is wretched leadership the curse of sub-Saharan Africa?
In his book 'The Bottom Billion', Professor Paul Collier,
Director for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, states
that 'one billion people in 58 nations, many of which are in sub-Saharan
Africa, are living and dying in 14th century conditions.' This may seem
totally incomprehensible to us in the developed world in this the age
of globalisation, when agricultural, scientific, technical and medical
advances continue to conquer new frontiers, yet social statistics from
sub-Saharan Africa back up this tragic fact:-
Professor Collier's observation is further underlined
by the findings of the 2020 UNDP Human Development Index. This guide to
development across the world lists the countries in sub-Saharan Africa
The question then that urgently needs to be addressed is why too many Africans are still paralysed in poverty, for the most part eking out an existence from the land, some 50-60 years after the majority of these countries became independent? And the answer is not hard to find: by far and away the main reason why people in sub-Saharan Africa today are still denied even the basics of life is because GOVERNANCE IS FOURTH RATE.
For Richard Dowden, former Director of the Royal African Society in London, who has travelled extensively through sub-Saharan Africa for over 40 years, a lot of the blame for Africa's failure can be placed on its elites who take their money out of the country. They live like exceedingly rich Europeans or Americans with flashy cars and huge houses. Their children all go to British schools and British or American universities and they have no confidence in Africa. They don't want anything to do with it. In fact, when you socialise with them, you realise that they absolutely despise other Africans, especially the poor. They have no interest in developing Africa. They are doing extremely well, as they are living off aid or whatever their income is, and the idea of bringing education or health to their population doesn't interest them in the slightest.'
More accusations come from Oby Ezekweseli, former Vice-President of the World Bank, and minister in the government of President Obasanjo in Nigeria, when in a speech in London in December, 2014 she blamed the parasitic African elites not just for looting their countries but also for not caring about their own citizens.
Further evidence of government apathy comes from the first ever UNDP Africa Human Development Report, published in August 2012, where Tegegnework Gettu, Regional Director of the African Bureau, is highly critical of the paltry lack of effort shown by African leaders towards their people. He writes 'had African governments over the last 30 years met their people's aspirations, this report would not be necessary. He goes on to say that 'chronic food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa stems from decades of poor governance. Regimes bent on amassing wealth absorbed the region's resources into patrimonial power structures. Self-serving elites, quick to profit from graft and patronage, have stood between leaders and the people, monopolised state revenues and emptied the countryside, but they have provided neither employment nor industry. Across sub-Saharan Africa rural infrastructure has deteriorated, farming has languished, gender and other inequalities have deepened and food systems have stagnated.'
Then there is the report in July, 2015 from Professor Githu Muigai, the attorney-general of Kenya, which underlined the massive gap between intention and reality in too many African nations when he claimed that 'only 1% of government spending was properly accounted for (in Kenya) in the year 2013/14.' The report contained allegations of theft, incompetence, waste, misspending and corruption on a colossal scale. That is a truly shocking indictment on a government which received £134 million in bilateral aid from UK in 2019.
In 2006 Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born cell-phone magnate, set-up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. This prize was to be awarded annually in recognition of exceptional African leadership. Sadly again this year no winner could be found. In fact since the launch in 2006 only on 5 occasions has the prize been awarded!
And if anyone
is still in doubt that African leadership falls far short of the required
standards there is this frank admission from a serving president. In a
speech to local mayors on October 1, 2014, reported by The Observer (Kampala),
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda said 'most
African leaders are backward in developing their countries. Europeans
can't tell you this because they are polite yet we can't continue going
on like this.'
