Now one of the most successful "legs" of the dialogue series, George replies to Moses in an ongoing debate that will be archived for future references.
Thank you for your response. Some debates are useful, others are not. I
am afraid this present debate is in the latter category.
A. The External Solution
I asked you for your own solution to the crises in Africa because people
are dying. With all due respect, what you offered us was "an academic
solution" of little practical utility. It is no different from what
African leaders have been calling for: foreign intervention. It is the
product of what I call the "externalist orthodoxy" that has held sway
for much of the post-colonial period. This orthodoxy, together with its
attendant "slavery/colonialism/imperialism paradigm," maintains that
Africa's woes can be attributed to the unequal, exploitative and
oppressive historical relationships between Africa and the West and
adverse global forces. By implication, the solutions to Africa's woes
must come from "external sources," "foreign intervention" or some
restructuring of its relationship with the rest of the world.
But like I said, we part company here. While we all agree that Africa
has been harmed and exploited by foreign actors and external factors, I
do not subscribe to "external solutions." True, somebody knocked us down
but it our responsibility to get up. There are so many deficiencies with
the "externalist orthodoxy." I pointed out a few in my previous posting
but here are some more:
1. You can't go to the same people, who you claim exploited you,
oppressed you and are constantly meddling in your internal affairs, to
become involved in resolving a problem that you have. It defies logic
and makes no sense - none whatsoever.
2. The call for "foreign intervention" flies in the face of recent
experience. The international community has not shown much appetite for
involvement in Africa's crises. In 1993 when the going got tough in
Somalia, they cut and ran. The following year, they fled Rwanda. They
were nowhere to be seen when Burundi, Zaire, Sierra Leone, and Liberia
blew up. In the cases of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia, it was
the former colonial masters who intervened: Britain, France and the U.S.
Africa is the only continent that year after year unloads its problems
onto the world stage. The international community is thoroughly fed up
with Africa. Since 1960, there have been more than 40 crises in Africa.
Name me just 10 which the United Nations or the international community
successfully resolved in the post-colonial era.
3. In my view, the call for MORE foreign involvement is a dead-end
street. In fact, it is really an alibi for INACTION. Do we seriously
think we can get the U.S., France, Russia, Iran and China to agree on a
united action on Sudan? Each country has its own interest in Sudan to
protect. Witness how difficult it is to apply the term "genocide" to
what is going on in the Sudan. If we call the slaughter of 800,000
Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 "genocide," how about the deaths of 3 million
Sudanese, mostly black Africans in Sudan's civil wars? U.N.
Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, is often frustrated trying to get member
countries to contribute peace-keeping troops for an African mission.
Moreover, if you, Moses, can't get Nigerian elites to put pressure on
the Obasanjo government to convene a sovereign national conference, how
do you expect to get FOREIGN governments to put pressure on Obasanjo?
No, Moses, foreign intervention is not my bag. You will never hear me
call for one for the resolution of any African crisis. If this is the
road you want to take, I wish you all the best of luck.
Instead of calling for foreign intervention in Ivory Coast and Sudan, I
would rather call for an AFRICAN intervention. Are African governments
not part of the international community? In 1979, the late and former
president Julius Nyerere sent his military across the border to remove
Idi Amin of Uganda from power. Why hasn't Ghana sent its military over
the border to oust Laurent Gbagbo? Why haven't Nigeria and South Africa
sent their troops to remove Omar el Beshir from power? I am fed up with
the spectacle of seeing African leaders ALWAYS running to the white man
to come and solve our problems for us. It deprecates my dignity and
pride as a black man.
B. Demagoguery, Mischievous Distortions and Literal Interpretations of
Moses, I would rather we debated the inherent merits of my positions
instead of you placing ugly labels on them, distorting them or
associating them with discredited figures in order to attack my
positions. I drew your attention to this distortion: "second
colonization" of Africa which you falsely attributed to me. I have
advocated for the "second liberation" of Africa.
I object to your mischievous attempts to place literal interpretations
on my viewpoints and place them in narrow straight jackets in order to
attack them. My call for "self-reliance" and "African solutions for
African problems" are such examples.
