Africa in Chaos / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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- Palgrave Macmillan US
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Mobutu and his cronies have turned Zaire into little more than a bankrupt kleptocracy. They bear more allegiance to their own bank
Africa is four times the geographical size of the United States and, with its approximately 700 million people, has more than thrice that of the United States. It is a continent with immense untapped mineral wealth. Africa has "40 percent of the world's potential hydroelectric power supply; the bulk of the world's diamonds and chromium; 30 percent of the uranium in the non-communist world; 50 percent of the world's gold; 90 percent of its cobalt; 50 percent of its phosphates; 40 percent of its platinum; 7.5 percent of its coal; 8 percent of its known petroleum reserves; 12 percent of its natural gas; 3 per cent of its iron ore; and millions upon millions of acres of untilled farmland. There is not another continent blessed with such abundance and diversity" (Lamb, 1983, 20). Angola, for example, "contains an estimated 11 percent of the world's known reserves of diamonds. Its diamonds are stunning: at an average price of about $140 a carat, with some reaching $350, they are second in quality only to Namibia's, and more than 12 times more valuable than Australia's" (The Economist, 14 September 1996, 68).
In addition, Africa has 64 percent of the world's manganese, 13 percent of its copper, and vast bauxite, nickel, and lead resources. It also accounts for 70 percent of cocoa, 60 percent of coffee, 50 percent of palm oil, and 20 percent of the total petroleum traded in the world market, excluding the United States and Russia. The tourism potential of Africa is enormous. Unrivaled wildlife, scenic grandeur, and pristine ecology constitute Africa's third great natural resource after agriculture and mineral wealth.
Yet, paradoxically, a continent with such abundance and potential is inexorably mired in steaming squalor, misery, deprivation, and chaos. It is in the throes of a seemingly incurable crisis. Eating has become a luxury for many Africans, and hunger stares them squarely in the face. For example, in Jalingo, Nigeria, prices of even locally produced foodstuffs have been increasing by leaps and bounds, pushing food out of the reach of many. "A 100kg bag of maize is now selling for 1,600 naira, up from 800 naira a year ago. A bag of unshelled rice costs 1,700 naira, up from 1,000 naira. The reasonably priced yam is fast disappearing from the markets, with the price of the few available skyrocketing. Parboiled rice, semolina, beverages, fish, meat and beans are now considered luxury foods. Other necessities no longer affordable include clothing materials, bedding furniture, drugs, detergents and cooking utensils" (African News Weekly, 1 September 1995, 15).
When Africa gained its independence from colonial rule in the 1960s, the euphoria that swept across the continent was infectious. It was best evinced by the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first black president of Ghana. "We shall achieve in a decade what it took others a century ... and we shall not rest content until we demolish these miserable colonial structures and erect in their place a veritable paradise," he declared exuberantly (Nkrumah, 1957, 34).
The nationalists who won freedom for their respective countries were hailed as heroes, swept into office with huge parliamentary majorities, and deified. Currencies bore their portraits and statues were built to honor them. Criticizing them became sacrilegious and, very quickly, the freedom and development promised by Nkrumah and other African nationalists transmogrified into a melodramatic nightmare. In many countries these nationalist leaders soon turned out to be crocodile liberators, Swiss bank socialists, quack revolutionaries, and grasping kleptocrats. After independence true freedom never came to much of Africa. Nor did development.
For many Africans, the "paradise" promised them turned out be a starvation diet, unemployment, and a gun to the head. Disaffection and alienation set in. A spate of coups quickly swept across Africa in the early 1960s. The first occurred in the Belgian Congo on September 15, 1960, barely three months after independence. In West Africa the first coup occurred in Togo on January 13, 1963. Between 1963 and February 1966 there were 14 significant cases of military intervention in government. By 1968 there had been 64 attempted and successful interventions across Africa (Decalo, 1976, 6).
The first generation of coup leaders in the 1960s was professional soldiers who brooked zero tolerance for corruption, inefficiency, government waste, and mismanagement. They threw out the elite bazongas (raiders of the public treasury), cleaned up the government house, instilled discipline in the civil service, and returned to their barracks. They were hailed as "saviors" and idolized by the people.
