Decrying The African Predicament

By Charles Kwalonue Sunwabe, Jr.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 25, 2004

Arguably, the African Continent has made tremendous strides towards democratization, free market economy and economic reforms since the demise of the Cold War in 1991. Presidential and parliamentary elections are gradually becoming frequent---although, arguably, they are often rigged, and the electoral process is marked by fraud. The fact that imperfect, but regularly held elections are taking place in some African countries (i.e. Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Benin, etc.) is a step in the right direction. This was totally unheard of only ten years ago. Here in, I will attempt to identify some of the current realities of Africa’s problems and then provide some positive steps that can be taken to start to reverse this process.

In spite of the development that has taken place in Africa since the end of the Cold War, pundits, and some Afro-analysts believe that Africa still faces an uphill battle with bad governments, rampant corruption, nepotism, graft, wars and decreasing foreign direct investment. As the Economist Magazine averred, “in 1999, a fifth of all Africans lived in countries battered by wars, mostly civil ones”. Accordingly, the situation has improved slightly---conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the recurring border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been tentatively resolved. Former Liberian President and West Africa’s principal warmonger, Charles Taylor has been exiled to Nigeria as well.

However, there have been new eruptions in Ivory Coast and western Sudan. Arguably, the root causes of Africa’s woes have not been addressed in political terms---in countries where marginal gains have been made in conflict resolution, the risk of renewed conflicts are plentiful. As the economist observes, “a study of the world’s civil war since 1990 found that the most important risk factors were poverty, low economic growth, and a high dependence on natural resources such as oil or diamonds. Africa’s wars certainly seem to support this theory” (The Economist January 2004 p; 8).

Poverty and diminishing economic growth precipitated by corruption and declining foreign investment remain ubiquitous in modern Africa. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair notes, "Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer in the last 25 years”. Mr. Blair who launched an “African Commission” on February 26, 2004 to help revive Africa’s crippling economy maintains that, "Its (Africa) share of world trade has halved in a generation and it receives less than 1% of direct foreign investment… Forty-four million children do not go to school, millions die through famine or disease or conflict and Africa risks being left even further behind" (BBC News 2004p; 1).

Critics maintain that the success of Mr. Blair’s ambitious African Commissions depends largely on the rehabilitation of African medical institutions, and the expansion of much needed medical services to include remote parts of the continent. The reasons for this assertion are not difficult to discern: “AIDS has hit Africa like a never ending hurricane”. Rough figure from the United Nations puts the number of Africans carrying the virus that causes AIDS at an alarming 25-28 million Africans. “Some 3m-4m were freshly infected last year, and between 2.2m-2.4m died…in southern and eastern Africa, between a fifth and third Africans are infected; in Botswana and Swaziland a staggering 39% area”(The Economist January 2004p;8).

There are direct links between the AIDS pandemic and economic development. As the BBC economics editor, Evans Davis notes, “It only became apparent in the 1990s that HIV/Aids is a significant economic issue. . .in the developed world, as new treatments emerged, health systems had to face the costs of purchasing them”(BBC news December 3, 2003 p;1). The costly HIV medication can drain national coffers, and force governments from developing countries to abandon essential development programs. In the African context, healthcare spending is already at a dismal low----the only rare exception is Botswana (a tiny and economically thriving African country) that spends $ 358 per person on healthcare each year. Most African countries spend far too less: Angola $52, Nigeria 15 and Zambia 29. Note that Angola and Nigeria are oil rich African countries---yet their healthcare spending is disgraceful.

The availability of trained healthcare practitioners ensures the safe administration of medication and the delivery of essential medical treatments. In modern Africa, healthcare systems and medical institutions face serious healthcare delivery problems: trained healthcare practitioners are fleeing the continent to seek better wages and predictable working environment in the western hemisphere. These African doctors and nurses can be seen across Europe and in all fifty states of these United States of America. On February 4, 2003, this author encountered two lamenting African doctors (a Nigerian and an Ethiopian) at the Washington DC campus of the American test prep giant, Kaplan. The two African doctors were decrying what they unanimously called “the abandonment of Africa’s healthcare system by some irresponsible government”. The doctors’ worst fear is that the exodus of African doctors would continue unabated, resulting in the total collapse of what is left of the African healthcare system----the brain drain is on and Africa has itself to blame.

Worse yet, Africa finds itself in a serious foreign debt crisis. By some account, Africa is floundering in a serious debt crisis---the African Continent is the most indebted in the world. Some African countries spend far more on debt servicing than they do on healthcare, education and cardinal social services. Afro-reform programs such as the one recently purposed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, can only be efficacious if conditional debt cancellations are included.

