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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