Today then, more than half a century on from independence, people all over sub-Saharan Africa are still suffering from autocratic, apathetic and rapacious leadership which the outside world continues to ignore. For as far as the international community is concerned governance is the 'elephant in the room': most Africa watchers, if they are honest, know the problem is there but, shamefully, no one wants to confront it. Western governments, afraid of political sensitivity, losing influence or being branded neo-colonialist or racist, and with the need to justify the continuance of overseas aid to their electorates, prefer to sweep the glaring problems of mismanagement and corruption on the continent under the carpet; Multilateral organisations like the World Bank and IMF, having been severely criticised in the past for their Structural Adjustment Programmes which forced debtor developing countries to tighten their budgets, now tiptoe round the subject of maladministration and malfeasance; International Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) like Oxfam, Save the Children, ONE and Christian Aid have development projects throughout sub-Saharan Africa but for reasons, known only to themselves, are disingenuous when it comes to telling their supporters the truth about feckless governance being the main cause of poverty on the continent. Instead, they prefer to blame western trade barriers, tax evasion by multinational corporations, climate change and the lack of overseas aid. As for the African Union, basically an 'old boys club of African dictators' whose directorate appears outwardly critical of governance in words to appease the West but inwardly continually fails to censure its members for fear of rocking the boat.
And it is not as if today's African leaders are unaware of what needs to be done either as is shown by what was drafted into the constitution of the African Union (AU) when it was set-up in 2002, and agreed by all member governments.
The AU was formed with three main aims - to seek peace, security and stability on the continent through a Peace and Security Council; to encourage democratic principles, popular participation and good governance and to promote and protect human rights. Shortly after its inception the AU also drew up a plan for economic development on the continent - the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). In drawing up NEPAD African leaders called for new co-operation between Africa and the international community. In return for more debt relief, overseas aid (ODA) and better access to drugs in the fight against HIV/Aids, African leaders promised to take responsibility for eradicating poverty by moving their countries onto a course of progress and stability. To this end they would all work to achieve economic growth that benefited the entire country, improve human rights, strengthen the rule of law and clamp down hard on corruption.
With the setting up of the AU and the adoption of NEPAD the governments of Africa then at last seemed to be willing to grasp the nettle and to start to lay the foundations for a better future for their people. However, as with all things in life, actions speak louder than words, and in the 19 years since the AU and NEPAD were set up, progress in the drive to promote social justice, good governance and economic development throughout the continent is failing to materialise. And the 'template' for successful development appears to have been sidelined.
The evidence for this continuing paltry lack of effort
by governments in sub-Saharan Africa to unlock their countries' human
and economic potential can be seen from the league table below drawn up
This league table, 'Table of Truth' is compiled using four respected independent
international surveys* on four of the criteria** which the AU promised
to pursue in 2002:-
Progress in all of the above areas are essential and African lives would be energised if they were allowed title to their own land, if the bureaucracy involved in setting up a business was minimal, if there were free and and fair elections, if governments were to enforce the rule of law, if judges were independent, if human rights were part of the fabric of society, if the media was set free and, above all, and this cannot be emphasised enough, if corruption did not strangle the very oxygen out of daily life.
At the same time, because these all cost little to implement, the position of each country in the league table is not dependent on how wealthy it is or even its position in the latest UNDP Human Development Index. Thus, if any government is serious in laying sound foundations for its people to progress, both economically and socially, there is no reason why even the poorest country should not figure prominently in the league table.
[In order to compile this league table, the score given to a country in each survey has been converted to a mark out of 10 and then the average score over the 4 surveys is shown (in brackets) for each country in 2020 - maximum score 10. And in order to compare the progress in each country (or the lack of it) since the AU was set up in 2002, each country's average score in that year is also shown.]
TABLE OF TRUTH
This 'Table of Truth' shows how far every government in sub-Saharan Africa has progressed in delivering on what could be labelled 'the dynamic drivers of development' which would give Africans the tools they need to start to make the most of their lives. In so doing, this league table opens the curtain on the dark continent shining light on those few African governments which are showing willing whilst flagging up the all too many regimes which are flagrantly disregarding the needs of their people. And it borders on incredulity to find that the average score across all sub-Saharan African governments in 2020 is the same as in 2002 even though the AU promised to deliver improvements in all of the above areas when it was set up in that year. So much then for Africa Rising!
As can be seen from the league table the most determined and proactive governments on the subcontinent are those of the two island nations of Cape Verde Islands and Mauritius, consistently the best-governed nations on the continent, which have increased their already impressive scores 2020/2002. However, both these progressive nations are, in geographical terms, far removed from the shores of sub-Saharan Africa.
