Root causes of Africa’s Plight: Totalitarianism and Corruption

By Salah Ibrahim, 5 July 2005

People who witnessed last weekend’s “Live 8 Concert” in the big cities of the eight most industrialised nations, commonly known as G8, must have been deeply moved by the global event that attracted over a million people to the different venues. “More than 26 million people worldwide sent text messages on Saturday to support Live 8, setting a world record for a single event”, organisers said. The theme of the event was “make poverty history”, with all the focus on how to alleviate Africa’s plight. The event was held few days prior to the summit of the G8 leaders in Gleneagles, Scotland from July 6-8. Understandably, the aim of organising the event close to the time of the summit was to remind and urge the G8 leaders to listen and commit themselves and their rich nations to a better change in Africa. As many of you probably know that Africa will be high on the agenda in the G8 summit, our heartfelt thanks to Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom. Many international figures such as Pope Benedict XIV and Nelson Mandela also added their voice calling upon the G8 for more concrete measures to help African nations. Africans, of course, are grateful to the entire plea for help by these great figures.

The great effort of the rock stars and pop musicians to raise awareness and to mobilise people to put more pressure on their leaders for action undoubtedly has a deep-rooted humanitarian origin and should be commended by peace and prosperity loving people all over the globe. While I highly appreciate the feeling and sympathy of the organisers of the event towards the sufferings of Africans and the steadfast support of the former to assist the needy people in Africa, it is important to realise that the root causes of the problems in Africa are complex and need reforms at the hearts of the governments’ institutions that are controlled by repressive apparatus. It was reported that while in developed nations “Live 8” was applauded, it has received little attention in many African nations, an evidence of how pessimistic the African people have become due to their suffering for a long time.

I can immediately identify two major causes of Africa’s plight, namely oppression and corruption. The consequences of bad governance are severe and it has devastating effects; despair, poverty, disease, crime, just to name a few. These miseries have incapacitated Africans from leading a decent, free and prosperous life. Developed nations should held African governments accountable to the plight of their people and put unprecedented diplomatic pressure on these irresponsible governments to immediately address the issues that are hindering the progress of their people. Also, developed nations should set tough preconditions to any assistance provided to the totalitarian and corrupt governments in Africa. As the reader knows, African leaders are also holding a summit in Libya ahead of the G8 summit. The leader of the host nation, Muammar Qaddafi, advised the delegations to be self-reliant and not to accept conditional aid from developed nations. While I don’t support interfering in nations’ sovereignty, I certainly support tough conditions on any aid provided to any irresponsible government. Several UN reports concluded that, over the last two decades, while developing countries in other parts of the globe are succeeding in their fight against poverty, the economical situation in Africa is now worse than it was 20 years ago. So, what are the reasons for Africa to be so much lagging?

On the same subject, I heard on the BBC the Prime Minster of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, arguing that the important issue that must be addressed to alleviate poverty in Africa is “fairer trade”. While dismantling trade barriers to Africa’s produce and cutting massive agricultural subsidies on rich nations’ produce may help, I completely disagree with Mr Zenawi’s oversimplification of what clearly are large and complex African problems. While Mr Zenawi is governing his country in a slightly more democratic manner than some of his counterparts in other African nations, his response seems to turn the focus away from the root causes of the Continent’s problems. Tackling political instability, which is the main contributing factor to Africa’s plight, should precede any discussion on trade and economic development. How can a nation prosper and business flourish without peace? How can people feel secure and plan to invest in a country without a political stability? It seems that most African leaders have no logic simply because they are dictators. In my opinion, while unfair trade practices are hurting African producers, poverty reduction in Africa will never be a reality without political stability and the establishment of governments that are dedicated to obey and uphold the principles of democracy, and are keen to embody rule of law as their motive. Mr Zenawi was further asked whether he thinks that the G8 countries are dedicated to resolve Africa’s problems or not. “Some”, he replied.

I agree with Mr Zenawi on this issue. A case in point is the United Kingdom, which under the leadership of Tony Blair, seems to have committed itself to help Africa. Mr Blair who will chair the summit in Scotland this week is lobbying the G8 nations to double their effort and to provide tangible assistance to reduce or eradicate poverty in Africa. The UK finance minister, Gordon Brown, while he acknowledges that empowering African people is “a lifetimes’ work”, he has been advocating for the implementation of some radical reforms and practical steps such as massive, if not all, debt reduction for poor African nations. Here I would like to echo my endorsement again. I totally support the principle of relieving debt burden on African nations. It is the people not their rulers that are adversely affected by the scourge of debt. Some renowned economists in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have suggested that global economic growth is the best solution for resolving developing nations’ problems. The idea behind this theory is, for African and other developing nations to effectively capitalise on the fast growing world economy. These carefully considered recommendations by experts in the IMF are needed as long as they are not designed to further impoverish Africa through privatisation and globalisation. But these measures should be preceded by the eradication of corrupt governments and their institutions that are robbing and are crippling the ability of the African people to be self-reliant.

The United States, the largest economy in the world, has occasionally been known for its generosity to help poor nations. Its current engagement in Iraq and the so-called “war on terror” limited its capacity to pay full attention to the plight of Africa. Following the unfortunate events of September 11, the United States gradually is changing its foreign policy terms in the Middle East. The US now recognises that its support to the tyrannical regimes in the Middle East resulted in deep hatred to the US government by the oppressed people in the region. As it has been manifested by the speeches of the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice in many press conferences, it seems that the US is changing its policy to help pro-democratic forces in their fight against totalitarian regimes. At her confirmation hearing, Dr Rice said, “we must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom”. I hope that policy term will genuinely and effectively be applied to punish the oppressive regimes in Africa that are debilitating their people from being productive.

In summary, the root causes of Africa’s plight primarily lie within the unpopular and corrupt African leadership that have made their people powerless. For Africa to prosper and to become self-reliant, the dictatorial regimes ruling the Continent and their corrupt institutions that serve the interest of the regimes must be dismantled. Africa needs leaders like the charismatic Nelson Mandela, who in the past, fought indefatigably against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Mandela is internationally admired for his wisdom as reflected in his leadership that did not attempt to “answer racism with racism”, and also for his devotion to democracy and humane values and for his deep feelings to the people suffering from AIDS. On the other hand, shame on the African leaders that betrayed their people and currently are holding a summit in Libya to protest against unfair trade barriers on African products by developed nations. They pretend to care for their people, but they completely ignore the fact that their bad governance is hurting Africa more than the practice of “unfair trade” in favour of the rich nations. Totalitarianism and corruption are the major causes for Africa to remain poor and lag behind other developing nations in overcoming poverty.

To My Fellow Eritreans

Concerned Eritreans should start hammering the doors of available diplomatic channels to expose the abuses of human rights committed by the Eritrean regime. It is now the right time to intensify our struggle against the dictatorial regime by directing our writings to international readers. The struggle for the establishment of a free and democratic society is gathering momentum in every corner of the globe, so we should capitalise on this unique opportunity to expedite the demise of PFDJ regime. This regime is wrecking havoc with the fabric of our society. The gallant Eritrean people who secured their independence through a hard struggle deserve to live in peace and prosperity, which are completely non-existent in today’s Eritrea. Compatriots living in the free world, especially those who stand up for freedom, democracy, and social justice must strive harder to speak for the voiceless people back home in Eritrea.

PS this article was sent as a text message to Tony Blair, who will chair the G8 summit. The last section of this article, sub-titled “To My Fellow Eritreans” was not included in the text message that was sent to the Prime Minister.


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