Not that I am an expert in African affairs, but I would think it can be due to the following elements:
Post-colonial African states had their borders arbitrarily defined, by the retreating colonial powers. African states comprise many different ethnic groups, which rarely get along. This does not make for a very cooperative political base.
Weak political structures and institutions
While these states have nominally inherited all the trappings of a European nation-state they have not inherited the spirit. State institutions are thus likely to be misunderstood and instead of furthering the common good turn into places of corruption and abuse. These structures are also not supported by the people who come from different, I guess tribal, traditions where decision making works differently. Thus a potential leader is basically building his political agenda on the sand. Even if they rise up as a winner of some civil war and appear very strong initially that does not make up for the weak political structures, which cannot support successful policies, even if they are good ideas. That being said, I am sure there are African success stories too. I think it is a continent with an exciting if challenging future and I hope the West will do more to assist and help.
For far too long, Africans have tried to push away global actors from interfering in regional conflicts under the guise of African solutions to African problems. Leaders have only asked for money and not strategic assistance. This is cancer destroying the region, home to almost a billion people. The discourse of African solutions to African problems was promoted by Thabo Mbeki during his tenure as South Africa’s President. He fought hard to stop bodies like the United Nations and countries like U.S and Britain, for example, from trying to find a lasting solution to the Zimbabwe crisis. The crisis has persisted and many wonder if his strategies did not help to worsen the crisis.
In his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney contends that Western capitalist nations developed through a process that underdeveloped African nations. It is true that the relationship between the colonies and their colonizers was nothing but parasitic. Economic wealth was transferred from the colonies to the colonisers. Thus, I can safely argue that Western imperial powers set the stage for Africa’s underdevelopment. But being an African, to continue blaming Western powers for under developing Africa decades after most countries have gained independence is simply failure to take responsibility. This is not to discount the continued negative effects of imperialism and neo-colonialism, but a sheer understanding that for us to turn things around we must take responsibility for our own actions. We must ask ourselves tough questions, and provide brutally honest answers. We cannot keep blaming these imperial powers forever. For how long can we hide behind the finger of colonialism?
Africans have continuously proven their inability to deal with regional crises, at the very most; regional African Union and SADC summits held over the past decade and a half have been nothing but talk shops. Critics say these bodies are void of solutions, with the African Union being regarded as the old boys club. Of course, this makes sense with the average age of African Presidents at the age of 70, with the unusual case of Zimbabwe whose President is 92. Burundi is in a crisis which is over a year old now, DRC and Zambia are facing elections which are going to be contested due to skewed political and electoral infrastructure, Zimbabwe is facing social unrest that threatens to destabilize the region and nothing is being done beyond the country’s four borders. South Sudan is another case in point bordering on a civil war. Beyond issuing statements the African Union hasn’t done anything, if at all. Over 100 people have been killed in the past four days and African leaders meeting in Kigali will leave, at best, with statements calling for peace while more people will lose their lives.
Regardless of the indisputable meddlesome machinations of the imperialist West, the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah cannot be entirely divorced from the fact that at the material time many Ghanaians were bewildered, if not disappointed by the outcome of self-rule. Up to today, the post-independence African has found little around him to instill the confidence that as a people, Africans can manage the affairs of their own countries. Under colonialism, our people dreamt that with liberation would come the opportunity for the African to prove his worth. If there is one thing that African leadership has succeeded in doing over the years, it is to consolidate the persistence of the theory of African dependency. The other success of the contemporary African leader has been the overplaying of the blame game, fluently explaining away every leadership failure by simply highlighting the evils of the colonial legacy, and particularly that of its offshoot — neo-colonial Western imperialistic hegemony.
