Obama Accra Speech Vindicates 'Internalists'

Published on 30th September 2009

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong continues his discussion with Prof. George Ayittey on his argument that US President Barack Obama’s Accra speech statement that Africa’s future is in Africans hands is an “intellectual vindication” for the “Internalist School” of African development.

Q. How did the “Internalist School” came about?

A. It evolved rather slowly in the 1970s. When Africa gained its independence in the 1960s, the euphoria that gripped the continent was infectious. “Free at last!” was the chant that resonated across Africa.  African nationalist leaders who won independence for their respective countries were hailed as heroes and deified. Currencies bore their portraits. Statues and monuments were built and named after them. It was sacrilegious to criticize them. They outlawed opposition parties, declared their countries to be one-party states and themselves “presidents for life.” Their intolerance of dissent, lack of democratic freedom and creeping despotism sowed the seeds of internalist revolt.

Very soon in the late 1960s, the euphoria over independence and the honeymoon wore off. It became increasingly clear that Africa had traded one set of masters (white colonialists) for another (black neo-colonialists.) The oppression and exploitation of the African continued unabated. Soldiers stepped in a spate of coups in the 1970s but the soldiers were themselves another batch of “crocodile liberators,” far worse than the despots they replaced. Africa’s post colonial story is one truculent tale of one betrayal after another. This has little to do with colonialism but leadership failure.

Q.African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Sekou Toure and Mobutu Sese Seku held various developmental paradigms: Kenneth Kaunda with his “Capitalist Humanism” or Mobutu Sese Sekou with his “Africanization.” In historical and practical terms, how is the Internalist School different from this earlier thinking?

A. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the terms “internalist orthodox,” “development paradigm” and ideologies espoused by the first generation of post colonial leaders such as Nkrumah, Kaunda, Nyerere and others.

After independence, having rejected both colonialism and capitalism, the new leaders needed an alternative ideology. Although some elements of communism seemed appealing, its adoption would have entailed their nations' becoming satellites of the Soviet Union. Acceptance of European socialism would have been interpreted as continued reliance on the European colonialists. The nationalists settled on "African socialism"--a nebulous concept that borrowed heavily from European socialism but with liberal usage of such terms as "communalism," thus enabling it to be portrayed as based upon African traditions. Further, the definition could be made flexible enough to permit different interpretations and applications to suit the social conditions prevailing in each African country.

As a result, a proliferation of socialist ideologies emerged in Africa. They included: Julius Nyerere's Ujamaa (familyhood or socialism in Swahili) in Tanzania; Leopold Senghor's vague amalgam of Marxism, Christian socialism, humanitarianism, and "Negritude" in Senegal; Kenneth Kaunda's humanism in Zambia; Marien N'Gouabi's scientific socialism in the Congo (Brazzaville); Muammar Gaddafi's Arab Islamic socialism in Libya; Kwame Nkrumah's Nkrumaism ("consciencism") in Ghana; Mobutu Sese Seko's Mobutuism in Zaire; and Habib Bourguiba's Bourguibisme in Tunisia. Only a few African countries, such as the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Kenya were pragmatic enough to eschew doctrinaire socialism.

Regardless of their professed ideology, nearly all the leaders chose the same development paradigm: state-centered or state-led development model in which the state was to spearhead development; be the entrepreneur and planner. This model was adopted by even “capitalist” countries such as Ivory Coast, Kenya and Nigeria.

The internalist doctrine refers to the causes of Africa’s current crisis.  A crisis is a short term adversity and has to be managed before development, a long term process, is tackled. The internalist doctrine has not yet been converted into a development paradigm.

Q. Is hatching African-values driven development paradigms for Africa’s development a problem of African leaders and elites?

A. The first generation of African leaders had an imperfect understanding of their own indigenous African institutions as they were not taught about them in the colonial schools, which taught African students more about European history. This anomaly has not been rectified todate. Ask any educated African today how an African chief is chosen and removed from office, they will be stumped. Some African leaders and elites genuinely wanted to craft an “African-values driven development paradigm” but they had scant understanding of the indigenous system.

