George Unveils Africa's Profound backwardness
A BROKEN CONTINENT
Africa is a continent that seemingly defies analysis. Its prospects for the new millennium are grim. The least-developed region in the Third World while all other regions have made some, albeit difficult progress, sub-Saharan Africa continues to be mired in crushing debt, poverty, squalor and social destitution. Economic success stories in Africa are pitifully few.
War, disease, state terrorism and wanton carnage have devastated a continent that once had hope and continue to sap the vitality of its resilient people. (Senseless wars) have disrupted economic activity -- especially agriculture -- uprooted people, and sent refugees streaming across borders. Africa's refugee population has risen sharply in recent years.
These wars have nothing to do with Western slavery, colonialism or imperialism. Nor do they have anything to do with artificial colonial borders or ancient tribal rivalries.
These wars are over one thing -- POWER: Power to allocate resources to oneself, cronies and tribesmen; power to crush one's enemies; and power to perpetuate oneself in office.
Rebel soldiers do not seek to redraw colonial boundaries; they head straight to the capital city -- the seat of POWER. Nor is ethnic rivalry the determining factor in Africa's wars. Somalia is the most ethnically homogeous country in Africa. Yet it imploded. With the exception of the 1998-2000 Ethiopian-Eritrea war, virtually all of Africa's wars have been intra-state in origin and the basic cause of these wars have been African blatant racism along with the "politics of exclusion."
"Government," as it usually conceptualized, does not exist in many African countries. What exists is a "mafia state" -- a government hijacked by a platoon of crooks, bandits and scoundrels, who use the machinery of the state to enrich themselves, their cronies and kinsmen and exclude everyone else ("the politics of exclusion").
The richest people in Africa are heads of state and their cohorts of ministers. The chief bandit is often the head of state himself. Groups which are excluded from the gravy train eventually rebel. They may seek to remove the ruling vampire elites by force through a rebel insurgency (for example Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone); break away or secede (for example Biafra, 1967; Somaliland 1993); or vote with their feet to become refugees elsewhere. It should be obvious that the solution to all these senseless wars is the "politics of inclusion."
Across Africa, people have been subjected to the most heinous forms of brutality and oppression by their own leaders. Political tyranny reigns supreme on a continent that has more autocrats than any other region. Out of the 54 African countries, less than 15 are democratic. Some are in a perpetual state of transition to democratic rule.
The vast majority of Africans live under brutally repressive and undemocratic political regimes that deny them basic political freedom and exclude them -- through various acts of chicanery -- from effective participation in the electoral and the decision-making process. (Attacks on liberty) are rampant on a continent, whose leaders are intolerant of dissent and alternative viewpoints.
As if these were not enough, (the AIDS pandemic) is decimating Africa's labor force, posing a serious threat to the continent's economic recovery efforts. Africa has 70 percent of the world-wide cases of AIDS and has lost 12 million of its population to the disease.
It is a disease that has no cure and instead of focusing on PREVENTION through AIDS awareness education programs, African leaders choose to blame the West and a "racist plot," while spending their limited resources on weapons to suppress their people.
The post colonial story of Africa is not pretty; it is both sad and maddening. Sad because it is a continent plagued with calamity and never-ending crises. The scale of human misery and suffering is horrendous. This was not what its people asked for at independence from colonial rule in the 1960s. It is a truculently painful tale of betrayal of the freedom they fought so hard for.
Sandbrook (1993) gave a composite portrait of the typical African tyrant and how he rules:
In fact, true freedom and independence never came to much of Africa. Most Africans would affirm that, at independence in the 1960s, one set of masters was replaced by another set. Only the skin color changed and the brutal oppression and vapid exploitation of the African people continued unabated. Truth be told. In some countries, the incoming black administrations were worse than the colonial ones they replaced. This is no insidious attempt to justify colonialism but a statement of a painful fact.
Most Africa's nationalist leaders who took over after independence failed their people (Failed Leadership). The leadership that has rampaged across the continent has been a disgusting assortment of gaping black neo-colonialists, military buffoons, "Swiss Bank" socialists, quack revolutionaries, crocodile liberators -- ranging from Field Marshall Idi Amin, General Samuel Doe, General Mobutu Sese Seko, General Siad Barre to General Moussa Traore.
