|Bottle-necks of Development in Africa (HABITAT)|
Africa has suffered from lack of enlightened leadership and a bad style of political and economic guidance While African leaders could have excused themselves for being unable to protect their people from the exploits of colonial empires is The 19th and 20th centuries, they can hardly escape blame for allowing neo-colonial exploitation which continues to reduce many of their people into paupers in their own countries.
During the past three decades, Africa suffered lack of visionary and altruistic leaders committed to the welfare of their own people. They were persuaded to accept the development model of the West, borrow capital from the West and be guided by experts from the same West.
This was partly possible because the colonial administration deliberately destroyed and discredited the traditional forms of self governance in Africa. Until late l950s when the inevitable wave of decolonization swept across Africa natives were not allowed to practice their own form of governance, culture, religion, traditions and customs. While the colonial form of governance was being put in place, the western religion and values were being imposed on those who converted into christianity. Whatever provided guidance and order in the society was banned or condemned by the western missionaries as being incompatible with the teachings of Christ and Christianity.
Just before independence was granted, young Africans were promoted to positions hitherto unoccupied by the local people and they were trained by colonial masters to take over power from the colonial administration. Many of these African recruits were politically naive and uninformed. Some of them (or their parents) were naive corroborators with the colonial administration during the struggle for independence. Their employment into the prestigious administrative positions previously reserved for the colonial masters was a manipulative ploy. It blinded them. They became corroborating students of the same colonial administrators who wanted devotees of their philosophy and values to govern the new independent African States. These were to be the corroborators for neo-colonialism.
So fluttered by the new-found power and prestige in their new state, many Africans became sucked into a mechanism which facilitate the continued exploitation of Africa and the African people. It was easy for the new rulers to be blinded with material wealth and privileges associated with wealth and political power because they were naive and inexperienced. This development allowed the beginning of a small group of African elites who were in liaison with the rich North to continue the exploitation of the African resources while ignoring the fate of the impoverished majority.
With that bad beginning, leadership in Africa became characterized by opportunism, personal advancement and enrichment at the expense of the masses. The new black administrators and the bourgenouning elites enjoyed the same economic and social life-styles and privileges which the imperial administrators enjoyed. The only difference between the two in terms of the objectives for the country was the colour of their skin . This elite class became accustomed to the priviledged lifestyles which was impossible to sustain without continuing the exploitation and the oppression of the governed! And thus was laid the foundation for the present political, economic and social crisis in Africa.
African leaders abandoned their people and worked closely with their counterparts in developed countries so that they could live as comfortably as their northern counterparts and enjoy the political and economic power and the privileges which go with it.
Africans masses became disillusioned and started to agitate for better governance. Unable to deliver a better quality of life to their citizens, many African leaders assumed totalitarianism and held their citizens prisoners in their own countries. That is when internal conflicts, torture and imprisonment of dissenting voices thrived. It was with full knowledge of the more democratic and developed countries. But during the Cold War human rights and the need for a democratic cultures were sacrificed.
With the advent of democratization the citizens are rebelling and are threatening the very existence of the nation states. Some have collapsed. Uncertain and threatened, those in charge of such weakened states have succumbed to corruption, and more and more African states resemble a crumbling house from which both the owner and the onlookers scrumble to escape with whatever can be looted.- As a result, the civil society mistrusts and dislikes politicians and civil servants perceiving them as self-serving, greedy and corrupt.
The few African leaders who have demonstrated visionary leadership have been misunderstood and unsupported at home due to naively and ignorance about the political forces at play in Africa. They also received no support from the international community. Instead, corrupt and unpopular African dictators, received huge support especially in form of military aid which sustain them in power. These dictators built up massive armies, police forces and huge networks of secret service whose main preoccupation was, and still is, to spy on and terrorize their own citizens. In many African states, including the one I know best, Kenya, citizens have become prisoners and refugees within their own borders. They are denied freedom of speech, movement, assembly and association. They are required to carry identity cards which police will demand at gun point and may not assemble without a licence to do so.
Further, in Kenya, citizens are denied access to accurate and independent information because the Government refuses to licence independent radio and television stations even while using the state mass media as a mechanism for state propaganda and personal glorification. Uninformed and even mix-informed, the African community remains marginalized politically and economically.
