Africa’s reform efforts

Charles Kwalonue Sunwabe, Jr.
The Perspective
December 7, 2005

There is “ample evidence of reasoning dementia on both sides of the African reformation spectrum” claims Charles Kwalonue Sunwabe, Jr., in his analysis of reform progress in Africa for The Perspective – a monthly newsmagazine covering Liberian issues. Sunwabe, a Liberian native and president of the U.S.-based Freedom and International Justice Foundation, writes that the West has erroneously assumed for decades that reformation in Africa is only attainable through the state.

But 60 years of “statist” foreign aid to African governments – more than 500 billion dollars between 1960 and 1997 – has produced abysmal failure, he says: “The kind of foreign aid given to African states has created a disgraceful and lamentable sentiment of dependency.”

Reflecting on the outcome of the 1985 “Live Aid” musical extravaganza for Ethiopian famine relief, Sunwabe asks where did the $100 million raised go?

“It seems as though raising funds to save Africa is a continuous event” every 10 years, he says. “In 1985, we had the Live Aid concert; in 1996, we again had the UN special initiative for Africa; and in 2005, we had the Gleneagles, Scotland conference,” and the records indicate that none of these initiatives have “reversed Africa’s declining fortunes.”

According to George Ayittey, a Ghanaian scholar and economics professor at the American University in Washington, mismanagement and looting by African leaders and officials costs the continent tens of billions of dollars annually: $148 billion is lost to corruption every year; $20 billion to capital flight; $15 billion in expenditures on arms importation and military hardware; $15 billion in civil war damages, and other leakages an astronomical $216 billion yearly.

“At this rate of public theft . . . Africa is retrogressing in wrenching and unmanageable poverty,” declares Sunwabe. “No continent or nation state can achieve development in the midst of [such] ruinous corruption . . .”

The international community, he says, naïvely assumed that African leaders would voluntarily acquiesce to demands for democratization. But they “were naïve and wrong!” he continues: “In response, African leaders reluctantly undertook crafty, but pseudo democratic reforms. Defective government institutions including the judiciary and election commissions underwent cosmetic reforms. The police, military and civil service underwent partial reforms as well. Polluted, stained, and un-repented, corrupt bureaucrats were simply reshuffled. The . . . result was the maintenance of the continental cabal of crooks – democracy remains evanescent in contemporary Africa.”

Focusing on the latest bid by wealthy western nations to “aid” Africa, Sunwabe argues that even if the Group of Eight leaders were able to fully fund the comprehensive package agreed at the Gleneagles, Scotland, summit earlier this year (which included a doubling of aid to Africa by 2010 and the immediate cancellation of debts owed by 18 of the world’s poorest countries, most of which are in Africa), “the untenable behavior of African leaders would make poverty reduction unattainable.”

In fact, adds Sunwabe, the Gleneagles’ African aid package follows the same “faulty notion that has rendered western financial and development assistance to Africa ineffective.”

African rulers are expected to abide by the rule of law, control discretionary spending, eradicate corruption, trim the continent’s never-ending bloated bureaucracies, and spend funds that are likely to be earned from debt relief on healthcare delivery and education. However, he says, there is no enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure “Africa’s disingenuous rulers” will implement these changes: “Compliance is pretty much left to the whims of Africa’s reformed, acrobatic rulers – they can choose to comply, or conversely, to engage in the usual blame game.”

Sunwabe alleges this approach is in concert with the “relentless begging of contemporary African leaders” and reinforces a “racist notion of Africans” that “portrays Africans as hopelessly incapable of decency and self governance.”

George Ayittey says this results in African leaders being “told to curb corruption” and, if granted debt relief, “having to spend the savings on education, healthcare, and infrastructure.”

Nevertheless, Sunwabe writes, “decades of foreign aid have done nothing to spare Africa from economic decline” and “rampant and unrelieved poverty.”

But the decline in Africa’s fortunes has more to do with domestic failures, mismanagement of scarce resources, misguided economic policies, and priorities than any major external factors, or a western contrived conspiracy. To divert attention from their own moral failure, Africa’s leadership is preoccupied with blaming outsiders, says Sunwabe, who argues that Africa’s problems are largely due to a lack of freedom and dictators who plunder the economy and mismanage scarce resources and international aid:

“So far, African leaders are preoccupied with outsiders, mainly the western world more than their own abominable misrule and plunder.”

The West, he said, does not help Africa out of “love” but rather in pursuit of its own interests and “as an African . . . I have my own elected officials who should protect my interests. If my leader fails to protect my interests, then he is at fault – I have a right to blame and hold him responsible for his ineffectiveness and not somebody else who is pursuing his own interests in my backyard.”

Sunwabe proposes a renewed focus on African reform internally and externally. “This approach can not be statist, or African leadership concentrated,” he warns. “It should be abundantly clear by now that Africa’s leaders are the contributing agents to Africa’s problems. Most African leaders are woefully incompetent” and “uninterested in finding practical solutions to the continent’s woes.”

Sunwabe proposes the reversal of Africa’s fortunes in two parts: domestic and external. From the West, he urges:

• The enforcement of existing international laws regarding money laundering and the appointment of an “international czar with prosecutorial powers”. Such an independent authority, appointed by an international body like the United Nations, should be assisted in her or his quest to thwart capital flight and money laundering by western security and intelligence agencies.

• The voluntary return of stolen African money hidden in western financial institutions but not to African governments – whom Sunwabe warns will “re-loot” the funds. (For example, he said, in 2002, the Nigerian state recovered $938 million allegedly stolen by the country’s former president, General Sani Abacha, but the Nigerian Senate Public Accounts Committee only managed to turn up $12 million of this money remaining at the Center Bank of Nigeria.)

• Seriously failed and conflict prone African states (i.e., the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc.) should be placed under African-International trusteeship, run by ethical and highly skilled Africans, many of whom Sunwabe says have left Africa to live and work in the West.

• Africans who have committed crimes against their own people, such as corrupt officials, should be deported from the West and should not be allowed to even seek medical treatment outside of Africa as a result of having allowed African hospitals to run down.

• The West should open its borders to African goods, end western agricultural subsidies, and encourage free market development in Africa. Micro-economic aid, or loans, should be made directly to individual Africans and not to governments and multinational lending and loans to African governments should require full disclosure because “the African people have a right to know what, or how much money was borrowed on their behalf and for what purposes.”

To help effect a domestic turnaround in Africa, Sunwabe calls for:

• A Radio Free Africa similar to the broadcast models used during the Cold War to liberate Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union, to provide a forum for alternative viewpoints.

• A focus on the domestic causes of the continent’s problems, such as limited freedom and dictators who plunder the African economy and mismanage scarce resources and international aid.

Categories: Africa, Odious Debts

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