The second generation of military rulers, who assumed control in the 1970s, emerge from the dregs: They were more corrupt, incompetent, and brutal than the civilian administrations they replaced. They ruined one African economy after another with brutal efficiency and looted African treasuries with military discipline. Africans watched helplessly as they experienced yet another betrayal. This second batch of "military coconutheads," as Africans call them, came from the bottom of the pit and left wanton destruction and carnage in their wake.
In 1978 Edem Kodjo, then Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), echoed the sentiments of many Africans when he solemnly lamented before the African heads of state gathered for an OAU summit that, "Our ancient continent is now on the brink of disaster, hurtling towards the abyss of confrontation, caught in the grip of violence, sinking into the dark night of bloodshed and death" (Lamb 1983, xi).
Since then, things have gotten progressively worse. By the beginning of the 1990s, it was clear something had gone terribly wrong in Africa. The continent was wracked by a never-ending cycle of civil wars, carnage, chaos, and instability. Economies had collapsed. Poverty, in both absolute and relative terms, had increased Malnutrition was rife. In addition, censorship, persecution, detention, arbitrary seizures of property, corruption, capital flight, and tyranny continuously plagued the continent.
Infrastructure had decayed and crumbled in much of Africa. Roads, schools, and telecommunications systems were in shambles. Empty bookstore shelves greeted visitors to university campuses. Many school buildings showed obvious signs of decay and disintegration. Most buildings had not even seen a coat of paint since the colonialists departed. The quality of education had deteriorated sharply. Nigeria's 38-school university system, for example, was in ruins. Students could not get books. Nor could professors do research. Ahmadu Bello University is one such facility in a dilapidated state. Dormitories are overcrowded, laboratories lack chemicals to perform experiments, and some buildings are collapsing.
When the vice-chancellor of a major Nigerian university wanted to resign, he called a press conference. As Linus U. J. Thomas-Ogboji, a Nigerian scholar based in Asheville, described it: "His reasons for abandoning the job are a pathetic commentary on the putrid demise of a once-promising nation: admission and grades were being sold openly; dormitories for adolescent females had become brothels; threats of death and mayhem by gangs were rife on a campus that had gone without electricity or running water for years" (African News Weekly, 26 May 1995, 6).
A similar decrepit situation was described by a Ghanaian university student, Foster Koduea: "The University of Ghana, Legon, established in the [1950s] with very comfortable accommodations, beautiful buildings and surroundings, is now in a deplorable state. A room meant for two students is now used by six students and a room which is supposed to be used by three or four students is now inhabited by eight to ten students. At Legon Hall most of the rooms are very congested and hardly is there room for free passage. Lecture halls are congested" (Focus, 13-20 February 1995, 4).
In most places in Africa, telephones do not work; they "bite back." Electricity and water supplies are sporadic. What are called roads are often passageways truncated by crevasses large enough to swallow a truck. Hospitals lack food and medical supplies. Doctors even have difficulty finding paper on which to write prescriptions. Often patients are requested to bring their own blankets and bandages. Communicable diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, and cholera--once believed vanquished--have reappeared with a vengeance.
In the cities, many banged-up and unrepaired vehicles move sideways in a crab-like manner. Even government buildings have reached advanced stages of dilapidation. Broken windowpanes abound while offices reek of mold, rust, and dust. Civil servants, and even diplomats, go for months without pay. One Nigerian civil servant at the Ministry of Works in Lagos, George Adeleye, "died from exhaustion while waiting for hours to collect monthly wages of 1,500 naira ($20)" (African News Weekly, 16-22 September 1996, 26). "He complained that he had not eaten for two days as he was without money," said one of his colleagues.