"Self-reliance" does not mean complete and total exclusion of all
external influences or factors. No economy in this world today can be
autarkic. Even China had to open up its economy. Nonetheless, if you
want to buy a car, you start from your own savings first. It is basic
common sense. You do not plan on buying a car based upon the help you
EXPECT to receive from others. But look at the African Union (AU). It
drew up NEPAD, expecting to receive $64 billion in investment from the
West. Need I ask if NEPAD will ever get off the ground? The AU is
afflicted with the same "externalist orthodoxy" or mentality that seeks
the solutions to Africa's woes from external sources. This orthodoxy got
us nowhere and will not extricate us from our current quagmire. Again,
if you want to stick with this orthodoxy and seek foreign solutions, all
the best of luck to you.
C. Back to Roots: Africa's Heritage
Moses, here is a quote:
"Then our people lived peacefully, under the democratic rule of their
kings...Then the country was ours, in our name and right. The land
belonged to the whole tribes. There were no classes, no rich or poor and
no exploitation of man by man. All men were free and equal and this was
the foundation of government. Recognition of this general principle
found expression in the constitution of the council, variously called
Imbizo, or Pitso or Kgotla, which governs the affairs of the tribe. The
council (of elders) was so completely democratic that all members of the
tribe could participate in its deliberations. Chief and subject, warrior
and medicine man, all took part and endeavoured to influence its
decisions. There was much in such a society that was primitive and
insecure, and certainly could never measure up to the demands of the
present epoch. But in such a society are contained the seeds of
revolutionary democracy (Winnie Mandela, Part Of My Soul Went With Him.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1985; p.53).
Moses, you think Mandela is nuts? The comments you made, as well as
those by Kissi, and Emetulu, about traditional Africa or Africa's
heritage amounted to academic nit-picking that serves little purpose.
Everyone knows that diversity is the hallmark of black Africa's
heritage. Yet, certain commonalities can be discerned and generalities
made. For example, most traditional African societies did not have
standing armies. Less than 20 out of the over 2,000 ethnic groups had
standing armies. Therefore, I can safely say that standing armies were
not a feature of most traditional African societies. You can point to a
few exceptions but the exceptions do not make the rule. Similarly, I can
also make the following statements about traditional Africa:
1. The basic social unit is the extended family, not the individual as
in the West.
2. Strong sense of group (ethnic, religious or community) solidarity
pervades traditional Africa, exemplified by these sayings: "I am because
we are," and "It takes a village to raise a child." These resonate with
3. Food production in Africa is a female occupation. It has been for
centuries and remains so today because of sexual division of labor.
About 80 percent of peasant farmers in Africa today are women
4. Free village markets, free trade and free enterprise have been the
rule in traditional Africa for centuries and remain so.
5. Village market activity is dominated by women.
6. Bargaining is the rule in Africa's village markets
7. Village government consists of 3 units: The chief, the Council of
Elders, and the Village Assembly (Meeting). In stateless societies, the
village government is composed of only two: Council of Elders and the
8. Village governance is one of participatory democracy based on
These general statements, as well as others, can be made about
traditional Africa BEING FULLY AWARE that there are exceptions. For
example, not all African ethnic groups had chiefs (stateless societies).
Furthermore, these features of traditional Africa have been in existence
for CENTURIES and are still there. So we are not talking about
antiquity. The village markets have not vanished and bargaining is still
the rule. Further, the vast majority of Africa's peasant farmers are
still women. I won't argue about these, not because of stubbornness but
because it is a waste of time.
An African economy can be broken up into 3 sectors: The modern sector
(the abode of the government and the elites), the informal sector and
the traditional sector. Virtually all of Africa's crises emanate from
the modern sector and spill over to the other two sectors, claiming
innocent victims. The vast majority of the African people - peasants --
live in these two sectors: the traditional and the informal sectors. I
will make two bold and emphatic statements:
a. You CANNOT develop an African country by ignoring the traditional and
the informal sectors. I challenge you to dispute this.
b. Nor can you develop the traditional and informal sectors if you do
NOT understand how they operate. They do not operate by the same logic
and systems as the modern sector does. I challenge you to dispute this
But these are precisely the two sectors African governments and elites
ignored and held in contempt after independence. They spurned the
traditional sector as "backward," "primitive" and "eye-sore." Over 70
percent of Ivory Coast development was concentrated in Abidjan, the
modern sector. The elites were for industrialization, not agriculture -
the main occupation of Africa's peasants.
