Leadership Has Been Africa’s
Primary Problem-Prof George Ayittey
By Ajong Mbapndah L
George Ayittey a prominent Economist who hails from Ghana
is President of the Washington D.C, USA, based Free Africa Foundation.
He is a Professor at the American University in Washington, DC, and an
Associate Scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He believes that Africa is poor because she is not free. The poverty in Africa he opines is as a result of oppression and mismanagement
by the colonial masters and the oppressive nature of autocrats who occupy the
seats of power in African countries. Beyond his barbed criticisms of African
leaderships, Prof Ayittey proffers solutions that will place the continent on
the right path towards progress and development. His recommendations include
democratic governments, debt forgiveness, modernized infrastructure, free
market economies, free trade and others. A prolific writer, books authored by
Prof Ayittey include Africa in Chaos, Africa Betrayed, and Africa Unchained
which is his latest publication.Prof Ayittey holds a BSc from the University of
Ghana, Legon, MA from the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada and a PhD
from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. In an interview with Ajong
Mbapndah L for Pan African Visions, Prof Ayittey makes an interesting critique
of the crisis, challenges and the way forward for Africa.
PAV Ajong Mbapndah L
Visions (PAV): What assessment do you make of the chaos in Kenya today and
when lessons do you think this should serve for other African countries?
This chaos – violence, deaths and destruction – is so unnecessary and
completely avoidable if Kenya
had learned from its own 1992 electoral crisis, as well as taken lessons from
collapsed African states. In fact, I foresaw this. Back in early December, I
urged Kenyans not to vote for either Odinga or Kibaki. They should throw out
the ossified politicians who break their promises and bring in fresh new faces
to clean up the state house.
don’t need to be a rocket scientist to recognize that Africans take elections
very seriously, despite popular misconceptions that they are poor and
illiterate. In fact, the implosion of an African country, regardless of the
ideology, ethnicity or religion of its leaders, always begins with electoral
Prof Ayittey: A voice in the wilderness for many years against
corruption ,complacency & bad leaderships that stifle development in
Blockage of the democratic process or the refusal to hold
elections plunged Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, and Sudan into
civil war. Hard-liner manipulation of the electoral process destroyed Rwanda (1993), Sierra
Leone (1992) and Zaire (1996). Subversion of the
electoral process in Liberia
(1985) eventually set off a civil war in 1989. The same type of subversion
instigated civil strife in Cameroon
(1991), Congo (1992), Kenya (1992), Togo
(1992), Lesotho (1998), and Cote d’Ivoire (2000). In Congo (Brazzaville),
a dispute over the 1997 electoral framework flared into mayhem and civil war.
Finally, the military's annulment of electoral results by the military started
Algeria's civil war (1992) and plunged Nigeria into political turmoil (1993). The
events in Kenya should serve as a lesson to both the authorities and the
opposition in Zimbabwe which holds elections next month (March).
people think that the role of foreign observer missions only helped to fuel the
tensions, do you agree with this?
No, I do not agree. It amounts to “scapegoating.” The tensions were already
there. The Kibaki administration had been a failure. It broke its promises on
Constitutional reform and corruption was out of control. Worse, it tried to
shore up its falling popularity by playing the ethnic card. The administration
became increasingly dominated by the Kikuyus – hence the reference to the “Mount Kenya mafia.”
PAV: As some one who is based in the US,
what interest does its government place on democracy in Africa
and what has been done in concrete terms to assist in the evolution of democracy?
After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and other Western
donors shifted their Africa aid policies from checking the spread of communism
in Africa to promoting democracy. Beginning in the early 1990s, Western aid was
conditioned upon the establishment of multi-party democracy. Most African
leaders however took the aid money and did the “Babangida boogie” – one step
forward, three steps back, a flip and a side kick to land on a fat Swiss bank
account. Incumbent presidents empanelled a fawning coterie of sycophants to
write new Constitutions, insert phony term-limits, pack the Electoral
Commission with their cronies, toss opposition leaders into jail and hold
“coconut elections” to return themselves to power. As a result of this
vexatious chicanery, willful deception and vaunted acrobatics, the
democratization process has stalled in Africa.
Only 16 out of the 54 African countries are democratic, fewer than 8 are
“economic success stories,” only 8 have a free and independent media.