The results were meretricious caricatures of what they thought were the indigenous. One egregious example was Sekou Toure’s of Guinea's program of "Marxism in African Clothes.’ Under that program, unauthorized trading became a crime. Police roadblocks were set up around the country to control internal trade (The New York Times, Dec 28, 1987; p.28).

Markets and trading have been part of indigenous African economic heritage for centuries before the colonialists stepped foot on the continent. The supposedly "backward" chiefs of Africa seldom banned any market trading activity. But the most outrageous perfidy occurred in Ghana between 1981 and 1983. Denouncing markets as dens of profiteers, the military regime of Ft./Lte. Jerry Rawlings (Provisional National Defense Council) of Ghana imposed stringent price controls on commodities and established Price Control Tribunals to enforce them and hand down stiff penalties.

Market women who violated the price controls had their wares confiscated, their heads shaved, and were stripped naked, flogged, and thrown into jail. Markets were burned and destroyed by Air Force personnel when traders refused to sell at government-controlled prices. Economic lunacy was on the rampage. Having jailed the traders and destroyed their markets, the government of Ghana discovered to its chagrin that there was no food to feed the people it had jailed. "Thirty prisoners died in Sunyani prison for lack of food; 39 inmates died at another” (West Africa, July 15, 1983, p.1634). 

Many of the post colonial leaders established political and economic systems that were defective and alien. The one-party state systems that degenerated into despotism or tyranny were copied from the East; not based on African political heritage. Chiefs do not declare their villages to be one-party states and themselves presidents for life. Chiefs are chosen and can be removed from office. As the famed late British economist, Lord Peter Bauer, once said, “Despotism does not inhere in the African tradition.”

Indigenous African governments were gerontocracies (government by elders). The elders were not infallible. Respect for the elders was not a form of servility. Young adult members of the community could participate in decision making by either attending the council meetings or the village assembly. They could express their opinions openly and freely. Those with different viewpoints were not jailed. The chief did not loot the tribal treasury and deposit the booty in Swiss and foreign banks. This native system of government was misunderstood by many foreign observers who were more pre-occupied with its "primitive" external manifestations. "Primitive" tontons summoned the village assembly, not by a public announcement over the radio or a published notice in a newspaper. There were no administrative clerks to record the proceedings meticulously. The venue was under a tree or at an open market square, not in an enclosed roofed structure.

Granted, the facilities were "primitive." But there was a tradition of reaching a consensus. There was a forum (village assembly) and freedom of expression to reach this consensus. There was a place (village market square) to meet and the means (talking drums) to call such a meeting, however "primitive.” Never mind the fact that no administrative clerk recorded the proceedings in writing. The institution was there, before the colonialists set foot on the continent.
More crucial was the existence of the institution, not the outward manifestations or its form. Although elections were not held in pre colonial Africa, the African king or chief was chosen; he did not choose himself. Moreover, he could be removed at any time. As Oguah (1984) argued, "If a democratic government is defined, not as one elected by the people but as one which does the will of the people, then the Fanti system of government is democratic.”

The Kenya Government concurred. In a Sessional Paper (No.10 of 1963/65), it asserted:

In African society a person was born politically free and equal and his voice and counsel were heard and respected regardless of the economic wealth he possessed. Even where traditional leaders appeared to have greater wealth and hold disproportionate political influence over their tribal or clan community, there were traditional checks and balances including sanctions against any possible abuse of power. In fact, traditional leaders were regarded as trustees whose influence was circumscribed both in customary law and religion. In the traditional African society, an individual needed only to be a mature member of it to participate fully and equally in political affairs (paragraph 9).