It is neither advisable nor helpful for anyone to ignore the external factors leading to the woes of the continent today, but it is simply pathetic when our leadership chooses to overlook the internal factors that have stalled or derailed development in post-independence Africa, and only for the sole reason that they are cowards incapable of coming face to face with their own weaknesses. Like most of the founding fathers of African independence, Nkrumah’s vision for Africa was grandiose, but we have this sad reality that our collective nobility of purpose has not always translated into exemplary leadership. Africa’s economic malaise is not the result of a lack of opportunities or resources. Rather, the continent suffers from the affliction of dishonest leadership, and this is not to demean the efforts of a few exceptional leaders who have shown commitment to duty, among whom young leaders like Uhuru Kenyatta can be counted. But these are the few of the few.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the poorest parts of the world. People south of the Sahara continue to wallow in poverty, suffering from material deprivation. This is despite the fact that the continent is blessed with vast natural and human resources. So, why have most sub-Saharan countries failed to improve the lives of their citizens?
Corruption and poor governance — Africa’s vices
Due to corruption and poor governance, many of our African leaders have totally driven themselves further away from achieving the aspirations and needs of their people. They have created the “personal rule paradigm” where they treat their offices as a form of personal property and a source of private gain. They openly appoint under-qualified and even incompetent personnel in key positions at State-owned institutions and government departments. Building patronage and at the same time undermining development. A 2002 African Union study estimated that corruption cost the continent roughly $150 billion a year. A massive sum of money, used for the benefit of a few private individuals and their families. If this amount were to be reinvested in the African economy, used to rebuild factories, schools, and hospitals, I am sure it would result in economic growth. Thus, if we are serious about our development, we must fight corruption without failure.
Peace and security a prerequisite for development
Peter Lock in his essay titled: A critical analysis of the reasons for underdevelopment in Africa says security is a pre-condition for economic development. I agree wars and general civil strife have destroyed our much-admired human resource base, have forced Africa’s sons and daughters to drown in the seas trying to escape conflict. Our leaders have diverted funds meant for development in order to suppress dissent. But I genuinely believe that we can reform our politics and eliminate conflict within our countries. It does not help that we inherited unstable countries with different ethnicities all bundled together into a single state. But if we want peace, then our politics must be very inclusive. We must abandon the winner takes all system that is so prevalent in many countries on the continent. Proportional representation and devolution can go a long way to achieve peace and stability, removing any cracks that may emerge along ethnic lines.
Class identity, a threat to development
Some scholars on development have attributed the lack of a national identity as the biggest threat to development. During the colonial era, nationalist leaders identified with the ordinary peasants and workers. However, this harmonious social identity has now been replaced with a “us” versus “them” mentality. “Us” being the privileged ruling political class and “them” being the ordinary citizens. Leaders begin to speak of grandiose ideas that have no bearing on the lived realities of their citizens.
Thomas Sankara, one of Africa’s greatest sons, showed us what can be achieved when a cohesive national identity is created. United as a country, Burkina Faso was able to fight corruption, disease, and poverty. In the four years he ruled (1983-87) literacy levels improved from 13% to 73%. The land was redistributed from the feudal landlords directly to the peasants, making the country self-sufficient within three years. He reduced the salaries of all public servants, including his own, sold the government fleet of Mercedes Benz and made the Renault 5 the official government car. He forbade the use of first-class airline tickets and appointed women to higher government positions. They were able to build railway lines and improve the general infrastructure of the country without the financial support from multilateral financial institutions.
That he was able to achieve all of this is not a miracle, but was due to good governance and a genuine desire to create a cohesive national identity. The African political elites must always realize that their only purpose is to improve the lives of ordinary citizens and nothing else.
The connection between poor leadership and underdevelopment
Peace, security, good governance and social cohesion are prerequisites for (economic) development, but good leadership lies at the heart of this conversation. I am sure we all can agree that there is a strong connection between good leadership and development, or to put it more candidly, between underdevelopment and poor leadership. Munroe says ‘leadership is like beauty, it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it’. Unfortunately, there are few African countries where good leadership is present. The fact that President Robert Mugabe is seen as an African champion is quite indicative of this lack of leadership on the continent. He has destroyed the Zimbabwean economy, reducing the once admired breadbasket of southern Africa into a basket case, scattering millions across the globe and in the process breaking families apart.