President Bush will be visiting a few African countries soon, coming at the end
of his mandate, what will you say was beneficial for the continent in his two
President Bush’s tour of 5 African countries (Benin,
Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana
this week is intended to achieve three objectives. First, there are growing
fears among administration officials that the next president may not continue
with Bush aid policies toward Africa. Bush has
spent $1.2 billion the past 5 years to fight malaria and $15 billion to fight
HIV/AIDS, which Bush wants to double over the next 5 years. There are also
worries that his debt relief efforts and the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA)
may be ditched. MCA requires recipient countries to invest in people, curb
corruption, promote economic freedom, and establish rule of law. A third but
undeclared objective is to check China’s forays into Africa, which have been
muscling out US companies and influence.
Prof Ayittey shakes hands with U.S
Secretary of State Dr. Condi Rice, in the White House
is most likely the next president, a Democrat, might keep most of Bush’s Africa policies because of a strong African-American
political (Congressional) constituency and support for fighting malaria,
HIV/AIDS and granting debt relief. But the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA)
might become a copse. Though it is based
on sound logic and premise, MCA with a $5.5 billion budget was slow to start
and can point to few success stories in Africa.
Its web site lists 19 recipients of MCA grants as “successful performers.” But
in several cases, such as that of Kenya,
Lesotho and Uganda, such
designation is dubious.
assessment do you make of the reaction of the African Union in handling crises
across the continent especially the most recent one in Kenya?
Please, please, don’t ask about the African Union. It is the most useless
organization we have on the continent. It can’t even define “democracy” and it
is completely bereft of originality. It is imbued with “copy-cat” mentality. Europe has the European Union (EU), so we must have the
African Union (AU). The AU forgot that to become a member of the European
Union, a country must meet very strict requirements. But in the case of the
African Union, there are no requirements. Any rogue and collapsed state can be
a member. And when the African Union
unveiled NEPAD (the New Economic Partnership for African Development), it
boasted that NEPAD was an “African crafted program.” But as it turned out,
NEPAD was modeled after the Marshall Aid Plan. Again, the
copy-cat mentality. When the Darfur crisis flared up, the AU was nowhere
to be found. It was doing the watutsi in Addis
Ababa. After much international condemnation, the AU
finally managed to cobble together some troops to send to Darfur.
And how did they perform?
September 29th, around 30 vehicles loaded with several hundred Sudanese rebels
ripped through the perimeter of an African Union (AU)
peacekeepers' base on the edge of Haskanita, a small town in southern Darfur.
The AU unit of about 100 troops fought off the first
attack before falling back to trenches in the corner of their compound, firing
through the night until their ammunition ran out. Ten were killed; at least 40
fled into the bush. (The Economist, Oct 11, 2007; p.48) . So don’t expect AU troops anywhere near Kenya
any time soon.
Prof Ayittey with former President for Mozambique Joachim Chissano
PAV: You head
the Free Africa Foundation, what is its mission and considering that you are
based in the USA,
how have your activities impacted on the continent?
The nature of FAF’s mission dictates it be based outside Africa because of the
generally repressive intellectual and political environment in Africa. The mission is FREEDOM – giving the African
people the freedom to choose who should rule them and to craft their own
solutions to their problems, not to impose these solutions on them.
being based in the U.S., FAF has had a powerful impact on developments on the
continent. FAF propagates new ideas and crafts African-based solutions to Africa’s myriad of problems. These ideas are disseminated in books,
articles and media appearances. FAF president has appeared on numerous
television and radio programs, including CNN and BBC. FAF has affiliates in 13
addition, FAF is engaged in humanitarian work. It has established “Malaria-Free
Zones” in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria
With its local partners, FAF has fumigated villages, distributed free
insecticide-treated bed nets and anti-malarial drugs to villagers in Africa. It has
also built a clinic in Ghana,
completed one in Nigeria and
will build one in Benin.
PAV: There is
this statement on the FAF website that Africa
is poor because she is not free, can you shed more light on that?
The leadership has been Africa’s primary
problem. Since 1960, we have had exactly 204 African heads of state. I will
challenge any reader to name me just 20 “good leaders.” Nobody has been able to
name me 15. Even if you can name me 20 good leaders, it means the vast majority
of the rest (over 90 percent) were failures. In fact, the slate of post
colonial African leaders has been a disgusting assortment of crocodile
liberators, military coconut-heads, Swiss bank socialists, quack
revolutionaries and briefcase bandits. These post colonial leaders imposed on
their people defective economic and political systems that concentrated both
economic and political power in their hands.