After independence, the same African nationalist leaders and elites, who railed at Western misconception about Africa were singing a different tune. Democracy was now a "colonial invention" and therefore alien to Africa. The Kenyan government suddenly decided that a person was no longer born free and equal and his voice and counsel were not to be heard unless he belonged to KANU - the sole legal party. Military dictators pointed to the warrior tradition in tribal societies to provide a justification for their rule. Most of these claims, of course, betrayed a rather shameful ignorance of indigenous African heritage.

African chiefs have been the enduring fixtures on the traditional system. They command far more authority and respect from their people than central governments. They are the custodians of the land. No credible agricultural development can take place without their participation. After independence, they were not consulted.Viewed as a political threat, they were stripped of their traditional power and authority.

The Governments of Ghana took away the authority of traditional rulers by passing laws (or acts) and decrees. In 1951, the Legislative Assembly passed the Local Government Ordinance which substituted Local Councils for the Native Authorities or the Council of traditional rulers. The Ordinance intended that elected persons rather than traditional rulers should act as the guardians of the welfare of the community. In 1954, another Ordinance of the Government deprived the traditional rulers of their representation in the Local Councils. In 1958 (a year after Ghana became independent), the Local Courts Act abolished the courts of traditional rulers and took away the authority that the Colonial Government had given them to settle disputes among the people, as they had done in the days before colonial rule itself. Also in 1958, the Legislative Assembly passed the “House of Chiefs' Act”, which confirmed that traditional councils and the Houses of Chiefs could resolve disputes among traditional rulers.

There were subsequent laws in 1962, 1969, 1971 and various amendments. It  was made clear that the traditional rulers can act only if the central Government wished them to do so. The Governments had had certain rulers removed from their stools by notifying the public in the Gazette that they no longer “recognized” those rulers. The most famous examples are the removal of the rulers of Akyem Abuakwa and Wenchi by the Government of Kwame Nkrumah, and the rulers of Akyem Kotoku, Wenchi and Yendi by the National Redemption Council under the Chairmanship of the late General I.K. Acheampong.

Nigeria was supposed to be the exception, since its federal constitution provided for some devolution of authority toward local authorities and traditional rulers. In the struggle for independence, there was little friction between the traditional rulers and the elites. In fact, the position of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon in its 1954 manifesto was quite explicit: "Our Emirs and Obas, Obongs and Etubons and Amayonabos, are sovereigns in their own rights. This is the verdict of our history. Accordingly, our National Rulers must fit into the position of Constitutional monarchs”. But it did not turn out that way.

Beginning under Nigeria's first president, Abubakar Balewa, the northern region government abolished the chiefs’ status of sole native authority. In 1963, the Emir of Kano was capriciously removed by the federal government. After the Nigerian military coup of 1966, the traditional rulers had hoped their fortunes would improve but it was never to be. As West Africa put it:

They lost their Native Authority police forces under one military head of state; under another, they lost more of their role and responsibilities through the Local Government reforms of 1976; they lost their critical authority over land use under a third; and they lost their own forum, the House of Chiefs, under the incoming civilian administration of the Second Republic in 1979.

Under the next military government, they were forced to witness the humiliation of two of their senior most colleagues, the Emir of Kano and the Ooni of Ife, whose passports were withdrawn in 1984 for displeasing the military government. In military idiom, the rulers were further humbled by being ordered not to leave their domain without the prior permission of their Local Government chairmen, the new and sole channel of communication between the traditional rulers and Government. Twenty five years after the brusque removal of the Emir of Kano, the traditional rulers watched the dismissal of the Emir of Muri along with central intervention over the appointment of the Sultan of Sokoto himself (20-26 March, 1989; p.431).

In Mozambique, when President Joaquim Chissano's Frelimo Party won independence from Portugal in 1975, he accused chiefs of having been puppets of the Portuguese and stripped of their power. During the liberation war between 1964 and 1974, chiefs in the province of Niassa gave vital support to Frelimo and their rejection after independence left them particularly disgruntled.

The economic systems established by most African nationalist leaders after independence were alien and based on the socialist ideology of state ownership of the means of production, state control, state planning and state-owned enterprises.

To be continued.

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