Africa In Chaos (book fragments)

Fragments from the book

Replace white with black

"Once they replaced the colonial rulers [of Africa], they wanted to become just like them. They wanted to be all-powerful and omnipresent. We just replaced white faces with black faces."

Makau Wa Mutua, Kenyan lawyer and project director of Harvard University Law School’s Human Rights Program

Africa of the Victorian Atlas

“Sierra Leone is a microcosm of what is occurring, albeit in a more tempered and gradual manner, throughout West Africa and much of the underdeveloped world: the withering away of central governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains, the unchecked spread of disease, and the growing pervasiveness of war. West Africa is reverting to the Africa of the Victorian atlas. It now consists of a series of coastal trading ports, such as Freetown and Conakry, and the interior that, owing to violence, volatility, and disease, is again ‘unexplored.’”
Robert Kaplan, journalist

tags: development, regression

Development Journey

Ayittey uses an analogy to describe the way an African country tries to become economically developed:

Consider the development process as embarking on a journey in a vehicle, leaving Point A (state of under-development) and going to Point B (developed state). The road is strewn with obstacles. Development literature has identified a host of obstacles: low income, low investment, low savings, illiteracy, high population growth rates, and so on. The interplay of these factors produced the notorious “vicious circle of poverty” discussed earlier.

The vehicle for this journey may be private or state owned. In virtually all African countries, a state vehicle was taken in the 1960s, but this state vehicle has now broken down. It is a motley collection of obsolete, discarded parts scrounged from foreign junkyards and operates on borrowed ideology. The carburetor was a gift from Norway and the battery was donated by Austria. The tires came from Britain and China and are mismatched. A headlight is broken and the electrical system malfunctions. Turn the ignition switch and the windshield wipers fall off. The engine sputters and belches thick smoke that pollutes the entire country. There are no brakes or shock absorbers (no checks and balances). The fan belt is ripped, which means its cooling system is inoperative.

Clutching the wheel of the state vehicle is a reckless and unskilled egomaniac who proclaims himself “driver-for-life” and insists that he, and he alone, must be the driver till kingdom come since the vehicle is his own personal property. Aboard are his ministers, cronies, tribesmen, mistresses, sycophants, and other patronage junkies, who, in turn, have brought along their relatives, tribesmen, and friends. A goat, stolen from the people, has been tied to the rear bumper for a future feast…

Somewhere along the journey, the smoke-belching, dilapidated state vehicle broke down: dead battery, radiator overheated with the coolant boiling over, and tires flat. This is a crisis situation, which must be resolved before continuing on the journey. But instead of fixing the state vehicle, Somali and Liberian warlords battle ferociously to determine who should be the driver, while Africa’s politicians and intellectuals argue furiously and endlessly over who would be a better driver. Meanwhile Western governments and donor agencies busy themselves with removing the structural obstacles on the road. Since independence, few have occupied themselves with the condition of the vehicle.

Changing the driver through democratic elections or coups d’état would not make any difference to the journey (development). Removing the obstacles on the road (building schools to improve literacy rates or sinking bore holes for drinking water, for example) would not make any difference either. Adding super high-octane jet fuel, brand new shock absorbers, or emission control devices to cut down on the pollution would be futile. That state vehicle is going nowhere fast. In fact, if it moves at all, it will land in an economic ditch. It has to be junked or completely overhauled.

Therefore, questions of “accelerating” development (getting to Point B faster) must be deferred until the vehicle is fixed (reformed). That cannot be done until the cause of the vehicle breakdown—that is, the cause of the African crisis—is determined, which, in turn, requires an understanding of how the vehicle operates and knowledge of its component systems. The state vehicle in Africa is composed of two defective systems: statism and sultanism (personal or one-man rule), which will be discussed in chapter 4. Until these defective systems are rectified, the development journey will be extremely slow, interrupted by constant breakdowns.

