Professor Ayittey on Africa's governance problems
PBS documentary on Zimbabwean refugees in Botswana
Shown on PBS stations Tuesday, July 26, 2005
I missed most of this documentary, titled Border Jumpers and available online, but I managed to catch the interview which followed the program, with Professor George Ayittey, formerly of Ghana, and now Professor of economics at the American University, Washington, DC. Professor Ayittey is widely known for suggesting that African leaders and curruption are the root causes of everything that's wrong in Africa. Needless to say, he has his supporters, and he has his detractors.
My brief comments here are restricted to what Professor Ayittey said are the main causes of the Zimbabwean crisis in particular, and of African problems in general. I also take issue with Professor Ayittey's claims, made in the interview, that upon independence, most African countries rejected capitalism and democracy, which they saw as Western, and instead followed Marxist-Leninist ideology.
Many who follow African affairs will agree with Professor Ayittey that there is an extent to which President Mugabe can be held responsible for the crisis in Zimbabwe. Ordinary Zimbabweans are having to live in fear of party youths who are paid to antagonize citizens believed to be sympathetic to the opposition. The clamp down on press freedom has had worse affects on the local Zimbabwean media.
Professor Ayittey also makes an excellent point when he points to Botswana's economic and political stability as being rooted in the indigenous governance system that Botswana champions, ensuring the maximum participation of ordinary people in the running of the country.
Everyone agrees that corruption is a pernicious problem, and the professor makes a really insightful remark when he says corruption can never be completely eliminated anywhere; it can only be minimized. Equally astute are his observations on the problems with the decisions made around the G8 summit at the beginning of this month in Gleneagles, Scotland.
But completely missing from Professor's Ayittey's analyses of the Zimbabwe crisis is the role the West has played by wilfully and actively sabotaging Zimbabwe's economy, stopping all trade and monetary transactions with the country. Given the interdependency of all countries on the global economic system, sanctions against Zimbabwe by the global North are the single biggest factor in the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. Unfortunately, it is the energies and vitality of the Zimbabwean people that have been most affected, while President Mugabe sits comfortably in his mansion. It is erroneous however to lay all the blame for Zimbabwe's problems on President Mugabe, given the actions the West has taken, mostly based on concern for the white farmers who were forced off the land.
Professor Ayittey goes on to argue that the main cause of Africa's leasdership and corruption problems is the rejection by post-independent African states of capitalism and democracy, seeing these as Western and therefore undesirable for Africa. He says most African governments, upon attaining independence, opted for Marxism-Leninism instead of free markets and democracy.
The problem with this argument is that it fails to take into account the fact that most African countries were colonized by the West, and not the East. Upon attaining independence, these countries continued with the structures left by the colonialists. Thus most African countries still use the languages of the colonialists as official languages. The entire structure of most African governments continues with the education system left by the colonialists. Judicial, economic and parliamentary systems are entirely Western, and very little of socialist or even indigenous systems can be seen, with the exception, as mentioned by Professor Ayittey, of Botswana.
Even for those countries which attempted Marxist-Leninist systems, or African socialism as in the case of Tanzania, the West never allowed these countries to succeed. Thus the West and apartheid South Africa encouraged military coups in countries such as Ghana and Zaire, supported armed rebellions as in Angola and Mocambique, and isolated countries like Tanzania. The problems seen in these countries can not be blamed on the rejection of capitalism and democracy, when in fact most of these countries continued with the systems left in place by Western colonial powers.
Professor Ayittey laments the fact that when things have gone wrong in Africa, African governments have blamed external factors instead of accepting their own incompetence. Without suggesting that self-blame is undesirable, Professor Ayittey makes African governments appear strange and unusual, as if the West has set an example where governments blame themselves when things go wrong.
When African governments are criticized outside the global and historical context of Africa's problems, there's an implicit impression thus created that pits the West as the model that African countries should follow. Professor Ayittey may praise Botswana's Kgotla system which mandates Cabinet ministers to attend weekly meetings in their villages, but his real model for Africa remains the West. This can be seen in his failure to contextualize the causes of Africa's leadership and corruption problems, which he solely blames on African leaders and elites.
I would have hoped that Bill Moyers, who acknowledges to have visited Africa several times, would have sought alternative views on the causes of Africa's problems to fill the gaps created by Professor Ayittey's one-dimensional views. It appears that even to left-minded journalists like Mr. Moyers, establishment views like those of Professor Ayittey are still far more preferrable than those critical of the global order.
The African rebirth is going to require a bold effort to expose the historical injustices that have come to shape global inequality. This will mean seeking out more and more views outside the mainstream.