"Only socialism will save Africa," these leaders chanted in the 1960s. But the "socialism" they practiced was a peculiar form of "Swiss bank socialism" that allowed the head of state and a phalanx of kleptocrats and bandits to rape and plunder their African treasuries for deposit in Swiss and foreign banks (The Looting of Africa). According to one United Nations estimate, $200 billion or 90 percent of the sub-Saharan part of the continent's gross domestic product (much of it illicitly earned), was shipped to foreign banks in 1991 alone" (The New York Times, 4 February 1996, 4).
In ruining their continent, African leaders had help, not only from the West but also from Africa's own intellectuals (The Intellectuals) and the opposition (The Opposition). Another painful aspect of Africa's sad post colonial story is that, many of Africa's highly educated intellectuals, who should have known better, sold off their conscience, integrity and principles to serve as errand-boys of brutal despots with half their intelligence. Even Idi Amin could always find intellectual prostitutes to serve at his beck and call, as did General Samuel Doe and General Sani Abacha ("The Butcher of Abuja").
Political tyranny was also aided and abetted from a least expected quarter: Africa's opposition. In many countries, the tyrants succeeded in maintaining their grip on power, not so much because of their ingenuity but rather because of the hopelessness of the opposition. In country after country, the opposition is badly fragmented into factions, given to incessant squabbling and allowing the tyrant in power to exploit divisions in the opposition, play one faction against the other ("divide and conquer) and maintain his grip on power.
Susceptible to bribery and corruption, factional and opposition leaders can easily be co-opted or bought. It is nearly impossible to get opposition leaders to unite against a "common enemy." Such has been the case of rebel movements that set out to kick a brutal despot from power. Even before they accomplish their liberation mission, rebel movements often splinter into factions along tribal lines and turn their guns on themselves.
Such has been the experience of liberation movements in the 1960s in Angola (MPLA and UNITA); in the 1970s in Zimbabwe (ZANU and ZIPRA) and in the 1990s in Ethiopia (Eritreans, Oromos and Tigrayans), in Liberia (Charles Taylor and Roosevelt Johnson), in Somalia (United Somali Congress and Somali National Moverment), in South Africa (ANC and Inkatha) and in Sudan (Riak Machan and John Garang factions). Still, the opposition in many African countries remains splintered.
In 1994, 12 opposition parties were formed to challenge the ruling CCM's monopoly lock on power in Tanzania. With a divided opposition, the incumbent regime won handily. It was exactly the same story in Kenya for the December 1997 elections. Kenya's opposition parties numbered 26, which fielded 13 presidential candidates to challenge Moi. Imagine.
It also happened in Benin's 1990 election (only a second runoff election defeated Mathieu Kerekou) and in the Ivory Coast where 42 opposition parties were registered in 1994, although there was some election rigging. In Mali, 73 opposition parties were registered in 2001. Africa's despots never learn. Apparently, neither does the opposition. The strength or viability of democracy is not determined by the number of political parties in a country.
The African story is also maddening because there is no earthly reason why a continent, rich in mineral resources should be in such dire straits. Name the mineral and it can be found in Africa: gold, diamonds, titanium, palladium, col tan, oil, among others. But the mineral wealth of Africa has not been utilized to lift its people out of grinding poverty. Instead, mineral wealth has brought misery, ruin and pain. Angola, Chad, Congo, and Sierra Leone are some of the African countries where mineral wealth has turned into a curse.
Africans are angry (Angry African Voices). And they are determined to fight back and reclaim their continent from the black neo-colonialists, "Swiss bank" socialists and crocodile liberators, who have left economic devastation and human debris in their wake (Fighting Back). The modern leadership in much of Africa is a despicable disgrace to black people. The exceptions have been trenchantly few.
A leadership, characterized by arrant sloganeering, brutal repression and frenzied plunder, is a far cry from the type of leadership Africans have known under their chiefs and kings for centuries. Name one traditional African ruler who plundered the tribal treasury for deposit in Switzerland. The modern leaders have been a failure, not by Western or Eastern standards but by Africa's own indigenous standards.
The repulsive ignorance Africa's own nationalist leaders, lies at the root of Africa's woes. The Foundation seeks to restore to Africans their native freedoms: Their freedom to express their thoughts without harassment, their freedom of worship, their freedom to participate in the decision-making process; and their freedom to engage in what economic activities they choose.
