Why Africa Lags Behind

Published on 5th August 2008

Vincent Makori is a reknown African (Kenyan) Journalist in  diaspora, currently residing and working with Voice of America in the United States. Judith Auma sought his views on why dictatorial leadership has taken center stage in African development unlike in  the Unites States, where he lives.  


Qn: Bad Governance is considered one of the major reasons why Africa has failed to measure up to developed nations like the United States. In your opinion, do you think our leaders are born dictators?


Ans: Although we have always blamed Africa’s state of affairs on colonialism, the blame has currently shifted to bad leadership. Have we ever asked ourselves why African leaders troop to developed countries, say the US or Europe whenever they are elected? These visits do not yield much. They are mainly motivated by spendthrift shopping sprees and invasion of reknown stores and supermarkets to purchase the latest designer clothes.


Qn: Clothes? What do their counterparts do differently?


It’s a different scenario with delegations from China and other emerging economies. Whenever they visit developed nations, they arm themselves with cameras and take pictures of bridges, buildings, factories and latest innovations of interest to them. When they get back home, they set their best, innovative professionals, engineering and architectural brains to work. Before America blinks, the Chinese have a better replication of what America has to offer.


Qn: What is your view of African institutions?


The biggest problem African states are grappling with are weak social and political institutions that cannot check and keep at bay the excessive powers our leaders wield. Our judicial and legislative institutions operate at the whims of big shots.Because of our weak institutions cannot control the presidency, dictatorial tendencies rear their ugly head. Human dignity is not respected as evidenced by numerous arrests and detentions without trail in many parts of Africa. Justice systems are not trusted. Leaders handle nations like personal property. This is not strange because absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is addictive. Unless strong Institutions are in place to cut down these excessive powers, our leaders cannot relinquish and pass on executive powers willingly.


Qn: Most people in authority in Africa are presidential appointees and pledge their loyalty to the president. How does this work in USA?


In developed nations, heads of political institutions are presidential appointees but are vetted by parliament. Unlike in Africa, This collective decision making means that the selected leaders have the mandate and support of the nation to make and pronounce independent decisions in the interest of the country. If our people understood this fact, problems like the post-election violence in Kenya would have been avoided by publication of actual results by the Electoral Commission of Kenya.


Qn: What in your opinion, is leadership?


There is a gross misunderstanding of what leadership means in Africa. Leaders, especially political leaders are viewed as gods. People pursue leadership to gain power and amass wealth. This is a wrong perception of leadership. Leadership is sacrifice of oneself in humility to serve the wider nation’s interest. Leaders are not “gods” to be worshipped; they are servants. We must demand performance and accountability from leaders. Our political leaders should know that they have a bigger calling to serve the citizenry than their personal interests.


Qn: What can you comment on Africa’s media?


In Africa, media attention is mainly on presidential trips, visits and speeches, without careful analysis of what they mean with respect to improving the lives of the citizens. The media is such a powerful force than can serve well to empower citizens on their rights and what to demand from their leaders.


Qn. What more can be done to hold our leaders accountable?


Clear institutional division of responsibility should be present to allow for respect of operations and effective service delivery in a manner that satisfies the national need. Members of parliament are elected by their constituencies to serve the interests of those who elected them- not the national interest. The practice of appointing Ministers from the legislative body is wrong, it blurs their judgment and alters their focus from serving the electorate. At the end of the day, Ministers serve presidents and are loyal to him, not their constituencies. For the sake of accountability and service delivery to citizens, Ministers should be appointed independently based on education and qualification, history of service to the country, level of integrity and commitment to the nation’s development. 


Qn: Any parting shot on Africa's development?


Our nations focus a lot of development and investment opportunities in urban areas prompting rural-urban migrations and outward movements of labour in search for better opportunities in other countries. The best thing our governments can do is improve regional development by attracting investment to regions that are least developed. These investments can provide employment to people in these regions and cut down outward movement of labour.




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