Friday Sermon: Chronicles of Poverty 2: Enemies of the people

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By Babatunde Jose

These are men who would not bat an eye before robbing Peter; and robbing Paul too, to the bargain. They have pauperized their people and sentenced them into penury. This is the bane of underdevelopment in Africa: Enemies of the people. They sit tight in the reins of power, changing the constitution to suit their whims; garnering notoriety as the ‘longest serving’ leaders in the continent; yet, they are not royalty; presiding over the impoverishment of their peoples. Despite their long stay in power, they have failed to transform their countries from exporters of primary products to manufacturing countries. 90 % of manufacturing concerns in Africa are foreign, dating from the period of the Lever brothers in ‘Sun Valley’ of Liverpool and the Manchester trading house of Patterson Zochonis. Today, the story is still the same; but for the former Boer enclave of ‘Apartheid’ South Africa, where circumstance of isolation led to the need for home grown industrialization, Africa continues to be a market for finished goods; with their fortunes at the whims of international currency exchange rate.

Since independence, Congo has been in crisis; Mobuto Sese Seko killed Patrice Lumumba, renamed the country Zaire (now DR Congo); Mobuto went on to become one of the worst despots of all times and was richer than his country until Laurent Kabila pushed him out in May 1997. Today, after nearly two decades of wars and conflicts, DR Congo is among the most dangerous countries in the word; Kabila’s son is still holding on to power.

Idi Amin Dada took over power in Uganda in 1971 before he was ousted by Tanzania forces in 1979. Yoweri Museveni came to office in 1986 and he is still on seat after 31 years.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe; the white man’s nemesis, took Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 and it became one of the best economies in Africa: Thirty-seven years after, Mugabe is gunning for another term, and has helped to wreck Zimbabwe’s economy with sanctions. One third of Zimbabweans live in exile or are seeking economic/political asylum.

Today, Angola is still trying to rebuild but decades of war and Jose Eduardo Dos Santos 36 years in power have not improved the lot of the average Angolan.

Ivory Coast which was once the model of political and economic stability in Africa, had its serenity shattered after the 1999 coup of General Guei. Togo, Gabon and Guinea all had despots who ruled for over 30 years with Togo and Gabon having the sons succeeding their fathers.

Equatorial Guinea with its oil wealth and less than a million people, has not improved the lot of the populace but only the family and cronies of President Teodore Obiang Nguema Mbasago who has spent over thirty years in power.

Somalia’s case is seemingly hopeless, that country is the number one failed state in the world. It has gone for twenty years without a functional government with tribal war lords, pirates and lately the Islamic extremist al Shabazz making the country lawless. Chad and Niger house the poorest regions of the world.

The story of Nigeria is a pathetic one. Once named the giant of Africa, a country with rich human and natural resources has been brought to the brink due to years of bad leadership.

Economic woes, insecurity, civil wars, internal strives and conflicts, ethnic and religious cleansing, looting of public wealth, capital flight, lack of infrastructure and capacity development have become the hallmarks of Africa’s underdevelopment. The elasticity of corruption in Africa is like an unchained spirit.

Democratic regimes have not done much to expedite the cause of Africa’s transformation; rather countries like Nigeria operate the most expensive yet wasteful democracies in the world. In many African countries the leadership is composed of crooked men and women who ought to be in jail. Frantz Fanon was right after all; chastising the African Middle Class in his epic piece, ‘Pitfalls of National Consciousness’:

“National consciousness, instead of being the all-embracing crystallization of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilization of the people, will be in any case only an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been.. . . . the result of the intellectual laziness of the national middle class, of its spiritual penury, and of the profoundly cosmopolitan mould that its mind is set in.   . . . an under-developed middle class. It has practically no economic power. . . The national bourgeoisie of under-developed countries is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labor; it is completely canalized into activities of the intermediary type. The national economy of the period of independence is not set on a new footing. It is still concerned with the ground-nut harvest, with the cocoa crop and the olive yield. In the same way there is no change in the marketing of basic products, and not a single industry is set up in the country. We go on sending out raw materials; we go on being Europe’s small farmers who specialize in unfinished products.  . . . . The national middle class discovers its historic mission: that of intermediary”.

What have the leaders done with our money? “Many Nigerian states receive revenue allocations which are larger than the budgets of neighboring countries such as Liberia, Gambia and Benin. The top two recipients of state allocations –Akwa Ibom and Rivers –receive about half of the entire budget of Ghana. One per capita basis, many Nigerian states receive more than neighboring countries such as: Ghana ($255), Benin Republic ($146), Liberia ($103), and Gambia ($117)…” – Okonjo Iweala.

The docility of Africans is legendary. It’s about time we start asking our leaders to account for their stewardship. A core function of leadership is to motivate, inspire and unify citizens around core values, set goals to be achieved, and point to the future state or condition to which a country aspires. We can’t face or build the future by relying on those whose “skill sets” lie in the past.  It’s time for a different game. We need a paradigm shift in Africa. “As a matter of urgency, the underdevelopment of the nation caused by the mindless corruption and criminal diversion of public funds by unpatriotic public officers on our hapless people should be addressed” – Femi Falana. The time for change is now! Africa must look to a new generation of leaders that can actually solve the myriad problems of nation building, joblessness, aggravated and naked poverty and weak institutions. Like one protester said ‘Our Mumu Don Do’. We need to start asking questions.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.

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