The conundrums Africa finds itself in are unnecessary---this continent is endowed with myriads of resources that can be used (wisely) to reverse the negative economic conditions prevailing. For instance, 40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric power supply, 30 percent of uranium in the non communist world; 50 percent of world’s gold deposit, 90 percent world’s cobalt; 40 percent of the world’s platinum; 8 percent of the world’s natural gas deposit and tens of thousands of various species of biodiversity and millions of arable land can be found in Africa (Lamb, 1983, 20).

How can such a mineral abundant continent be so impoverished? And, where did things fall apart in Africa? No one African or a group of Africans has been able to provide all of the answers--there are plethoras of answers out there. Often, our opinions (as Africans) are based on or shaped by our professional, scholarly, and academic associations. As a “guided Afro-Internalist”, I attribute the vast majority of our problems to internal factors--- our leadership from independence to present has for the most part, failed us. This assertion is in no way a blanket deprecation of Africa’s founding fathers - light is simply being shared on some of their shortcomings.

The absence of visible political pluralism in modern Africa has been cited as one of the causes of Africa’s woes. An authoritative examination of autocracy/authoritarianism in Africa points to a painful pre-colonial, colonial and independence past--- contemporary and past African leaders have failed to cultivate predictable democracy in Africa. The west and the east have also supported irresponsible military regimes and dictatorial leaders in Africa. Arguably, Africa’s initial attempt at democratization proved futile---rancorous debate ensued, rendering the prospects for multiparty African democracy impossible. As the Economist asserts, “Mobutu Sese Seko, ruler of Zaire (Congo) 1965-1997 was the archetype. Bluntly declaring…democracy is not for Africa…he ruled by decree, jailed his opposition, grabbed foreign businesses …among the elite (The Economist January 2004 p; 5). Former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah denounced democracy in (1965) as an “imperialistic dogma” (Africa in Chaos 1998 p; 92).

When personal rule, mismanagement of public funds and nepotism reached alarming zenith in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the behemoth and extremely oppressive African Army stepped onto the political
scene---almost three decades of military coups and counter coups were experienced. To bolster this point, the Economist states that, “in 1960-79, a total of 59 African rulers were toppled or assassinated. Only three retired peacefully, and not one was voted out of office” (The Economist January 2004 p; 5).
Lamentably, the various African military regimes of 1960s-80s were incompetent, erratic, self enriching and extremely dysfunctional. They employed divisive and ethnically driven tactics to terrorize entire African populations, particularly (some) morally driven African intellectuals who refused to collude or endorse their debilitating mis-rule.

During this period, the governments presided over by the reining military vagabonds of Africa were nothing more than a conglomeration of “tribal surrogates and intellectual derelicts”. The regimented military buffoons and their carefully handpicked spokespersons had Africa to themselves. Even then, the continent was thoroughly plundered! Please see Dr. George Ayittey’s Africa Betrayed (pages 244, 295, 296, etc., the entire volume shares light on the destructive roles some of our elites have played in adding dictators in Africa).

The military lackeys (some bad elites) and their military masters squandered, mismanaged scarce resources and cemented seeds of discord in individual African-states. The results of their cruel and malevolence campaigns remain visible today: emaciated babies, multiple rape victims, dilapidated cities, rampant corruption, ethnic tensions, and crushing debt burdens. See Dr. Ayittey’s Indigenous African Institutions (1980 reprinted in 1990), Africa in Chaos (1990); Karl Maier’s This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria (2001), Mark Huband’s The Skull Beneath The Skin-Africa After The Cold War (2001), and Bill Berkley’s The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe And Power In The Heart of Africa (please pay attention to Chapter 5: Three PhDs and a new kind of African leader).

I have painted a bleak picture of Africa’s position in today’s increasingly revolving world. The picture I have painted here is poignant, disturbing and melancholic. And, it should be clear to us all that we (Africans )are in an appalling predicament----surmounting one of our problems means that we would have to immediately confront another one. Worse yet, we do not have the material and capital means necessary to remedy our woes. At best, we find ourselves in a (where to start, how to start) situation.

Of course, our leadership has had plenty of solutions for our conundrums-----the only sad thing is that the African leadership purposed solutions are “well concocted duplicity” that borders on empty proclamations and grandeur publications. At best, some of our recent solutions to the dilating African predicament have not only fallen short of the ultimate desire of the African masses, but have shamefully insulated and protected thieves, hoodlums and hooligans to the detriment of genuine and sustainable reforms.

