In careful phrases and cogent reasoning, Kennedy Emetulu provides an excellent context to the George vs Moses debate
Like Dr Kissi, I regard the debate over Ayittey’s Africa’s Crisis: The Tragedy of International Response as worthy and insightful, but no less so for Kissi’s own wise and sober contribution (USA/Africa No 149), which I think we should all look at closely. His analysis of the question of normative essence and his attempt to posit some of the generalities in cultural particularities crucially expose the fallacy and futility of unequal or non-uniform comparisons between disparate African polities on one hand and/or between erroneously homogenized Africa and countries (not continents) outside Africa on the other. This is because no matter how far we drag this debate and no matter the policy recommendations we make, we will, as he implies, find that we cannot make progress until we determine the spatial applicability of those recommendations, including their limitations within Africa. It may be positively desirable, for psychological reasons perhaps, to advocate ‘African solutions for African problems’, but beyond the rhetoric, we will have to determine which problems, which solutions, which Africa or part of Africa these will apply to. To assume that simply labeling a proposed solution ‘African’ makes it workable from village to village, city to city, ethnic group to ethnic group, country to country within Africa wouldn’t take us from point A to B in this discussion.
I commend Dr Ochonu for doing an excellent job of expatiating on some of the counterpoints we’ve raised against Prof Ayittey’s proposals and for consistently showing how inadequate some of these proposals are. However, in the light of Prof Ayittey’s latest response, which sounds to me like an insistence on foundations that have already been eroded in this debate, I think it has become imperative to zero in on the issues, determine the truisms, isolate the debatable points and hope that this will encourage a more disciplined discussion, rather than going round and round.
However, before I go further, I think it is in order to ask for some clarification from Prof Ayittey and Dr Ochonu with regard to some earlier exchange between them. Ochonu in his first comment accused Prof Ayittey of proposing the re-colonization of Africa; Ayittey responded that this isn’t the case, pointing out that what he’s always advocated is a “second LIBERATION”. However, in apologizing for the mischaracterization of Ayittey’s view, Ochonu said the following:
I apologize for the semantic slippage that made me substitute "colonization" for "liberation." But I suppose that you only have a problem with my semantics, not my characterization of your idea of “second liberation” as idea which denotes the supplanting of African ruling elites with Western expatriates and institutions of neo-liberal economic and political superintendence (emphasis mine).
Now, if the above is true, it is a very serious matter indeed, because it contradicts the whole point Ayittey is making in proposing “African solutions to African problems”. Indeed, we would then be left to wonder why he criticizes Ochonu for supporting a measure of Western intervention in African conflict resolution processes, because, in truth, nothing is more interventionist, colonial, imperial and slavish all at once than the idea of supplanting the admittedly failed African ruling elite with Western expatriates and institutions of any sort. In fact, all of us should be worried for our future and the future of our children if any African intellectual with access to Western policymakers and institutions with capacity to influence things in Africa thinks this way.
However, if this is not true, the right thing is for Prof Ayittey to come out and say so and to explain to us why he didn’t deny the charge after Ochonu had made it, because, frankly, his latest attempt to excoriate Dr Ochonu for characterizing his view as re-colonization did not help in this regard. In the (B) portion of his response sub-titled “Demagoguery, Mischievous Distortions and Literal Interpretations of My Positions”, he merely repeated that all he’s always advocated is “second liberation” of Africa (USA/Africa Dialogue No 172). One would have expected him to explain what this means, having read everything he’s written so far on this issue and seeing nowhere he’s attempted to explain what he means by this anywhere in this debate. Yes, we are aware that he flatly denied the charge that he’s calling for re-colonization, but Ochonu believes his denial is on semantics and not on substance. In fact, he has gone on in his latest response to Ayittey to point out that the latter’s objection is only in the use of “wrong terminology”, but not his explanation or interpretation of the idea. I therefore think it is incumbent upon Prof Ayittey to come out now and explain what he means by “second LIBERATION” and for Ochonu, if he insists on his earlier position, to show us proof that what Ayittey means by this is the supplanting of African ruling elite with Western expatriates and institutions of any kind.
Of course, I’m further aware that Prof Ayittey has gone on in his responses to Ochonu to extensively berate what he calls the “internationalization” of Africa’s problems, but again, whether his criticism only relates to conflict resolution processes or includes economic, social and political collaborations or engagements, the point remains that the implication inherent in the above quote I extracted from Ochonu’s response, which he is yet to deny, clearly contradicts his latter criticism of internationalization. So, I think it is important they clear this up so that we can make better sense of what each is saying.
