Leadership Has Been Africa's Primary Problem-Prof George Ayittey
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Prof George Ayittey a prominent Economist who hails from Ghana is President
of the Washington D.C, USA, based Free Africa Foundation. He is a Professor
at the American University in Washington, DC, and an Associate Scholar at
the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He believes that Africa is poor
because she is not free. The poverty in Africa he opines is as a result of
oppression and mismanagement by the colonial masters and the oppressive
nature of autocrats who occupy the seats of power in African countries.
Beyond his barbed criticisms of African leaderships, Prof Ayittey proffers
solutions that will place the continent on the right path towards progress
and development. His recommendations include democratic governments, debt
forgiveness, modernized infrastructure, free market economies, free trade
and others. A prolific writer, books authored by Prof Ayittey include Africa
in Chaos, Africa Betrayed, and Africa Unchained which is his latest
publication.Prof Ayittey holds a BSc from the University of Ghana, Legon, MA
from the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada and a PhD from the
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. In an interview with Ajong
Mbapndah L for Pan African Visions, Prof Ayittey makes an interesting
critique of the crisis, challenges and the way forward for Africa.
PAV Ajong Mbapndah L
Pan African Visions (PAV): What assessment do you make of the chaos in Kenya
today and when lessons do you think this should serve for other African
Prof Ayittey: This chaos - violence, deaths and destruction - is so
unnecessary and completely avoidable if Kenya had learned from its own 1992
electoral crisis, as well as taken lessons from collapsed African states. In
fact, I foresaw this. Back in early December, I urged Kenyans not to vote
for either Odinga or Kibaki. They should throw out the ossified politicians
who break their promises and bring in fresh new faces to clean up the state
You don't need to be a rocket scientist to recognize that Africans take
elections very seriously, despite popular misconceptions that they are poor
and illiterate. In fact, the implosion of an African country, regardless of
the ideology, ethnicity or religion of its leaders, always begins with
Blockage of the democratic process or the refusal to hold elections plunged
Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, and Sudan into civil war.
Hard-liner manipulation of the electoral process destroyed Rwanda (1993),
Sierra Leone (1992) and Zaire (1996). Subversion of the electoral process in
Liberia (1985) eventually set off a civil war in 1989. The same type of
subversion instigated civil strife in Cameroon (1991), Congo (1992), Kenya
(1992), Togo (1992), Lesotho (1998), and Cote d'Ivoire (2000). In Congo
(Brazzaville), a dispute over the 1997 electoral framework flared into
mayhem and civil war. Finally, the military's annulment of electoral results
by the military started Algeria's civil war (1992) and plunged Nigeria into
political turmoil (1993). The events in Kenya should serve as a lesson to
both the authorities and the opposition in Zimbabwe which holds elections
next month (March).
PAV: Some people think that the role of foreign observer missions only
helped to fuel the tensions, do you agree with this?
Prof Ayittey: No, I do not agree. It amounts to "scapegoating." The tensions
were already there. The Kibaki administration had been a failure. It broke
its promises on Constitutional reform and corruption was out of control.
Worse, it tried to shore up its falling popularity by playing the ethnic
card. The administration became increasingly dominated by the Kikuyus -
hence the reference to the "Mount Kenya mafia."
PAV: As some one who is based in the US, what interest does its government
place on democracy in Africa and what has been done in concrete terms to
assist in the evolution of democracy?
Prof Ayittey: After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and
other Western donors shifted their Africa aid policies from checking the
spread of communism in Africa to promoting democracy. Beginning in the early
1990s, Western aid was conditioned upon the establishment of multi-party
democracy. Most African leaders however took the aid money and did the
"Babangida boogie" - one step forward, three steps back, a flip and a side
kick to land on a fat Swiss bank account. Incumbent presidents empanelled a
fawning coterie of sycophants to write new Constitutions, insert phony
term-limits, pack the Electoral Commission with their cronies, toss
opposition leaders into jail and hold "coconut elections" to return
themselves to power. As a result of this vexatious chicanery, willful
deception and vaunted acrobatics, the democratization process has stalled in
Africa. Only 16 out of the 54 African countries are democratic, fewer than 8
are "economic success stories," only 8 have a free and independent media.
PAV: President Bush will be visiting a few African countries soon, coming at
the end of his mandate, what will you say was beneficial for the continent
in his two terms?
