Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Will Africa ever get it right? - The Economist

In the words of a fellow 'Fro, "they have shamed us o!"

The article below is from this week's edition of The Economist, and is a sort of chastisement of the African continent, using Nigeria as the scape goat. Fine, our elections were anything but "free and fair", but what do you think about this article? Is it too harsh... afterall, "democracy is a process," abi? Or is it right on the mark? And does it have the potential to 'shame' us or our leaders into action?


April 26th 2007

Nigeria's latest shameful and rigged election does not mean that all of Africa is hopeless

IF NIGERIA, Africa's most populous country, is anything to go by, the sub-Saharan continent of some 800m people may be doomed to spend another generation or so in misery. Nigeria's recent bout of elections has been a fiasco (see article).

The country is rich in resources—the United States may soon be getting a tenth of its oil from it—but most of its 140m-odd people languish in poverty. And yet their rotten leaders presume they have some kind of right, by virtue of their country's size and natural wealth, to strut the global stage as leaders of the continent. How wrong they are. Nigeria's new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, is tainted from the start. The elections at all levels should be held again—but of course they won't be. Any notion that Nigeria should be taken seriously as a continental spokesman, let alone a model, should be laughed out of court. But is Nigeria typical of Africa? And does its dismal performance as a would-be democracy cast a blight across the rest of Africa? The answer to both questions is no. Nigeria is not Africa. Over the past decade or so, the rest of the continent has on the whole been taking modest, belated but encouraging steps towards greater prosperity, security and democracy.

To be sure, there is a very long way to go. The African backdrop is still fairly bleak. Many features of this latest Nigerian farce, namely corruption and mismanagement, still scar many other parts of Africa. The post-colonial continent has hitherto been a colossal flop. The killer comparison is with Asia, where many countries suffered from the same colonial humiliations and rapacity that independent Africa customarily blamed for its early failings. According to the World Bank, real income per head in the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa between 1960 and 2005 rose on average by 25%, while it leapt 34 times faster in East Asia; countries like South Korea and Malaysia were once as poor as Ghana and Kenya. The excuse of colonialism wore out at least a generation ago—and Africans know it.

But many lessons have been learnt, even—believe it or not—in Nigeria, where the macroeconomic picture is actually not too bad. In politics, the once-predominant belief in a one-party system has faded, if not fizzled completely. Multi-party elections, though often very messy, have become far commoner.

This month the IMF's latest figures give further cause for hope. For the third year in a row, sub-Saharan African countries grew on average by around 6% and may soon hit the 7% mark predicated by the UN in its call to halve Africa's poverty rate by 2015. True, this comes on the back of high oil and other commodity prices. But non-oil African countries are recording similar rates of growth. Such figures are modest by Asian standards. But they are going the right way—and quite fast.

An abiding failure of Africa is the reluctance of relatively decent leaders to club together to shame the really bad ones out of office. Zimbabwe's case is the most egregious, disgracing the countries nearby, especially South Africa, whose leaders hide behind a misguided sense of past comradeship and racial solidarity. In Nigeria's case, the African Union should waste no time in denouncing the election as fraudulent—and freezing Nigeria's incoming government out of Africa's leading councils. Alas, that is unlikely to happen. Nigeria may seem too big, its peacekeepers too badly needed, for the rest of Africa to cold-shoulder it. How can the outside world help Africa? There is no easy answer. Western countries, vital donors of aid, should make it clear they will give more help to countries whose governments are relatively clean and efficient—and hold fair elections. The latest aid-givers' consensus is to identify “good” countries, still quite a small bunch, and let them spend the cash as they see fit. Yet time and again, good guys—most recently, Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni—slip back into old despotic ways, putting aid-givers into a quandary. By punishing governments, are they not hurting the innocent poor? In the end, Africa must help itself, just as Asia has. Then the outsiders will pile in, with investment that is better than aid at creating wealth. Even into Nigeria.

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Click on 'comments' below if you'd like to say something, anything!

