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31.07.2003 Feature Article

West Africa: The Devil’s Disneyland?

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Why has West Africa become so coup-a-rrific? What’s wrong in West Africa? Or the question should rather be “What’s wrong with West Africa?” As I tried to wade myself through the fog engulfing these questions, I thought I should ask Okomfo Anokye, then Tigari and then Frodo. So I did (please don’t ask me how)! But both Okomfo Anokye and Tigari didn’t know. Frodo didn’t know either. [For the Tolkien-challenged, Frodo is the young hobbit, whose name is associated with the old English Frod, meaning “wise by experience”, and made popular in the “Lord of the Rings”]. However, few days ago I had an epiphany: while munching a chunk of burrito after a session of a Ghanaian drumming and dancing (there is an invasion of West African drumming and dancing here, and by all indications the Santa Cruzans love every bit of it), I had a call from the one and only Dr. Devil, a.k.a. the Great Lucifer. You could imagine my reaction – I was glassed with stupor. Fully cognizant of the fact that I had studied and lived in Japan for some time in the 1990s, the Great Satan began speaking to me in Japanese. It took me some time to recover from my shock, and when I did, I asked that he speak in Twi because the little Japanese I knew has been wasted away by disuse. So he began, in a calculated euphoric tone, to explain to me why no region of the world waxes itself in socio-political complexities than West Africa. Apparently, and much to my chagrin, the Great Lucifer takes great delight in the fact that the West African sub-region has increasingly and fiendishly gained notoriety for political instability than the beauty of its natural and human endowments – the gold, the diamond, the lush vegetation, the warm temperament of its people, etc – because all this instability is a product of his own handiwork. I asked how and why. The explanation went like this: when God was creating the universe, he got so tired when it was time to create the West African sub-region. That time Dr. Devil was the Archangel of the Angeldom, and thus was in the good books of God. So God asked him (Dr. Devil) if he would create West Africa while he (God) took a nap. Dr. Devil jumped at this opportunity. So he “created” the oil deposits there from his excreta. So all those countries out there in West Africa boasting of oil deposits, know that it is the Devil’s excreta and its possession is meant to create as much hell as possible. Then he created all the other mineral deposits in the region from the dung and guano of the animals and birds in his personal garden. He then created the waters there with his urine and hence the waters in the region became the Devil’s Urine. After all this, he thought to himself: what a better way to mess up the habitants of this region than to fill their air with hot air from his mouth. Thus the air that blows in the region became the Devil’s Air and whenever it blows anarchy and mayhem would be the order of the day and people would fight, maim, and kill one another. In essence, he told me, he wanted to create an amusement park, where he could go and have fun. Thus he created West Africa as the Devil’s Disneyland. Then suddenly Dr. Devil hanged up on me just when I was about to ask him what could be done to make things better in West Africa. Satire aside, there is little doubt that West Africa has one of the highest per capita political instability in the world. Given this notoriety, therefore, it was just a matter of time that the virus of political instability would bug the Ivory Coast. Until recently, the Ivory Coast offered hope to West Africa – it stood tall as one country after another in the West African sub-region fell into the abyss of political instability. But when it comes to politics in West Africa, hope can be so fragile and transient indeed! So once the mighty “Kingdom of Political Hope” slipped into chaos before our very eyes in a fashion so dramatic in its suddenness. Presently there seems to be an end to hostilities but it is not clear how sustainable is the current peace arrangement which is the product of clumsy extemporizing by the French. But should what happened or still happening in Cote D’Ivoire surprise anyone? No, not the critically minded, at least. To the critically minded, the political stability in Ivory Coast was spectacular only for its symbolism, but not its substance. From the time of Independence to the early 1990s, the Ivorian political culture of was sustained by the aegis of “Houphouët-Boignyocrazy” – a repressive and autocratic regime of the late Houphouët-Boigny. Thus what evolved over the years of one-man rule was an illiberal democracy whose end product was a “pseudo-stable” political atmosphere. It was just a matter of time that the pseudo-stable political culture created by the late president and his minions for political expediency would be punctured by a cascade of interventions and insurrections as various political constituents struggle to find space to maneuver in order to create a new political equilibrium for the country. Then there was Sierra Leone, and Liberia. And only few days ago, the political climate in Sao Tome got stirred and fouled by the military. All this not counting the internal destabilizing interventionists putsch schemed by the military in countless West African countries – Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, etc. The funny thing is that these green-khaki governments surface on the political scene masquerading as saintly apparatchiks, but their appetite for corruption grows with the eating of political power. And disturbingly, the large majority of the people have believed them over and over again, despite the evidence that these green-khaki governments are only interested in amassing as much wealth as possible for themselves and their immediate cronies. The chaos in Liberia and the recent military insurrection in Sao Tome pose big challenges for West Africa in particular and the African Union in general. For once, Africa must demonstrate that it can solve its internal problems without waiting for instructions from the United States or the European Community. But will the so-called leaders of the continent have the courage and the moral obligation to confront their peers who have been responsible for much of the mayhem that goes on in some countries in Africa? African leaders have a penchant for dabbling in issues outside the continent on which their influence is as insubstantial as the decomposing bones of the continent’s brutal dictators of yesteryear. Yet when it comes to pressing continental issues, most of them have volte-faces. In a sense, the continent’s leaders would rather remove the speck on someone else’s eyes while planks destroy their very own eyes. Just imagine the kind of outrage that might have come from African leaders if the Democratic Republic of Congo had been invaded by say the United States. Yet when the sovereignty of that country was infringed upon by Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Angola (in that proxy continental war), using the protection of their own countries as the casus belli, we hardly heard African leaders condemning these countries with the same condemnatory evocation as they did when the US attacked the regime of Saddam Hussein. Why is that when it comes to issues affecting Africans, our leaders become pussyfooted about them, and in some cases deliberate obfuscation becomes afoot? How much of our inability to deal with our problems in a decisive manner has to do with our cultural idiosyncrasies? It seems that appeasement is richly encoded in the DNA of most African cultures – compelling people to deal with others with all carrots and no sticks. But for how long can we continue to appease people who are more interested in their own self-aggrandizement than the welfare of the African people and for that matter the black race [whether we like it or not, the destiny of the black race is antecedent on Africa]? The lesson we in Ghana should learn from all the chaos surrounding us and also from our own long pedigree of political instability is that a political system established on free exchange of ideas is better than one created around a personality cult. The later is bound, in one way or the other, to lead to disintegration, creating a vacuum that is normally filled by chaos. That is why is it is imperative that we do not allow our current democratic dispensation to be hijacked by a few misguided and power-hungry personalities. In addition, Ghana should play a leading role in the establishment of a West African Rapid Response force that would have the mandate to deal with insurrections against democratically elected governments in the sub-region. Also, the government of Ghana, on behalf of the people should, condemn in no uncertain terms and refuse to recognize and have diplomatic relations with any regime that usurp a democratic regime in any country in the sub-region. I believe that if all African countries refused to recognize rogue regimes, it would send a clear message to prospective coup makers that they would not belong to the comity of nations. West Africa should not be allowed to become the Devil’s Disneyland. Neither should Africa be allowed to become Devilville. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Maxwell Oteng
Maxwell Oteng, © 2003

The author has 28 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: MaxwellOteng

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

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