By Okot Nyormoi, Editor

African DiversityIt is often pointed out that Africa is the riches in natural resources. It is a fact that cannot be disputed. But then, the argument proceeds with a comparison with countries which are comparatively poor in natural resources. Look at South Korea. It had lower GDP than many African countries at independence but look at it now. The same, they argue, is also true of Singapore. Or they turn to size. How come tiny countries like Israel, and Japan are economically and technologically more advanced than African countries. So, what is wrong with Africa?

Obviously, this question has attracted many suitors like "Awili", the beautiful woman in an Acholi legend in Northern Uganda. Policy makers, religious people, racial analysts, Africans themselves, etc., come to try their luck. They have given various explanations in lectures, articles, books and in one-on-one conversations. However, many of the explanations are factually wrong because they are biased, based on ignorance or are deliberately intended to distort the facts to serve specific economic, political, national, or religious interests.

Here, the discussion will focus on one theory–racial superiority, used to explain the African situation. The colonialists and their associated religious organizations argued from the beginning that Africans are the evolutionary missing link between apes and humans. They religiously propagated the notion of African inferiority to other races. Pseudo-scientific studies, led by eugenics, were conducted to justify the ideology of racial superiority. The intelligence quotient (IQ) designed by the educational psychologist, Cyril Burt, was extensively used for informing educational policies. However, when the creator of the IQ test died in 1971, it was revealed that the whole scheme was based on fraudulent data. Yet the believers in the theory of racial superiority continue to whitewash the fraudulent results of the study. Of course, the fraud itself does not invalidate the fact that the IQ test does measure some aspect of intelligence.

Another controversial study was documented in a book, “The Bell Curve”, published in 1994 by two psychologists, Murray, and Herrnstein. Essentially, the book claimed that racial groups are inherently different in intelligence. Again, the study was criticized for not just the methodology used and the validity of the results but also for some troubling ethical and moral questions it raised based on its utility to justify racial discrimination by white supremacist groups. Unfortunately, the interest to find a genetic basis for socio-economic differences still persists up to now and continues to be studied. To show how complicated and controversial the theory of genetic superiority is, Psychology Wiki gives a comprehensive summary of the history of the race and intelligence controversy. While the scientific study of human variation is important, the utility of the results of such studies often raises troubling political, moral, and ethical questions.

It is now generally accepted that human intelligence is complex, and it is determined by both genetic as well as environmental factors. While it may be easy to understand how it works within individuals, it is more complicated when groups of individuals are concerned. So far, it has been difficult  to know how much of intelligence is determined by the genes inherited from parents or by the environment in which one lives.

In any case, because of enlightenment and empowerment, many institutions across the world are now removing monuments erected in honor of leaders who benefited from espousing the ideology of racial superiority at the expense of the victims. In Europe, King Leopold II of Belgium  is a prime example. In the USA, my own alma mater, Indiana University, changed the name of its Biology Department building from Jordan Hall, its former President, David Starr Jordan, because he was a staunch advocate of the eugenic ideology. Princeton University renamed a building previously named after President Woodrow Wilson because he was a racial segregationist. There are many other higher institutions of learning which are doing the same.

To come back to why countries like South Korea, Japan, Israel have developed whereas African countries have not, one factor need to be considered. Though Israel is a tiny country, it gets much more annual support from the developed countries than the whole of Africa combined despite its lack of natural resources which developed countries can exploit. This is partly because of the many wealthy Jewish people who live in Europe and America, and because of the effort to atone for the Jewish  holocaust during World War II. Furthermore, Israel is strategically located among countries which have generally not been allied to Western countries. Israel is a good listening post. For that, it gets lots of support.

Japan was the only country  which was attacked by two atomic bombs during World War II. To atone for this horrific event, the USA invested a lot of resources in Japan. Likewise, South Korea was the USA spoil of war during the Cold war. To compare capitalism versus communism, the USA poured a lot of resources in South Korea to make it look better than North Korea which was under the control of the then Soviet Union.

Lastly, Singapore was recognized by the British colonialists for its strategic military as well as commercial value. Consequently, the British invested heavily in it compared to what they did in some landlocked countries in the middle of an African forest or desert. Since then, Singapore has become a major shipping hub and a tax haven for the wealthy of the world, much like Lebanon used to be until things fell apart.

One can go on and on to examine the history of each country to understand how it came to be what it is today. Otherwise, drawing conclusions about the developmental state of Africa based on superficial or false comparison with other countries will not adequately explain the developmental differences between them.