15 comments:

rukks said...

ahem...not much to say here really...although i feel somewhat ashamed that all i did was roll my eyes and think "get with it" while reading it...

but still continue to wonder if this continued comparison to asia is indeed necessary

x

Bitchy said...

Mate, rolled your eyes and thought get with what? I'm lost.. Do you mean they're acting as if this old gist is new? Lol!

There is always that temptation to compare Asia to Africa because 50/60 years ago we were all in the same boat allegedly, weren't we? Although a lotta people do argue that the idea that we were at the same stage in the '50s is preposterous, seeing as Asian countries hadn't been robbed of manpower during slavery a mere century before independence, in the way that we had.

Pseudo-Independence said...

Thanks for this post. Let me jump straight on to the question, is this article harsh?

I think we may need a bit of harshness or nobody will take notice. I think the article paints a fairly realistic picture of the long standing corrupted state of Africa, especially Nigeria. Whilst it may be true to say that things may not be as bad as the article portrays there may be a great weight in the unmistakeable fact that the majority of Nigerians live in poverty as a direct result of ongoing corrupt practices.

I would also agree that it may be time to stop blaming the after effects of colonial rule as the article rightly suggests. This is not to say that Africa is still awaiting reparations, perhaps this could take the form of assistance in dealing with corrupt political rule. For example, substantial financial assistance in bringing those responsible to justice akin to war crime trials and furthermore to bring to account each and every living past military “leader” whose authoritarian regimes dates back to independence and who may have stolen over $400 billion of public money.

I regret to say it but a trial, conviction and imprisonment of the following gentlemen [ Mr. Ernest Shonekan; Mr. Ibrahim Babangida; Mr. Muhammadu Buhari; Mr. Yakubu Gowon etc] is imperative. A conviction of any or all would go a long way in dismantling the corrupt traditions and institutions they bequeathed to Nigerians. Life terms of imprisonment would surely help, if only to ensure that a military dictatorship dare not interrupt the democratic process in future, which undoubtedly will take many years if not decades given the limited experience of representative democracy and of supporting progress, prosperity and democracy.

As ever, Nigeria remains charged with corrupt practices and this must continue to be emphasised and hopefully initiate an intelligent non violent revolt of some kind from its millions of people. Rather than continue to site what is already well known, there should be more intense focus on how to move it forward. Malaysia and South Korea have taken great steps forward in terms of standard of living for the people and its prosperity generally.

But will our president-elect be up to this task?

Misan said...

I completely concur with pseudo-independence (welcome, by the way)...we deserve the harsh article every so often, and it sounds better/more legit when it comes from within, but seriously, all eyes are on us, just as they were on the US when Bush was re-elected and we all laughed at Americans for their folly. I'm glad that the elections (at least) held (in the typical Naija way of being grateful for the bare minimun), even though I'm still reeling from the blatant slap on the face of Nigerians - by the gross misconduct of the rigging, inefficiencies and publicly-displayed ignorance of INEC, and BABA's "do or die" mentality when it comes to having his way.

Corruption happens all over the world i've been told, especially in politics. We've got a long-ass way to go, but at least, there've been a few individuals who've shown us in the past elections, that you can run for office without succombing to the ever-omnipresent corruption.

In terms of solutions, I was told by an Asian expert that corruption is widespread in the Asian Tigers as well, but in Singapore, the anti-corruption policy has involved not only severe punishments for those found guilty (whereas these days, the EFCC seems to be more of a name and shame game) at the higher government levels, but also at the intermediate civil service levels; and more importantly, RELATIVELY HIGH COMPENSATION for civil servants to prevent them from even being tempted to steal.

So like maybe our new presido can take a few hints from that example!

Anonymous said...

This sort of election process is exactly what incites apathy from voters and honest leaders. Unfortunately, the results will not be challenged and in another eight years we will be writing exactly the same thing with a few different names. The cycle has to stop and in order to do that the "Do or Die" types need to be removed from politics. Yet they are empowering themselves and becoming part of the Nigerian definition of Democracy. My question is "how exactly do we stop this?"

Anonymous said...

