For the last couple of days I have been embroiled in a treatise about the challenges that face Africa and the possibility of coming up with solutions that are duly African in the dire quest to solve these challenges that have engulfed and embedded our beloved continent for decades especially in the post-independence era.
Africa has been bedeviled by many challenges but the mother of all challenges is arguably the weak governance and poor leadership that many African countries continue to grapple with decades after gaining independence from their respective colonial masters.
In the whole world, Africa is lagging behind in social, political and economic aspects and that is why the 21st Century has been touted as Africa’s ‘special moment’ to play catch-up with the rest of the world. One thing that we need to reflect on as Africans is how Asian states that we were at par with in the 1960s,70s and 80s catapulted from trajectories that were characterized with socio-economic and political stagnation to establish trajectories that reel with tangible socio-economic growth and development.
These nations include China, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea just to mention. In the 1960s through the 70s to the 80s, these countries were ruled by strongmen who were ironfisted, had escalated and spiraling levels of corruption and selective democracy. We need to visualize how exactly these states took-off to place themselves in the path of prosperity and how they left us behind. One of the recognizable actions that were taken by these nations was the act to establish strong institutions especially the political institutions.
The strong institutions that were established by these nations had the mandate to put in place effective and efficient leadership to steer the country to prosperity. The leadership that was engendered by the political institutions managed to enact the policy of zero-tolerance towards corruption which had led to wastage of economic resources in the countries especially by the previous political regimes that were at the helm of the afore-mentioned nations.
On democracy in these Asian states, one may however argue that a country such as China does not have absolute democracy which is very true but now there is a difference with many African countries; the enactment of term limits for the political leaders. Majority of the African countries are failing to prosper and hence stagnate socio-economically and politically because the political leaders cling on power for so long.
In my opinion, term limits help to avoid the vagueness, ambiguity and laxity that is associated with being in power for so long. Is it that countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Burundi and others lack alternative individuals who can take over and ensure that these countries move on with life? Or is it just the lame mentality that once in power, you’ve got to rule for eternity and make the citizens believe that you are only comparable to Messiah and use any means to be in power?
Certainly, because most African nations have very weak institutions we end up having a weak African Union that is entirely less effective in the execution of its mandate and in the implementation of various objectives that are supposed to transform Africa. The lack of pure Pan-Africanists has largely contributed to a weak AU that always barks and seldom bites. When I look across the continent, I see no leader who can claim to be a Pan-Africanist in toto, one who champions for the adoption of African solutions to the many challenges that face Africa. It is because of the dwindled spirit of Pan-Africanism that we need the likes of Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba etc to possibly resurrect from their graves and show the way to the current crop of leaders.
A very significant lesson that African leaders and citizens in general need to learn about is Argentina’s progress which has been characterized by stagnation and mark-timing because of a weak and at times moribund political institution. At one time, several hundreds of years ago, Argentina was the most developed country in the world going by historical and anthropological studies of the Aztec and Inca civilizations. Afterwards, particularly in the 20th century, coup d’états and the establishment of governments ruled by the military junta were the norm. These coups have been Argentina’s tradition and this has made this country to be classified as the ‘next’ economic giant for very many decades and this economic prophesy has never come to pass and will possibly never materialize until a strong political institution is put in place.
If we are not keen and careful, this is likely to be the route that Africa is gonna take in case establishment of strong governance institutions isn’t prioritized and the African Dream popularly known as the African Renaissance will remain a mirage for eternity. The African Renaissance is an ideology that was propagated and popularized by an African scholar known as Cheikh Anta Diop a Senegalese national way back in 1946. The African Renaissance as envisaged by Anta Diop would be a period of time that social, economic and political development would take place in Africa. This ideological disposition is otherwise known as Diopism.
In the 1980s and 90s, the defunct Organization of African Unity (OAU) was not so much committed to the realization of the so much talked about revelation. As the AU was set up in the early 2000s, Thabo Mbeki the then President of South Africa revitalized the same philosophy and ideology that even culminated in the establishment of the African Renaissance Institute. However, up to now the AU has not been effective in championing for Africanized solutions to the challenges and problems that face Africa.
It is because of the weak political institutions that as Africa we are oscillating at one place. With weak political institutions, economic institutions will also be weak. It is because of weak political leadership that Africa cannot unite to speak as one on matters that are very important only choosing to speak and slam the ICC while it has failed to actualize the establishment of the African Court of Justice. As a matter of fact, the crisis experienced in Burundi could be averted in April 2015 when Pierre Nkurunzinza had intentions to change the constitution but the AU chose to simply ignore the matter. Moving on, the same AU can hardly call for the dissolution of the many fragmented trading and/or economic blocs and form an African Free Trade Area or economic union. This would be a significant step towards getting an African homegrown solution towards decimating the foreign aid that has hardly helped Africa to develop.
With hindsight, the foreign aid that we have received has not been effective because it is channeled towards governments that are characterized with poor and ineffective political institutions. In a nutshell, weak political institutions are extractive in nature while strong political institutions are inclusive. Extractive political institutions lead to extractive economic institutions whilst inclusive political institutions beget inclusive political institutions. For African countries to play catch-up with the developed nations, inclination towards the establishment of inclusive political institutions is vital in addition to the utilization of the late-comers advantage of borrowing ideologies and ideas from different developed countries and further amalgamating them. So, Africa’s development complacency is rooted in the fragmented institutional framework that is in existence.