For four months, November 1988 to February 1989, Sierra Leone's high commissioners and ambassadors accredited to overseas countries received no budgetary allocations. Electricity and water supplies to its embassy in Washington, D.C. were disconnected for nonpayment of utilities. In March 1989 teachers in primary and secondary schools boycotted classes in protest against salary arrearages, which in some cases, went back as far as October 1988 (West Africa, 20-26 March 1989, 436). Ironically, Sierra Leone is well endowed with minerals such as diamonds, gold, rutile, iron ore, chrome, and illemite as well as piassava and coffee. As Robert Kaplan (1994), an American journalist put it:
Indices of Africa's development performance have not only been dismal but have also lagged persistency behind those of other Third World regions. Economic growth rates in Africa in the 1970s averaged only 4 to 5 percent while Latin America recorded a 6 to 7 percent growth rate. Average per capita gross national product (GNP) in 1981 was $770 for Africa, $973 for Asia, and $2,044 for Latin America. From 1986 to 1993 the continent's real GNP per capita declined 0.7 percent, while the average for the Third World increased by 2.7 percent. For all of black Africa, real income per capita dropped by 14.6 percent from its level in 1965, making most black Africans worse off than they were at independence.
High taxes, rampant inflation, runaway government expenditures, unstable currencies, and high-level corruption have stunted Africa's economic growth potential. "Africa's deepening crisis is characterized by weak agricultural growth, a decline in industrial output, poor export performance, climbing debt, and deteriorating social indicators, institutions, and environment" (World Bank 1989, 2).
Agriculture, which employs the bulk of Africa's population, has performed abysmally. Since 1970 agricultural output has been growing at less than 1.5 percent--less than the rate of population growth. Consequently, food production per capita declined by 7 percent in the 1960s, by 15 percent in the 1970s, and by 8 percent in the 1980s. Over the postcolonial period 1961 to 1995, "per capita food production in Africa dropped by 12 percent, whereas it advanced by leaps and bounds in developing countries in Asia" (The Economists, 7 September 1996). Zaire. now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, exported food when it was the Belgian Congo. Today, it cannot feed itself, nor can postcolonial Zambia, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. In 1990, about 40 percent of black Africa's food was imported, despite the assertion by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that the Congo Basin alone could produce enough food to feed all of black Africa. The situation has deteriorated so rapidly in Nigeria that many people eat only once a day.
Increasingly, Africa has become unattractive to foreign investors and even to the donor community which suffers "donor fatigue" after so many failures. Net foreign direct investment in black Africa dropped dramatically from $1.22 billion in 1982 to $498 million in 1987. From 1989 to mid-1994, over half of British manufacturing companies with African subsidiaries divested from those operations. In mid-1989 there were 90 British companies with 336 equity stakes in Anglophone African manufacturing enterprises. By mid-1994 only 65 companies with 233 equity stakes remained (African Business, May 1995, 16). The French also have become disillusioned: "French direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa ran at $1 billion a year in 1981-1983; by 1988 that had translated into a net outflow of more than $800 million" (The economist, 21 July 1990, 82). Between 1990 and 1995 the net yearly flow of foreign direct investment into developing countries quadrupled, to over $90 billion) Africa's share of this fell to only 2.4 percent. According to the World Bank, in 1995 a record $231 billion in foreign investment flowed into the Third World. Singapore by itself attracted $5.8 billion, while Africa's share was a paltry 1 percent, or $2 billion--less than the sum invested in Chile alone (The Economist, 9 November 1996, 95). "Even that meagre proportion has been disputed by some analysts who believe the true figure to be less than $1 billion," said The African Observer (11-24 April 1996, 20).
To maintain income and investment, African governments borrowed heavily in the 1970s. Total African foreign debt has risen 24-fold since 1970 to a staggering $400 billion in 1996, which was equal to its yearly GNP, making the region the most heavily indebted in the world. (Latin America's debt amounted to approximately 60 percent of its GNP.) Currently debt service obligations absorb about 40 percent of export revenue, but only about half of the outstanding debts are actually being paid. On the other half, arrearages are continually being rescheduled.
The exceptions to this horrid picture of economic atrophy are pitifully few: Botswana, Mauritius, and possibly Uganda. One could focus on these success stories, hoping that other African countries would emulate their policies. This approach has the additional advantage that it presents a positive image of Africa. The World Bank and other Western organizations are veterans in this trade, peddling one African country after another as a success story, only to abandon it in search of another in the twinkle of an eye. But the World Bank's obsession with "success stories" blurs its vision for Africa.
