Dr. Edward Kissi, USF, continues with his analysis on how to move Africa forward:
In this forum, Professor Toyin Falola, is providing one of the many solutions to "Africa's problems." He has created a space for debate and has invested his time to vet or clear the many postings for distribution. It is very much a "Parliament" for one of the "two
Africas" in Edmund Abaka's challenging piece: the Africa (ns) abroad and the Africa (ns) on the continent. Toyin Falola needs no flattery from me. He knows his part in the drama of solutions and he is playing it well.
I would like, though, to reflect on one or two of the excellent points Edmund Abaka raised. And he raised many. Six of them struck me: Leadership; Governance; Relations between Africans at home and those abroad; Pressuring European banks to return the loot; Promoting/Celebrating Education/Literacy; Ostentatious lifestyles of Africa's politicians.
1. Ostentatious Lifestyles of Politicians:
I worry less when politicians spend their own wealth, money, resources---those that they have legitimately acquired while in office or before they got there. Human beings define their needs in many ways. Growing up in a village in Ghana, the idea that an individual can have a personal aircraft seemed strange and impossible. I conceived of property and legitimate exhibition of wealth from my environment where the limited resources shaped people's values. Living in America, I see sportsmen and women and other CEO's buy and fly their own planes. They have chosen that lifestyle on the bases of their resources and what their changing society recognizes as appropriate lifestyle for such people of means. From one perspective, that may seem over-the-top. From another, it may seem realistic and necessary. I worry more (and I think this is Edmund's point) about the deliberate misuse of state funds to enrich politicians and their household. Arguably, there is not much in the pots of many African nations to tolerate that misuse and waste.
But it may be difficult for particular African nations to legislate the economic lifestyles of politicians. Some say if they are adequately rewarded for their services to the public, politicians would be less inclined to misappropriate state funds. Others may argue that greed is a human impulse. Some see the solution in more religion and morality and cultural values that castigate ostentation. In my view, the solution should be in the civic religion of particular African countries. Where there are good courts and organized watchdog and parliamentary oversight groups, that ostentation could be checked, moderated if not completely eliminated. But another solution might lie in promoting a new conception of public service because a new conception of life that criminalizes the flaunting of misbegotten goods may be impossible. Here, each African country can draw on its own accepted concepts (a la Ayittey) of appropriate conduct for public officials. Or they can look beyond their own societies to adopt other concepts that have worked elsewhere (if you believe, as I do, that more than local or indigenous knowledge make a nation). Each country can promote the idea of public service as a sacrifice one makes for the public good (not an easy idea to promote), but one that should be tried. It will work if streets can be named; chairs can be created in academies; even statues can be built to memorialize or commend politicians who put the good and the transnational image of their countries above their own selfish impulses. This is not a novel idea, but one that may not have been tried yet. I have not seen that even discussed seriously in my own country, Ghana. The ethic for public service for African countries should be summed up in a few phrases: people are watching and we need not allow our group and country to become the subject and object of jokes around the world and give Afro-pessimists fodder for another caricature. There is something to be gained from other people appreciating what one has achieved. In the 1970s, many Ghanains flocked to Agege, in Nigeria, and not New York, in USA. And in the 1960s (before the Aliens Compliance Order) many Nigerians made Ghana their home.
2. The Swiss Bank and Africa's "Loot."
First, each country has to seek its own way of determining how much of its ill-gotten wealth is stashed in a European bank on the orders of that country's past or current politicians. The key question is: What next if these banks refuse to return the loot and invoke clauses and legalisms about "Principles of International Banking." In Ghana, the Akyeampong government's (yentua---we will not pay) hot air or policy was a cheap bravado. Eventually, when that government claimed it would refuse to pay "national debts" accumulated by the civilian regime it ousted, it soon realized that Ghana is part of a global system and Ghanaians do not control that system. The Ghanaian government soon recanted its heresies and paid up.
A way to get the loot may not lie in indigenous knowledge of retrieving stolen assets, but rather a transnational effort at seeking cues and clues from the restoration of the loot and property of Holocaust survivors. It is one thing to wish the return of the loot and another to actually get it.
Solution: Should the Swiss and other European banks fail to return the loot, a simpler first step might be taken. The African intellectuals who have unbridled access to CNN and the Wall Street Journal should go beyond lambasting the Africans who put the money there. That is easy to do and should not pass for brilliance. They should direct some of the venom at those who took the money. They should propose such issues as impounding aircrafts of those European nations harboring the loot; denying visas to dignitaries from such countries; shaming their people internationally among others. I wonder whether that stance would endear those African scholars to their Western admirers.
It requires a great degree of clout to cause these banks to act. Can the government of Ghana impound a Swiss Air plane that arrives at the Kotoka Airport? Would Ghanaians and other African legal heavyweights abroad risk their careers to go to court and legitimize that action by Ghana? In short, what counter measures may be adopted if those banks regard that African country as too weak in the international system to exact penalties?
3. On Education.
1. Revive and promote the philanthropic spirit of countries. Encourage the rich to invest in education by building hostels; labs; and other edifices on campuses. Honor the benefactors by naming those buildings after them. It is great that many Africans abroad are sending books and equipment to their Alma Maters and districts. Some, like myself, have established scholarships at the University of Ghana. But I also see my quest for a dignified Africa beyond what I can do for my country. I have talked to my former university, in Canada, and a few people there and myself, are ready to establish a scholarship in the History Department at Addis Ababa University, in Ethiopia. And wherever Dr. Tekalign Wolde-Mariam is, I am looking forward to his response to my e-mail to him in this regard to get that project going.
The larger point I want to make here is that if we choose (and we have that choice) to frame the issues broader than they should be framed; if we decide to discuss our problems in a continental framework rather than national and regional terms, then our efforts to promote education and other things should go beyond what we can do for our countries and reach across and help. Nigerians should do things in Tunisia; Congolese should act in Sierra Leone and Libyans should invest in Madagascar. If that may seem bizarre, then our "continent-centred" approach to thinking about Africa and its problems may be problematic in itself. That would require a new, more moderate and pragmatic approach.
At the level of talk and discussion, we should strive for the improvement of all the 54. But at the level of getting things done, we should be realistic about the prospects of each entity on the continent in the context of ecology, ethnicity, religion, aspirations, resources, history etc. Each one of the 54 achieving something nobler or particular regions doing something admirable---if we choose to think continentally---should be enough basis for the entirety to rejoice. And if we want to look closely and carefully at each African country, there are many things, beyond the war and the politicians, that we can rejoice about: ordinary people are striving against odds to make a living and sometimes they deserve our commendation not condemnation.