The New Game Africa Is Playing
By F. Wafula Okumu
In view of the negative stories that have been coming out of Africa, it is always a great moment to savor whenever I see an African shines in a boxing ring or on a soccer field or on a track. Africa has produced some of the world's best and renowned sportsmen. African footballers, such as George Weah, Abede Pele and Roger Milla, track stars, such as Kip Keino, Filbert Bayi, and Haile Gabrselaissie, and boxers such as Azuma Nelson have earned Africa fame and respect the world over. However, Africans have also invented, or rather imported, and perfected a new game; the "blame game." The way Africans are playing this game will soon see them overtake the United States as the best players in the world.
Here in the U.S., it is common for, and expected of, someone to shun responsibilities for his or her action and lay them at the feet of someone else. Remember the Menendez brothers, Erik and Lyle? After they brutally killed their parents, the brothers were arrested and tried for the grisly murders. But instead of owning up to their crimes, they put their dead parents on trial! In the globally televised O. J. Simpson trial, it was the Los Angeles Police Department that had to defend itself for racism and incompetence. In the cases of Ted Kcycynski, the Unabomer, and John Hinckley, the man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, insanity defenses were used to spare them from the gallows. We have also heard of landmark trials and rulings in which a number of people have sued and won cases against Macdonald, for serving coffee that was too hot, and Nishiki, for not putting a label on its bikes to warn cyclists not to ride at night without reflectors. We have also heard of cases where those who caused horrific accidents blamed alcohol or something else. In the U.S., nothing is your fault.
This culture of shirking responsibilities is now spreading fast in Africa. Although in some parts of Africa people have always played the blame game; it seems now to be a continental craze. Take the cases of train derailments, the carnage on the roads, mismanagement of state affairs, misuse of public funds, abuse of public trust and office, and a litany of other cases bedeviling Africa. Instead of blaming negligence, incompetence and corruption for the ills wrecking havoc in Africa one will not be surprised to hear far-fetched answers. For instance, if one asked an African leader why after years of independence the continent is still embroiled in man-made ailments, the obvious answer will be to blame colonialism and the foreigners.
Whenever automobile and train accidents occur in Africa, as it frequently happens in Kenya, faulty breaks are usually blamed. In a fatal helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kenyan high ranking officials, the pilot attempted to lift the faulty chopper several times and it was barely airborne before crashing and killing all aboard. Since all are dead, we will never hear what the well trained and experienced pilot has to say as to why he kept forcing the machine to fly despite its mechanical defaults. The pilot can now rest in peace since a just ended investigation has blamed the chopper instead of the pilot for the crash!
Why do we drive cars that are severely defective and mechanically unroadworthy? It is common in Africa to see cars that should never be on the roads trying to fly on badly maintained or never maintained roads. How did these drivers get their faulty cars on the pot-holed roads? Where are the traffic policemen that are supposed to keep such killing machines off the road? Why are these roads badly or never maintained? Where did the money for road maintenance go? Why did the road constructor do a substandard and shoddy job?
African cars crush because they are not maintained properly, because the police have been bribed to overlook the fatal defects, because the roads are unusable, because the drivers do no follow the basic driving rules, and because of institutionalized corruption. Instead of blaming others and machines for our plights we should point fingers at the real sources of our problems. Let us all agree that the biggest killer of Africans is none other than corruption. We have institutionalized corruption and it is now eroding our moral fiber and societies like torrential rains are doing to the continent's fragile soil.
Yes, it is true that colonialism and foreigners have immensely contributed to some of Africa's problems, but what about us? Might it be because of our self-destructive behavior we have made it almost impossible for others to help us? Today the world is feigning fatigue when it comes to helping Africans. Take the case of how refugees are treated by the humanitarian community. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, a relief worker who had just served in Africa and had been relocated to Macedonia was shocked when she received an urgent request to provide a special diet for a diabetic Albanian refugee who was about to cross the border into Macedonia. In her recollection, African refugees could never get such special treatment; they will simply die.
