Monday, 8 October 2007

Independent Africa: Is it a sinking or sailing ship?

INDEPENDENCE ERA | Nicholas Sengoba

October 9, 2007
Today, Uganda celebrates forty five years of independence and is in league with several African countries as they inch towards a golden jubilee (50 years) of self rule.
This period is considerably long enough to write a magisterial report card about whether they will sink or swim - the former being the greater possibility as things stand.

The immediate former Secretary General of the East African Community Nuwe Amanya Mushega lamented recently that “the state of affairs of the people of Africa and black Africa in particular, is nothing to be proud of” which profound statement is in tandem with the famous “Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world” made by the former British Premier Tony Blair.

Be it mortality rates, HIV/Aids prevalence, life expectancy, poverty levels, productivity, corruption, freedoms and governance indices, independent Africa comes last- with very depressing statistics.

So, how did all the enthusiasm and euphoria that characterised the attainment of self rule drown into a turbulent sea of despair to the extent that almost everything in Africa that can move has literally gone to the dogs and turned the blissful dream of independence into a harrowing nightmare?

Writing for the defunct Weekly Topic (November 22, 1991) in his column A View From Boston, Charles Onyango- Obbo opined that “great institutions as well as nations are built and nurtured by men and women who give to them (at least) more than they take away.”

Africa is not a great place and may not be for a long time to come, simply because the actions and spirit of most of its leaders point towards a pathetic future not a destiny of prosperity.

At the launch of the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (STAR) in New York last month, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and World Bank President, Robert Zoellick revealed that a quarter of the gross domestic product or the market value of all the goods and services produced in a year by labour and assets located in African countries (about $148 billion) is lost to theft and corruption.

Put another way more money is (mostly) stolen or ‘diverted’ as bribes by leaders and sidekicks of ‘donor dependant’ independent African countries from the deserving recipients, (the poor in Africa,) than is received from the western donors or ‘development partners’ and aid institutions which is about $13 billion.

The loot is safely and profitably banked or invested overseas -with full awareness of western governments and donor agencies- at the expense of social programmes including healthcare, education, infrastructural development and poverty alleviation.

Sad to say, good old Africa is led by raw thieves in suits (and military fatigues) and people led by thieves throughout history rarely cut respectable figures. They will fight wars, kill, manipulate the law, steal elections, bribe and suppress the opposition, muzzle the media, stuff all levels and spheres of influence relying on tribalism and nepotism as a basis of recruitment, all for the sake of perpetuity and self preservation to safeguard the looting.

Consequently, whichever system has been tried in post independence Africa, from socialism, capitalism, mixed economy, to multiparty democracy to one-party rule, from all inclusive “movement democracy,” to outright military dictatorship, the results have been similarly futile.

Two centuries since the abolition of slavery the African is led in such a manner that (s)he still lives precariously at the mercy of God and the whims of nature, despised even at his best and taken as the third class citizen constantly caught between pillar and post, works in deplorable conditions, and is treated shabbily as a slave both at home and abroad.

The western world like the slave traders of old profits immensely by conniving with African rulers in an illegitimate, immoral and unbalanced trade relationship to fleece Africans of their labours’ sweat.

Herein lies the genesis of Africa’s backwardness, for which race is falsely attributed. Africans have been made to appear as a gullible and hapless lot capable of enduring any level of fraud and oppression at the hands of the continent’s leaders who rob, and sell off for a pittance whatever wealth they lay their hands on.

An agonising reality is that as a result of the machinations of the leadership provided after independence, the ordinary African is so traumatised that he has become unbothered, apathetic, fatalistic, and cynical towards his own predicament and is therefore hapless as a factor in the process of changing the destiny of the continent.

Sadly, this leaves the other potential agents of change, the opposition and civil society without a powerful domestic base financially, materially and morally. Instead, they look to the West for a panacea to rein in dictators and kleptocrats yet in many cases the West and its agents are opportunistic bedfellows of the leaders on the continent.

That is why one must be either very naïve or dishonest to still speak of a bright future for this continent as was envisaged at the dawn of independence. Happy Independence Day!

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