Botswana occupies third place with Seychelles fourth. These two nations, as can be seen, have been moving in different directions with Botswana slowly regressing whilst Seychelles has improved enormously in the last 18 years. Then come Namibia, Sao Tome/Principe, Ghana and South Africa. Four island states occupy half the positions in the top eight, all of which have held or boosted their scores 2020/2002. Sadly South Africa has fallen far from its former glory. Under former president Jacob Zuma corruption and cronyism brought this country to its knees whilst two credit rating agencies have recently downgraded the country's debt to junk status. Mandela's legacy has not been well handled and he would feel betrayed were he alive today.
In 9th place is Senegal.
All in all, going on down the list, for poverty crusaders everywhere, it has to be hugely disappointing that only 16 out of 49 governments (32.5%) pass the test in 'providing the tools' to allow their people to shake off poverty. And 19 years on from the formation of the AU there really can no longer be any excuse for this paucity of effort.
Just above the bottom of the table are 4 nations which, with byzantine leaders, are going nowhere. In the Dem. Rep. of Congo, fabulously mineral rich and desperately people poor, a new president was finally elected in December 2018. Felix Tshiskedi is slowly shaking off the influence of former President Joseph Kabila (2001-2018) and his cohorts but little in the way of progress can be expected here. At the same time, the people of Burundi had to shoulder the heavy burden of megalomaniac Pierre Nkurunziza as president for 15 years before he decided to step away with the promise of a substantial pension in May 2020. He died a few weeks later. In Chad, having just won another election in April 2021, President Idriss Deby was killed on the battlefield a few days later prompting the miltary to promote his son, General Mahamat Deby, to be interim president for a period of 18 months in order to quell Islamist insurgents. Life here is unlikely to change for the better in the months ahead. As for the Central African Republic civil war smoulders on in a continuing struggle between basically Muslim and Christian groups that attracts little coverage from the international media.
At the bottom
of the table there are five countries whose governments bear out the accusation
that they are oppressive, hapless and corrosive:-
(In the last 18 years the countries that have progressed the most are: Rwanda 2.0, Liberia 1.9, Seychelles 1.5.)
(In the last 18 years the countries that have regressed the most are: Mali -1.6, Djibouti -1.5, South Africa -0.9.)
This lack of action and total disregard displayed by most governments in sub-Saharan Africa towards their own people are insurmountable obstacles in attempts at alleviating poverty there. And this needs to be taken on board not only by western governments but also by all in the international community - international NGOs, promoters of the Make Poverty History campaign, church leaders, universities, poverty campaigners and those who long to see justice for the world's poor - so that the reason as to why Africans are perennially paralysed in poverty is brought out in the open and steps can be considered on how best to tackle it. For good governance in a country is paramount in any attempt to raise living standards: far more important than overseas aid, local development projects set up by western NGOs, tax justice and debt relief - put together. In fact it is only with able, honest and proactive leadership in place that the war on poverty can ever really start to be won in any country. And the battle against deprivation desperately needs to be victorious in Africa if there is going to be any chance of stemming the tidal wave of refugees/ asylum seekers/ economic migrants who feel they have nothing to lose as they seek a better life across the Mediterranean in Britain and Europe.
For the sake of the African people, then, it is time for the international community to wake up and cast aside any notions of this being a politically sensitive subject and start to address the problem. However, this need not be done by direct confrontation, which would almost certainly be self-defeating, but indirectly, by accentuating the positive.
Through the information provided by the 'Table of Truth' above, or any similar league table for that matter, western governments should take the 'real politik' - doing business no matter the cost - out of overseas aid and substitute it with pragmatism by moving on to support only the more progressive governments on the continent. And then get right behind them.
One way to do this would be for wealthy countries to consider backing those governments which score say 5 or better in the Table of Truth. At the same time, consideration could also be given to allocating some resources to those countries which score under 5 as long as progress continues year on year. And here countries like Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Togo and Rwanda might qualify.