In the same article, it was also revealed that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is spending about 11 cents a day per refugee in Africa as compared to $1.23 it is spending per a Kosovar refugee. While African refugee camps have one doctor for every 100,000 refugees, refugee camps in Macedonia have one doctor per 700 refugees. While refugees in the Horn of Africa receive about 3 gallons of water (for a family of 10) to last three days, refugees in Albania had plenty of clean water already available for them when they arrived in Macedonia. While African camps hold as many as 500,000 refugees, the largest camp in Macedonia holds 33,000 refugees. And while no deaths from public health emergencies such as an epidemic or starvation have occurred in Macedonian camps, up to 6,000 refugees die each day from cholera and other public health diseases in African refugee camps.
Although one is perfectly justified to be outraged by this overt display of racism and blame the world for neglecting African refugees, it is important that we address the reasons why Africa has the highest number of refugees in the world. Let us look at one of the main sources of refugees: weapons and conflict. Egypt is about to spend $3.2 billion to buy 24 of the latest model F-16 fighters, a Patriot missile battery, and 200 new heavy tanks. Why? Does Egypt have an acute external threat to its security to justify spending this amount of money? No. The most serious security threat facing Egypt is not coming from Libya or Israel but from the Islamic fundamentalists in the country. Does Egypt need F-16s and Patriot missiles to clamp down internal dissidents? No. If these sophisticated weapons will not be used to wade off external aggression and domestic unrest, then what is the justification for spending this staggering amount of money?
It is obvious that these weapons might be used to "settle" the brewing dispute with Sudan and Ethiopia over the Nile water. In recent years Egypt has been issuing threats that it is ready to go to war with any country that will interfere with its supply of the Nile water. Both Ethiopia and Sudan are dissatisfied with the 1929 agreement that allocated Egypt 90% of the Nile water. Calls from Ethiopia and Sudan to re-negotiate this agreement have been met with belligerent statements from high-ranking officials. Being conversant of this reality, why would the US send more arms to a region that has known nothing but intractable conflicts for the most part of this century? Should Africa brace for more refugees? You bet.
Other sources of African refugees have been dictatorships such as those of Idi Amin, Siad Barre, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Samuel Doe; senseless civil wars such as the ones in Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Sudan; ethnic conflicts such as the ones in Rwanda and Burundi; and mismanagement of states such Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zambia. If only Africa can get rid of dictators, stop fratricidal internecines, and install and run governments that serve the interests of the people then there will be no one to blame for producing or refusing to help African refugees.
For over 30 years Africans have been denied development, their rights have been flagrantly violated, and they have endured injustice and oppression because of the "communist" or "imperialist" threats. Africa has lost sons and daughters who would have turned out to be great leaders because they were "working with foreign enemies" to overthrow corrupt dictatorships. Africa has also lost golden opportunities to overcome real enemies such as poverty, hunger, disease, and ignorance.
Instead of channeling the meager resources to eradicate these ills, African leaders went on shopping sprees of military ware that were never, or rarely used against external enemies but on their citizens. How can we justify the sad fact that, in 1957, when Ghana became independent it had a higher per capita gross national product than South Korea but today Ghana's per capita GNP is barely $400 while South Korea,s is over $8,000. Who should be blamed for Africa's stagnation and underdevelopment? Of course the obvious culprit would be "foreigners." But are "foreigners" the only ones to blame? Of course not, it is a cocktail of poor leadership, poor policy choices, poor management and administration, poor work ethics, and unbridled corruption.
It is time Africans stopped blaming colonialism, machines, foreign enemies,
and others for problems of their own making. We should own up to our mistakes
and take responsibilities for our actions. Incompetence, corruption, mismanagement,
and abuse of power and public offices can be eliminated from Africa. We
can only do this by abandoning the blame game and replacing it with a fair
game. To play a fair game, Africa will have to invest a lot of energy and
resources in itself. But this is an investment that will pay handsomely
in the end. It will be a worthy investment as nothing is more valuable
than protecting and promoting the sanctity of life.