The same call was issued to “the parties” in Cote d’Ivoire and so on. “Let’s sleep on it” seems to be the word at the AU.
Another important matter on the agenda was the permanent seat opening at the Security Council. Nigeria and South Africa both want it, so does Egypt. The closing ceremony was cancelled at the last minute and there was no signed agreement on any issue.
As the year begins, Africa finds itself somehow where it stood 15 years ago, in 1990, when the wind of democracy blew on the continent and there was hope that things would change for the better. Good governance, accountability, human rights and other buzzwords were inserted in the political discourse. There was an air of freshness on the continent, somehow similar to the early 1960s’ when the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Modibo Keita and Sekou Toure promised a new dawn to their compatriots.
The early 1990s were marked by multi-party democracy. In Benin, Mali, Congo, and a few remarkable places “national sovereign conferences” forced dictators to cede most if not all of their powers to crowds of young political opponents. Even patriarch Houphouet Boigny was forced to accept multi-party system. Moussa Traore was overthrown by a mob of youth and labor movements and Prince Johnson’s rebels cut Samuel Doe into pieces and the great Leopard of Zaire was shakier than ever.
Wars, HIV/AIDS and Dictators
The end of the military dictatorship in the 1990s did not however open onto a new era of stability and prosperity. Civil wars and HIV/AIDS marked the 1990s and further marginalized the continent. The liberation of South Africa was somehow overshadowed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic that ran from Uganda to South Africa, decimating entire generations. The corridor of HIV/AIDS clearly establishes a link between instability and the spread of the disease. This corridor was also the corridor of guerilla warfare: South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda were all theatres of civil or liberation wars, with vast movements of population, lack of basic healthcare, destruction of family and cultural structures. So, as peace and liberation came to these countries, they were plunged into a nightmare of inhuman proportion.
Where HIV/AIDS did not make its mark, civil wars popped up, and paralyzed entire sub-regions. Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Sudan, Angola, Chad, Rwanda, and Burundi turned into burning bushes. Together, these wars would lead to the death of more Africans than ever since the end of the slave trade. The saddest part was that Africans did it all. Some got carried away but some are still alive and well and they have names like Charles Taylor, Jonas Savimbi, Blaise Compaore, Guillaume Soro, Foday Sankoh, Museveni, Kabila, Kaddafi and the list goes on. Although national in nature, these wars spilled into neighboring countries, as the Liberian war extended into Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire. The DRC war turned into a regional war with every neighboring country sending in troops into Mobutu-land. The economy of these regions suffered as a consequence. The resources of ECOWAS were strained in trying to solve the Liberian crisis and Nigeria alone spent more than $4 billion trying to contain the armies of Charles Taylor.
Besides the conflicts that consumed so many lives, so much energy and resources, the other debilitating and negative effect on growth and stability on the continent was caused by the ever-spiraling debt that most African nations owed to former colonial powers and international financial institutions. By international standards, these monies amount to very little. For example, the total amount owed by Liberia is just about $3 billion. The irony is that at the time Samuel Doe was killed, Liberia owed just about a $1 billion, therefore the balance is the compounded interest that has accumulated over the years while Liberians were killing each other. Recently, President Obasanjo gave the example of a $6 billion loan for which Nigeria paid $30 billion interest over the years… and still owes $5 billion! Mali owes even less than Liberia but the interest it pays on that debt is higher than the entire state payroll. Countries have to decide between building health care centers and schools and paying interest on the debt. They choose the latter because failing to “service the debt” is tantamount to strangulation and a possible coup or even a civil war. Morocco once tried to raise the price of bread, people rioted and hundreds were killed…
Combined with the effects of low prices of agricultural produces competing against subsidized markets of powerful nations, African economies are far from growing at any pace that would make a difference in the lives of the average man and woman on the continent.
