of the society to make changes. Particularly in developing societies like Ethiopia, the nature and quality of the state are greatly significant. Thus if the state is not a positive practitioner of politics and power, it undermines civil life. The difference between Asia and Africa is exemplified through the development of South Korea and Ghana. Both nations started on an even playing field in terms of quality of life. What differed in the past sixty years is the government’s commitment to providing quality education and restructuring the state to become an engine for economic growth.

[1] South Africa has the most sophisticated economy due to its early industrialization. The University of Cape Town was even the location of the first heart and kidney transplant surgeries on the continent.now when te
[2] Samatar predicts the greatest battles in the Middle East and North Africa will be over water and other issues spurred on by scarce resources.
[3] The key to this power is not providing money but rather withholding money or closing access to the means of acquiring money