Decades ago one of my political science lecturers at university suggested that African leaders were portrayed by the mass media as corrupt and incompetent as this was part of the imperialist agenda of the west. The idea was to persuade ordinary Africans that their leaders were inherently immoral and consequently incapable of clean governance. As an impressionable student susceptible to an academic opinion, for some years, I assumed that African leaders were consequently not responsible for African suffering.
“Africa in fact”, a “Good Governance Africa” journal states that “Africa holds 60% of the world’s platinum deposits, more than 40% of the world’s gold and almost 90% of the world’s diamonds, not to mention oil reserves that remain unexplored. Yet Africa remains the poorest continent, with 47% of Africans living on less than $1.25 per day”. The top African oil producers in 2011 were Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea. Yet for decades, conflict and repression continue to plague these states. In my opinion, this tragedy is a result of African leaders who are corrupt and incapable of democratic and accountable governance. I reason that many African leaders do not trust democracy and privately prefer autocracy. Consider the leadership style and time span of the following: Jose Dos Santos of Angola (32 yrs), Theodora Obiang Nguema Mi of Equatorial Guinea (32 yrs), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (31 yrs), Paul Biya of Cameroon (30 yrs), Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (25 yrs), Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso (24 yrs), Zina Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia (24 yrs) and al-Bashir of Sudan (22 yrs).
Many resource-rich African states have also historically wasted their acquired wealth. Instead of creating prosperity, resources have promoted decadence, corruption, undermined economic growth, incited armed conflict and damaged the natural environment. Subsequently corruption is endemic in most of Africa’s resource-rich countries. Instead of investing in education and infrastructure, many African officials and politicians, in collusion with the mining companies siphon proceeds from the nation’s wealth into their own pockets.
Strategies to maintain hegemony include political intrigue, intimidation and violence. Although this worked historically, recent events like the Arab Spring demonstrate that they are not always sustainable. While recent revolts have thus far been limited to North Africa, protests in the sub-Sahara have increased. Activated by severe economic conditions, food and fuel price increases, unemployment and service delivery failures, protests are forcing change. Revolution is heading south unless leaders submit to genuine democracy and clean governance. It is unfortunate that when African leaders abuse power to maintain supremacy, they find support from western governments. The recently deceased Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was a typical example of a proxy dictator. This hypocrisy has sent the wrong signal to suffering Africans who now embrace militant Islam. The result is Boko- Haram in West Africa, Al Shabab in East Africa and nationalization and militant protest in Southern Africa as an alternative.
To succeed, Africa must deal harshly with those who aid and abet corruption. Secondly officials and politicians unable or unwilling to secure clean governance audits must resign or pay a stiff financial penalty. Thirdly senior leaders must be limited to two x 5yr terms and retire at 65yrs to avoid the president for life syndrome. Finally, party political funding must be open to public scrutiny. This will inhibit private interests and governance by proxy. Embedding democratic and accountable values into all spheres of African society is the only way to save Africa from endless dictatorship.