While we await clarification from both gentlemen, let me take a thematic view of the issues under discussion with a view to isolating what is still worth debating at this point:
A. Thematic view of issues under discussion
(1) Is Africa the headquarters of world conflicts?
Africa does not qualify to be regarded as the world’s most conflict-ridden region. Take a look at the Asia and Pacific region and you’ll be confronted by the Afghan War, the Myanmar Civil War (56 years old), the Kashmir Conflict (13 years old), Nepal Civil War (almost 10 years old), the Muslim Rebellion of Southern Philippines (35 years old), the New People’s Army Rebellion (35 years old), the Sri-Lankan Civil War (21 years old) and Bougainville War of Independence (15 years old). Still there are such ‘minor’ conflicts going on such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts War in Bangladesh, Hmong Insurgency in Laos (29 years old), Aceh Rebellion, Ambon Ethnic Violence, West Papua Rebellion and the newly-declared war by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Minor Wars within India itself include the Naga Rebellion (52 years old), Mizo Rebellion (38 years old), Naxalite Guerrilla War (37 years old), Tipura Rebellion (25 years old), Bodo Rebellion and over half a century of off and on Hindu-Muslim sectarian violence.
We then turn to the Middle and Near East, what do we get? The Iraq War, the Israeli-Palestinian-Syrian-Lebanese Conflicts, the Yemeni Tribal Conflict, the Iranian Mujahedin-e-Khalq Guerrilla War (25 years old), the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict (involving Armenia and Azerbaijan) and the subsisting Korean Conflict.
In Europe, we have the Basque Separatist Rebellion in Spain, the Northern Ireland Troubles, Kurdish Rebellion in Turkey, Greek-Turkish face-off over Cyprus, Georgia-Abkhazia Civil War, Chechen-Russian War and the remnant of the Balkan War.
In the Americas, you get the 40 years old Colombian Civil War, the Tupac Amaru Movement and Shining Path Rebellion in Peru, the fallout of the US-inspired Slaughters in Guatemala, the Venezuelan Crisis and the tense relations between Cuba and the US.
What all the above examples prove is that there is nothing unique in African conflicts and whether in their extent or effect, they do not qualify as the world’s worst. Besides, it needs no rocket science to understand that the part of the world with the worst poverty, misrule and deprivation will naturally breed its own conflicts, especially when it is one of the world’s most important sources of raw material. And there is no truth in the claim that it’s sucking most of the world’s resources in aid, if we compare it with other regions. All one has to do to get an idea is to compare the amount of aid the tiny country of Israel receives from the US and EU with how much they give to vast Africa south of the Sahara. In fact, the truth that the world is not doing enough for Africa was recently underlined once again by no lesser person than the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, who was in America a few days ago to campaign for the rich countries to do more for global poverty, advocating a doubling of aid resources (two years after Monterry!) which of course doesn’t sound much like donor fatigue. In fact, if we buy the donor fatigue argument, it would be difficult to explain why aid to such countries that are indeed pursuing reforms are dwindling as well.
(2) Should the West or International Community Intervene?
If we are serious about proposing solutions to the seemingly endless conflicts in Africa, I do not think we need to waste our time debating whether the West or international community should intervene or not. Whether we like it or not, they will intervene, because they have interests to protect and only them would seem to also have the capacity to intervene decisively, if they so choose. Besides, the prevailing international order grants them such legitimacy as members of the international community who must show concern for any part of the world in crisis. This has been the rule before we were born and will continue long after we’re gone. Even Prof Ayittey’s “African solutions to African problems” will not transform from slogan to action without acquiescence from the West or the international community, again because of the interests they have in Africa, which, of course, they wouldn’t be giving up. To convince them to give up the decision-making capacity likely to affect these interests to some African leaders or leadership organization of any sort in the name of that slogan will not happen. All you have to do to know this is read the publication by Heritage Foundation sent round to us by Dr Falola as USA/Africa Dialogue No 154, which is on US military assistance to Africa. Africa will become of more strategic importance to the West this century; so, I think what we should be talking about is how we want them to intervene and what should be our expectation for realistic and resoluble intervention.