Whether you Moses like it or not, Africa's peasants still go about their
activities using ANCIENT practices, institutions and customs. They still
use the hoe and the cutlass. Some even still practice female
circumcision - an ancient practice. It is preposterous to characterize
this as "glorifying or romanticizing about antiquity" when this is stark
reality staring at you in the face.
Economic development means improving the lot of these peasants - not
developing the pockets of vampire elites. But you cannot improve their
lot if you do not understand THEIR institutions and systems. We are not
talking about those you learned from textbooks in Western universities.
To improve their lot, you must go down to THEIR level and start from the
"bottom-up." That is what "grassroots development" is all about. "Back
to roots" captures the same essence. To get these peasants to produce
MORE food, you must speak the language THEY -- not you -- understand.
You can't be speaking GREEK to them when what they understand is
"profit-sharing", "susu," "esusu," "tontines," and "stokvels." You
probably don't know what these mean. Go back to your roots and learn
Tragically, we, African elites, did not do this in the post-colonial
period. Our approach was "top-down." We went abroad and copied all sorts
of FOREIGN systems and paraphernalia and transplanted them in Africa.
Name the foreign system and you will find some dysfunctional replica
somewhere in Africa. We even borrowed from Jupiter! Haba! The continent
of Africa is littered with the carcasses of these failed foreign
systems. Black man, have you thought of IMPROVING or CREATING your own?
Moses, as an African, I am proud of my African heritage. Perhaps, you
don't think you have one. If so, what is it? Like I said, I get
irritated when I feel I have to defend Africa's heritage to an African.
I have never said African heritage is all edifying and honky-dory. Like
American heritage or British heritage, it too comes with its warts and
all. But if it strange how some Africans denigrate their own heritage
while others still revere theirs. The Japanese still have their Emperor,
the Fins their King, and the Brits their Queen. The Americans are still
ruled by a Constitution that is more than 200 years old and constantly
talking about their Founding Fathers. I do not hear you accusing
Americans of romanticizing about their antiquity. And you, Moses, accuse
me of "romanticizing about antiquity"? I am sure you will also dismiss
President Thabo Mbeki's "African Renaissance" as "phantamastic."
BOTSWANA is the only African country that did not spurn its indigenous
institutions. It went back to its roots and build upon them. And it is
doing very well, thank you. Botswana is not starving, it has not
imploded. Nor do you see Botswana, with a bowl in hand, begging foreign
institutions to come and solve its problems. As a matter of fact,
Botswana does not borrow from the World Bank; it rather lends money to
the World Bank.
So why don't you, Moses, crow about Botswana as a truly AFRICAN success
story and a model which Nigeria should emulate?
D. Sovereign National Conference (SNC)
Moses, the national conferences held in Zaire and Togo, for example, did
not succeed because they were not "sovereign", nor "independent." They
were manipulated by the incumbents and, moreover, their decisions were
not binding on the incumbents. Therefore, you CANNOT say the SNC did not
succeed in Zaire and Togo when they were not sovereign nor independent.
It succeeded in Benin and South Africa precisely because they were
sovereign and independent. Now, participants in both cases affirmed that
it was derived from Africa's own indigenous institution: The village
meeting or ndaba, as the Zulus call it. For you to claim that you know
better than the Beninois, the South Africans and even the Afghans takes
intellectual arrogance to new heights of absurdity. I won't argue over
this. I take what the Beninois and South Africans tell me, not what you
Moses tell me.
E. "African Solutions for African Problems"
Moses, your attempt to denigrate this slogan is disingenuous. The fact
that it has been debauched and abused by coconut-heads does not mean it
is devoid of any merit. Neither does the fact that it has been hijacked
by some American conservatives to relieve themselves of any obligation
to help Africa. The slogan encompasses more than "back to roots."
Like I said in an earlier posting, I coined that expression in 1993 when
Somalia blew up - out of frustration and anger. You see, time and again
when a crisis erupts, African governments and leaders do nothing to
resolve it. They will rush to the World Bank, IMF, the West and the
international community and badger them for aid. Then they are the same
governments and leaders who will accuse the World Bank and the IMF of
trying to dictate "neo-colonial and imperialist solutions" to Africa.