More power to them meant less power to the people. And they used that power to enrich
themselves, squelch dissent or criticism and to perpetuate themselves in
a result of this, what is known as “government” completely ceased to exist in
many African countries. What came to exist is a “vampire state” – a government
hijacked by a phalanx of crooks, bandits and gangsters. They use the state machinery to enrich self,
cronies, tribesmen and exclude everyone else – a quasi-apartheid system. The
richest in Africa are heads of state,
ministers and government officials.
- In Kenya where the government is described as
the “Mount Kenya mafia,” the income per
capita is $463 a year while the base compensation of legislators is about
$81,000 a year, tax free, plus a variety of
allowances and perks, which can effectively double their take-home
- In Tanzania, ahead of President George Bush’s
visit, the entire Cabinet has been dissolved over a corruption scandal,
involving the award of $172.5 million contract to supply 100 megawatts of
emergency power to a Texas
based company that does not exist. Even the anti-corruption czar, Dr
Edward Hosea, is implicated.
- Between 1970 and
raked in over $450 billion in oil revenue. But according to former head of
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the country’s rulers stole $412
billion of that oil revenue. Billions in oil revenue have also gone
missing in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.
contempt for the poor is palpable in government circles: “The poor are hard to
lead. They should be arrested. This is the way to develop,” said Uganda’s
agriculture minister Kibirige Ssebunya in 2004.
and resentment bubble but kept in check by heavy-handed security forces and
repressive laws. Get power out of the hands of these crooks, kleptocrats and
give it back to the people where it belongs. Africa
can only make economic progress when it is freed from deadly grip of the ruling
vampire elites. Hence, Africa
is poor because she is not free.
roles do see the following groups playing in order for the continent to move
forward, leadership, the opposition, civil society, and the international
To move Africa forward, forget about the
leaders. They only know how to do three things well: To loot, to kill and to
perpetuate themselves in office. Forget about the international community
also. It is an amorphous group of
countries, each with its own Africa agenda and
therefore impossible to get them to take decisive action on any African issue.
More importantly, it is Africa which has to move Africa
I have little faith in Africa’s opposition. We
need an intelligent opposition to make democracy work and move Africa forward.
But in many countries, the opposition is hopeless. They are terribly
fragmented and can’t unite against a common enemy. Witness the fracture of the
MDC in Zimbabwe.
Further, the opposition in Africa is prone to
internal bickering or squabbling over who should be its presidential candidate. Worse, the opposition leaders lack
imagination in the choice of their tactics and strategies.
do not do their home work and contest elections totally unprepared. Then when they lose, they cry “foul.” Such
was the case in Kenya’s
Dec 27 elections. The opposition did not do its home work. When Kibaki was
packing the Electoral Commission with his cronies, the opposition was asleep.
Nor did they see that the Voters’ Register was fraudulent. Even Raila Odinga’s
name was not on it. Why take part in an election when your own name was not in
to Newton’s law of physics, for every force in nature there is a counter-force.
A force dominates if the counter-force is weak or non-existent. Africa’s despots have dominated the political scene
because the counter-force (opposition) has been weak or non-existent. Civil
society has been weak, chastened by repressive laws. Civil society is that part of society that
lies outside government and the market. It comprises the political parties, professional
bodies, students, media practitioners, NGOs, and other civic organizations and
associations. For civil society to work, it needs four types of freedoms:
Freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of movement and freedom
of the media. These freedoms are enshrined in Africa’s
own Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Banjul Charter) but few African
governments uphold it.
PAV: As a
seasoned observer of the political situation in Africa,
who will you cite as references of leadership that is capable of meeting
growing challenges the continent is faced with?
I have moved away from the “leadership model.” For more than 40 years we were
led to believe that if only we could find another “Nkrumah” or “Mandela,” our
problems would be solved in Africa. But we are
not going to find another Mandela. There is one and only one Mandela and there
will always be one. You cannot replicate
a Mandela because leaders are born out of trying circumstances. You cannot tell
a priori if someone is going to be a good leader until he is tested. But then,
we become disappointed. We have suffered through too many of these
disappointments. So instead of leaders, my focus is on INSTITUTIONS. Leaders
come and go but institutions endure. The U.S. for example is still being
governed by a Constitution which is more than 200 years old. No leader lives
To effect change from within and assure better
governance, Africans need the following institutional tools:
An independent central bank: to assure
monetary and economic stability, as well as stanch capital flight out of Africa. The World Bank, for example, should desist from
dealing with African countries without an independent central bank. Failing
that, governors of central banks in a region may be rotated to remove them from
undue political or executive pressure.
