The Internalist School and Africa’s ‘Silences’

Published on 19th October 2009

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

Q. Does the “Internalist School” demonstrate that African intellectuals have finally come up with an African-centered development paradigm, filling a long-running vacuum ? 

A. The internalist orthodoxy and the Africa-centered development paradigm are two separate animals, although they are somewhat related. The development paradigm refers more to development that benefits Africa and not metropolitan Europe. Recall that under colonialism, the colonies were expected to be purveyors of raw materials and labor for Europe’s industrial machines. That was a Euro-centric development model. The internalist orthodoxy, by contrast, deals with the causes of Africa’s crises.  

It is possible to expand the internalist orthodoxy into development modeling by insisting that the model should not only be Africa-centered but also draw its inputs from Africa, which I tried to do when I coined the express “African solution for Africa’s problems” in 1994. For far too long, African leaders sought external solutions – from the World Bank, Western donors and the international community – for their development problems. They also copied too many foreign models – for example, the “Asian model.” They should be developing their own “African model.” Such a model can be found on the African continent itself —in Botswana. 

Q. “What Obama said in his Accra speech was not new. We have known these “self-evident truths” for decades. Why have African elites, civil societies and the Western world been afraid to say so publicly? 

A. In the West, political correctness or racial over-sensitivity has shielded African leaders. Whites are reluctant to criticize black African leaders for fear of being labeled racist. Black Americans, for reasons of racial solidarity, won’t criticize black Africans leaders either. Africans like me who publicly criticize African leaders have been denounced as “traitors,” “Uncle Toms,” House niggers” and accused of “washing Africa’s dirty linen in public” and providing “ammunition to racists.” This atmosphere of intimidation and vilification has prevented many Africans in the West from speaking out publicly against atrocities committed by African leaders against their own people. This gives African despots a free pass as they are shielded from criticism from the West, even when muted.

The intellectual environment is even more pernicious in Africa where repression still prevails. Freedom of expression is not tolerated in many African countries. Write something an African government doesn’t like and “poof!” you are either dead or in jail. Take corruption for example. To fight it, it must first be exposed. Exposing a problem in Africa has almost always been impossible because of censorship, brutal suppression of dissent, and state ownership or control of the media. Corrupt and incompetent governments deny or conceal their failings until the problems blow up in their faces. 

African governments always want to hide the truth and keep their people in the dark. In its Freedom of the Press Report, 2007, Freedom House noted that free news media exist in only 8 African countries: Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde Islands, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius, Sao Tome & Principe, and South Africa. In Equatorial Guinea, the people "can choose among two TV and two radio stations -- in both cases the government operates one and Teodoro Obiang (the president) the other. There are no daily newspapers, and the few publications that do circulate offer fawning praise of the regime" (The Nation, April 22, 2002; p.18).

Due to the explosion in the number of satellite dishes, electronic communications (fax machines, the internet, e-mail, etc.), much more information is now available in Africa. The ability of African dictators to control the flow of information and keep their people in the dark has been severely crippled. Corrupt African despots have consequently resorted to defamation or libel suits, heavy fines and assassinations. Private newspapers that are courageous enough to expose problems of corruption are often shut down and their editors either jailed or murdered. Perhaps a quick tour of Africa would be instructive about the fate of journalists who attempted to expose corruption:

Angola: On 18 January 1995 Ricardo de Melo, the editor of the Luanda-based Impartial Fax, was killed for writing stories about official corruption. (Index On Censorship, 3/2000; p.86).

Burkina Faso: The Independent Commission of Inquiry investigating the death of journalist Norbert Zongo on Dec 13, 1998 concluded on May 7, 1999 that Zongo was “assassinated for purely political motives because he practiced investigative journalism.” (Index on Censorship, July/August 1999; p.130).  

