STATES ARE FAILING IN AFRICA. The symptoms have been palpable for too long, and unmistakable manifestations are becoming apparent, but they have been ignored, explained away or sometimes deliberately encouraged by those with political influence or intellectuals. Over half a century after the exit of colonial rule in most of Africa, progress has remained slow, growth low and performances dismal in most countries. There are those who want to lull the continent into complacency by their profuse reference to how the colonialists underdeveloped Africa. The safe haven for many excuse givers has been that of blame game or buck passing when it comes to Africa’s underdevelopment. Europe or America takes the hit.
In many African countries, political leadership has been an instrument for oppression of the populace, acquisition of wealth and for planting of stooges that keep a tradition going. It has been less of such as builds institutions, develops talents, improves infrastructure or aims at gaining competitive edge globally. These easily explain why institutions left by colonialists crumble easily after their exit. Most recent example is South Africa. Less than 20 years of the exit of Apartheid regime, the country has been on a downward spiral politically and economically. The summary of it is that of leadership. Following the exit of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki and their transformative leadership, Jacob Zuma took over. This was another leader that took the country on a different trajectory. Divisiveness, corruption and violence became rampant in a country that was earlier thought to be a shining example for Africa in the immediate post-Apartheid years.
Many otherwise promising African countries had the misfortune of sit-tight and despotic leaders who became states on their own. Rather than building institutions that would outlast them and prepare their countries for the future, they refused to let go of the reins of leadership. Many died in office without any clear succession plans, plunging their countries into endless conflicts and chaos. Gnassingbe Eyadema turned the leadership of Togo into a dynasty by installing his son, Faure, as his successor. Faure is still there today. The same was the case with Omar Bongo of Gabon who replaced himself – after 42 year in power – with his son, the now wheelchair-bound Ali. Mobutu Sese Seko left the DR Congo in crisis after his death. The country is yet to recover after years of hostilities under Laurent Kabila. Siad Barre, who left a power vacuum, sowed the seed that germinated and led Somalia into what it is presently. Libya became a battlefield after the exit of Muammar Gaddafi. When he died, Houphet Boigny left Cote d’Ivoire in shambles, with a protracted war after his over four decades in office. Robert Gabriel Mugabe plunged Zimbabwe into economic woes, sectarian violence, poverty and environmental crisis within the period he held sway as the country’s president. The country is still living with the consequences today.
Paul Biya, although still in office, has failed to hold the francophone and Anglophone Cameroon together as the Anglophone West is now making a strong case for secession. Sudan, easily the largest African country by landmass – except perhaps followed by DR Congo – was plunged into avoidable social, political and economic crises as Omar al-Bashir turned the country upside down. Two years after his ouster, Sudan is still in turmoil. This is after the now-troubled South Sudan was excised from the old Sudan in the aftermath of painful killings and destructions done in Darfur region. Mozambique had its fair share of crisis after the painful exit of Samora Machel. It is still a weak country today. Much earlier, the murderous Idi Amin took Uganda by the jugular for the period he was at the helm of state affairs. The misfortune of the country continues with Yoweri Museveni, the current head of state that has been in office since 1986 and still fights off any contender for the exalted position. The genocide took Rwanda backwards by decades. Although Paul Kagame, the current head of government, makes a point about transforming the country, he has nonetheless made himself an overlord, with plans to remain in power till the next decade, after ruling the country for two decades. It will be surprising if he steps down in 2024 as rumours have been making rounds. Abdelaziz Bouteflika had to resign as the head of Algerian government in 2019 after a mass protest. Before then, a sickly Bouteflika was still holding on to power at the expense of Algeria.
The list of despotic and authoritarian leaders in Africa is long. The history of Africa’s social, economic and political crisis at present cannot be complete without digging deep into the antecedents. The present has been shaped by the past and the absence of readiness to break from the sad past. These may remain the defining factors for Africa for a long time in the future. Essentially, these are related to faulty, bastardised or non-existing state institutions that fail to serve the expected purposes, or are serving a particular set of people while leaving others out. Inclusive development has therefore been rather elusive in Africa as a result of poor leadership lacking in vision and right strategies for nation building. Various government institutions exist in names but perform below expectation in the discharge of their statutory duties. For instance, inadequate tracking of demographics provide a basis for poor budgetary planning, which does not reflect the realities among the populace. Human Development Index has been lowest in Africa, because the continent has a very high birth rate, high infant mortality rate, and a high death rate. This is because of underdeveloped medical facilities and a lack of family planning.
Institutions that are supposed to transcended individuals in office have largely been abused, relegated or destroyed by many African leaders and individual citizens have become irrelevant. Nuanced actions have taken over statutes in many cases, serving parochial and sectarian interests. Some serving political leaders have altered their countries’ constitutions to enable them remain in office beyond the constitutionally acceptable terms. Recent examples include Apha Conde and Alassane Ouattara of Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire respectively. Rule of law have been tampered with, public resources mismanaged, public funds channelled into private pockets, state apparatus used for persecuting perceived critics of government and political opposition while the press has been gagged in many instances.
Some have blamed their problems on the systems of government adopted over the years. While that may hold some validity, it may not altogether fully explain the causes of their problems. Nigeria tried parliamentary system of government, military rule and presidential system of democracy at various times. Nigeria was under military regime in 1979 when South Korea was still under a military regime. The Kwangju Uprising, which led to the end of the South Korean military government in 1980, was considered to have been a pivotal moment in the South Korean struggle for democracy. Between then and now, South Korea has achieved a stable democracy and moved up from the third world country to first while Nigeria still remains a third world country struggling with democratic rule. While many past political leaders have been jailed for various acts of misconducts, including corruption, past political leaders with the festoons of corruption hanging on their necks move around freely and still call the shots. Two past military heads of state snubbed the invitation from a truth and reconciliation panel headed by Justice Oputa sometimes ago in Nigeria. Recently, one of them was so confident to compare the level of corruption during his own regime with the corruption now – a tacit admission that his government was corrupt.
Poor emphasis on infrastructural development in which available infrastructure serve the privileged few while excluding the majority is a major contributor to Africa’s backwardness. Opportunities from the aviation sector and rail transportation still remain restricted in Africa, with limited prospects of growth in the horizon. Education and educational services still remain inaccessible to many African children. The same goes with health services. Years of accumulated debt stock has put African economies in jeopardy as a result of prior mismanagement by past and present leaders. These will continue to retard the continent’s growth for a long time as much of the revenues emanating from many countries are used in debt servicing rather than investing on development and job-generating ventures. The main strong sentiments that have retarded Africa and are still being used by mediocre political leaders and academia are religious and ethnic or tribal. These have created effective walls that separate people and slow down individuals’ and collective development over the years.
Some argue that institutional dysfunction in African leadership is a carryover from Africa’s colonial past and essentially at odds with the mechanisms of modern democratic governance. Others have held tenaciously to the school of thought that a rising political alienation on the part of the African citizenry, inadequate state capacity to enforce rules, and limited economic opportunities, embolden individuals and groups to subvert state institutions for rent seeking and the illegal accumulation of wealth. The Journal of Modern African Studies attempted to make some suggestions on how Africa can change the focus and “rebuild state apparatuses where predatory, neo-patrimonial governance has held sway.” It is obvious that a hostile international environment, external shocks, or policy errors have impeded Africa’s economic recovery. A consensus is also emerging on the opinion that political-institutional reforms are a necessary condition for African development, which must place greater emphasis on legacy and institutions and make individual citizens subservient irrespective of their political and social status. Yet, according to the journal, recognising the need for such change is one thing; knowing how to bring it about is quite another. And this is the crux of Africa’s development dilemma.