An independent judiciary is essential for the
rule of law. Supreme Court judges in Africa,
for example, may be rotated within a region.
free and independent media to ensure free flow of information.
Smart aid would privatize the state-owned media – especially the radio. It is
the medium of the masses and has such power. Recall the critical role the media
played in the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
independent Electoral Commission that is made up of
representatives of all political parties, not just packed with government
An efficient and professional civil service,
which will deliver essential social services to the people on the basis of need
and not on the basis of ethnicity or political affiliation.
The establishment of a neutral and professional armed and security forces to protect the
people and not fire on them.
These institutions are not established by leaders.
In fact, there is a conflict of interest involved. African leaders won’t establish the
institutions that would check their arbitrary use of power. These institutions
are established by CIVIL SOCIETY.
influence of China in the continent has been growing by leaps and bounds with a
galore of interests free loans, investments and more, as a leading Economist,
what would you say are the merits and demerits of such a strong presence?
Prof Ayittey: On the positive side, China’s inroads into Africa
may provide some short-term benefits for the continent. Hungry for resources to
feed its voracious economic expansion at a dizzying 8-9 percent clip, China is all over Africa,
signing deals and gobbling up resources. China’s
trade with Africa has increased 60-fold since 1990 and in 2006,
China invested $11.7 billion
in Africa – up 40 percent the previous year,
according to the African Development Bank. Increased prices for Africa’s
resources and China’s
investment should boost African growth prospects. To the delight of African
aid and investments come with no strings attached.
investments in Africa have no moral scruples. China will deal
with any rogue regime that has resources to sell. Witness Sudan. Because
of this, China aid, wrapped
up in anti-colonialist verbiage, will meet its own peril in Africa.
of cheap Chinese goods has destroyed textile industries from Nigeria to
Lesotho. So fever-pitched were anti-Chinese sentiments in Zambia that a
2006 presidential candidate, Michael Sata, vowed to through them out of the
country if elected. He wasn’t. And China’s secret plans to re-settle 12.5
million Chinese in Africa have rankled many African
commentators. Seduced by the suffocating platitudes about colonialism, our
leaders trooped to Beijing in October 2006 and threw themselves at the feet of
the Chinese. The mantra was “the enemy of my enemy must be my friend.” Since
the West is the enemy of China,
China has become Africa’s new friend. But such thinking gives short shrift
to our own African history.
immemorial, every foreign entity that comes to Africa
comes to pursue its interests. The French go to Africa
to pursue French interests. The Americans go to Africa
to pursue American interests. The Russians, the Arabs, the
Belgians, and others. It would be the height of insanity to believe that
the Chinese come to Africa because they love black people so much. What the
Chinese are practicing is “chopsticks mercantilism.” With chopsticks dexterity, China
can pick platinum from Zimbabwe;
oil from Angola, Nigeria and Sudan;
cocoa from Ghana; diamonds
from Sierra Leone;
etc. – all on its own terms because of its strong bargaining position because
our leaders lie prostrate before them.
does Prof Ayittey stand in the debate on continental unity and the idea of a United States of Africa?
“United States of Africa” smacks of another copy-cat mentality. Why can’t we be
original? Europe has the European Union, so
too must we. The U.S. has a space center, so Nigeria spent $89 million to build the Obasanjo Space Center.
is called the United States of America (USA), so we must have the United States
of Africa (USA). We are a confused lot. We have too many countries in Africa
(54), so it makes sense to create larger polities but, for Pete’s sake, look at
our ancient empires. They were all confederacies: The Mali Empire, Songhai, Great Zimbabwe. So the
African Confederation or Confederation of African States (CAS) would make more
sense culturally than the United States of Africa or African Union.
achieve this, we should start with REGIONAL integration: ECOWAS, SADCC, etc. Then move to the continental level. But
then, how do you talk about continental unity when you do not have national
unity in some countries, let alone regional unity? Look at Congo,
Somalia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Are they united
nationally? So what is the point in talking about continental unity?