However, this time, as there are major skill shortages in much of Africa, the rich OECD countries should move away from giving overseas aid in financial terms towards more practical based help. By offering the services of engineers, scientists, agronomists, hydrologists, accountants and administrators development should be speeded up, it would be more evenly balanced and there should be less chance of money being siphoned off by corrupt officials. Giving overseas aid in this practical way is also worth that much more according to Paul Collier. In "The Bottom Billion" he argues that 'demand driven technical assistance such as installing safe water through wells/pumps etc. converts every £1 spent into £15.' That alone is a 'mouth-watering' return that should convince even the most sceptical of western donors.
At the same time, whilst helping to deliver on these projects, nationals of each recipient country could be employed and trained in the various skills relating to the numerous tasks involved. This could then be further expanded by say the UK offering to train young politicians and senior civil servants from more receptive nations in what needs to be done in order to expand economic activity, tackle corruption and alleviate of poverty. And this in time should surely drive huge improvements in governance and living conditions.
All of this kind of co-operation should carry on as long as recipient governments continue to pursue progressive reforms.
This method of distributing bilateral overseas aid accentuates the positive in a win/win situation for poor people - the more pragmatic African governments working for their people are encouraged to carry on reforming by the guarantee of continuing practical western support. And by making it clear that sound policies will be an essential element in deciding which countries will receive future investment, western governments will also be sending out a strong message to poorly performing administrations that it is time for them to start to take more interest in the needs of their people, or lose out. At the same time, knowing that the international community is backing more open and effective government, civil society groups in sub-Saharan Africa will gain strength in their efforts to hold their own governments to account. Also, by seeking to encourage better governance in this way the chances of any conflict and disruption of the kind seen as a result of the Arab Spring in North Africa may be avoided. In short, overseas aid given in this way could be termed 'live aid' where the money from western taxpayers boosts continuing good governance in contrast to 'dead aid' where funds are too readily given to malfunctioning leaderships by western governments which should know better, in what can only be an attempt to buy international support.
(Underpinning good governance should be the sensible way forward for it has been proved to yield a much greater return. According to figures produced by the World Bank, US$10bn given in aid to better governed poor countries should lift 25 million people out of poverty; spread across a broad range of developing nations US$10bn would lift only 7 million people out of poverty. So adopting this method alone in aid disbursement is constructive, potentially delivering 3.5 times more people out of poverty.)
So how would this new method of distributing bilateral overseas aid affect the UK's Department for International Development (DfID), now renamed the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)? In 2019 five sub-Saharan African countries featured in the top ten recipients of UK bilateral aid (£m):- Ethiopia £300, Nigeria £258, South Sudan £207, Dem. Rep. of Congo £185, Somalia £176. Using the formula suggested above, Ethiopia and Somalia would NOT deserve bilateral aid with question marks over D R C too. However, Somalia probably escapes condemnation as aid will almost certainly be humanitarian. Overall though if FCDO really wanted to make a real impression on poverty, it should be more ambitious and reduce that number of countries in receipt of bilateral aid overall. This would lead to more positive and concentrated results whilst reducing bureaucracy, costs and manpower.
(China is also playing a supporting role in development in completing numerous construction projects in many African countries as part payment for the purchase of natural resources. However, even though China may not pick and choose which regimes it deals with, this should not be used by western governments as an excuse for not supporting good governance.)
It is also time for international development NGOs like Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid to get real and face the facts on poverty.
Of course, all these international NGOs do incredible work across sub-Saharan Africa but they could be accused of being disingenuous when it comes to telling their supporters the truth about the main cause of poverty on the continent. Instead of flagging up insidious governance they prefer to blame the West through a combination of climate change, restrictive trade practices, lack of overseas aid and tax evasion by multinational corporations etc.
Some of these issues are a problem for poor countries and it is right for NGOs to campaign for a new approach as Oxfam is currently doing on climate change. Here, this international confederation of 17 charities, is currently sending out a strong message to world leaders whilst reminding its supporters that 'we will always act, we will speak out, and we won't live with poverty.' That is what supporters as well and poverty campaigners everywhere want to hear but you can't help thinking that Oxfam would rather prefer to run a mile than to 'act and speak out' about the all too many woeful governments that litter and hold back much of the developing world!
