Africa: Victim of Bad Structures

Published on 22nd May 2007

Bad governance can be adjusted through fundamental structural reforms that allow open society dynamics to function in African countries’ constitutions. There ought to be a distinction between bad management and bad structures. Africa has more of a poor constitutional problem than a bad governance one.

Our African forefathers and mothers did not invent the idea of mass-producing commodities exclusively for market consumption. Kenya, as a case in point, was colonised using the British system of indirect rule which perpetuated the cultural superstructures to govern. The myth of ethnicity and "otherness" is thus entrenched. Despite the fact that Kenya retains its cultural diversity, divide and rule remains, destroying the fundamental rights of the individual critical for the ideals of the free market to operate.

Unless this cultural achiles heel is squarely addressed and a conscious constitutional choice is made to embrace the benefits of mass production by rejecting the romantic nostalgia with African tradition, we cannot overcome the inherent poverty trap. Perhaps this sounds derogatory but from the perspective of social darwinists, evolution demands that we graduate from being an informal society into embracing the formal constitutional state where rules are clear, calculable and applied equally and impartially. We destroy our artists, and do not tolerate those who are different. Without rewarding ingeniuty, there can be no motivation to produce profit. Instead, brain drain ensues.

Enlightenment through civic education can confer minimum levels of constitutional literacy, which unfortunately, takes time. Our demand for a quantum leap into development thus appears unrealistic-to the extent that we wish to use democratic and not
authoritarian means. We need to transform African attitudes of social consensus seeking into the modern drive for individual competition-progress through the ruthless maxim of "survival of the fittest." That's what the SAPs and ESAPS were in principle, intended to achieve, but in the short term back fired for a variety of reasons, not least of which included corruption by leaders.

Our politicians are prone to exploiting the illiterate masses in the short term, for personal benefit. Kenya lost billions of shillings from the Central Bank in the Goldenberg scandal. There are few statesmen who can sacrifice their own short-term greed and selfishness for the sake of long term benefit of "the state" or "Africa." This manifests itself in using public property for private gain-corruption. After all, they argue, under capitalism, self-interest is the name of the game. Our populations are too poor, illiterate and tribally divided to check the leaders at elections or referendums. Moreover, in globalisation, nation-states have their self interest too. Benevolence and charity are too abstract to become reliable parameters to guide action under international relations or law. One reason why Prof. Jeffrey Sachs’ proposal appears unlikely to succeed might be because he undervalues the use of reward and punishment to encourage good behaviour or deter bad behaviour, if he does.

The solution lies in a global constitution which takes democracy and its consequences seriously. Global governance is still in its formative stages at international organizations and the process is a political one, so there are no right or wrong answers, but good and bad trade-offs as seen in the WTO rounds of negotiations, the US defence of suspect appointments by World Bank Chairman and Zimbabwe’s Environmental Minister voted by Chairman of UN Commission on Sustainable Development. One aspect of the jigsaw should not be viewed in isolation of the bigger picture. What is its impact on the whole, including both history, the present and universal values?

The world must squarely face the problem of ethical relativism. A choice must be made between competing paradigms. Conflicting values cannot both be correct. Inevitably, civilizations, as Samuel Huntington teaches us, are coming into conflict. How can we catalyse the transition to keep the costs down? Who are the beneficiaries and sufferers of disruption of the status quo? How do we reconcile or tolerate others? Obviously, the dodo who doesn't change must contend with the real prospect of extinction. Only those who embrace feasible and viable norms continue to survive.

Much of African culture has to change fast. Outsiders cannot help us find our collective identity and change our national attitudes. Finding and agreeing on basic values, in a democracy must be done through free media debate, which solves problems of our own past. The international community can only use economic sanctions to punish regimes for impoverishing their own people through implementing disastrous policies. Maybe, trial before an international Criminal Court is a possibility for leaders who betray the national trust. But where local courts, truth, justice and reconciliation tribunals appear unable to provide victims with any acceptable or appropriate political, psychological or economic remedy, we open a Pandora’s box of transitional justice as being the key to Africa's way forward in the immediate term.

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