From the 1400s to the 1900s—a period of 500 years—a swarm of Euro-centric adventurer merchants, like a swarm of locusts, descended on Africa. This was the period that evidenced the (slave) trade in human cargo which, upon abolition, was replaced by mineral and agricultural commodity trade and finally land-grab and colonial rule. Most of the principals involved were in a desperate hunt for lucre. In order to raise capital for the journey, they told tales and made promises. The stories were spun around the beckoning lure of riches beyond dreams of avarice. They appealed to the greed-motivated lower angels of the investors and patrons of the journeys. When tens of thousands of people are parading through a territory as small as Western Europe selling the same story-line, the word is bound to get out.

The peddlers are a veritable who’s-who of European adventurist lore in Africa. The list includes slavers, adventurers/explorers and missionaries. Namely, Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Phillips, John Newton, Sir John Hawkins, the afore mentioned Jean de Béthencourt, Alvise Cadamosto, Antoniotto Usodimare, Cecil Rhodes, Richard and John Lander (aka the Lander Brothers), David Livingston, Walter Oudney and John Clapperton, etc. True to form, it brought out people willing to risk their lives. Many perished but also many achieved the objective of plundering for lucre. What was not discussed was the condition of the people being plundered. All that Europeans and later Americans knew is what they were sold: “Africa is rich and ripe for plucking.” The plunder-for-lucre mentality which attended the activities of Westerners was borne of a desperation to fulfill the promises made to their patrons on the one hand and the dreams of avarice inherent in the plunderers on the other. Cecil Rhodes is a good example of the scandalous murder and mayhem that adventurers visited on the people of Africa. The Right Reverend Bishop Tutu is quoted as saying that,“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

This brings us to the burning question of what and how do African leaders deal with the reality that no country in Africa is rich. The first step is to recognize that the perception that African countries are rich does not represent the reality. The reality is that African countries, in the main, sell the least value component in the matrix of the cost of goods produced from the commodities they sell to the world, including both metallurgical and agricultural. In many cases, it is compounded by the same countries which export the commodities having to import the finished goods produced from the commodities they exported. The former Central Banker of Nigeria, now Monarch of Kano, stated in a BBC HardTalk interview and I paraphrase: that although Nigeria is an exporter of crude oil, it is also a major importer of petroleum products derived from the crude oil it sells to the world. Virtually every African country is similarly challenged. That is why, recognizing and debunking the myth of wealth even as commodity prices increase, is the beginning of African countries and leaders developing the competitive edge that will enable them to create policies and actions which will engender a diversification away from commodities exports and usher in value-added manufacturing and processing for exports. This will facilitate engagement of the true wealth of all African countries: their people.

“Cecil Rhodes is a good example of the scandalous murder and mayhem that adventurers visited on the people of Africa. To quote the Right Reverend Bishop Tutu:“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we […]