The Failure Of African Leadership, Cause Of Africa’s Problems

By Godsway Yao Sappor

5/7/2005 -

“Ghana, A Case Study” In terms of natural resources, Africa is the world's richest continent. It has 50% of the world's gold, most of the world's diamonds and chromium, 90% of the cobalt, 40% of the world's potential hydroelectric power, 65% of the manganese, millions of acres of untilled farmland, as well as other natural resources. Despite its natural wealth, Africa is home to the world's most impoverished and abused people. African leaders are quick to blame the legacy of colonialism, others accuse its neo-colonial dimension, and some others pose culture, climate and bio-geographic factors as the explanation to the “why” of the African problems. In fact, the wave, the struggle for African Independence that started in the late 50’s and continued through the 60’s, was based on this understanding of colonial rule. Of course at the time it had been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the colonial masters were using the colonies to provide for their countries in Europe.

Anti-colonial activities of the likes of some of the malcontents such as Nkrumah had sensitized the populace to the problems of colonial rule and given him the popular support he needed to push for the withdrawal of all colonial elements from the then Gold Coast and the handing over of power to the local population. Ghana, born in 1957, became the first black African country to get rid of colonial rule and, in the 1960s many other African colonies followed suit, making Nkrumah a household name in Africa. Nkrumah, in his belief that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless the rest of Africa was free from colonial rule, began to engineer and support other African colonies’ quest for independence in line with what had been achieved in Ghana. Although Ghana initiated and was involved in this revolutionary struggle for independence, it has not seen any better development than the rest of the countries it was helping. In fact Ghana is not exempted from the least developed countries. It is therefore necessary to do a thorough study on Ghana in every aspect, when it comes to what is today known as the “development of underdevelopment” of the African continent.

It is not so much the wicked effects of colonialism or neo-colonialism or a regime of artificial borders that keep Ghana and Africa in general, poor. It is true that colonialism did not bestow much to Africa but the African leadership could not retain, let alone increase, the little that it inherited. In fact, corrupt leaders destroyed it. The inherited infrastructure-(roads, brides, schools, universities, hospitals, telephones, and even the civil service machinery) - are now in shambles. In Ghana, where the “colonial” roads are spotted with deep potholes, officials insist that it is the vehicle owners who must obtain “road-worthiness certificates” for their vehicles and not the roads that must be made “vehicle worthy”. This shows how the African leadership leaves the colonial legacies to shamble. Is it inadequate aid that keeps Ghana poor? In fact, “between 1985 and 1996 total aid flows to Ghana increased threefold from US$150.7 million to US$450.8 million in 1995”. Since the 1960s, more than $400 billion in Western aid and credits have been pumped into Africa with negligible results. Neither is Africa poor in natural resources. The fact is, the continent is tremendously rich in mineral wealth. Name the mineral and you will find it in Africa.

Common sense dictates looking both ways before crossing a street, or risk being hit by a truck. For decades, African leaders looked only one way, at "external factors": colonial legacies, the lingering effects of the slave trade, an unjust international economic system, and predatory practices of multi-national corporations, among others, to explain the miserable economic performance of the continent. A lot of studies have already been done about the external factors and it is no secret to say that these factors are beyond the control or manipulation of most African countries on an individual basis. It is therefore a MUST to make an unerring examination of all causative factors, both external and internal, in order to arrive at a lasting solution. “A big obstacle to economic growth in Africa is the tendency to put all blame, failures and shortcomings on outside forces. Progress might have been achieved if we had always tried first to remove the mote in our eyes”

Although it is true that colonialism and Western imperialism did not leave Ghana, for this matter Africa in general, in good shape, the condition has been made immeasurably worse by internal factors such as misguided leadership, systemic corruption, capital flight, economic mismanagement, senseless civil wars, political tyranny, flagrant violations of human rights and military vandalism, among others.

In the first place, after independence, just like other African countries, Ghana assumed a primary role in economic development. Although state intervention was considered the only option for the desired economic development, the degree of intervention was too massive. The rationale for state control of economic and social matters emanated from misguided leadership. An ideological misconception emerged from the liberation struggle against Western colonialism. Colonial rule was judged “evil and exploitative”. Inspiring disgust and loathing of colonialism transformed itself into an ideological aversion to capitalism on the premise that, because the colonialists were capitalists, capitalism, too, was "evil and exploitative." That kind of syllogistic reasoning characterized the pronouncement of such African leaders as Nkrumah of Ghana, Modibo Keita of Mali, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. According to them, free markets, free trade, private enterprise, and the parliamentary system of democracy were all Western capitalist institutions that should be rejected by Africa. For example, Nkrumah warned Africa against an insidious dogma propagated by the imperialists: "that Western democracy and parliamentary system are the only valid ways of governing; that they constitute the only worthwhile model for the training of an indigenous elite by the colonial power”. Such propagandas were in the cold war context and the African leaders thought that capitalism was the main cause of the cold war. As a result to this, they thought socialism was the only way to development on the continent. Socialism to them seemed to be a faster way to build and would be more consonant with African values.

In Ghana, by 1961, Nkrumah started to lean more toward socialism by calling for highly centralized and greater state participation in the economy and a move towards socialism. He was convinced that “only a socialist form of society can assure Ghana of a rapid rate of economic progress without destroying that social justice, that freedom and equality, which are a central feature of our traditional life”. This greater control of the economy by the government led to corruption. While in office Nkrumah had been regularly accused of personal financial corruption. Although his finances were unorthodox, and funds were channeled to causes he held dear by means that auditors could not approve, Nkrumah did not accumulate a large private fortune in the manner of some other African heads of state. There was, however, rampant evidence of corruption among his party faithful. Although he complained about this in his address to the nation in a dawn broadcast, April 1961, he did little to alleviate the situation. This, to some extent, made Ghana and Africa in general, to unfortunately tolerate too long the avarice of its leaders.

