Why do things always fall apart in Africa?

Published on Pambazuka News, by Alemayehu G. Mariam, January 6, 2011.

Africa’s central problem is that over the past 50 years of independence, it has been ‘nearly impossible’ to hold the continent’s ‘so-called leaders accountable’, argues Alemayehu G. Mariam … //

… THINGS KEEP FALLING APART AFTER ONE-HALF CENTURY OF AFRICAN INDEPENDENCE:

Things keep falling apart in Africa because over the past one-half century of independence it has been nearly impossible to hold Africa’s so-called leaders accountable. For fifty years, African “leaders” have been telling Africans and the world that Africa’s problems are all externally caused. Africa is what it is (or is not) because of its colonial legacy. It is the white man. It is imperialism. It is capitalism. It is the International Monetary Fund. 

It is the World Bank. The continent’s underdevelopment, poverty, backwardness, mismanagement are all caused by evil powers outside the continent. The latest re-invention of the old African Boogeyman is “globalization” and “neoliberalism”, which Zenawi claims has “created three consecutive lost decades for Africa”.

There are indisputable reasons why things keep falling apart in Africa. The major one is the lack of competent leadership with vision, purpose and integrity. Indeed the common thread that sews the vast majority of post-independence African leaders is not steadfast commitment to good governance and democratic practices, but their incredible sense of entitlement to rule forever and ever and ever. In 1964, Kwame Nkrumah invented the whole idea of president-for-life becoming the first certified post-independence African dictator. Many others followed. In 1970, H. Kamuzu Banda of Malawi declared himself ‘President-for-Life”. Jean-Bédel Bokassa, themilitary ruler of the Central African Republic, kicked it up a notch in the mid-1970s. He coronated himself “Emperor”. Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast, Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Albert Bernard Bongo of Gabon, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ismail Omar Guellah of tiny Djbouti, and countless others have clung or continue to cling to power as rulers-for-life. It boggles the mind to call these individuals “leaders”; they are, as the great Afrobeat legend and human rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti described them, “animals in human skin”. I would call them hyenas in designer suits or uniforms.

These “animals in human skin” have stoked ethnic and tribal hatred, caused fragmentation and sectarian tensions and have unleashed unspeakable violence on their populations to cling to power in much the same way as the old colonial masters. In Ivory Coast and Nigeria today violent confrontations are being orchestrated by “leaders” along ethnic and religious lines. Just in the past few days, there has been a surge in violence in Nigeria, a country said to be evenly split between Christian and Muslims, with the firebombing of churches. Various scholars have expressed concern over the “heightening of the resurgence of ethnic identity politics in Nigeria” and the rise of armed ethnic militias which not only challenge the legitimacy of the Nigerian state but are also spearheading separatist movements to dismember the Nigerian nation. Given these tensions, more and more “marginalized” Nigerians are said to choose their ethnic identities over loyalty to the Nigerian nation. No doubt echoes of the Biafran War of 1967 reverberate in the minds of concerned Nigerians. Ethnicity and sectarianism are also a core element of the current Ivorian crises. Gbagbo accuses Muslims, who are in the majority in the north, of aiding and supporting the “rebels” who control the region. They have been subjected to attacks and persecution.

As Africa burns in ethnic, political and sectarian fires, the unctuous, hypocritical and self-righteous Western governments frolic in bed with the corrupt dictators in power. They jibber-jabber about democracy, human rights, the rule of law, accountability, transparency and the rest of it, but will gladly hold hands with bloodthirsty African dictators and walk down the primrose path to maintain their oil, mineral and military strategic interests. No Western government involved in Africa will openly admit it, but each and every one of them shares wholeheartedly Chirac’s view that “Africa is not ready for democracy” and that “multi-partyism” is a “kind of luxury,” that is unaffordable by a country like the Ivory Coast (or any other African country for that matter).

CHINUA ACHEBE AND WHY THINGS ARE IN FREE FALL IN AFRICA:

In Things Fall Apart (1959), the great African novelist Chinua Achebe tells the story of the initial encounters in the 1890s between Ibo villagers in Nigeria and white European missionaries and colonial officials. That was the time when things really began to “fall apart” in Africa. The white man “put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” But his depiction could apply to the “falling apart” of many other African societies as a result of contact with colonialism and Christianity. But over the last one-half century, colonialism has become extinct and the white man has “left” Africa. The African leaders who replaced the colonial masters have not hearkened back to pre-colonial Africa and used traditional values and methods to hold the center and keep things from falling apart. Rather, they have followed in the colonial footsteps and lorded over vampiric states which have attenuated and frayed the fabric of the post-independent African societies to ensure their hold on power.

Robert Guest, Africa editor for The Economist, in his book The Shackled Continent (2004), argues that “Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades” while other developing countries and regions have grown. Africa was better off at the end of colonialism than it is today. According to the U.N., life expectancy in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Mozambique and Swaziland for the period 2005-2010 is less than 44 years, the worst in the world. The average annual income in Zimbabwe at independence in 1980 was USD $950. In 2009, 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars (with a “T”) was worth about USD $300. In the same year, a loaf of bread in Zimbabwe cost 300 billion Zimbabwean dollars (with a “B”). The tens of billions in foreign aid money has done very little to improve the lives of Africans. The reason for things falling apart in Africa is statism (the state as the principal change agent) and central planning, according to Guest. The bottom line is that the masses of Africans today are denied basic political and economic freedoms while the privileged few live the sweet life of luxury, not entirely unlike the “good old” colonial times.

Guest concludes that “Africans are poor because they are poorly governed.” The answer to Africa’s problems lies in upholding the rule of law, enforcing contracts, safeguarding property rights and putting more stock in freedom than in force. Much of Africa today is under the control of “Vampire states”. As the noted African economist George Ayittey explains, the “vampire African states” are “governments which have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and their cronies and their tribesmen and exclude everybody else.” (“Hyena States” would be a fitting alternative in the African landscape.) Africa is ruled by thugs in designer suits who buy votes and loyalties with cash handouts.

Things have fallen apart in Africa for a long time because of colonialism, capitalism, socialism, Marxism, communism, tribalism, ethnic chauvinism… neoliberalism, globalism and what have you. Things are in total free fall in Africa today because Africa has become a collection of vampiric states ruled by kleptocrats who have sucked it dry of its natural and human resources. It is easy to blame the white man and his colonialism, capitalism and all the other “isms” for Africa’s ailments, but as Cassius said to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” The fault is not in the African people, the African landscape or skyscape. Africa is rich and blessed with natural and human resources. The fault is in the African brutes and their vampiric regimes.

Achebe took the title for his book Things Fall Apart from William Butler Yeats’s classic poem, which in partial rendition reads:

  • ‘Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
  • Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, (substitute Africa)
  • The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
  • The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
  • The best lack all conviction, while the worst
  • Are full of passionate intensity.’

For what it is worth, my humble view is that the African center cannot hold and things always fall apart because the best and the brightest of Africans lack all conviction to do what is right, while the worst are full of passionate intensity to divide the people ethnically, tribally, racially, ideologically, religiously, regionally, geographically, linguistically, culturally, economically, socially, constitutionally, systematically… and rule them with an iron fist. “Ces’t la vie en Afrique!” as the French might say; but to gainsay Jacques Chirac, “Africa is ready for democracy!” (L’Afrique est prêt pour la démocratie!).

FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA. (full long text).

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