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31.07.2009 Feature Article

Sordid Legacies of African Leaders: the cause of Abject Poverty

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Contemporary issues in Africa now reveal a moment to look into the wonder of inhumane illegal rule and its related atrocities to mankind. It is very unfortunate to tacitly make this declaration to the whole world that growth and prosperity have significantly eluded the people in the African region by the simple reason of incongruous legacies left behind by some so-called patriotic leaders. Legacies of some leaders have tended to alienate sections of the population thereby making the quest for soothing the danger posed by poverty more urgent than ever before. It is striking to know that while some legacies are worthy of emulation and as such would remain a hallmark in successive good governance, some legacies are poisoned chalice causing nothing less than exorbitant tragedy to the livelihoods of the majority poor.

It is of no wonder that despite the programmes of debt reliefs which became apparent in the 1990s, the African region remains the worlds poorest and that extreme poverty still has a firm grip on the majority people. It is in this regard that one is always right to admire and cherish so much the character and legacy of Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa. Such a character in contemporary system of government in the continent would ostensibly connote increased commitment and purposeful tenacity towards improving the wellbeing of the people in the 53 countries. Happy 91st birthday to the 'world hero'.

We are now in a continent where leaders value sit-tight political power and wealth over the wellbeing of the ordinary people. The tour de force of the potential youth has admittedly being rendered useless. Who is then the cause of the millions of people being hooked on the tentacles of extreme poverty with no hope of redemption? African leadership has left deep impression on the people and has produced its ordeal share of literature.

Abuse of Fundamental Human Rights

According to Mary Robinson, UN Commission for Human Rights, 2001 'Poverty is the denial of human rights'. Regarding this statement, one is right to say that more than 80% of people in Africa have their rights being infringed upon by reason of abundant poverty.

The crux of the issue of plentiful poverty relates to the practical idea that the African region is the powerhouse of blatant violations of fundamental human rights. Numerous records of human rights have rendered the scene to be set for the attachment of the principle of normality to poverty occurring unabatedly in Africa. It is, therefore, not surprising that the ensign of the African region is 'poverty' with the significance of growth and prosperity relegated to the ground. For the simple but important reason of seizing the wheel of power and cheaply amassing the wealth of the people for themselves, compatriots and innocent souls are subjected to series of excruciating treatments, if spared of murder. Amid politicians and the military desire to forcibly and eagerly control political system and enrich themselves is the bizarre annihilation of precious productive lives of the ordinary people. A continent characteristic of recurring coups, increased records of sexually abused women, amputated hands and legs of productive men and women does not, indeed, merit any form of development. What is most annoying is the fact that the abuse of fundamental human rights transcends the borders of a country affecting people not prepared for such ordeal. Despite being the least-developed sub-region of the least developed world region, Central Africa has been the most aligned to violent human rights abuse and political instability. Chad, Central African Republic and DR Congo have had 30 years of political, economic and social upheaval after independence from France in 1960. A case study can be drawn from the bad experiences Democratic Republic of Congo has had soon after their independence in 1960. Military under Mobuto Sese Seko seized control from the Communist Patrice Lumumba. It is recorded that Mobuto, building up his family positions and private accounts abroad earned him the description of his government as 'kleptocratic'. This led to his government being toppled in 1997 by Laurent- Desire Kabila. As part of inability to control DROC from the capital amidst political tensions, Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and no one else than his son, Joseph Kabila replaced him though he did not have countrywide political support. It was not surprising that the ethnic rivalries erupted into local wars (especially the Lunda fighting the Luba in the south, Katanga) and by 2002, more than 2 million Congolese people had been killed, together with thousands of refugees, military and aid workers from other countries. What then should be expected for an economy with this grim experience or legacy from leaders, nothing than deepening poverty?

In furtherance of this argument is the ethnic rivalry between the Hutu and Tutsi that occurred in 1994 in Rwandawhich was moved by the deadly impact of 'ethnic cleansing'. It is, however, worthy of note that one leader, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, needs to be highly commended for his new drive to relieve the people of the haunting memory of the genocide. His proposal to new model of development of the ordinary citizen is simply magnificent. Also, following his charge for crime against humanity, one can readily anticipate the future of Charles Taylor who left a recorded legacy of poverty and perdition for Liberia.

Concerning the conditions of Ghana, it is no doubt that the country is where it is because of the numerous unimportant military coups (NLC, NRC, SMC, AFRC and PNDC) it experienced. A country that initially gave funds/loans to countries like Guinea and Mali after independence now shamefully begs for funds before a budget can have substantial meaning. Ghana, indeed, did not benefit in any way from the illegal routes of capturing political power. The state of the economy is as a result of this rogue legacy we had.