I think in talking about Western or international intervention as a tragedy Ayittey avoids the whole essence of responsibility for the state of affairs, even though he admits on one hand that the West is equally complicit for the African condition. It is morally appropriate to call upon all the defilers to clean up the mess. However, the better diplomatic view is to say we all have responsibility to help and protect each other as members of the international community. Western intervention is a tragedy, not because it cannot be helpful, but because so far it is not honest, for reasons Ochonu and I have enumerated amongst others. Rather than talking about “Tragedy of international intervention”, I think Ayittey should be talking of its duplicity or, if that is too condemnatory, its inadequacy. We need honest and visionary intervention by the West, because they more than others have the capacity for such a resolution, bearing in mind the history and dynamics of these conflicts.
(3) Are African traditional rulers different from the failed political elite?
This is a false dichotomy. While it is true that the colonial authorities found the traditional chiefs more useful and malleable for their purpose and used them as such, it is equally true that since the grant of flag independence the nationalist political class actually took power with the traditional rulers. The pervasive influence of African traditional ruler has never waned since that time, whether at the local or national level. In fact, in terms of retention of political power and influence, they have been more incumbent than any of the unstable non-traditional regimes that have come and gone in Africa - regimes that used them, just like the colonialists, to sell their agenda. So while it is okay to yearn for some measure of traditional values in our political, economic and social life in Africa, it would be erroneous to think that traditional rulers represent those values or that they are not part of the political elite that’s failed us.
(4) How realistic and desirable is the proposal ‘African solutions to African problems’?
There is nothing more desirable for any genuine African than to be able to work out solutions to his/her own problems. It is simply human to strive to be self-reliant. However, in international relations, things are far more complex. No country or continent is an island unto itself; no people live in isolation. A history of dealings and interaction leaves patterns which are often very difficult to break not only due to habit, but also as a result of conditioned necessity. Africa as an aid-dependent polity cannot overnight throw away that dependence or correct on its own the ravages such dependence has caused over the years. Besides, it depends on what kind of aid we are talking about. For instance, the effect of food aid on local economy and agriculture is quite different from that of military aid/intervention in a case of genocide or grave conflict, whether natural or man-made. More crucially, the nature and scale of present-day conflicts in Africa means that the resources to return normalcy or a semblance of it to dislocated societies are often not there. Thus, dependence on external sources becomes inevitable.
Reality and experience also tell us that the West cannot provide all the resources usually needed; so a degree of improvisation and an encouragement of do-it-yourself culture will not go amiss. But we must recognize that for ingenuity to thrive there must be a level of peace, which should be pursued honestly, and, where necessary, with help from the outside.
(5)What does modernizing African indigenous practices and institutions entail?
Quoting Winnie Mandela’s Part Of My Soul Went With Him, Prof Ayittey dismisses comments made here by Ochonu, Kissi and myself “about traditional Africa or Africa’s heritage” as amounting to “academic nit-picking that serves little purpose”, yet it did not occur to him that Winnie’s claim that pre-colonial Africans “lived peacefully, under the democratic rule of their kings” is a little too tidy to swallow! While we can forgive Winnie for such propagandistic overstretch, being that she was then in the forefront of fighting to liberate her people from the evil of apartheid, to quote such as authority in this discussion is surprising. First, we know from a sober study of history that pre-colonial African life had its tensions and conflicts; life was not as idyllic as Winnie paints it and, for God’s sake, what is the point of that contradictory claim of Africans living under “the democratic rule of their kings”? What is democratic about living under kings, when we are not talking constitutional monarchies? Of course, the point about us questioning Africa’s heritage (presented in different guises in Prof Ayittey’s responses) is a non-point, just as is his continued attempt to question Ochonu’s knowledge of this heritage. No one here questions the African heritage - personally I am very, very proud of my heritage as an African - but I do know when romanticization takes over.
For instance, in discussing this issue, Prof Ayittey took us on a wild goose chase of eight “general statements” about Africa, breaking down African economy into three sectors, modern, informal and traditional and proclaiming that virtually all African crises “emanate from the modern sector and spill over to the other two sectors” and then ended up making two “emphatic statements” which he challenged Ochonu to disprove:
“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 also”.