Cameroon: Emmanuel Noubissie Ngankam, director of the independent Dikalo was given a one-year suspended sentence, fined CFA 5 million ($8,800), and ordered to pay CFA 15 million in damages after publishing an article alleging that the former minister of public works and transportation had expropriated property in the capital Yaounde. (African News Weekly, 8 April 1994, 5). 

Mozambique: On April 22, 2003, Mozambique’s Supreme Court president, Mario Mangaze sued the weekly newspaper, Zambeze, for libel after it alleged that he had tried to intervene in the decision of a lower court in return for gifts of land in Maputo province. (Index on Censorship, July 2003; p.154). 

Gabon: On May 5, 2003, the weekly Le Temps was suspended for three months after publishing an article about state mismanagement of funds (Index on Censorship, July 2003; p.146). 

Kenya: Abraham Kipsang Kiptanui, former controller of State House, was awarded over $250,000 in damages on March 31, 1998, for libel caused by an article published in Target magazine. Kiptanui sued over an article entitled, "Three Billion Shilling Deal Off" (Index On Censorship, May/June, 1998, 113).  

Mozambique: Carlos Cardoso, an investigative journalist, was murdered in November 2000 for uncovering a bank scandal in which about $14 million was looted from Mozambique's largest bank, BCM on the eve of its privatization. (The Economist, Nov 23, 2002; p.45).  

Namibia: President Sam Nujoma and Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo have served separate summonses on the weekly, Windhoek Observer, for defamation and are demanding a total of up to $200,000 in damages. (Index On Censorship, November/December 1998, 102). 

Zimbabwe: Although the country is on paper a multi-party democracy, open debate -- let alone outright political dissent -- has been increasingly discouraged. President Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe has launched an all-out war against independent media, using weapons of mass intimidation that range from lawsuits to physical violence. Since January 1999, two local journalists have been tortured and two foreign correspondents expelled, while the secret service screens e-mail and Internet communications to preserve "national security." Bomb attacks twice damaged the premises of the independent Daily News; the second bombing followed close on the heels of a call from Mugabe's information minister to silence that paper "once and for all."  

On January 20, 2003, the office of President Robert Mugabe took control of the country's forecasting service after learning that the drought-affected country was facing two more years of low rainfall. "The government does not want any information on the weather to be leaked," an official from the Meteorological Office said. "All our forecasts are to be sent to the president's office, and only then can they be released" (The Washington Times, January 26, 2003; p. A7).  

Even the internet is coming under increasing attack by repressive governments. Many governments in Africa (Liberia, Sudan and Zimbabwe) restrict Internet access on the pretext of protecting the public from pornography, subversive material, or violations of national security. To restrict Internet access, governments may require special licensing and regulation of internet use, limit Internet traffic to filtered government servers, remove controversial pages from web sites, and even apply existing press laws to Internet content. 

To be sure, the picture is not entirely bleak. Some progress has haltingly been made. In 1985, there were only 10 community broadcasters in the whole of Africa; in 2000 there were more than 300" (The Economist, May 11, 2002; p.43). But persecution of journalists, harsh press laws and resistance to press freedoms remain. In the beginning of the 21st Century, however, there was a subtle shift from the brutal tactics favored in the past. Africa’s "Big Men" began using new media laws to introduce a subtler form of censorship. "Instead of the heavy-handed ways they used in the past, dictators are using the laws of the country," said Yves Sorokobi, Africa Programme Coordinator with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "They have a lot to hide, they have skeletons in the closet, but they can’t get away with murder" (The Financial Gazette, May 3, 2002). 

Recall that in Ghana in the 1990s, human waste was dumped in the offices of the Ghanaian Chronicle, Free Press, and Crusading Guide for publishing articles that displeased the Rawlings regime. It is this kind of intellectual barbarism that prevented Africans from speaking out and also held the internalist orthodoxy in check to the detriment of Africa’s progress. Today, most Africans point to the catastrophic failure of leadership – not external factors -- as the primary obstacle holding Africa back. 

To be continued

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