I think the emphasis on good electoral process(es) or a lack thereof is greatly exaggerated. In particular reference to Nigeria, Electoral rigging occured in favour and against the ruling paarty- PDP, rigging I believe also occured to undermine and subvert the electoral process and make it look unacceptable to all observers. Albeit the fact remains we should witness come May 29th, the first transition of power between civilians in Nigeria preceeded by a greater degree of transparency, accountability and integrity in government than ever witnessed since 1960. What I am trying to say is for reform to actually occur it requires stability, continuity and a singular vision for Nigeria which incumbency provides.

I think a VISION or IDEAL is better to pursue and support Than DEMOCRATIC over zealousness. Elections are the Merry go Rounds at the Funfair . Now it's time to get on with the real rides or real work of DELIVERING REFORM and pursuing a VISION. For example Fidel Castro has run Cuba for over 30 years without the MANDATE elections provide and as a result on meagre resources, ushered in an era of growth heralding in one of the best Health care and Educational institutions in the world as well as a decent standard of living for its populace ( 70+ % of Nigerians don't have a clue what electricity is). I'm not saying we should strip Nigerians or Africans of all freedom and pursue communism. What I am saying though is Democracy is not a smooth process, far from it.

No one is born a Man. At The birth of Democracy Women were not allowed to vote worldwide, In the US it took the civil rights movement to bring the right to vote to minorities after almost two centuries of Democratic Rule.

As is often said there are diffrent versions of Democracy and the Nigerian version is in its infancy and working so far, it will take a a while for it to resemble that in Developed economies but untill the Literacy rates in Nigeria improve at present they stand at 60% overall 25% for those over 30. Someone will have to make educated decisions towards progress which free and fair Democratic processes cannot ensure.

I am not being snobbish as I hide behind my anonymous ID, but Nigeria is a Nation made up of an Illiterate majority and if someone doesn't talk for them. They will readily sell thier voices and votes to the highest bidder. So this version of Nigerian democracy works and minimises bloodshed. Until we reach literacy levels of 99% which is characteristic of Mature Democracies. Nigerians, Africans and the West will have to continue in their critique of Democracy in it's present African form so as to steer it in the Right direction.

Anonymous said...

sorry I meant an illiterate Adult majority

Anonymous said...

Omo, the fact is that the truth hurts. What is wrong with comparison with Asia and the rest of the world? Yes none of these nations was built in one day and bla bla bla but a lot of these experiments (like U.S.A) had no precedents; no examples to learn from. We have the luxury of seeing how and what steps were taken in some of these other 'democracys' and learning from their successes and mistakes. Experience is the best teacher but I don't believe we have to go through this pain to figure everything out. The dynamics of our nation are hardly any different from the ones that early America faced. It was a mix of populations from different parts of the world trying to make things work. Their identities were probably further apart from each other than ours are in Nigeria.

Bottomline is that SO FAR we have failed. No sugar coating, no compromising, no 'at least it's better than nothing', we have failed. Let's not congratulate ourselves on any B.S. Bear in mind the amount of violence that went on in early America in search of 'IDEALS' and the likes. If bloodshed is a product of progress then so be it.

I don't think anyone is asking or expecting too much. Does Ghana have two heads that they used to conduct their own elections that were considered free and fair by the same foreign bodies that laughed at us? I mean there is no valid excuse. None. Is this the first time we've had elections? The 1993 elections were free and fair. Even Obasanjo's 1999 elections were free and fair. So why should we lower our standards or expectations? After 1 term (8 years), and after reform and after so so so and so, shouldn't we be raising the bar? Shouldn't we be saying well we've grown up and now we can handle it? Just a thought. Maybe I'm crazy

Misan said...

Anonymous 3 (you can see how this might get a wee bit tricky wt the no-names, so pls introduce yourself if you don't mind:)), I certainly agree with you that Ghana (just 3 doors downs) has been able to get it somewhat right, they're not perfect either (I overheard on Ghanian Radio Joy FM, that one of the candidates for their 2008 elections has declared that if he doesn't win the elections, he will BURN Ghana to the ground...lol)but they sure are leagues ahead of us in terms of how efficient their last elections were (my Ghanian roomate was appalled by my horror stories of what my mum encountered whilst trying to vote).