If charities like Oxfam really do want to 'make poverty history' they, too, are going to have to 'look in the mirror' and face the politically sensitive issue of governance. And what is there to worry about anyway? In order to do this they don't need to walk away from current ventures but should rather seek to maximise the value of their future projects through setting them up in countries with the more enterprising governments. In this way they would not only help the few people benefiting from each project directly in any one country but, also, the many there through indirectly supporting good governance. And, whilst they are at it, they should broadcast the fact to the whole world. This might just make every African government sit up, take notice and start to consider working for all their people. Then, who knows with this new more open, honest and pragmatic approach to tackling poverty, which goes right to the heart of development, these international NGOs may even find that their supporters become even more generous!
Individuals like you and me can also adopt this game-changing approach to development by continually reminding international NGOs of the responsibility of holding governments to account when we donate our money to them.
(Relief/humanitarian aid for victims of famine, conflict and natural disasters etc. would continue to be given to ALL countries directly and/or through UN agencies and NGOs without question as soon as it is needed.)
At the G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2005, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, speaking on behalf of the African Union, promised that in return for OECD countries boosting overseas aid by US$50bn, further debt cancellation and greater access to HIV drugs; African leaders would continue along the path to good governance as laid down by the AU in 2002. And in the intervening years it can be said that the rich OECD nations have generally moved in that direction but that little or no progress has been made in most of Africa in terms of governance. Yet, shamefully, this fundamental part of the 2005 G8 agreement is continually glossed over by the international community, and as such, we in the West must stand accused of being complicit in keeping Africans poor. That position can now no longer be tenable and the performance of African governments should, in future, be monitored and exposed if they fail in their duty to put in place policies which should act as a catalyst for sweeping advances across the continent. For Western world taxpayers should be owed no less; loyal supporters of Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children etc., should expect no less and, most importantly of all, people in Africa deserve no less.
And here a golden opportunity for just such action arose from an ongoing international survey. In 2013, ahead of deciding the goals and targets which would replace the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goals, in a 'My World' poll still actually being conducted by the UN, over 8,400,000 people from 194 countries have indicated their top priorities for the next 15 years. And, for Africans like the rest of the world, after a good education, better health care and more job opportunities, at No 4 comes the need for 'honest and responsive government.' This prompted the UN to declare that this new issue of 'honest and responsive government' will need to be included in any UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Yet, in September, 2015 in New York, when put to the test, the UN General Assembly, in its adoption of 17 goals and no fewer than 169 targets, tiptoed round the crucial issue of governance and so once again the welfare of the world's poor is set to be ignored in what can only be described as a shameful concession to African leaders.
For, far too long, the lives of the majority of Africans have been made miserable by the poverty of leadership shown by too many governments on that continent which the outside world has ignored. And if the people of countries from Angola to Zimbabwe are sooner, rather than later, to put the debilitating effects of famine, disease, illiteracy, lack of clean water and misery behind them, all of us in the international community - the UN, western governments, multinational corporations, international NGOs, churches, poverty campaigners, you, me - must now start to play our part in trying to break up the logjam of feckless governments found on the continent. FOR PRIORITISING AND PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE IS PARAMOUNT IF AFRICANS ARE TO HAVE ANY CHANCE OF LEAP-FROGGING FROM THE 14th TO THE 21st CENTURY!
According to the 2020 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance Index the best governed countries in Africa are:
2. Cape Verde; 3. Seychelles; 4. Botswana; 5. South Africa;
And the worst:
49. Somalia; 48. South Sudan; 47. Eritrea; 46. Equatorial. Guinea; 45. Central African Republic; 44. Democratic Republic of Congo; 43. Sudan; 42 Chad; 41. Congo Republic; 40. Burundi
for POLITICAL RIGHTS/ CIVIL LIBERTIES average of 2 surveys produced under these headings by Freedom House. www.freedomhouse.org (25-1)
for ECONOMIC FREEDOM annual guide published jointly by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation, Washington's No 1 think tank. http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking (3-2)
for CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS survey by Transparency International www.transparency.org 28-1
for MEDIA FREEDOM based on survey of World Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders https://rsf.org/en
1) The right to vote in free and fair elections - political rights - offers the people the opportunity to get rid of poor government. At the same time political rights allows political parties to campaign freely with equal access to the media. And at election time they should guarantee no intimidation and open and transparent counting of the ballots. In this way the people will get the government of their choice. And under this system of free and fair elections the government which is elected will know that it has to perform for all of the people if it is to get re-elected next time. At present little change occurs in African elections as ruling parties, through a combination of intimidation and corruption, win time after time after time.