The mark of Cain

"We Nigerian [intellectuals] bear the mark of Cain. Ours is the incredible stigma of the man who whimpers and averts his gaze while thugs rape his wife and daughters. We have acquiesced in the unmitigated horror that smothers Nigeria. Many of us bite our tongues because we nurse secret hopes of a chance at the feeding trough. A few, with expectations of reward, even go so far as to defend the Nigerian army. But most of us are just plain scared, paralyzed by fear and chagrin…Is it fear of death that holds us emasculated? There comes a time to die and in death gain redemption…When a people give up the desire for freedom, they are better off dead.”

Linus U. J. Thomas-Ogboji, Nigerian scholar, excoriating members of his own profession
African News Weekly, 26 May 1995

tags: development

Educated Buffoon

A serious study of Africa’s interminable and innumerable crises reveals that the all share a similar evolution. Each crisis begins when an “educated” buffoon, civilian or military, assumes power through an election or a coup d’état. He then proceeds to entrench himself in office by amassing power and surreptitiously debauching all key government institutions: the military, the civil service, the judiciary, and the banking system. With all powers in his hands, he transforms the state into his personal property—to benefit himself, his cronies, and tribesmen, who all then proceed to plunder the treasury. All others who do not belong to this privileged class are excluded, as the politics of exclusion is practiced.
The tyrant employs a variety of tactics to decimate opposition to his rule: co-optation, bribery, infiltration, intimidation, and “divide and conquer.” Opposition leaders compound their weakness by their constant bickering. Out of frustration, a rebel group emerges from the excluded class and mounts a guerilla campaign to oust the despot and his cohorts from power or to secede, as in the Biafran secession in 1967. In the course of the insurgency, the guerilla movement splits into several factions, often along tribal lines. If the campaign to overthrow the regime is unsuccessful, the war drags on for years, even decades, as in Angola, Mozambique, and Sudan. If the head of state is ousted or killed, a power vacuum emerges and factional leaders battle ferociously to fill the void, as in Somalia and Liberia.

Chaos and carnage ensue. Infrastructure is destroyed. Food production and delivery are disrupted. Thousands are dislocated and flee, becoming internal refugees and placing severe strains on the social systems of the resident population. Food supplies run out. Starvation looms.

The Western media bombards the international community with horrific pictures of rail-thin famine victims. Unable to bear the horror, the international community is stirred to mount eleventh-hour humanitarian rescue missions. Food, tents, blankets, portable toilets, high-protein biscuits, and other relief supplies are airlifted to the refugees.

Factional leaders, who initially welcomed the humanitarian mission to feed refugees, turn against the mission and refuse to cooperate with it because its presence accords some legitimacy and recognition to the hated regime. Factional leaders then demand that relief organizations deal with them and not the regime. The demands soon turn into extortion. At some point, relief supplies are attacked and aid workers are taken hostage or killed. The mission loses public support and is terminated; relief workers are pulled out and the starving refugees are left to fend for themselves. That is, until another African country blows up and the whole macabre ritual is repeated. Nothing—absolutely nothing, it seems—have been learned.

tags: bigman

Tighten Your Belts

As Victor Owusu said in 1961, when "half-starved people are being daily admonished to tighten their belts, members of the Ghanaian aristcracy and their hangers-on who tell them to do this are fast developing pot bellies and paunches and their wives and sweet-hearts double their chins in direct proportion to the rate at which people tighten their belts."

tags: politic$

Education and Darfur

"Even with regard to education, it is far from self-evident that a lack of formally educated human capital has much to do with Darfur's problems. Sudan still has illiterate millionaires. More important, perhaps, is the fact that as much as two-thirds of the country's educated force has already emigrated. Education in Sudan runs a great risk of merely providing the key to the door marked Exit."

James Morton (1994)

tags: education

Nigeria: A gangster's paradise

"The [Nigerian] military has perfected the use of intimidation and disinformation to keep a passive population calm. In the process, a timid population became quiet and in some cases conspiratorial and accommodating of dictators for too long. The result is what you see today: a bunch of idiots terrorizing the nation, intimidating opponents and harassing dissidents. It is the equivalent of gangs taking over a whole town. Imagine Al Capone as President of the United States. Well, welcome to the reign of thieves and vagabonds, welcome to our Nigeria today, a gangster's paradise."