Prof Ayittey: President Bush's tour of 5 African countries (Benin, Tanzania,
Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia) this week is intended to achieve three
objectives. First, there are growing fears among administration officials
that the next president may not continue with Bush aid policies toward
Africa. Bush has spent $1.2 billion the past 5 years to fight malaria and
$15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS, which Bush wants to double over the next 5
years. There are also worries that his debt relief efforts and the
Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) may be ditched. MCA requires recipient
countries to invest in people, curb corruption, promote economic freedom,
and establish rule of law. A third but undeclared objective is to check
China's forays into Africa, which have been muscling out US companies and
It is most likely the next president, a Democrat, might keep most of Bush's
Africa policies because of a strong African-American political
(Congressional) constituency and support for fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS and
granting debt relief. But the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) might
become a copse. Though it is based on sound logic and premise, MCA with a
$5.5 billion budget was slow to start and can point to few success stories
in Africa. Its web site lists 19 recipients of MCA grants as "successful
performers." But in several cases, such as that of Kenya, Lesotho and
Uganda, such designation is dubious.
PAV: What assessment do you make of the reaction of the African Union in
handling crises across the continent especially the most recent one in
Prof Ayittey: Please, please, don't ask about the African Union. It is the
most useless organization we have on the continent. It can't even define
"democracy" and it is completely bereft of originality. It is imbued with
"copy-cat" mentality. Europe has the European Union (EU), so we must have
the African Union (AU). The AU forgot that to become a member of the
European Union, a country must meet very strict requirements. But in the
case of the African Union, there are no requirements. Any rogue and
collapsed state can be a member. And when the African Union unveiled NEPAD
(the New Economic Partnership for African Development), it boasted that
NEPAD was an "African crafted program." But as it turned out, NEPAD was
modeled after the Marshall Aid Plan. Again, the copy-cat mentality. When the
Darfur crisis flared up, the AU was nowhere to be found. It was doing the
watutsi in Addis Ababa. After much international condemnation, the AU
finally managed to cobble together some troops to send to Darfur. And how
did they perform?
On September 29th, around 30 vehicles loaded with several hundred Sudanese
rebels ripped through the perimeter of an African Union (AU) peacekeepers'
base on the edge of Haskanita, a small town in southern Darfur. The AU unit
of about 100 troops fought off the first attack before falling back to
trenches in the corner of their compound, firing through the night until
their ammunition ran out. Ten were killed; at least 40 fled into the bush.
(The Economist, Oct 11, 2007; p.48) . So don't expect AU troops anywhere
near Kenya any time soon.
PAV: You head the Free Africa Foundation, what is its mission and
considering that you are based in the USA, how have your activities impacted
on the continent?
Prof Ayittey: The nature of FAF's mission dictates it be based outside
Africa because of the generally repressive intellectual and political
environment in Africa. The mission is FREEDOM - giving the African people
the freedom to choose who should rule them and to craft their own solutions
to their problems, not to impose these solutions on them.
Despite being based in the U.S., FAF has had a powerful impact on
developments on the continent. FAF propagates new ideas and crafts
African-based solutions to Africa's myriad of problems. These ideas are
disseminated in books, articles and media appearances. FAF president has
appeared on numerous television and radio programs, including CNN and BBC.
FAF has affiliates in 13 African countries.
In addition, FAF is engaged in humanitarian work. It has established
"Malaria-Free Zones" in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria and Kenya. With its local
partners, FAF has fumigated villages, distributed free insecticide-treated
bed nets and anti-malarial drugs to villagers in Africa. It has also built
a clinic in Ghana, completed one in Nigeria and will build one in Benin.
PAV: There is this statement on the FAF website that Africa is poor because
she is not free, can you shed more light on that?
Prof Ayittey: The leadership has been Africa's primary problem. Since 1960,
we have had exactly 204 African heads of state. I will challenge any reader
to name me just 20 "good leaders." Nobody has been able to name me 15. Even
if you can name me 20 good leaders, it means the vast majority of the rest
(over 90 percent) were failures. In fact, the slate of post colonial African
leaders has been a disgusting assortment of crocodile liberators, military
coconut-heads, Swiss bank socialists, quack revolutionaries and briefcase
bandits. These post colonial leaders imposed on their people defective
economic and political systems that concentrated both economic and political
power in their hands. More power to them meant less power to the people.
And they used that power to enrich themselves, squelch dissent or criticism
and to perpetuate themselves in office.