The African leaders pre-occupy themselves with internal security, especially of themselves and those with whom they rule the country, and political survival. They mix-direct scarce resources into state security machinery, a bloated civil service and prestigious, political projects such as the 3rd International Airport in Kenya, being constructed in the President's hometown (Eldoret) against the advice of the majority of Kenyans. In addition, leaders find it necessary to make changes in national constitutions to give themselves near absolute powers to control all national resources and mechanisms of governance (radio, television, the judicial system, the civil service, the Police and the armed forces). All of these resources are utilized as if they were personal property of the Heads of States and their appointees. Yet they are intended to serve citizens and provide checks and balances against dictatorial tendencies. Instead, they are utilized to ensure that dictators remain in power even against the will of their people.
In Kenya to-day, citizens lose their jobs if they give press coverage through the state media to any person who is out of favour with the government even if the subject that person is dealing with is essential to the national development agenda. For example, one young woman recently lost her job the day after she screened an environmental documentary on the Green Belt Movement called "Women at Work" produced by NOVIB, a Dutch organization dedicated to development work in developing countries. This was because the main speaker (a woman) in the film happens to be a person the Government had apparently censored. The TV station had obviously not been informed about the censorship. The officers in charge were expected to know that such a person is not to be screened on television. If the young woman had screened wrestling and violent foreign films on the same national TV she would still be employed!. She could have gone to court to assert her rights, but it is expensive and judges too serve at the pleasure of the same Government.
So, many of the current African leaders enjoy immense political-and economic power and control and indeed run states as if they were their own personal property. They have invented divisive and manipulative tactics reminiscent of the colonial tactics of divide and rule. Such is for example the on - going politically - motivated ethnic cleansing in Kenya which has affected thousands of women many of whom are still internal refugees.
But nationally (and even internationally), national mass media present such conflicts in Africa as ancient tribal animosities between African tribes coming to the fore at this time of political liberalization and demands for democratic reforms. For a continent which continues to be projected as primitive and underdeveloped, it is easy to spread these mix-conceptions and mix-representations to the international community and for the same to accept that bad leadership is a heritage
Africa is incapable of escaping.
And so many Africans continue to live under regimes where the freedom of the press and information is curtailed, where citizens may not assemble or freely associate without being harassed by armed policeman who demand licences, passes and permits. The above rnentioned ethnic-cleansing in Kenya is a creation of political leadership rather than an age-old animosity over ethnicity and land. But citizens have no way of telling their own story because the mass media is censured and people are threatened and even arrested if they speak. Properly guided, the Kenyan tribes (and elsewhere) would live together peacefully as they have done for generations and would negotiate over whatever differences emerge, now that certain resources like land are diminishing and as populations continue to increase. Negotiations rather than intertribal fighting would be their option.
The threat of a more open political system and a strong civil society has disquieted enough African leaders and has forced them to encourage the brewing of tribal tensions the worst of which was the recent violence which ravaged Rwanda and Somalia. It is important to emphasize that it is not the tribes who want to fight, rather, it is the threatened elitist leaders who are using tribes to arouse ethnic nationalism as the only way they can continue to cling to political and economic power and the privileges which that power comes with. Such leaders speak peace while they are planning civil wars.
One could give these leaders the benefit of the doubt. But, in Africa it would be impossible for any community to train militia, arm them, kill members of the targeted communities (in full view of the police force) without the personal sanctioning of the Heads of States who are also the Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed forces.
This is not to say that ethnicity is non-existent or that Africa will not have to address the problems of tribal identity and ethnic nationalism, and especially since African national boundaries were created very superficially by the colonial empires. Nevertheless, the tribal agenda today has to do less with problems of identity and ethnic nationalism and more with the issue of political survival, economic control and diminishing national resources.
Of course one cannot over-rule the presence of external forces and factors because, a weak, disunited and war-ravaged Africa for example, will even be easier to control and exploit. Not to mention that it becomes a big market for small firearms from nations whose economy needs to sell them.
African dictators may continue to argue that democracy is a western value which cannot work in Africa while at the same time they deny their citizens basic freedoms. In Kenya, for example, the state has denied any possibility of allowing the introduction of independent media networks and continues to ban books, pamphlets and newsletters which inform the civil society about their rights and responsibilities. NGOs which work to empower the non-state actors and ordinary citizens are harassed and attacked physically . Yet citizens are hungry for information which is uncensored by the State. A mix-informed citizenry cannot make intelligent decisions about their political and economic destiny and nurture any democratic culture of their own without the right to choose. And such people cannot stop the forces which work to have them sidelined and marginalized while their resources are exploited by the local and the globalized free market.