But what is there to disprove? Why are we suddenly debating these points? Who disagrees with the fact that we need symmetric or balanced economic development in Africa? Who does not see the indefensible disparity between our cities and the rural areas? But does understanding how the informal or traditional sectors operate mean we have to operate the same way? Isn’t there room for improvement especially when we see that for centuries this mode of production isn’t taking us anywhere? Do we have to copy the white man’s technology hook line and sinker to make the changes we need to progress the economy? Or, do we have to reject it in toto in the name of sticking with our own modes? Of course, we don’t have to do any of these since both are extremes; yet the point must be made that we would have had no Industrial Revolution in Europe if men had accepted as unquestionable the way things were done before then! So, while Prof Ayittey continues to insist on us modernizing indigenous African practices and institutions in order to use them to resolve modern problems, it is perhaps worthwhile to point out that the devil is usually in the detail. We can do this even as we accept his proposal in principle.
However, for the purpose of this debate and bearing in mind the task Prof Ayittey claims he’s been given, which is the issue under discussion, I would say he has failed to relate this principle to the problem at hand, even on the most basic level. Prof Ayittey has not defined for us how any indigenous African practice can be adapted for the purpose of resolving the kind of crises we have today in Africa where huge armies with modern weapons without loyalty to tradition or clan wreck havoc on cities and villages on a wide scale. How would Kgotla or Ama-ala help when tens of thousands of men overrun your village, rape your women and kill your men and then force the rest to go mine blood diamonds to pay for more arms? How would these traditional conflict resolution institutions help when they are usually the first victims of these conflicts?
Some of the solutions proposed by Ayittey such as the sovereign national conferences, power-sharing and politics of inclusion are certainly things some of us agree with, even though we disagree with the attempt to conscript them as some traditional African ideas, including being cautionary in regarding them as all-cures. But if Prof Ayittey’s task is to propose solutions to “Africa’s never-ending cycle of violence and war”, then we must propose more proactive and practical solutions. On my part, all I’m doing next is to break down into separate areas (strictly for convenience) what I consider to be ideas on the solutions, which include military, political, economic and social proposals. In other words, a holistic look at the needs, the limitations and what each party has to do to make practical headway is necessary. In discussing aspects of the solution, I have only divided them into these comfortable areas, just to generate debate, not to make categorical statements and certainly not to claim to be providing all the answers.
More importantly, we must note that there are no fit all solutions really; each conflict will usually have its peculiarities, thus specific conflict analysis usually determines what solution(s) will work and the nature of their application.
(I) Military: African Rapid Response Intervention Force
African military conflicts, like others around the world, depend on the acquisition and availability of sophisticated and not-too-sophisticated military hardware and the mobilization and training of men to use them, either in guerrilla situations or face to face military engagements. Once it gets to this point, only a superior military force with clearer responsibilities can silence the guns of the warring parties and save innocent civilians usually caught between them. After the failures of the international community in the Balkans and Rwanda, the United States President, Bill Clinton in June 1999 proclaimed the Clinton Doctrine which mandates Western forces to deploy for humanitarian purposes, especially where genocide or serious human rights abuses are being perpetrated. In December 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty went further to declare the existence of a “Responsibility to Protect” under international law. The overall effect of all this is that the world increasingly looks up to the international community to intervene in such situations
But even where strong political will exists for intervention, there are practical problems to confront in every situation. For instance, in most situations of that nature the main genocide would usually have been committed in a few days or weeks before the international community becomes even aware. In Rwanda, about 250, 000 of the eventual half a million Tutsis were already killed in the first three weeks, which means before the media began to spread the news, most were indeed already dead.
Then there are the logistical problems. Africa is not yet of great strategic military importance to the West, so that means we are far away from western military bases. We also have bad military infrastructure in terms of airbases or roads. All this means it is far harder and longer to deploy troops to African conflict regions than elsewhere.
The real solution here therefore must be for the international community to invest in a rapid intervention force, to be stationed anywhere off the African coast and with emphasis on air and sea power. The key thing here is that this force must be UN-controlled and available only to be deployed by the Security Council through the Secretary-General. However, it necessarily has to coordinate efforts and cooperate with Western forces, because only they, at this moment, have the capacity for such a project. At least this must be the case at the beginning; but, over time, multinational training practices and recruitment will turn it into a true multinational professional force. Of course, it cannot be deployed everywhere at once; it therefore must be selective, depending on the situations in each potential hotspot. But the principle would be that this force will come into such a situation, protect the civilian populace and hold the ground until the larger peacekeeping force deploys and takes over. Rather than the international community sending military aid to African nations, they should spend such resources to invest in this kind of rapid response intervention force. If there was one, the situation in Congo, Rwanda, Sierra-Leone, Liberia and presently Sudan wouldn’t have been as bad as they were/are.