SO yes, even if we're only comparing ourselves to our immediate peers, we really have a long ways to go and need to recognize that ASAP. I hadn't thought about it till you pointed out the fact that we've held far more "Freeer & fairer" elections in the years highlighted so what excuse do we have for the backtracking? none.

Anony 1: Ideas on how to stop the kind of rigging that occurred on all sides, is to have the right pp head up these kind of important processes...just a thought, but if someone like Ribadu (Who yes, has his own questionable methods regarding the EFCC) had been put in charge of INEC, put in the extra homework to make sure everyone on the INEC team (top to bottom) was trained, had issued HARSH repercussions for rigging parties &
politicians, maybe things might have turned out different. call me naive but pay a man well enough, and (viably) threaten to throw him in jail for misconduct (AND take ALL the wealth he has accumulated) and i believe he'll walk the straight and narrow.

Dolapo said...

Anonymous 2, your post is exactly the sort of thing that hinders progress in Nigeria. Firstly, the behaviour of the political parties during the election process is a proxy for their actions in office and therefore should not be overlooked. The acts of thuggery and rigging orchestrated by politicians at various polling stations across the country was an explicit message to Nigerian citizens that their voice is insignificant. I also have to mention that you talked about rigging by various parties and then in the same paragraph proceeded to suggest that individuals from these same parties had an ounce of transparency, accountability, and worst of all integrity. I am baffled at how this is possible.

Secondly, you talk of the need for stability for reform that can be achieved through an incumbency. Unfortunately, we have tried this before just that people used to call it a military dictatorship. A government that perpetuates itself in office through illegal means can never be held accountable for its actions. This is a problem. Let us assume that the VISIONS and IDEALS of the incumbent government that you talk about are actually aligned with those of the people. What happens if their interests begin to diverge? How do citizens ensure that their needs are being met with no possible way of choosing their leaders? Citizens should be responsible for shaping the VISIONS and IDEALS of their own country. I struggle to see how the well educated citizens of Cuba still choose to be led by a man that is now incapable of performing many basic human functions.

Lastly, I am very offended that you are using literacy as a proxy for intelligence. Just because people have not been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to school does not mean they are stupid. People sell their votes because they are poor. If I was starving, I would sell my vote to get some money for my next meal. I understand this sort of behaviour to be instinctual and not stupid.

I struggle to see anything positive from the process and the results of the past elections both state and federal. If anyone has anything more valid than the points posted by anonymous 2 please let me know...

Acheeka said...

all former colonies face difficulty with corruption and measuring up to the democratic ideal. this is an upshot of the imposition of democracy as the social structure par excellence by democratic conquerors. if one were to trace the origins of democracy, which tend to coincide with early capitalism, one would find collective interests of multiple groups, none prepotent, gradually forming political parties and consolidating a democratic system. thus democracy develops as an adaptive feature. once democracy is inflicted upon a society, however, there lie distorted balances of power which fuel corruption and inefficiency and which are almost impossible to rectify as they become ingrained into the system. but 'the excuse of colonialism wore out at least a generation ago' - what's done is done. unfortunately, an intended change (for the better, let's assume) in this imperfect system requires a group of individuals (with noble, and more importantly, unified intent and dazzling ability, of course), working against those that are propagating the system itself. if these individuals choose to work outside the system, they will be admonished for undemocratic behaviour. if they choose to work within it, their endeavour is likely doomed from the beginning (unless they can form a de facto one-party state, which might require some rigging in itself, or some other more innocuous political manoeuvreing. we have a 'lesser of two evils' issue here, a slippery slope, and a debate about human nature.). perhaps one needs to question whether democracy, as defined by the western ideal, is appropriate for this stage in nigeria's development. sometimes, in the drive for progress, it is better to sacrifice a little self-government to the wisdom of a few (see singapore - sorry, had to bring in an asian country).

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