By the 1980s, a wind of change was sweeping over Africa as the continent moved from crisis to crisis of power management, misguided economic policies and economic mismanagement. Most African leaders agreed to a restructuring process that included a move from one party state government to a more liberal economic and political re-adjustment. By 1990 more than half of the African leaders had signed a structural adjustment agreement with the World Bank and the IMF.
The realistic political change came about in the 1990s as most states faced hard economic adjustment affairs. Perceptions that these eventual changes in Africa were a result of the collapse of Eastern Europe were heavily contested by African scholars who argued that the democratic movements in Africa pre-date by far the collapse of Eastern Europe.
By engaging in open mis-rule, economic mis-management and corruption, most African governments have not done themselves any good. The myth that the state can solve all problems, including running business ventures is detrimental as witnessed in the ailing National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM), ZESA (electricity authority) and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). It has corrupted the entire land redistribution process (well intended) into a maze of badly managed process only capable of tarnishing the image of the state globally.
South Africa’s apartheid, Burundi’s Tutsi, Mozambique, Angola and Tanzania’s one party organizations all corrupted the system into believing and adopting a scheme that eventually is and was a time bomb. The international world is still grappling with the genocide in Burundi. Mozambique, Angola and Tanzania have since learnt the poor lessons of one party states and are all struggling democracies – a good opportunity for the future.
It is clear that the use of power (economic and political) in Africa has been abused to a large extend. The first generation leaders of the 1960s got absolute power from their ‘un-assuming’ constituencies. The leaders did not put in place mechanisms for power control and check mechanisms. This in my view is the struggle that most African governments are going through; systems that have been corrupted into obsoleteness by their own constituencies and civil society.
The failure of SAPs and First Generation Leaders
The involvement of AID organizations in Africa dates back to the early days of African independence. Earlier calls for reforms to Africa were successfully rejected by the ‘competent’ African governments but burdened with debt, they succumbed to the 1990 reform programmes initiated by the IMF and the World Bank. African leaders did not realize that structural reforms meant releasing of power to run unprofitable enterprises, revamping the public sector, reducing state budgets and removing price controls. This in my view is contradicting the theory and understanding of Africa’s first generation leaders, who have a tendency to plan well for the past (liberation struggles) and badly for the future (economic growth). New innovations are needed to solve the collapse of most African economies. These innovations should take consideration of the environment in which development occurs. The current political environment in Zimbabwe with political strife, stay aways, violence, inflation at 1000%, exchange rates of 450% and unemployment of 80% will not be conducive to development.
Africa has had problems of first generation leaderships who ascended power through revolution but found an environment without checks and balances. Competent leadership is vital for successful economic reform. Most African leaders manage their economies by threats of the minority, decrees and orders. Zimbabwe is a typical example. Everything that does not work is because of the white imperialist Britain. The order of society is governed by policies enacted over-night to thwart the free flow of democratic forces.
The policy environment
In many cases African governments are dishonest, insincere and incompetent. The case of NOCZIM in Zimbabwe is a good example. The government has torn apart its own policies by protecting corrupt partisans. The land policy in Zimbabwe has driven both local and foreign investors home. The inconsistency in policy reform and implementation has doomed structural adjustment programmes in Africa. Reform programmes should be accompanied with serious public service reduction of expenditure and commitment. The reforms at ZBC for example, were a mere break-down of a huge structure into little pieces (Strategic Business Units) created as workplaces for his friends of the state.
This process of re-bundling is sensitive for governments as it obviously affects the elite – civil servants, military, urban workers – university students – who are called upon to cut costs and share the burden of adjustment. In Zimbabwe, this burden has not fallen equally across the sector, but poor university students, urban workers have been the target of hardships and uncalled for price increases. There has not been consensus on how the adjustment should be dealt with and where the sacrifices have to be made.
The need for political reform
Political reforms in Africa emerged well after economic reforms. Donors did not push for political reforms but were more diplomatic – not to be charged of meddling in the internal affairs of the African nations. No authoritarian regime has generated lasting economic prosperity. Claude Ake, an African scholar notes that authoritarian regimes have retarded the process of democratization. When popular demonstrations and stay aways erupted in Zimbabwe 2000 to demand multiple party democracy and resignation of Mugabe, the peasants and civil society were met with tear gas and violence.
Intellectuals have often been sidelined in most liberation movement government for a number of reasons. To begin with, they do not look in the past for solutions but focus on the future. Then, they are most likely to de-rail the liberation movement ideology because liberation movement governments are forced to be partisan to the party ideology. Finally, there is neither motivation nor space for intellectuals to raise their critical voices as they are neither given space on the political machinery nor allowed to use state owned media to air critical analysis.
In Zimbabwe the scenario looked promising with the mushrooming of private owned media, until intellectuals were brought on board the state machinery. They decided to join the gravy train and fixated at the liberation struggle. University students in Zimbabwe have been tear-gassed by police in all efforts by the government to muzzle their voice. In spite of that position, Zimbabwe has managed to raise and revitalize leaders from the academia through the opposition movement.
Mazrui argues that Africa has much in its indigenous to form the foundation of its future. Another African theorist Mbigi – notes that prosperity is not divorced from the African culture and background. Bottom- up and participatory modes of development have been called upon by most development strategists.
The elite and nationalist movements have failed on two points: They failed to build on the indigenous knowledge and institutions, hence lead African countries on the road under foreign perspectives. In addition, they failed their adopted route towards western ideals as they didn’t put in place structures of governance and democracy that would see indigenous people compete with everyone.
Governing an African nation
The failure of one party policy in Eastern Europe is a well-documented scenario. Examples of attempted one party failures in Africa are abound – Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon and Zimbabwe. An eminent economist George Ayittey outlines a model for governance and notes that the following are pre-requisite: a freely negotiated constitution which places checks and balances; a secular state; separate executive, legislative and judiciary powers; effective rule of law; a bill of rights; press and academic freedom; independent trade unions; neutral, professional army; and popular participation in political affairs through elections and comments on government policies
The first generation leaders betrayed Africa by developing a governance structure that looked at America, Britain and France and neglecting the grain of African tradition. African governments can only improve and rule on the basis of the indigenous constitution. Imitating the American, British or French constitution is suicidal.
By Phillip Bohwasi
Social Scientist, Civil Society participant
Founder of Zimbabwe Opportunities Industrialisation Centers (ZOIC).
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