But the above suggestion is only futuristic; it is not what obtains today and there’s no guarantee that they would think this way tomorrow. Africans for today must begin to use their commonsense, rather than continue to keep themselves open to be exploited by criminal warlords. For instance, it is clear that even where your cause is just, picking up the gun or using your people as bait in a genocidal war with the hope that the international community will intervene on your behalf wouldn’t be the smart thing to do, at least not in the present circumstances. We have just talked about how very difficult it is for the international community to deploy troops in Africa even where the political will is there, which means very grave consequences for the civil populace in any kind of military conflict. Our political leaders therefore must begin that attitudinal change of realizing that the smartest thing to do is to avoid a military situation, no matter the provocation. We must begin to encourage discussions and negotiations rather than war. This means that real effort should be put into other conflict resolution mechanisms, such as political, diplomatic, economic and social mechanisms, before conflicts degenerate to military situations. However, one thing to note is that none of these mechanisms stand alone since they are overlapping, interlocking and mutually reinforcing in their implementation and effect.
(II) Political: Democracy, democracy and more democracy
I personally agree with Prof Ayittey’s political prescriptions, be they SNCs or power-sharing arrangements; even though Ochonu and I have gone on to qualify our expectations from them. One prescription that made a great impression on me is the politics of inclusiveness; but it must be said that this in itself is an end-result, an effect, rather than the action itself. In other words, before we can truly accept that a political system or culture is inclusive it must have operated for sometime and the benefits must be seen and appreciated by those it is meant to serve; in other words, its reality is embedded in its sustainability, not mere proclamation. The real question therefore is what we are to do to get to that stage.
The first place to start would be democracy and more democracy. It is unfortunate that the West and international community are more concerned with stability than the human rights and political records of the regimes they approve or deal with in Africa. I am not aware of any reasonable standard being set for what constitutes democracy or good governance in Africa. A Yoweri Museveni bans political parties and runs effectively a one-man show in Uganda and the West proclaims him an exemplary leader; an Obasanjo runs what is effectively a one-man regime in pluralistic Nigeria and he goes in and out of the White House as if it’s his back garden! All over the place in Africa are crooked leaders being laundered abroad as progressive-minded, while we all pretend that only Mugabe, today’s pantomime villain, is the black sheep.
It is time the West and the international community do away with cultural relativism where it relates to expectations from our politics. The idea that human rights have to be understood differently in the context of Africa, because as a philosophical product of the Age of Enlightenment it is essentially individualistic and runs counter to the spirit of community-based compartmentalized societies of Africa is hogwash. We could all as well pine for the Stone Age in the name of cultural sustenance. The rights of an individual should be the same all over the world and once that right is threatened anywhere it must be regarded as threatened everywhere. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not selectively applicable. So, true democracy, constitutionalism and respect for human rights are basic starting points for Africa. Every threatened dawn of real democratic change in Africa has always been hijacked and short-changed by the same cabal of terrorist-leaders; but they wouldn’t have succeeded without the acquiescence and connivance of the international community.
But there is a limit to what we can expect from outsiders. In fact, the failed African leaders are succeeding in their crooked ways mostly because we the people have abdicated our responsibility as citizens; we have given up our inherent moral and political power to question them and oversee their actions as servants of state. We have buckled under fear, intimidation and the spirit of nonchalance! I personally think it is time for the African intellectual class, the media and those members of the elite unsoiled by criminal political participation in the failed system to stand up and be counted. It is time for us to begin to direct change in Africa by courageously challenging the old paradigms of doing things, including the ideas that sustain them. Yes, we can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs, so it would take more than just writing long essays and jaw-jawing on the net or in the campuses; it is time we take education, real political education, to the man in the streets. It is not enough to berate our leaders for failing; we must also accept we have failed for letting them remain there and run rings around us. Why is it possible for such unproductive and criminal regimes to find a place in Africa, but not outside it?
So, while we fight Western policymakers and political leaders for accommodating charlatans as our representatives and for legitimizing them internationally, we must at the same time be finding means to energize the African people to chase out these leeches by true democratic means. Indeed, if the people themselves, with the help of the press and the intellectual class, establish popular democracy and insist on the standards they want - standards they know will work for them and their children - it would be difficult for outsiders to run the show to the detriment of the people.