According to the most recent figures released by the African Development bank at its annual meeting in Tunis, the average African economy grew by 4,7 percent, a very positive indicator. If African economies were stable and homegrown and not subjected to every minor flinch of the international market place where Africans have no voice, this could be a good sign. But Africans import more processed coffee while producing coffee, they import millions of tires while they produced rubber, they spend billions of dollars to import hundreds of thousands of cars and spare parts all made some place else. Burkina Faso export hundreds of tons of strawberry to Europe, while next-door, supermarkets in Abidjan import the same strawberries from Paris. Oranges, bananas and guavas rot on trees all over the continent but middle class Africans in every capital import packaged and pasteurized fruit juices from China and Cuba.
In face of such a reality, a 4.7 percent growth is just a set of dark lines on a piece of paper.
The New Oil Boom
Oil has been pumping out of more African countries than ever, and the Gulf of Guinea – stretching from Angola to Mauritania – may soon rival the Middle East for its great deposit of black gold. These deposits have the advantage of being offshore, therefore far away from social and political turbulences. Mauritania, Niger and Chad are now entering the privilege circle of oil producing nations.
However, if past experience is any indication, very little of this energy wealth will trickle down to the average African. Nigeria earned and spent more than $300 billion in oil revenues in the past decades but the great majority of its population lives with less than a dollar day.
The new oil boom in many African nations will most likely lead to the formation of supra state bureaucracies with government controlling oil revenues and therefore dilapidating it into thin air. As long as oil in Africa and other mineral resources are left in the hands of inefficient and corrupt bureaucrats acting in the name of the state, their exploitation will continue to be a curse. The development of an African private sector dealing with the oil industry is overdue. This could benefit both African governments and international oil companies. Many Africans have still to accept the fact that governments are bad business entities. One of the most viable continent wide enterprises was Air Afrique, flying full on very profitable routes. But with Ministers sending their spouses and mistresses on shopping spree every weekend in first class to Paris and New York and the management left in the hands of cousins and nephews of presidents, Air Afrique had nowhere to go but down!
Some Good News
Many more conflicts have been resolved than new ones starting up. In fact, in the whole of 2003 and 2004, no new civil conflict started anywhere in Africa. Liberia is headed towards elections in October, just as its next-door neighbor Cote d’Ivoire. But Guinea is broiling and could soon be the next failed state in the region, with an ailing president and oppressive police state run by surrogate clans fighting for control of the state apparatus. The DRC is also preparing for elections in June 2005.
Gyude Bryant in Liberia and Joseph Kabila have masterfully succeeded in keeping together their fragile coalition governments, while in Cote d’Ivoire, rebels are still holding the nation hostage, thanks to support from Burkina Faso and a dubious role by Jacques Chirac of France, who seems not to understand that the Cote d’Ivoire of Houphouet Boigny and the one led by Laurent Gbagbo are two different countries.
After destroying every institution in the land and taking themselves out of the world body politics, the warlords of Somalia are now calling from their government in exile to return and settle at home. Something refreshing, at last.
In Burkina Faso, elections are also scheduled for the end of the year. The constitution bars Mr. Blaise Compaore from seeking another term after he won two seven-year terms unopposed – because of boycott by the opposition – in 1991 and 1998 –. Rumors from Ouagadougou indicate that his partisans are busy looking for a loophole, while opposition members spend more time in jail than in their homes and they are claiming that the “country is at war” – the war in Cote d’Ivoire - and therefore elections must be postponed…
Eyadema, the man who became president when Bill Clinton was in High School and was still president after Bill Clinton ended his second term as US president passed away on February 5, 2005. His death opens new avenues for freedom and democracy in small Togo. Eyadema led the first military coup in Africa’s modern history in 1963 when he assassinated Mr. Sylvanus Olympio. Since then, he is said to have survived many coup attempts. Succession after long reigns of “strongmen” have never been easy, as it happened in Somalia, in Zaire, in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. Would The Togolese people learn from mistakes in other countries?
The Togolese government found no better way to use this historical opportunity than to hand power to Faure Eyadema, the son of the defunct dictator. The AU has called for the respect of the constitution and wants the Speaker of the House, Mr. Fambare Natchaba Ouattara, absent from the country, to take over. The European Union, the United States and ECOWAS have all called on the Togolese government to abide by the constitution.