Ikenna Anokwute in African News Weekly, 16-22 September 1996

tags: military

World Bank's projects

“Behind the World Bank’s astounding incompetence is its basic economic philosophy, which is more in line with that of the old Soviet Union than of the West. Its preferred way of operating is to set up some Soviet-style development ‘project’ that in one fell swoop is supposed to lift the economic status of the area to a higher plane. Of course, such projects are usually done more or less as government programs, resulting in theft, bribery, kickbacks and other corruption on the part of government officials.”

Stephen Thompson

tags: development

Nigeria's reliable bills

Ayittey says: “But the situation in Nigeria is not hopeless. Says Helen Okpokowuruk, editor of African News Weekly (16 September 1994):

There is at least one service that is efficient and on time. It is the phone bill, if you happen to be among the lucky ones in Nigeria who on a phone. NITEL’s phone bills are completely computerized and are delivered on time every month. Even though your phone may have been out of order for over half of the month due to technical problems at NITEL, you are expected to pay your phone bill promptly or your line will be ‘tossed’ [disconnected]. If your line is disconnected, it could be given to someone else and you will have to get on the waiting list again to get a new phone line. How long would you have to stay on the waiting list? It depends on how much bribe you are willing to pay to the people at NITEL.

The electricity bull too is computerized and delivered on time. People are not so afraid of having their electricity disconnected. Some would not notice the difference.”

Mobutu's chaos

“ ‘Don’t be deceived by the chaos,’ said one experienced Western businessman. ‘Mobutu likes it this way. With hyperinflation it’s easy for foreigners to make money, and it’s the cut from foreigners that fills his pockets. With no roads, the army can never topple him. With no communications, the opposition can never organize. With total corruption, it’s every man for himself and people can be picked off one by one.’”

Vanity Fair, November 1994, 95

tags: bigman

Moribund stability

“A peculiar form of stability prevails in many African countries—stability wrought by impoverishment and repression. In Zimbabwe, according to Paul Taylor, an American journalist, ‘There’s big enough patronage base in the civil service and parastatal companies, which together account for about 35 percent of the economy, for the Mugabe government to keep a firm grip on power. Ministers get rich, political opponents get weary, the masses get poorer. The country is stable.’ (The Washington Post, April 9, 1995, A23).”

tags: regression

Money measures virtue

“Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion—when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed.”

Ayn Rand

tags: politic$

Even wild animals…

“Even wild animals protect their own territories. These wild beasts, as we call them, use their own common sense to hunt together, share the price of their bounties together and, most importantly, protect their territories together. Not so the embezzlers of our public funds. A man who denies himself, his parents and his children good roads, hospitals, education, clean air and water by providing such amenities to his enemies [the rich countries] needs help—he is sick in the head.”
African News Weekly, 7-13 October 1996, 24

tags: politic$

The state is the enemy

Most African regimes have been so alienated and so violently repressive that their citizens see the state as enemies to be evaded, cheated and defeated if possible, but never as partners in development. The leaders have been so engrossed in coping with the hostilities which their misrule and repression has unleashed that they are unable to take much interest in anything else including the pursuit of development. These conditions were not conducive to development and none has occurred. What has occurred is regression, as we all know only too well.
Nigerian scholar Claude Ake

tags: politic$


“Charles de Gaulle, assisted by a handful of competent and ruthless men, managed an incredible sleight of hand: not a termination of France’s control over its former African colonies, but a transformation of its control into something quite original—a community of nations, sharing one currency, that was tied to France economically, culturally and, of course, militarily.”
Gerard Prunier of the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research (The Wall Street Journal, 24 January 1997, A14).