(III) Economic: Looking within
Since the end of the Cold War, economic reasons have proved highly important in precipitating conflicts. Though the use of economic aid to score political and ideological points or for geo-political reasons became unnecessary in the new post-nineties ‘unipolar’ world, there is still enough of this going round for dependent African political leaders to steal and hide abroad. The complicity of “international institutions” in this state of affairs is better illustrated by the fact that in spite of African countries receiving on the average about 17 percent of GDP in aid, a scandalous fact on its own, the Bretton Woods institutions are still showering them with more aid! And this against the background that this is, as always, only used to increase consumption, unnecessarily expand and corrupt governments, with nothing for the economically disadvantaged or the poor.
The gap between the rich and the poor, no doubt, is disgraceful, but using aid in an untargeted and undisciplined manner or using it to blindly attack the symptoms, such as poor education, lack of capital and modern industries, etc can only create bigger problem of world inequity. Just two decades ago, the richest fifth of the world population living in the rich countries produced and consumed 70 percent of world goods and services, while the poorest fifth of our world lived on 2 percent. But the real story is that the little positive change we have seen since then in terms of a modest decline in global inequality is simply as a result of two large poor countries, China and India, outperforming the rich countries economically. In spite of two opposite political cultures, they achieved this because they focussed on the basics. Our problem in Africa is not that we do not have great minds to dissect the most complex questions thrown up by economics or other disciplines, but it is the basics we don’t get right.
China, India, Vietnam and the low income reforming countries began the process of reform themselves, seizing the initiative and depending on internal resources, before taking in foreign aid. For instance, by 1991 when China’s growth rate was in double-digits, the official foreign development assistance was $2 per person and foreign direct investment $10 per head; but these were dwarfed by the average Chinese’ savings rate of 38 percent of annual income. India’s net aid inflow in excess of $2 billion in 1991-1992 has by 2001 transformed into over $600 million net outflow. The success of the intervening period no doubt is underlined by these countries’ conscious decision to do without the aid, and where accepted, to use it in a targeted way, for instance accepting emergency aid when India went bust in 1991. But at no time, even at the peak of gross aid inflow into India, for instance, did it exceed 1 percent of GDP; whereas as I’ve mentioned earlier, African countries at about the same period (early 1990s) were receiving on the average about 17 percent of GDP in foreign aid!
Today, democratization has made it more possible for more and more economically marginalized people to have a political voice, while globalization, on its part, further reduces the power of the state over factors to influence national economic directions. The inability or unwillingness of these aid-dependent political leaderships throughout Africa to wake up and smell the coffee means they were at the mercy of all kinds of experimentation from Bretton Woods institutions to shylock governments, transnational companies, institutions and individuals from abroad eager to make a killing out of Africa’s cheap labour costs and abundant natural resources. Control of economic power therefore becomes the focus of national governments, rogue foreigners masquerading as international businessmen and women and local rebels, becoming a high-risk game of do or die. Of course that means death to the local African economy, even as the criminals live fat from the distortions they institutionalize through wars and conflicts for the control of those resources.
The experiences of India and China, though just two countries, but with huge populations should serve us well. African countries individually, on their own, without external interference, must first define what role government has to play; they must consider their own uniqueness, convert this into an economic advantage, create their own distinct economic narratives, use internal resources to generate reforms and sustain this institutionally before looking outside. And when they accept external loans, these must be modest and used only as catalysts for reforms rather than using them as foundations. The successful countries simply chose a starting point, stayed focus and ensured there were identifiable results. China began with giving and strengthening private property rights and India its energy sector, etc. Both are great places to start off from anywhere in Africa. Of course, no one is saying you have to succeed the first time, but there is no substitute for doing your homework first before you begin to experiment.