President Obama's speech should to an extent vigorously serve as revival message to herald a change in the attitude of African Leaders; for they are, indeed, siting on the possible prosperity of the chronically poor.

Perpetuation of Rule

What benefit did the reign of General Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, who ruled for 38 years (1965-2003), the late Omar Bongo of Gabon who also ruled for 42 years (1967-2009) and present long-serving leaders bring to their respective economies?

The ruthless exploitation of the already marginalized poor people is strongly attributed to the consolidation of unsupportive rule inherent in Africa. A long predatory rule has been part of the region and it is the reason why poverty and conflict have ravaged major parts of Africa. It is, therefore, right to refer to majority of African Leaders as regard their type of rule, past and present as 'Agents of Atrocities' and 'Ambassadors of Perdition'. Apart from the fact that most of these leaders use illegal means to assume political power what is most disgusting is that the generous and rising mineral revenues (especially of countries rich in natural resources) are used to consolidate the rule of these so-called elites. Example is what is happening in Equatorial Guineaand what happened in Gabon. Some leaders in Africa have rendered themselves irreplaceable as if to say that they possess the ultimate heavenly-given wisdom solely capacitated to rule and that they are the only human specie left on earth to bring prosperity. This is absolutely an erroneous impression. Without regarding the invaluable beneficial gains of Rule of Law, these leaders selfishly opt for minimal political competition with an ignorant view of containing the strong centrifugal forces of ethnic disparities. Perpetuation of rule has rendered many countries susceptible to the dangers associated with abrupt changes. Countries are left indecisive when a self –imposed long reigning president pass away, in spite of, how good that leadership was. It is expected that Ali-Ben Bongo, Omar Bongo's son, would take over after the death of the then longest serving president who led Gabon since 1967. The recent development where four Gabonese Ministers have been sacked after opposing the candidacy of Ali-Ben Bongo in next month's presidential polls clearly indicate the legacy of family rule. This is happening in a country where poverty in assuming sophisticated heights despite the presence of oil and gas in Gabon. It is reported that Human Rights Groups have expressed fears of a dynastic rule in the oil-rich country. Leaders should live a seat of governance of a country worthy of continuation without disruptions and possible conflicts. It should be noted with concern that perpetuation of rule has been the sole factor behind the alarming trends of ethnic clashes and increased development of insurgent groups who often call themselves freedom fighters simply because they are oppressed and left out of government. The mantle should be handed down peacefully to the young, energetic leaders for an all inclusive and vibrant leadership that is capable of soothing the peril of poverty.

President Mamadou Tanja of Nigerhas decided to tread the beaten, inglorious and disgraceful path of sit-tight African leaders. This sign of perpetuating rule is likely to spark off rivalries that could lead to local conflicts. It can be deduced that heartless greedy and selfish leadership is an inherent trait of majority of elites who find themselves in the seat of governance in Africa. The AU ought to intervene and nip possible deadly uprisings in the bud.

African Union Decision

It is the reason why the lot regards the force behind African Union as a mirage. The AU has, indeed, offered little show off regarding the strategies to bring unity in development in Africa. The decision of the AU to ignore the arrest warrant of Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir issued by the International Criminal Court with charges of crime against humanity could spark off carnages intentionally caused by leaders in the region. Providing a shield for leaders that believe in destruction of the human race not affiliated to their ethnic lines is possibly a recipe for further disasters and that there is absolutely no hope for redemption of the people from the enormous threat of poverty. Botswanaand other countries showing disagreement with the AU sends the indication that the perceived unity of the African region is virtually defunct. It is rather important to resolve the rising poverty and disintegrated trade terms in the continent.


Oh! Africa, for how long would freedom fought for by our founding fathers continues to be a derisive mirage?

This continent is capable of overhauling the present grim state of the economy to that capable of arresting the rising threats of poverty. The legacy for the ordinary people the region does not have the propensity to cause growth and development. African leaders should, therefore, know for a fact that a country's resources and wealth is not their personal property and as a matter of urgency should devise strategies to relieve the people of the burden of poverty. If these attitudes of leaders go unchanged, Africabelieve it or not will continue to wallow greatly in poverty. People should not follow dirty and cheap politics but resist oppressive and selfish rule. The prosperity long yearned for the African region will see the light of day. Long live Africa!!!

The author Stephen Yeboah is at the Department of Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi- Ghana. Email: [email protected]

Stephen Yeboah
Stephen Yeboah, © 2009

The author has 75 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: StephenYeboah

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