It is very important to examine Nkrumah’s Volta dam project since this represents a very good example of economic mismanagement of African leaders. The Volta River Project was the largest scheme associated with Nkrumah’s development plans. It was to be his monument, but ended up his Waterloo. The project symbolized all his ideas for a prosperous future, but it also became an obsession and later a debt for the next generation. Nkrumah, in an attempt to free Ghana from its dependency on cocoa, and on the vagaries of raw commodity and agricultural prices, by attracting investment, had to negotiate terms with the industrial powers, and most especially with the US.

When the US realized how committed Nkrumah was to the project despite difficulties, it extorted large sum of money for the construction of the project. He had to borrow from America, Britain, the World Bank, and an aluminum consortium established to buy the electric power. Nkrumah was an early victim of the capitalist realization that lending to the Third World could be extremely profitable and that debtor nations in Africa had little political power with which to protect themselves. Preoccupation with the Volta led to a neglect of the cocoa industry and a higher taxation of cocoa farmers to pay the cost. Nkrumah forged ahead regardless and instead of rescuing Ghana from its economic underdevelopment hastened national bankruptcy and the exhaustion of the reserves. This explains how African leaders do put their countries into debt due to unreasonable spending on projects.

Almost every past and current African leader can be accused of economic mismanagement. Nkrumah believed that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless the rest of Africa was free and wanted Ghana to play a leading role in Africa’s liberation from colonial domination. He was an advocate of revolutionary movements that, he thought, would lead to the creation of a United States of Africa, that is, a continental government. On the domestic front, massive government expenditures on road building, mass education, and health services were adjudged important if Ghana were to play its leading role in Africa’s liberation from colonial domination. When foreign currency reserves were exhausted, Nkrumah resorted to deficit financing and foreign borrowing. He didn’t only spend state resources on projects he deemed important for Ghana’s leadership role in African liberation but he also wasted resources in supporting his pan-African adventures. By the mid-1960s Ghana had a huge debt with rising inflation and economic mismanagement.

When a country, as well endowed agriculturally as Ghana, becomes a recipient of food aid, there must be something fundamentally wrong. It is no crime to say that colonial society had not created any significant urban population supplied by agricultural industries, and subsistence farming was the dominant source of food. Instead of Nkrumah to do something to reverse this situation, he introduced a strategy of compelling urban youths to go back to the rural areas in order to boost agriculture after referring to cocoa farming as a “poor nigger’s business”. To now compel the people who had left the country to support him and find a better life in the towns where he (Nkrumah) centralized his industrial factories, was to court disastrous unpopularity. This unpopularity resulted in his overthrow by a military coup. He should have adapted a better way to encourage the rural youths, especially those who were yet to leave for the cities, to get involved in agriculture. This would keep the cities from growing and also an improvement in the sector.

Nkrumah’s vision for Africa was grandiose but ironically, Ghana itself has not enjoyed exemplary leadership. Ghana's economic malaise is not the result of lack of opportunities or of resources. Ghana, like the rest of Africa, with the possible exception of South Africa and a few others, suffers from the affliction of dishonest leadership.. John Hayford, a Ghanaian writer, adds: "Africa's biggest problem today lies with the leadership. They are so removed from the people that they are looked upon as foreigners. They are driven by self-interest, so excessive that their peoples' interests are forgotten -- hardly different from the colonial masters". Through bad leadership, post-colonial African leaders have merged both internal and external factors together to create a third factor that makes western countries think that the African is incapable of finding African solution to the problems affecting the continent. The indecisiveness and inaction of African leadership make them always choose the backseat, and leave the driving to others, usually the western world, even in matters that are of immediate concern to Africans. When soldiers seized power in Africa, they almost always cited corruption, economic mismanagement, and high cost of living, among other things as justification. Unfortunately they always ended up doing the things they preach against due to the chart left by successive government. Indeed, when Jerry John Rawlings seized power in Ghana, his central indictment against the old regime was that it exploited the farmers. However it should be noted that people in the rural areas were still absolutely poorer under his governance than they were in the mid-1970s (much less than at independence). He misguided himself with other things once he’s in power. Corruption was not excluded from Rawlings’ indictment. In fact, his diagnosis of the country’s economic problem in 1979 did not seem to differ substantially from the statement of previous leaders. He brutalized people he suspected to be involved in corruption and the cause of the economy’s problem as a response to the perceived malpractices. Yet, his regime is one of the most corrupt that Ghana has ever had. If he wasn’t involved in corruption himself, he did nothing to stop his potbellied ministers from doing things accentuated in his indictment.

Right from what led to the overthrow of Nkrumah to the current leadership of Ghana, ordinary Ghanaians bewildered and disappointed by the outcome of self-rule, have found little around them to instill the confidence that as a people they can manage their own recovery. In some respects Africans are now more vulnerable to theories of black inferiority than they were during colonialism. Under colonialism they could dream that with liberation would come the opportunity to prove their worth. But actions of the African leaders have made the theory of African dependency persistent. It is up to current leaders to stop playing the blame game and focus not only on the external factors but also on the internal factors that cause the woes of the continent when they try to solve these problems.

Disclaimer: "The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article." © Godsway Yao Sappor.