Thus, we must begin to jettison the idea that every kind of reform needs aid from the outside to be successful. For aid to help economic development there must first be a reasonably strong or favourable institutional environment, unlike the weak institutions we have in most of Africa. Depending on NEPAD to do this is like waiting for Godot, because in truth it is far more worthless than the paper its highfalutin aspirations are written on. A framework of partnership between governments (failed African governments on one side and governments of G8 on the other), rather than between institutions and peoples is bound to fail, because of the inherent contradictions, over-bureaucratization and lack of consultation with the ordinary African whose purpose it is supposed to serve. Yes, NEPAD was dead on arrival because the economic agents in Africa that should have championed it were never consulted or mobilized. More negative is the idea that it has to depend on foreign aid (which they’ve euphemistically termed investment) to kick off. I personally don’t know how useful it would be to discuss NEPAD here, since its three and half years of existence has nothing to show except Obasanjo and Wade almost coming to blows over “peer review” and the occasional photo-op that two or three NEPAD Presidents show up for at any G8 meeting.
First, what is needed for economic progress is the political will for the state to recognise not only the limits of its own role in day to day running of the economy, but its importance in establishing the right or conducive environment for economic progress. Africans must do this with their eyes wide open, not by buying into the quarter-baked principles of voodoo economics handed them from abroad. For instance, one key phrase that have dominated these prescriptions has been “free market”, under which is subsumed all manner of malleable if not foggy thinking. While Africa must strive to follow the economic trend of removing the withered hand of the state from direct economic activity by encouraging responsible privatization (as opposed to the pawning of state resources for pittance to cronies), it must also note how strongly the prescribing authorities flout the rules that they expect others to follow.
They need not look beyond the heavy protectionism and subsidization that governs Western agriculture and the effect this is having on their own economies today. For instance, it is estimated that United States’ subsidies to 10 percent of its cotton farmers (about 2, 500 farmers who got the huge chunk of the $3 billion between 2001 and 2002) had the real effect of impoverishing 10 million cotton farmers in Africa! And, of course, the Rwandan conflict actually began as an economic issue. The collapse of the international coffee market, precipitated by the United States and the Bretton Woods treatment actually brought the tensions to the fore and led inexorably to political collapse and then the massacres.
We must begin to ask why it is possible for non-producers to fix the price of cocoa or coffee, for instance, and distort the market when they choose, to the chagrin of powerless African producers. And if the answer is in the fact that the market for the end product is controlled from the outside, what then is needed to establish that market or control it from Africa? I mean, why are we not the ones providing the finished cocoa end-products to the frozen cities of Europe and America? This is where African governments must pull their weight and show vision – rather than falling over themselves for foreign aid and encouraging African producers to do the same, they must instead develop strategic thinking. Cocoa is ours, so if there are a million and one products derivable from it, let’s produce all at home and sell abroad.
Also, African governments and businesses must put heads together and begin to exploit the principles of national competitive advantage. In this regard, we can learn a lot from the established economies, including the Asian Tigers. There is nothing wrong in states giving strong backing to firms within the national environment in order to increase those firms’ competitive advantage. The European countries did this by backing GSM and adopted it as a single pan-European network; the Japanese did this with industries dealing in semiconductors and VCRs; the Germans are doing it with the auto and chemical industries; the Swiss in banking and pharmaceuticals, the Americans in commercial aircraft, computer software and motion pictures; the Italians in fabric, footwear and textile, etc. Japan is even known to use its aid programmes to developing countries to stretch this competitive advantage for Japanese industries by imposing such conditions that most of the goods and services not locally available in the recipient countries be purchased from Japanese firms. Further examples include South Korea’s support for Samsung, Malaysian government’s intervention in the sale of Time Engineering, etc. The point I’m making is that our governments in Africa need to be bolder in their economic policies and in using the state as an agent of development and the organized private sector must also be ready to cash in on whatever advantage that they’re given. For instance, it would be no use for government to support indigenous firms that do not have the know-how or cannot deliver. In other words, the key principle here is that production is the beginning of real economic progress.
And that is where we run into problems in Africa. The cause of producing a productive economy is not helped by the prevalent idea that he who controls the government and access to foreign finance controls the economic destiny of the country. This not only breeds prebendal dependence on state resources, but it also takes those resources away from needed areas into private pockets, while also creating grounds for marginalization and economic dictatorship, all of which naturally creates resentment, even amongst the apolitical class. The fact that virtually every conflict in Africa has within it aspects of economic disenchantment says a lot, especially as notions of economic deprivations or marginalization prove more potent in recruitment. The problem with the Ogoni in Nigeria and the silent war and killings going on now in the Niger-Delta region of the country, all in the name of oil that has no benefit for the people who own it, even as they lose their environment to its exploitation, exemplifies this point.