As a result of this, what is known as "government" completely ceased to
exist in many African countries. What came to exist is a "vampire state" - a
government hijacked by a phalanx of crooks, bandits and gangsters. They use
the state machinery to enrich self, cronies, tribesmen and exclude everyone
else - a quasi-apartheid system. The richest in Africa are heads of state,
ministers and government officials.
* In Kenya where the government is described as the "Mount Kenya
mafia," the income per capita is $463 a year while the base compensation of
legislators is about $81,000 a year, tax free, plus a variety of allowances
and perks, which can effectively double their take-home pay.
* In Tanzania, ahead of President George Bush's visit, the entire
Cabinet has been dissolved over a corruption scandal, involving the award of
$172.5 million contract to supply 100 megawatts of emergency power to a
Texas based company that does not exist. Even the anti-corruption czar, Dr
Edward Hosea, is implicated.
* Between 1970 and 2004, Nigeria raked in over $450 billion in oil
revenue. But according to former head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial
Crimes Commission, the country's rulers stole $412 billion of that oil
revenue. Billions in oil revenue have also gone missing in Angola,
Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.
Callous contempt for the poor is palpable in government circles: "The poor
are hard to lead. They should be arrested. This is the way to develop," said
Uganda's agriculture minister Kibirige Ssebunya in 2004.
Discontent and resentment bubble but kept in check by heavy-handed security
forces and repressive laws. Get power out of the hands of these crooks,
kleptocrats and give it back to the people where it belongs. Africa can only
make economic progress when it is freed from deadly grip of the ruling
vampire elites. Hence, Africa is poor because she is not free.
PAV: What roles do see the following groups playing in order for the
continent to move forward, leadership, the opposition, civil society, and
the international community?
Prof Ayittey: To move Africa forward, forget about the leaders. They only
know how to do three things well: To loot, to kill and to perpetuate
themselves in office. Forget about the international community also. It is
an amorphous group of countries, each with its own Africa agenda and
therefore impossible to get them to take decisive action on any African
issue. More importantly, it is Africa which has to move Africa forward.
I have little faith in Africa's opposition. We need an intelligent
opposition to make democracy work and move Africa forward. But in many
countries, the opposition is hopeless. They are terribly fragmented and
can't unite against a common enemy. Witness the fracture of the MDC in
Zimbabwe. Further, the opposition in Africa is prone to internal bickering
or squabbling over who should be its presidential candidate. Worse, the
opposition leaders lack imagination in the choice of their tactics and
They do not do their home work and contest elections totally unprepared.
Then when they lose, they cry "foul." Such was the case in Kenya's Dec 27
elections. The opposition did not do its home work. When Kibaki was packing
the Electoral Commission with his cronies, the opposition was asleep. Nor
did they see that the Voters' Register was fraudulent. Even Raila Odinga's
name was not on it. Why take part in an election when your own name was not
in the register?
According to Newton's law of physics, for every force in nature there is a
counter-force. A force dominates if the counter-force is weak or
non-existent. Africa's despots have dominated the political scene because
the counter-force (opposition) has been weak or non-existent. Civil society
has been weak, chastened by repressive laws. Civil society is that part of
society that lies outside government and the market. It comprises the
political parties, professional bodies, students, media practitioners, NGOs,
and other civic organizations and associations. For civil society to work,
it needs four types of freedoms: Freedom of expression, freedom of
association, freedom of movement and freedom of the media. These freedoms
are enshrined in Africa's own Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights (the
Banjul Charter) but few African governments uphold it.
PAV: As a seasoned observer of the political situation in Africa, who will
you cite as references of leadership that is capable of meeting growing
challenges the continent is faced with?
Prof Ayittey: I have moved away from the "leadership model." For more than
40 years we were led to believe that if only we could find another "Nkrumah"
or "Mandela," our problems would be solved in Africa. But we are not going
to find another Mandela. There is one and only one Mandela and there will
always be one. You cannot replicate a Mandela because leaders are born out
of trying circumstances. You cannot tell a priori if someone is going to be
a good leader until he is tested. But then, we become disappointed. We have
suffered through too many of these disappointments. So instead of leaders,
my focus is on INSTITUTIONS. Leaders come and go but institutions endure.
The U.S. for example is still being governed by a Constitution which is more
than 200 years old. No leader lives that long.