The biggest reform (effort) in Africa nowadays is the ever ubiquitous “African Commissions of Inquiries”. Since 1960, almost every African country has experimented with a commission of inquiry. Time and again, the results have been the same: more lies, empty and broken promises, charades, and rubbish. The deplorable composition of African Commissions of Inquiries has been cited for the dismal performances, inadequate findings and impractical recommendations that have become synonymous with African Commissions of Inquiries. These commissions are mere pet projects of warlords, nefarious politicians and corrupt elites designed to obfuscate reality and divert public attention. The composition of the commissions is where the problems lie----dubious characters and surrogates of Africa’s political bandits often find their way on these commissions. From 2002-04, we have had commissions of inquiries in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya and now Liberia---we are all at liberty to monitor the progress of these commissions.

Please note that I’m in no way being negative but we must face reality! The sad fact is that the performances of the various African Commissions of Inquiries have been abominable to say the least. With all of that said, I’M HOPEFUL that a better, vivacious, ebullient and energized Africa is on the horizon. In this view, I want to offer my limited opinions on how we Africans can proceed given the sordid nature of events prevailing on our continent.

The plethora of problems Africa faces point in one direction: a continent in need of leadership---a leadership that will envision, strategize, and develop practical and long term solutions to Africa’s predicaments. Africa’s problems were not created within a day’s time---they are the results of prolonged periods of gross malfeasance and pure economic mismanagement. The solutions are visionary long term planning; predicated on “altruistic and people oriented leadership”.

Here is how Africa can arrive at altruistic and people oriented leadership: as a matter of practical-political reform initiative, the various political figures and personalities vying for president in individual African states should be put through “intensive background investigation”. This needs to be done by an independent “International Commission of Inquiry”. The commission’s membership should consists of international experts, notably UN officials, African university and high school students, peasants, members of the various African Electoral Commissions, representatives of international financial institutions, friends of Africa (mainly former peace corps), reputable African University professors, etc,.

The commission should focus on a variety of questions or issues: where has presidential candidate A, B, C, or D worked prior to the declaration of interest in a given African presidency? Did the individual perform a particular (or every duty) with professionalism? What is the source of the person’s existing wealth? Is the person known to be exposed to venal ethnic politics or tribal pandering? Who are the person’s associates? Does the person’s character and past working records demonstrate that if elected, he or she is likely to impartially enforce the laws of a particular African state? Has the individual been exposed to the venal corruption disease or have a criminal record?

The proposed commission needs to move beyond the presidency to include all elected officials, appointed ministries and judges, be it African Supreme Court Justices or those of various African circuit courts. The work and findings of the proposed commission should be made public and the commission should be granted the authority to make recommendations regarding whether or not a particular individual possesses the character and qualifications to serve, occupy and function as a president, a minister, or a judge. Individuals who are guilty of or prone to any of the aforementioned negative vices should be precluded permanently from occupying national offices---such individuals can look for job elsewhere in the private sectors. That is, if they can convince private employers that they have overcome corruption and the immoral preoccupation with theft.

I’m aware that the maintenance and function of the proposed commission could be immensely expensive. Here is how I would pay for it: I would entreat the international community to set aside some of the supplemental budgetary funds given to African-states annually for the operation of the commission. Some might be tempted to assert that by diverting funds from the aid for Africa, my proposal actually hurts Africa more than it helps.

To this charge, I would be inclined to say that supplementary budgetary assistance received by some African Governments is often mismanaged, or used to purchase weapons that terrorize African populations ---in some cases; the funds are used for the maintenance of warlords’ military regime, or their recklessly irresponsible incumbent administration. In the case of Uganda, donors have repeatedly accused the Yoweri Museveni regime of using foreign aid on military spending rather than for needed development ---some of the donors have even threatened to cut aid unless President Museveni reverse course (BBC NEWS).

Well, my time is far spent, and I must stop here to allow myself enough time to write and voice my opinion on the revolving debates regarding the need for a war crime tribunal for Liberia. Before I do that, I want to make clear (here) that I’m simply proposing one way forward for Africa. I hope that you will consider this imperfect proposal, think about it and advance it in a more perfect form. It is important that you and other African writers continue to make valuable contributions to the reformation of Africa. One day, somehow, we Africans will get to our own Promised Land. Let the struggle for Liberation in greater Africa continue!