Along with political rights, civil liberties will measure progress towards freedom of speech, free trade unions, free religious expression and gender equality. And these human rights should be enshrined in the rule of law which should be upheld by an independent judiciary and police force. Strong independent institutions like universities should also be encouraged.
2) Regulatory quality or economic freedom tries to capture how far governments have gone in implementing sound policies and regulations that permit and promote private sector development. The variables measured here include the ease of setting up both domestic and foreign-owned businesses, the need to enforce contracts, the ease of access to capital markets, fair taxation, competition, price controls, excessive protections, ease of transferring goods through customs, state subsidies, barriers to market entry for new competitors etc.
Setting up in business should be straightforward and uncomplicated. Currently, for example, it takes 3 days to incorporate a business in Rwanda but 7 months in Guinea; in Democratic Republic of Congo 400% of average income is needed whilst in Denmark it costs nothing; in Ethiopia an entrepreneur must deposit the equivalent of 18 years average income in a bank account which is then frozen in order to register his own company and in Nigeria just to sell a property involves 21 procedures and takes 9 months. All of this red tape hampers both inward and domestic investment and thus the creation of employment on a continent where it is estimated that every job supports from between 6-10 people.
Other factors furthering the goal of economic freedom would include the independence of the central bank whose dual mandate would be to set interest rates appropriate for controlling inflation whilst fostering the conditions for fast economic growth. At the same time there should only be one exchange rate.
Additionally, in his book 'The Mystery of Capital' Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist, suggests that the main problem for the developing world in trying to establish fast-track economic growth is the inability of people there to raise capital. Yet he states that the poorest people in the developing world are sitting on phenomenal amounts of savings. However, these savings are held in imperfect forms in the shape of homes built on land which are unrecorded, crops growing in fields with no title deeds and businesses set-up outside the law due to cumbersome bureaucracy. As a result most Africans still live as subsistence farmers which they have done for centuries as they are unable to inject life into their fixed assets as loans and mortgages cannot be raised against them. Governments in poor countries should commit to personal enterprise - a key component to economic growth - by allowing poor people to own their land.
3) Corruption is the curse of Africa. In a hastily withdrawn report by the African Union in 2004 it was estimated that Africa foregoes $150bn per annum through corruption - 18% of the continent's Gross National Income. Corruption hurts poor people most and comes in many forms - when health staff demand bribes for medicines, teachers for enrolling children in school or local government officials for providing water connections. As well as robbing people of their wealth, it undercuts the state's ability to raise revenues, leads to higher taxes, poisons human relations, paralyses initiative, discourages investment, encourages dealing in the black market, promotes conflict and destroys confidence in government institutions. Nothing then is more detrimental to a nation's economic advancement and corruption must not be left unchecked. In order to start to win the fight against corruption action needs to start at the top with the president appointing an independent body with the power to investigate any claims of misappropriation against any minister or top civil servant. And not even the president should be immune from investigation. Penalties should be harsh for wrongdoers and steps taken to recover the proceeds.
4) Where the state owns all or most of the newspapers and radio and TV stations, and internet access is limited, criticism of government policy is muted. With an emasculated media governments will then ensure that only the good news it wants the public to hear will be reported whilst bad news will be side-lined. And in this way the electorate will be starved of the information necessary to form an unbiased opinion on government performance. Media freedom then is also of major importance in pursuit of sound government. Also in countries where there is a small opposition or no organised opposition a free media can take the place of the opposition by asking tough questions and highlighting injustices and by keeping government ministers up to the mark in the other key fields of civil liberties, economic freedom and corruption.