To effect change from within and assure better governance, Africans need the
following institutional tools:
. An independent central bank: to assure monetary and economic
stability, as well as stanch capital flight out of Africa. The World Bank,
for example, should desist from dealing with African countries without an
independent central bank. Failing that, governors of central banks in a
region may be rotated to remove them from undue political or executive
. An independent judiciary is essential for the rule of law. Supreme
Court judges in Africa, for example, may be rotated within a region.
. A free and independent media to ensure free flow of information.
Smart aid would privatize the state-owned media - especially the radio. It
is the medium of the masses and has such power. Recall the critical role the
media played in the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
. An independent Electoral Commission that is made up of
representatives of all political parties, not just packed with government
. An efficient and professional civil service, which will deliver
essential social services to the people on the basis of need and not on the
basis of ethnicity or political affiliation.
. The establishment of a neutral and professional armed and security
forces to protect the people and not fire on them.
These institutions are not established by leaders. In fact, there is a
conflict of interest involved. African leaders won't establish the
institutions that would check their arbitrary use of power. These
institutions are established by CIVIL SOCIETY.
PAV:The influence of China in the continent has been growing by leaps and
bounds with a galore of interests free loans, investments and more, as a
leading Economist, what would you say are the merits and demerits of such a
Prof Ayittey: On the positive side, China's inroads into Africa may provide
some short-term benefits for the continent. Hungry for resources to feed its
voracious economic expansion at a dizzying 8-9 percent clip, China is all
over Africa, signing deals and gobbling up resources. China's trade with
Africa has increased 60-fold since 1990 and in 2006, China invested $11.7
billion in Africa - up 40 percent the previous year, according to the
African Development Bank. Increased prices for Africa's resources and
China's investment should boost African growth prospects. To the delight of
African governments, China's aid and investments come with no strings
Chinese investments in Africa have no moral scruples. China will deal with
any rogue regime that has resources to sell. Witness Sudan. Because of this,
China aid, wrapped up in anti-colonialist verbiage, will meet its own peril
The influx of cheap Chinese goods has destroyed textile industries from
Nigeria to Lesotho. So fever-pitched were anti-Chinese sentiments in Zambia
that a 2006 presidential candidate, Michael Sata, vowed to through them out
of the country if elected. He wasn't. And China's secret plans to re-settle
12.5 million Chinese in Africa have rankled many African commentators.
Seduced by the suffocating platitudes about colonialism, our leaders trooped
to Beijing in October 2006 and threw themselves at the feet of the Chinese.
The mantra was "the enemy of my enemy must be my friend." Since the West is
the enemy of China, China has become Africa's new friend. But such thinking
gives short shrift to our own African history.
Since time immemorial, every foreign entity that comes to Africa comes to
pursue its interests. The French go to Africa to pursue French interests.
The Americans go to Africa to pursue American interests. The Russians, the
Arabs, the Belgians, and others. It would be the height of insanity to
believe that the Chinese come to Africa because they love black people so
much. What the Chinese are practicing is "chopsticks mercantilism." With
chopsticks dexterity, China can pick platinum from Zimbabwe; oil from
Angola, Nigeria and Sudan; cocoa from Ghana; diamonds from Sierra Leone;
etc. - all on its own terms because of its strong bargaining position
because our leaders lie prostrate before them.
PAV: Where does Prof Ayittey stand in the debate on continental unity and
the idea of a United States of Africa?
Prof Ayittey: "United States of Africa" smacks of another copy-cat
mentality. Why can't we be original? Europe has the European Union, so too
must we. The U.S. has a space center, so Nigeria spent $89 million to build
the Obasanjo Space Center. The U.S. is called the United States of America
(USA), so we must have the United States of Africa (USA). We are a confused
lot. We have too many countries in Africa (54), so it makes sense to create
larger polities but, for Pete's sake, look at our ancient empires. They were
all confederacies: The Mali Empire, Songhai, Great Zimbabwe. So the African
Confederation or Confederation of African States (CAS) would make more sense
culturally than the United States of Africa or African Union.
To achieve this, we should start with REGIONAL integration: ECOWAS, SADCC,
etc. Then move to the continental level. But then, how do you talk about
continental unity when you do not have national unity in some countries, let
alone regional unity? Look at Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Are they
united nationally? So what is the point in talking about continental unity?
Prof Ayittey with former President for Mozambique Joachim Chissano
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Wed Feb 08 2012 - 17:33:01 EST