The Free Africa Foundation also believes it is the systematic stripping away of these native freedoms that is largely responsible for the post colonial ruination of Africa. The continent is in a mess mainly because the economic, political and ideological systems imposed upon Africa by its nationalist leaders are alien to Africa's own indigenous systems. The result is a continent littered with the carcasses of borrowed or imported systems.
Thus, the democratic reform process, which gathered momentum after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, had stalled by the dawn of the new century. Addressing a press conference in London in April, 2000, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan “lambasted African leaders who have subverted democracy and lined their pockets with public funds, although he stopped short of naming names” (The African-American Observer, April 25-May 1, 2000; p.10).
REFERENCES It has been trendy -- and indeed politically correct -- to blame Africa's woes on external factors: Western colonialism, slavery, American imperialism, hostile and unjust international economic system, inadequate foreign aid, exploitation by greedy multi-national corporations, the IMF and the World Bank.
For more than three decades, this "blame-game" was a favorite sport of corrupt and incompetent African despots to conceal their own failures. While external factors have played a role, the Free Africa Foundation believes far greater emphasis should be placed on INTERNAL FACTORS (bad leadership, corruption, military vandalism, capital flight, senseless wars, brutal repression and exploitation of the African people).
The Foundation thus stresses "internal solutions" and believes most of the solutions to Africa's crises lie inside Africa itself (The Solutions). The West and foreign organizations can help but the initiative must come from Africa itself.
Even getting this viewpoint across has been an uphill battle. Whites who point out the foolish policies of African leaders are routinely denounced as "racists" and "colonial apologists." And blacks who do so are vilified, pilloried, and attacked as "traitors," and "Uncle Toms" -- for "washing Africa's dirty linen in public" and for "providing ammunition to racists."
These denunciations may be politically expedient but they defy common sense. The average intelligent person looks both ways before crossing a street, or risk being hit by a truck. Africa is in bandages because Africa's leaders and their allies looked only one way -- at the external factors.
African leaders may blame the West in whatever way they want but the West isn't going to come and solve Africa's problems. In fact, the international community, quite frankly, is fed up with the incessant whining, badgering and buffoonery of African leaders. Some African intellectuals may claim that it is the West that puts and props up these "bad leaders." And, therefore, it is the responsibility of the West to remove them.
Unfortunately, this argument, which has gained currency in African academic circles, defies logic. It should be obvious to even the uninitiated that if the West removes these despots, they will replace them with those that serve their (Western) interests. The fact is, foreigners do not go to Africa to advance the interests of Africans. Americans go to Africa to pursue their (American) interests -- just as the British, the French and the Russians do. Certainly, the Chinese don't go to Africa because they love black people so much. It is the height of insanity to expect foreigners to come and solve Africa's problems. Even if they do, they will do so to their (foreign) advantage.
Over the years, the positions taken by the Free Africa Foundation have thoroughly been vindicated (The Vindication). For example, the Foundation coined the expression, "African solutions for African problems," back in 1994 following the Somali debacle. Since then, the expression became the mantra of the Clinton administration and many African leaders. Furthermore, the Foundation has consistently argued that Africa's salvation lies in returning to roots and building upon its own indigenous institutions.
It is noteworthy that the essence of this dictum has not only been captured by the expression, African Renaissance, but it also underscored the ethos of the democratization movement in the early 1990s. The "sovereign national conference" was a vehicle that was used to make a peaceful democratic transition in Benin, Mali, South Africa, and Zambia. That vehicle was a modernization of the indigenous African institution of "village meeting."
We at the Free Africa Foundation do not expect everyone to agree with our viewpoints and positions. Those who disagree are free to do so but owe it as a duty to Africa to table better proposals and point Africa in the right direction. We believe strongly in freedom of expression. And the West did not invent that either.
George B.N. Ayittey, Ph.D.
President, The Free Africa Foundation, Distinguished Economist, American University Posted Thursday, October 12, 2000
Copyright ©2002 The Free Africa Foundation, All rights reserved. Designed by Zamtec.com Retrieved on Su. Jan. 12, 02
George B.N. Ayittey, a native of Ghana, is an associate professor of economics at The American University and president of The Free Africa Foundation, both in Washington, D.C.
Posted Thursday, October 12, 2000 Copyright ©2002 The Free Africa Foundation, All rights reserved. Designed by Zamtec.com
George Ayittey (b. in 1945)teaches economics at American University in Washington DC, USA