Louis Farrakhan in Ghana

Louis Farrakhan visited Ghana to speak. His speeches raised quite a bit of anger. For example,

You know, I’ve heard the Leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, speak on three occasions. I share his ideas that black people ought to get their act together. But some of the philosophies he put forward at one of his lectures at the du Bois Center in Accra did not quite sit well with me. The man was defending Dictatorship!

But listen to Farrakhan’s analogy and defense: If a man engineers your freedom from slavery, then he has The Right to dictate to you; to tell you where to go and where to sit. Hey, wait a minute. That sounds like merely swapping slave masters, Louis. Try another one. And he did. He compared the relationship between newly independent Ghana and Dr. Nkrumah to that of a Child and its Mother. Farrakhan argued, must not a Mother tell a child where to sit, and what to eat and when to go to bed and who its friends must be? Nope, you got it all mixed up, Louis.
Number one: That philosophy of parenthood is passé. And number two: A child does not elect its Mother. But citizens, even in a freshly-independent country, elect their President. “To Represent them.” Repeat. To represent them, not to dictate to them, thank you very much.

Then there is this one about the Niceness of his Belongings. He said: “I drive a nice car, a very nice car; I live in a nice house, a very nice house; and I wear a nice suit, the best the Whiteman makes Until We (Black people) Can Make Our Own.” Until we can make our own? Hang on a second. We were making and wearing our kentes and batakaris and boubous and amoase before suits and g-strings came this way, man!
The other thing was how he kept referring to us as “Followers” of some leader or the other. Now, let’s get something straight here. The people of Ghana are not followers. We are Citizens. Our President is not a Cult Leader. He is an elected mortal President! What guides us is not Faith, it is a written Constitution. Ghana is not a Religion. It is a country.

Finally, there was the small, I mean small, matter of money. Farrahkan, after our taxes had hosted him and his 16-member entourage including his sons and daughters, made a donation to the du Bois Memorial Center for Pan-African Research. You know how much he gave? FIFTY DOLLARS! Five Zero! If you ask me, I think he can stuff it up in his wallet.

Of course, Black people will find it hard to make it if Men and Women with political and Religious influence insist on a life of combined opulence and stinginess.
(Kweku Sakyi-Addo, Ghana Drum, July 1993, 7)

Michael Eric Dyson, a black American professor of communications at the University of North Carolina, lambasted Farrakhan’s forays on foreign soil and bizarre missions as a betrayal of the spirit of the Million Man March:

When Farrakhan journeyed to Nigeria, instead of indicting the dictator, General Sani Abacha, for his cruel policies, he pleaded with human rights advocates to give Abacha 3 more years to live up to his promise to return Nigeria to civilian rule. Farrakhan ignored the detention of hundreds of pro-democracy activists without trial. He was silent about the executions of opposition leaders like Ken Saro-Wiwa. Farrakhan insulted Nigerians by telling them that severe discipline was sometimes necessary, and that Moses, like Abacha, had been a dictator as well. Thus, Farrakhan seemed to ignore the barbarous practices of Nigeria for no other reason than that the nation is black.
(The Washington Post 13 October 1996, C3)

Ropo Sekoni of the Action Group for Democracy in Nigeria (AGDN) based in Wheaton, Maryland, poured on more invective:

I am writing to express AGDN’s utmost dismay and distress at the recent pronouncements by African American Islamic leader Louis Farrakhan, during his recent visit with Nigeria’s tyrant, General Sani Abacha. Mr. Farrakhan’s prescription: “Only in that military kind of way can a nation that has been down come up and get going,” shows a lack of respect for the 100 million people of Nigeria. It is embarrassing that a few months after Mr. Farrakhan posed in front of the U.S. Congress to 1 million fellow African Americans about the need for them to constantly demand justice from white Americans, he calmly recommended dictatorship for the most populous black nation on earth.

No respectable African-American leader has shown the level of contempt for fellow blacks in Africa that Mr. Farrakhan demonstrated in the statements attributed to him in Nigeria.
(The Washington Times, 3 March 1996, B2)

Africa in Chaos, George B. N. Ayittey


book fragments

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