With the economy, we don’t need too much theory; let us first get the basics right. Prof Ayittey got the economic argument right, but my only problem is with the institutions he would prefer to use to effect the great changes he proposed and the fact that he couldn’t acknowledge the fact that outside help is inevitable. While the traditional system may prove something different; the right quotient is yet to be worked out. There is even clear evidence that the traditional system of conflict resolution is a victim of the mayhem today. When a marauding army comes to town, the chief is either dead, in prison or collaborating! What would Ama-ala, Ndaba or Kgotla do under the barrel of the gun? And even if we were to say it was possible, the mere size of the conflicts today makes the traditional system with limited authority and jurisdiction otiose and of no practical value.
(IV) Social: The cows are coming home
This is the foundation area, the one that more or less encapsulates all. For instance, something of great socio-political importance is the fact that the failure of the state to hold the social fabric together makes actual conflict possible. There will be no conflict if the social fabric of society still holds, but all these other factors we’ve discussed, such as the politics of malverisation, poor governance, failed economic policy, etc all band together to break social fabric and then real and actual conflict begins. But the real attack is right in our psyche – we make all this possible because, even amongst ourselves as Africans, we practice real discrimination for whatever reasons. Anywhere you turn in Africa ethnic politics is the rule – the majority ethnic groups oppressing the minority under noxious notions of ethnic superiority, age-old rights or inequities, political control, etc. However, whether these inequities or ethnic chauvinism are real or imagined, the effect is the same – conflict.
The first instrument to confront this and similar social malaise likely to lead to conflict or more conflict is education, be it tertiary education, education and social rehabilitation programmes for children-combatants, adult education, primary education, training of any sort, etc. Beginning with education will ensure one thing, that you’ve plugged the drain. Once you get the young through education, then you’ve stopped the rot. But education is not only formal or structured only to be imparted in formalized settings. Educating civil society, for instance, will take a whole lot of ingenuity. I believe that the principal goal of civil society education should simply be towards establishing and supporting public awareness networks teaching people the value of free and fair elections and how to get it. If we dedicate adequate resources as members of the international community or Africans to ensuring that every citizen of voting age is knowledgeable enough about the power of the choice he/she makes, whether in a formal school or within the Africans’ own natural environment, then half the problem is solved, because majority of African conflicts arise because those in power have lost legitimacy or do not have it in the first place. It is not necessary for those in armed opposition to be morally better; rather, it is enough that they oppose. And for societies at the centre, social dislocation takes immediate and horrible effect.
Every conflict has early warning signals, which a strong socio-cultural base would have tackled without stress. But the social well-being and that acute sense of tradition has become a victim of conflict as well! Not surprisingly, I’m going to agree very much with Prof Ayittey as regards indigenous machinery here, but only as it relate to socio-cultural applications, in terms of place, size, adaptability, organizing agencies, effects, etc. Countries and conflicts are about people. Every planning must begin with them. For instance, it is crucial, as part of the process of preventing future conflicts to begin to educate and reorient people in the refugee camps. These are the same people who will go back to the communities and begin it again. I think in this kind of atmosphere using traditional conflict resolution methods within the camps/shelters as a means of continuing normal life outside their home is culturally and psychologically important. Here also, because they are more likely to share space with others from other ethnic groups and possibly race, even adversaries or enemies; it would be important to introduce people to other cultures, so that people understand why things are done in certain ways by other people around them. Here the Ama-ala, Ndaba or Kgotla or a healthy hybrid of a culture familiar with the refugees would serve them better as a touchstone for everyday life within the camp and as part of experience they should take back home; but it certainly is no use outside that.
Also, in those and formalized peaceful settings, a continental project to promote African languages as language of transnational communication, international commerce, diplomacy, learning, technology, etc should immediately be undertaken by African governments and their development partners. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; the languages are there, all we need is to internationalize them to serve two basic and immediate purposes. First, in case of conflict, people from different regions of Africa or from within a country can communicate better. Secondly, it would help to open up Africa to Africans. African scholars, no matter what discipline, should begin to intellectually invest in African languages. We have to make the case.
In conclusion, let me say I would have liked to continue the discussion by looking at the conflict diamonds issue and the inadequacy of the Kimberley Process, the socio-economic aspects of the trade in small arms, the general work of non-state actors and the NGOs and their role as go-betweens in conflict situations, the uses of diplomacy, social cost of globalization, etc. However, this is a discussion; so I expect we will find time to look at them in due course.