They are also the same ones who will criticize "Western solutions" as
ineffectual. So why don't these African governments devise their own
African solutions to Africa's problems? I hope you get the drift.
There is a term called "ownership of solutions." If you devise your own
solution to your problem, there is a "pride of ownership" and you have
every incentive to see it work. Many Western or foreign solutions have
not worked well in Africa because they were imposed on or dictated to
Africa. Africans "did not own those solutions." If African leaders say
Western-style multi-party democracy is unsuitable for Africa, why don't
they devise their own "African-style democracy"? And I am not talking
about the situation where they appoint their cronies as the Electoral
Commissioners to write the electoral rules, pad the voter register, deny
the opposition access to the state-controlled media, lock up the
opposition candidates and hold fraudulent elections to declare
themselves winners - as is too often observed in Africa's coconut
republics. Even illiterate chiefs won't get away with this.
I am pasting below the synopsis of a paper by a graduate student in my
class, Africa's Economies in Crisis. She is from Eritrea and her paper
is entitled, "The Feasibility of African Solutions for African
This was a student who frequently argued with me in class "external
factors." When she walked into my office to hand in her paper, she was
profuse with thanks. She said the course had had a tremendous impact on
her and has changed her way of thinking completely. [Aarh, brown-nosing
again. Students will say anything to get an A, I said to myself. In her
case, it was not necessary as I had told my students at the beginning of
the semester that they do not have to agree with me to get an A for the
Another African graduate student from Nigeria is writing a paper on how
to apply indigenous Igbo conflict resolution mechanisms to modern day
African conflicts. The Igbo mechanisms employ the liberal use of women
in conflict resolution. Note that in my original piece, I called for the
inclusion of CIVIL SOCIETY or those directly and indirectly affected by
the conflict to be involved in its resolution. It takes a village to
resolve a conflict.
Moses, what we need is PEACE. If the indigenous conflict resolution
mechanism will bring peace, why not use it? Who cares whether this
mechanism was used in 1367 or 1973?
Professor George B.N. Ayittey
ECON 658 - Economics of Africa
The Feasibility of
"African Solutions for African Problems"
Black people in general, and Africans in particular, need to wake up!
The terms "consciousness" and "awareness" need to be stripped out of
paperback narratives and applied in our daily lives! We need to dust off
our dignity and march toward our third and final liberation struggle!
The first was against colonization as we struggled for political freedom
in the 1960s. The second was against international financial
institutions when we struggled for economic freedom in the 1980s.
Apparently, neither one was fully successful because we are still
struggling. This final liberation struggle is against ourselves and our
own as we fight to reclaim our place in our present history - denied to
us not by the "white man," but by our own "leaders" who share our own
skin color; "leaders" who suffer from intense cases of colonized minds;
"leaders" who by any means necessary have kept us from realizing our
potential; "leaders" whose time is up!
Blaming the "white man," "the system," "the invisible hand," and "the
west," among other external factors will get us nowhere! In fact,
blaming all these outside sources will only add to our bitterness and
animosity - ironically, toward each other - which in turn will keep us
in perpetual bankruptcy! This does not mean, however, that one needs to
erase history and act as if 400 years of slavery, 100 years of
colonialism, and unimaginable number of deaths never happened. Indeed,
all this and much much more did happen to our ancestors! They were
slaughtered, kidnapped, raped, humiliated, scalped, and lynched. Their
social fabric was torn to pieces. Their voices and melodies silenced.
Their livelihoods burned to the ground. Their religions, languages and
memories erased. Their sacred spaces - physical and symbolic - all
invaded. The history of our ancestors must always remain in the back of
our heads - driving us to strive for better and best - not to sulk and
The same ones who destroyed our ancestors, cannot be expected to now
hold the key to our salvation! Therefore, it is time we took things into
our own hands! It is just a matter of centering our souls and
reconnecting with our core being! Indeed, the solutions are inside us
and in our own backyards. The solutions lay in the way things used to be
and the way we are now - a perfect synergy of past traditions and
present routines. All we have to do is create a social, political and
economic system that honors and respects the old sacred ways and at the
same time fits within our new worldly experiences. Then and only then
will we truly be free!
This paper, while recognizing the effects of external factors and past
history, argues that the key to African development - political and
economic - lays in the hands of African peoples - not elites, but
everyday people - themselves.