Down and out! Who broke Africa?

George B.N. Ayittey
Accra Daily Mail
March 24, 2005

Economic development, growth and prosperity require investment, both foreign and domestic. However, investment does not occur in a vacuum but in an “environment,” which is shaped by various government legislation, policies (taxes, duties, and subsidies), institutions, and attitudes. When this environment is such that it encourages or induces people to greater effort, it is described as an “enabling” or “conducive environment.” Such an environment is characterised by the following six features:

  • Security of persons and property;
  • System of incentives;
  • Rule of law;
  • Basic functioning infrastructure Stability: economic, political, and social;
  • Basic freedoms: intellectual, political, and economic.Until recently, most development experts and Western donors paid little attention to this “environment,” choosing instead to focus on resource and technology transfers to Africa. As such, Africa’s post-colonial development experience is replete with incongruous and lugubrious instances where foreign aid money is blatantly misappropriated, schools and bridges are built only to be destroyed by insurgents in a raging civil war.

    In the post-colonial period, the requirements for an “enabling environment” have not been met in most African countries. Even Julius Nyerere, the former and late avowed socialist president of Tanzania, who was often the spokesman of African leaders, observed in a speech at the University of Edinburgh on October 9, 1997 that the necessary conditions for attracting foreign direct investment were simply not there yet in most African countries.

    He identified corruption, political instability and the lack of the necessary physical infrastructure and the education and training in skills needed for rapid economic and social development (PanAfrican News, Sept 1998).

    African governments have recklessly banished the rule of law and wreaked mayhem across the continent, scattering human debris and wanton devastation in their wake.

    The deterioration of Africa’s development environment began soon after independence in the 1960s when the post-colonial leadership, with few exceptions, established defective political and economic systems in which enormous power was concentrated in the hands of the state and, ultimately, one individual.

    The political systems were based on sultanism (one-man dictatorships, “presidents for life” or military dictatorships) and the economic systems on dirigisme or statism that favored heavy state participation or direction of economic activity.

    The rationale for the adoption of these systems is well-known: the need for national unity, ideological aversion to capitalism, and the need to protect the newly-independent African nation against foreign exploitation. Over time, these systems metastasised into an ugly monstrosity – a “vampire” or “pirate state,” where government as it is generally known, ceased to exist.

    Today, “government,” has been reduced to a mafia-like bazaar, where anyone with an official designation can pillage at will. In many African countries, “government” has been hijacked by a phalanx of gangsters, thugs and crooks who use the instruments of the state to enrich themselves, their cronies and tribesmen.

    All others are excluded (the politics of exclusion). The richest people in Africa are heads of state, ministers and high government officials and, quite often, the chief bandit is the head of state himself. The primordial instinct of the ruling elite is to loot the national treasury, perpetuate themselves in power and brutally suppress all dissent and opposition.

    To achieve their nefarious objectives of self-aggrandisement and self-perpetuation in power, they take over and subvert every key institution of government: the civil service, judiciary, military, media, banking and even the educational system to serve their interests.

    The institutions of the state, thus, become paralysed and laxity, ineptitude, indiscipline and lack of professionalism flourish in the public sector. Meritocracy, rule of law, property rights, transparency and administrative capacity vanish. Judges cannot enforce the rule of law because they are corrupt and the police are themselves highway robbers.

    Investment or development cannot take place in this vampire state because, to the ruling gangsters, “development” means developing their pockets and “foreign investment” means investing their booty in a foreign country. Eventually, the mafia state implodes – as politically-excluded groups rise up in an insurgency to overthrow the ruling vampire elites – sucking the country into a vortex of savage carnage and heinous destruction.

    This cycle of violence and anarchy has been the fate of Burundi, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, and Zaire. To turn things around, Africa’s vampire state must be reformed. This entails:

  • Democratisation;
  • Market liberalisation;
  • Decentralisation or diffusion of power, and;
  • The adoption of power-sharing arrangements.The politics of exclusion must be replaced by the politics of inclusion. In addition, state institutions must be reformed so that transparency, accountability and professionalism prevail. These reforms, in turn, will help establish in Africa an environment conductive to investment and economic activity. But the leadership is not interested or serious about reform because of fear.

    In fact, asking them to reform their abominable economic and political systems is akin to asking them to commit political suicide. State controls allow these leaders to extract resources to build huge personal fortunes and to dispense patronage to buy political support.

    Economic reform will threaten their business empires and also undermine their ability to maintain their political support base. Further, many African leaders have their hands so steeped in blood and their pockets so full of booty that they are afraid that all their past gory misdeeds will be exposed if they are removed from office.

    So they cling to power at all costs, regardless of the consequences. Under pressure from external agencies, they implement only the barest minimum cosmetic reforms that would ensure continued flow of Western aid.

    Africans deride the posturing, tricks and acrobatics as “Babangida Boogie”: One step forward, three steps back, a sidekick, and a flip to land on a fat Swiss bank account. But without genuine reform, more African countries will implode. The likely candidates are Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Gabon, Togo, and Zimbabwe.

    But more implosions and instability do not an “enabling environment” create. And this is the African development conundrum. Western donors and aid agencies compound Africa’s problems because their approach is “leader-centred.”

    Naïve Westerners foolishly invest heavily in the euphonious verbiage of Africa’s gangster leaders and think they can best help Africa by forming “partnerships” with these autocrats to reform their societies. President Clinton epitomised this approach.

    During his historic visit to Africa in March 1998, President Clinton hailed Presidents Laurent Kabila of Congo, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Isaiah Afwerki of Eritrea as the “new leaders of Africa” and spoke fondly of the “new African renaissance sweeping the continent” – Africans taking charge of their own backyard.

    But barely two months after President Clinton’s return to the U.S., Ethiopia and Eritrea were at war and the rest of the “new leaders” were pounding each other in the Congo conflict.

    As if the embarrassment was not enough, the administration’s other African “partners in development” turned out to be crocodile reformers and crackpot democrats. The democratisation process has stalled in Africa through strong-arm tactics and political chicanery. Only 16 of the 54 African countries are democratic.

    Economic liberalisation has made little progress either; less than 10 African countries can be classified as “economically free.” And only eight African countries have a free media. President Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), unveiled at Monterey, Mexico, in 2002, deserves praise for its recognition and emphasis of governance-related factors in economic development.

    The U.S. would provide aid to those countries that govern justly, control corruption and promote economic freedom. But each of these is anathema to the ruling vampire elites.

    The problem, then, is how to get the ruling gangsters to implement reform they are fundamentally opposed to. A welter of knowledge and experience has been accumulated in this area by the U.S., the World Bank, the IMF, the EU and other donors.

    Between 1981 and 1991, the World Bank, for example, spent more than $25 billion cajoling, bribing and “jaw-boning” 29 African countries to implement “Structural Adjustment Programmes” (economic reform).

    In 1994, the World Bank admitted that, out of the 29 “adjusting African countries,” only six (The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) were “economic success stories,” giving a failure rate of more than 80 percent.

    Never mind the ridiculousness of the list but what makes the Bush administration think it can cajole devious African autocrats into “governing justly” when the World Bank could not entice them with bribes?

    The writer, a native of Ghana, is a Distinguished Economist at American University and President of The Free Africa Foundation, both in Washington. He has published a new book, Africa Unchained.


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