By GEORGE B. N. AYITTEY
St. Martin's Press
Introduction: The Lost Continent
Mobutu and his cronies have
into little more than a bankrupt kleptocracy. They
bear more allegiance to their own bank balances than to their country's future.
And what makes the tragedy of Mobutu's Zaire so much worse is that it is
so unnecessary. The country should be prosperous. It has fertile lands,
enormous mineral resources and a talented population. Instead, it is poor, even
by African standards.
Post (16 November 1996, C1)
the comatose giant of Africa, may go down in
history as the biggest country ever to go directly from colonial subjugation to
complete collapse, without an intervening period of successful self-rule. So much promise, so much waste; such a disappointment. Such a shame. Makes you sick.
--Linus U.J. Thomas-Ogboji, African
News Weekly (26 May 1995, 6).
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).
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,
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
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
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
is one such facility in a dilapidated state. Dormitories are overcrowded,
laboratories lack chemicals to perform experiments, and some buildings are
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:
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 posts, such as Freetown and Conakry,
and the interior that, owing to violence, volatility, and disease, is again
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
(C) 1998 George B.
N. Ayittey All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-312-16400-9