AU: The African Union came in to replace ailing OAU. Its greatest achievement so far has been to elect a former Head of State as Chairman rather than a former state functionary. Mr. Alpha Konare has great ideas for Africa, and his country of origin, Mali is one of the very countries on the continent, along with Senegal that has in its constitution a clause agreeing that the nation give up its sovereignty in order to become part of regional or continental organizations. But just as OAU was weak, so is the AU. When fighting broke out in Cote d’Ivoire in November 2004, Chairman Konare could not reach Pretoria from Addis Ababa because he could not get a flight!
Would African nations accept to second part of their
much-cherished “sovereignty” to the continental
body? A good start would be to adopting one currency
and do away with armies that serve nothing but to
stage coups d’états and play cards?
NEPAD: A beautiful set of concepts and ideas formulated by leaders who came to the front in the late 1990s. The leaders who put NEPAD together had a few things in common. Olesugun Obasanjo of Nigeria won elections after spending many long months in the jail of Sani Abacha. Abdel Aziz Bouteflika had reached the presidency of Algeria after crossing the desert many times and suffered silently as generals and Muslim fundamentalists brought the country on the verge of destruction. Thabo Mbeki took over from Mandela and had the largest pair of shoes in world to fill. They came up with the idea of NEPAD, a very good set of ideas. But after a few years in power, they realized that the logics in Africa are different.
The one concept in NEPAD that these leaders trumpeted so much, The Peer Review System never got off the ground. Very few leaders signed on to it. How could they review the performance of Kaddafi, Compaore, Bongo, Ben Ali, and others? Mbeki himself found excuses for a man like Zimbabwe’s Mugabe. As long as African leaders cannot tell each other the truth and publicly condemn negative actions, a peer review system would remain an empty slogan. How could one condemn Lansanah Conteh and find excuses for Mugabe?
The most important defect of NEPAD is that it seems to have been conceived more to appeal to the G-8 rather than to address African problems from the perspectives of Africans on the ground. A democratic Africa would not need a peer review system.
AIDS: Many African governments have created Ministries or agencies dealing with HIV/AIDS pandemic. Rather than educate the people and carry out information campaigns, these ministries serve mostly as portals to attract international funding. These ministries have now become the surest way to get money from various international organizations, and some of those funds are diverted to provide other services that government can no longer cover.
DEBT: Liberia by itself cannot start to negotiate its $3 billion debt. The surest way to deal with the debt burden would consist in working at the continental level. This would mean empowering the African Union to negotiate on behalf of all the countries at the same time. It means a return to the basic ideas put forward by Nkrumah some 40 years ago. Maybe the time was not right then but to tackle the serious problems it faces now, Africa must integrate its potentials and problems.
The greatest expenditure in many African budget goes to the military but it has now been proven that none of these armies, so good at overthrowing governments, is capable of facing ragtag rebellions, as seen in Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Zaire, Uganda and in Sierra Leone among other places. So what is the real use of these armies?
The matter of integrating the armies was raised at the last AU Summit. A committee headed by Ghana and comprising Algeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Congo would be looking at the matter very closely, certainly another dead issue.
Subsidies: At a meeting in Bamako early this month, cotton growers called for an end to the unfair practices of powerful nations who provide subsidies to their farmers. Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Central African Republic once thought that cotton could save them. Now they are finding out that it is cheaper to import cotton then to produce it and that leaves their farmers out of jobs. So, in Bamako, they were calling on “powerful nations” to stop subsidizing their farmers. One can just imagine an American president or Senator running for re-election and telling Carolina farmers that they would no longer receive farm subsidies because farmers in Mali need a chance to compete in an open and fair market place…
So goes Africa into 2005. Next year, maybe there would be no more conflict. Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, the DRC and Somalia would have democratically elected governments. Maybe the African Union would be sitting as a permanent member of the Security Council. Maybe NEPAD would be functional. Maybe Mugabe would say he had enough of being president and retire and grow tomatoes on one of his many farms… And maybe other leaders would stop romanticizing rebel groups in the name of “dialogue”… Maybe, Africa will take a giant leap and stop being the biggest Beggar of the World while it is the Richest land in the World. Maybe… And maybe this column will mostly be about the economy and successful elections next year… Maybe…