How to save Africa

OK, hand me some wraparound shades and teach me an Irish accent. As Live8 prepares to divert yet more millions into a few Swiss bank accounts, and the continent itself lurches from drama to crisis in a hundred hotspots, I’ve come up with a plan that’d make Africa a peaceful, economically strong continent in less than a generation. It’s so simple in principle it’s bound to work.

Here’s the plan – the whole plan – put women in charge of the African continent.

That’s it. That’s all of it. NATO does some artful bargaining to get China and India on its side, then says ‘enough’ to this festering scab on the globe and points some nuclear-tipped bargaining chips south. It gets written into every constitution from Cairo to Cape Town: any African leader must be a woman; all MPs, senior civil servants, and village elders must be female; girls get first dibs on schooling, healthcare, access to credit, and control over household income.

Men aren’t deleted from the plan; they just can’t assume certain roles. They’re put under control of the women, which is where they belong. Africa’s men have failed their continent so spectacularly they can hardly expect any more privileges.

Putting women in charge would be illegal, presumptive, and against every human right you can think of. In other words, it’s about as justifiable as… Iraq. So definitely do-able. And unlike Iraq, it’d bring solid advantages on a short timescale. Just think:

Everybody would eat. Women, particularly African women, have a relationship with food and the earth that men don’t share. Women in Africa already do the work of getting good food to come out of the harsh ground; put them in charge, and they’d make sure it got to the tables too.

All wars would stop tomorrow. Mothers don’t wage war. (When you’ve experienced a human being actually leaving your body, you have a somewhat different perspective on sending anyone else’s kid to die.) The rivers of blood in the Congo would dry up; Ethiopians and Eritreans would stop glaring at each other across the freshly-drawn border and go home.

Africa would stop running deficits. If there’s one thing women with families know how to do, it’s balance a budget. With no war, the guns and bombs that swallow what little GDP is left over from the kickbacks would stop. $40bn in debt relief is nothing compared to what half a billion women could do in a year.

Men would learn to behave. Across vast tracts of Africa, it’s the women who hold communities together while their feckless menfolk drink hooch and play cards. These men have given up. But women have greater depth of resolve when they’re absolutely at rock-bottom; they’re more capable of pulling themselves up from nothing. And if women had the power to enforce simple policies of their own – withholding sex without fear, withholding beer money, imposing curfews and requiring work – the worst half of the African population would get its act together.

The era of the Raybanned dictator would be over. Even moderate African leaders get the ‘Big Man of Africa’ disease when they seize power – instantly they’re driving around in motorcades and building million-dollar haciendas out of government funds. Can you imagine any woman doing that? I can’t. For all the power she wielded, Margaret Thatcher remained a public servant, unlike El Presidente Tony Blair.

The corruption would nosedive. Let’s face it, it can’t get any worse: in Nigeria corruption has reached 100%. You simply can’t get anything done without cash under the table. And it bleeds opportunity, lets investment slide away, lets infrastructure crumble into dust. But women have understandings. They make – and expect – agreements to be honoured. An African man sees a pipeline heading over the border, and thinks of his Swiss bank account. An African woman looks at that pipeline, and wants to know why everyone’s forced to buy imported oil.

The money would start working. In the poorest parts of Africa, women are the breadwinners. The most developmentally successful financial institutions are those making ‘microloans’ of less than $100, often to buy a single cow that can bring livelihood – and the most successful of these banks lends only to women. The endless gorging of misdirected billions that’s a signature of this disastrous continent would stop.

The borders would start healing. Let’s face it, much of Africa is a map of convenience drawn up by Europeans. Somalia should be 2 nations, Kenya at least 4, and it’s anyone’s guess how many nations really exist within Nigeria. (20 at min?) Conversely, plenty of little patches west and centre have no basis for independent existence. Women would redraw Africa’s borders to where they really were all along: linguistic, cultural, and tribal groups except where there’s a mountain in the way. And because it’s being done by women, it’d be peaceful all the way.

So that’s my plan. And once on track, there’s no limit to what Africa could achieve. The big projects would get a lot easier if political and economic stability could be achieved: : a tiny fraction of the Sahara paved with solar panels would supply all Earth’s energy needs, without pollution, forever. And that’d just be the start.

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