Fanon, in his wisdom, already saw the crisis of lack of leadership in post-colonial Africa. He saw a leadership that was so eager to fill the shoes of its former colonial masters. This leadership’s failure to identify with the society they purport to rule has also provoked citizens to disengage in constructive debate, forcing them to pursue individual or ethnic-identity interests that have become the breeding grounds for conflicts, corruption, and underdevelopment in Africa. It is, therefore, no surprise, why they have been unable to advance the course of development. Without failure, we must critically assess those who vie for leadership positions in our societies, least we select entertainers, sweet-faced teddy bears, cool cats, and orators, as opposed to strong visionaries.
Africa’s future lies in our hands
Instead of grandstanding at international platforms preaching anti-colonialism rhetoric, we must start addressing issues that affect Africa’s development. We must reduce poverty and increase access to health, nutrition, accommodation, education and income-earning opportunities for everyone, without fail. We must develop an authentic ideology that we can use to further the development agenda and consolidate our independence. As Africa’s young generation it is our responsibility to shape and develop this ideology. An ideology that must address Africa’s challenges: income inequality, impoverishment, and insecurity. We must always seek to improve the lives of ordinary citizens and not engage in an orgy of intellectual idealism. To end the trend of underdevelopment in Africa, we must rise to the occasion and foster a common social identity, creating a social enclave, where we all belong with our diversity.
Soldiers in West Africa became notorious for coups in the 1970s and ‘80s, and whenever they took over power they cited corruption, economic mismanagement, high cost of living, among other many things; just like today’s post-independence political parties will often do as they style themselves along the illustrious image of “pro-democracy movements”. But we have this disheartening political reality where, like the military men before them, our contemporary opposition parties have almost always ended up doing the things they preach against, every time adopting the chart left by the ousted governments. When Kenya and Zimbabwe played around with the idea of inclusive governments between 2008 and 2013, one thing that came out clear was the unequivocal consensus for self-aggrandizement across the political divide, characterized by unanimous resolves for better packages for parliamentarians and for the executive. The song of overspending normally heard from opposition circles was replaced by United silence over the public service payroll.
With incumbency taking its toll on the honesty of the opposition maverick, perhaps more accurately to be described as the zeal of the novice; we have seen spectacular somersaults of fiery politicians instantly transforming into docile conformists to the corrupt system that continues to afflict us from one generation to another, all in endless perpetuity. With the backing of the marginalized and poverty-stricken rural farmers, Jerry Rawlings seized power in 1979 but during his governance, the same rural farmers became poorer than they were in the Nkrumah days. His priorities changed once he got into power. The indictment of corruption is not excluded in the performance appraisal of Morgan Tsvangirai and Raila Odinga after the two spent five years in inclusive governments for Zimbabwe and Kenya respectively. Like every one of the vote-soliciting opposition politicians, the two had previously portrayed themselves as the well-intended ones, in the process commanding near majority support bases.
After blowing their own myths, the support bases for the two have been fast drying up in their post-government political careers. Although Rawlings carried out his threat to deal with people he suspected to be involved in corruption and all other perceived malfeasance, his own post-power indictment does not exclude corruption. When a country as well-endowed agriculturally as Zimbabwe becomes a recipient of food aid, or has its name missing on the global mineral traders list despite the rich mineral content under its surface, there must be something fundamentally wrong. Despite our impressive resoluteness in repossessing our colonially stolen farmlands in 2000, we have sadly not shown equal willpower in supporting the new farmer. To the contrary, we read about unscrupulous businesspeople that have elected to dishonestly profiteer at the expense of the struggling poor farmers. We hear of a scam run by a company going by the name Lasch Investments, and media reports suggest that the owners and directors of this dishonest outfit premeditatedly duped poor farmers of their hard-earned little cash; promising to provide farming inputs, which the company never bothered to the source.
Our land reform and indigenization programmes could easily be our revolutionary monument as a nation, and perhaps the lasting legacy for President Mugabe if managed and developed properly, but as things stand at the moment, it could also end up as our Waterloo.
Our Credible Sources: