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14.05.2005 Feature Article

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

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“GHANA, A CASE STUDY”

I am writing in response to an article entitled “The failure of African leadership, cause of Africa's problems. Ghana, a case study” by Godsway Yaw Sappor, which appeared on the Ghana web site, Saturday 7th May edition. Mr. Sappor's article was trying to address the failure of African leadership as the cause of the continent problems. In that attempt, Mr. Sappor failed to address the core issue of bad leadership in Africa. Facts were also misrepresented.

In the western world any time an attempt is made to diagnose Africa's numerous problems, the first issues most commentators usually raise are bad governance and corrupt African dictators. In most cases no attempt is made to trace the root causes of the so-called “bad governance” in Africa. And that is exactly the route Mr. Sappor has followed. It is impossible to make any constructive and objective analysis about bad leadership in Africa ignoring the impact colonialism and neo-colonialism on the continent.

Colonialism has played a major role in the underdevelopment of the African continent. The numerous conflicts and endemic poverty in Africa can be safely laid at the door steps of the colonisers. Of course there is “leadership failure” on the continent, I base my argument on the premise that all these ills that plague Africa toady are a direct result of that unfortunate encounter with the imperialist in Africa's history. You started your article by giving a catalogue of natural resources that the continent possesses, yet the continent is the poorest. I totally agree with you, but what you and other commentators have failed to realise is that natural resources in themselves are not wealth. Possessing timber, cocoa beans, diamond, coffee, and gold among others doesn't necessarily make a country rich. The transformation of these natural resources into semi-finished and finished consumer products is what counts. The appropriate technology to process the countless resources in to semi-finished and finished products is lacking in the continent. The colonial trend of exporting raw materials to Western Europe is still going on. Ghana exports hard timber logs to Europe and not furniture (tables, beds, chairs etc), Ethiopia, Angola, Kenya and Uganda export coffee beans to Europe, North America and Japan. These African coffee producers don't export finished products such as “cappuccino” and medium roast ground coffee. Hardly will one see packaged finished cocoa products such cocoa powder, chocolate and other cocoa beverages as 'made in Ghana' products in Europe and America.

The food giants, Nestlé and Cadbury buy only cocoa beans from Africa, at prices fixed by them. Cocoa beans from Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sao Tome & Principe come to feel processing plants in Europe thereby denying these countries the profits they would have otherwise accrued from exporting finished cocoa products. Ghana has been cultivating cocoa for over a century now, yet we can only boost of one cocoa processing plant at Tema. African leaders have every right to blame colonialism for the continent's problems.

Southern Africa has some of the largest gold mines in Africa. Diamond, copper, gold, tin, uranium, silver among others are exported to Europe and North America as ore or semi-finished products. The bauxite ore from Ghana or Guinea becomes aluminium in America or Britain. The aluminium is further processed into electrical conductors, foil, light-weight structures and aircraft. Fifty per cent of the diamonds that are produced and consumed by the western world comes from Southern Africa. Yet De Beers, the diamond firm has its headquarters in London, where rough diamond becomes gem and soared in value. Africa's natural resources come to feel the industries and plants in Western Europe, North America and Japan, thereby depriving African states of the vital profits. There are many other examples too numerous to list. The above paragraph is to demonstrate to Mr.Sappor that possessing all the world's vital natural resources doesn't necessarily makes one country rich. The trade regime, where African states offer only raw materials at very low prices fixed by capitalist nations and import finished products from them at exorbitant prices, is unacceptable and must change. Leadership failure is just a small part of the problems bedeviling Africa. The real problem with Africa is the influence of the neo-colonialist.

Another misrepresented fact about your article is concerning the Volta Dam project. You cited the Volta Dam project in the following sentence below; “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”

This is an unfair analysis to make by any serious and patriotic Ghanaian. Volta Dam project waste of resources! I definitely don't think so and millions of Ghanaians would agree with me. Even Nkrumah detractors, white and black alike give him credit for the Hydro electric project at Akosombo. The relevance of the dam project cannot be over emphasized, from Tema to Wa and Togo to La Cote d'Ivoire people there can attest to this fact. The dam project was to lead Ghana to becoming an industrialised nation. The full potentials of the dam could not be realise because Nkrumah's reign was cut short by some adventurers. Notwithstanding, the huge debt arising from the construction of the Volta dam, it was worth taking that risk. Had all the original plans of the project been adhered to, Ghana would have realise enough revenue to pay off the debt. Near the end of his life, Dr. Felix Houphouet-Boigny, built at enormous expense a basilica in his home town modelled on St.Peter's. This is just a place of worship yet the Ivorians are very proud of it. So is the Akosombo hydro electric power plant waste of Ghanaian funds? Not even the 'mad person' roaming the streets of Accra in the night will cite the Akosombo dam as a project of economic mismanagement.

You argued further that because of “failure of African leadership” colonial infrastructure are now in shambles. “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”

What did colonial governments do in the interest of Ghanaians and for that matter Africans? Supposedly, they built railroads, schools, hospitals, and the like. The sum total of these services was amazingly very small. In drawing up a balance sheet of colonialism, the bad outweighed the good. Colonialism left African states highly underdeveloped. I will prove to you shortly, that African states received very little in terms of colonial investments and that it was rather post-colonial African leaders who increased development by 100 folds within a very short period of heading independent African states. Even available European statistics doesn't support your view that colonialism bestows much to Africa. The two major colonising powers committed very little in terms of investment in infrastructure. France and Britain rejected “development” plans that would have entailed the use of 'metropolitan' funds, even though this would have been compensated for by the further exploitation of the colonies. “Development” on the part of the imperialist only came about with the enactment of the colonial Development and Welfare Act (CD&W) of 1940 by Britain aimed at raising the standard of living of colonial population. The French on the other hand passed their “Investment Fund for Economic and Social Development” (under the French acronym FIDES) in 1946. Both “Development” programmes only existed in name. At best they played a role in the public relations campaigns of these colonising powers because none brought about development in appreciable levels.

Educational development during the colonial epoch is nothing any African should be proud of. At independence in 1964 Zambia had 109 African “graduates” because the imperialists didn't consider education that important for the “savages”; rather the population had their education under ground digging out copper and gold. In Portuguese Africa the illiteracy rate in 1959(after some 500 years of Portuguese presence) was over 95% in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau and nearly 80% in Cape Verde. In 1960 when Belgian Congo (DR.Congo) became independent, it had only 16 “graduates” in a population of over thirteen million. Apologists for colonialism are quick to say that Ghana and Nigeria 'benefited' more than the other British colonies in Africa. This assertion of course is false. Within individual countries, considerable regional variations existed. Northern Ghana had little to offer the colonialist; such a zone was simply neglected by the colonising power with regard to roads, schools, hospitals, and so on. A glance at the railway map of Ghana suggests the enormity of the gap between a networked region in southern Ghana and none in northern Ghana. Where exports were not available, roads and railways had no place. The only slight exception is that certain roads built in Northern Ghana were to facilitate the recruitment of unskilled labour for the exploitation of resources in southern Ghana. Roads and railways were mostly directed towards evacuation of natural resources rather than regional integration. Are these the infrastructures that are now in shambles?

Many post colonial African leaders despite all the economic and political strangulation they experienced at the hands of the neo-colonialist performed much better than the British and the French when they run African states. For the nine years that Nkrumah was in power he surpassed the British in terms of development, three years after independence, that is by 1960 Ghana was one of the most advanced countries in Africa, and the extent of development had been described as “untypical of the stereotype of an under-developed economy”. Her per capita national income in 1963, according to Escott Reid's Essay' on “The Future of the World Bank”, was relatively high- the highest in Africa besides South Africa. The figure of £81 in that year compared favorably with the figures of £13 of Malawi, £17 of Ethiopia, £34 of Nigeria and £32 of India. The above illustration is to demonstrate to Mr.Sappor that the colonialist left Africa nothing bearing in mind the number years that they illegally colonised Africa. And that it was rather post independence African leaders who built more schools, hospitals, roads, and so on.

Most commentators always blame the political ideology adopted by Ghana after independence. Western democracy during the colonial era was dualistic, selective and very oppressive. And that is the democracy the claimed they bequeathed to African states before departing. Most African leaders choose the socialist path of development with catastrophic results. There is no denying this assertion but what Mr.Sappor failed to recognize is that colonialism pushed emerging independent African states to adopt socialism as an alternative method of development. Bizarre as it many seem, remember that most African states had to fight for freedom from people who claimed to be the champions of democracy. Its so shameful thinking of it. What is civilized and democratic as minority rule? Some African leaders suffered a lot of brutality at the hands of the British and French colonialist. Most were send to prison under inhuman conditions just to kill off the spirit of seeking freedom. Some African states got help from the Soviet Union in their struggle to free themselves of an illegal occupation called colonialism. At independence African states had nothing to be proud of after over 400 years of western capitalism. On the other hand the Soviet Union, the so-called 'Evil Empire' supported freedom and liberation. It was able to achieve within 25 years what the west took 150 years to achieve (even though at a great cost to her people). This made socialism attractive. Assuming that Britain or France found themselves in the same situation as Africa at independence, their leaders would have behaved in the same way. It therefore makes a lot of sense if African leaders who saw the underdevelopment of their states as the work of western capitalism to turn to socialism. Sadly though, it all went disastrously wrong.

I am not denying the existence of bad governance and corruption, mounting debt among others on the African continent. Africa has some of the longest running civil wars known to mankind; there is widespread corruption in some states (stolen African monies are deposited in Western banks), diseases and abject poverty. All these arise as a result of bad governance. Most of the African dictators you cited were and are in power because of the support they enjoy from western governments. The African continent has some of the longest and bloodiest civil wars. States such as the Sudan, Uganda (Northern Uganda), and DR.Congo have never known peace. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola are still licking the wounds from their internal conflicts that have claimed millions of lives. These are partly a direct a result of leadership failure. Another African dictator who was very famous in western circles and is still cited when the topic under discussion is about corruption is Mobutu Sese Seko. Kleptocracy became Mobutu's political doctrine and he could easily have paid off the external debt of DR.Congo with a personal cheque, but he kept all the money. He still has stolen monies locked up in banks in London, Lisbon, Zurich, Pairs, New York to name just a few. General Abacha's monies in western banks are also proving difficult to repatriate to the Nigerian people. The main beneficiaries are the big western corporations and not the Congolese or Nigerians. These African leaders have failed the various states they ruled. It's therefore inappropriate to compare nation's plunders like Mobutu and Abacha to Dr. Nkrumah. Notwithstanding the mistakes made by the founding fathers of modern African states, they had some of the best development plans for their various states and if these were fully implemented would have place most African states on the path to becoming middle income countries. But the neo-colonialist made it extremely difficult for such leaders to fulfill their promises to the people.

Our focus should be on the current generation of African leaders. The likes of Charles Taylor, Henri Konan Bedie, and Babangida could not perform their duties as heads of states. Now that African leaders present themselves as candidates for election, we must demand accountability from them and constantly remind our leaders that they in power because we the ordinary people gave them the mandate to govern. They are rewarded adequately for the work they are doing and we therefore don't expect them to follow in the foot steps of Mobutu and Abacha by looting the taxpayer for their personal aggrandizement. Failure on their part would not be entertained. We Ghanaians should be asking questions about the activities of politicians and public officials whose actions are likely to put the nation into more debt. We can forgive our founding fathers for the mistakes they made. In fact they started the process of building democracy in Africa. The colonialist never bequeathed democracy to African states. Nkrumah gave us in Ghana lots of things to be thankful for.

Africa is the only continent that has not move beyond the “hoe and cutlass” in the past decade and it is so because we lack leaders with vision. Visionless African leaders including those in Ghana have been told, by the most expert of experts what to do: that they shouldn't industrialise, or that they should maximize exports or build a balanced national economy. The effects of these experts advice are starkling; more child beggars on the streets of Accra and Kumasi, declining education, raising unemployment, and so on. All African states deserve well informed leaders and not adventurers. Africa has been deprived of some of its most charismatic, able and independent minded leaders (Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba etc) by the direct involvement of Western governments in African affairs.

On whole, I can safely conclude by saying that even though the action of some African leaders leaves much to be desired, the real problem with Africa is the neo-colonialist. The black man can best be manipulated when he is made very poor. Only a united Africa can defeat the neo-colonialist. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

George Bob-Milliar
George Bob-Milliar, © 2005

The author has 3 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: GeorgeBobMilliar

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