On 21 June 1997 The Washington Post carried a story, "Africa: A Grim Picture," which painted a sobering vision of the continent. The vice presidents of the World Bank's African region, Callisto Madivo and Jean-Louis Sarbib, took offense: "The picture ignores the other side of the Africa story. Togo, Lesotho, and Uganda have averaged more than 10 percent growth in the past two years" (The Washington Post, 11 July 1997, A22).
It is a shame that the World Bank does not get the larger picture. When large African countries, such as Algeria, Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, and Zaire, were either imploding or on the brink of explosion, the Bank was trotting out Togo, Lesotho and Uganda as "success stories." This is not much consolation in the wake of the destabilization of so many other nations. Now most Africans view World Bank labels of "success stories" with rabid cynicism and even as a morbid premonition. It may be recalled that the Bank declared Cameroon, Kenya and Zaire as "success stories" in the 1980s. Then in March 1994, the labels were applied to Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. What happened to all these African "success stories"?
Robert Kaplan was quite worried: "Ghana is being touted by the U.S. State Department as a West African success story, even as 67 villages were destroyed in tribal warfare there last February between Kokombas and Nanumbas. The results were 13,000 refugees and 1,000 corpses buried by Ghanaian security forces. Labeling of places as 'success stories' prior to their dissolution promotes public cynicism toward a place like Africa. Kenya was once a 'success story,' remember? Now its capital, Nairobi, is known as 'Nairobbery,' due to surging violent crime [and ethnic strife]" (The Washington Post, 17 April 1994, C2).
The focus on the few success stories is a futile exercise in grand delusion. Jon Qwelane, a columnist for the Johannesburg Star said: "Sure enough, Botswana and Namibia have been shining exceptions to the general rule since each attained its independence. But on a continent of some 52 independent nations, two exceptions are not exactly indicative of a very healthy state of affairs." (24 May 1997, 10) Moreover, it is a dishonest attempt to conceal the fact that an overwhelming majority of African countries have performed dismally in the postcolonial era. Problems cannot be solved when their existence is either denied or concealed. It would be far more useful to evaluate why the majority of African countries are imploding and performing poorly economically.
Since the beginning of the 1980s--described by most analysts as "the lost decade"--one African country after another has collapsed, scattering refugees in all directions: Ethiopia (1985), Angola (1986), Mozambique (1987), Sudan (1991), Liberia (1992), Somalia (1993), and Rwanda (1994). In March 1994 the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) grimly predicted that nine more African countries were on the brink of complete social disintegration: Algeria, Burundi, Egypt, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Zaire. In November 1996 the threat of imminent starvation of 1.2 million Hutu refugees in eastern Zaire compelled the international community to prepare a military intervention force to be led by Canada. Its objectives were twofold: to feed the starving refugees and to establish an "aid corridor" to facilitate the return of Hutu refugees to Rwanda.
Few would quibble with the objectives of that humanitarian mission. To stand by idly and watch thousands die daily from starvation and disease would be immoral and cruel. But to barge into an African crisis situation without any understanding of the complexities of the issues involved and without any clue as to what the long-term solution should be, knowing full well that the mission will be abandoned should the going get tough, is even crueler. Time and again in recent years the international community has mounted eleventh-hour humanitarian missions into Africa. And time and again these missions have been abandoned at the least sign of complication or trouble. A memorable example was the Somalia debacle, which cost the international community $3.5 billion and the lives of 18 U.S. Rangers and scores of U.N. Pakistani soldiers, leading eventually to the 1994 pull-out by the United Nations. These "stop-and-go" Band-Aid solutions compound Africa's crises by covering up festering wounds.
Long-term, durable solutions to Africa's innumerable problems require an understanding of their root causes. That, in turn, requires making two fundamental distinctions: first, between African leaders and the African people, and second, between traditional Africa and modern Africa. Western administrators often use the generic term "Africans" to refer to African leaders, as in the expression, "Africans are reforming their economies." But this usage is misleading. It carries the implication that all Africans are involved in this process when in actual fact it is the leaders who claim to be "reforming their economies." Furthermore, lumping the leaders and the people together prevents many from criticizing the policies of African leaders for fear of being labeled "racist" if one were white or "traitor" if one were black. Most African leaders are despots and failures. But leadership failure is not synonymous with failure of Africans as a people. And criticizing African leaders does not mean one hates black people.