African Solutions for Africa's Problems

Published on 23rd October 2009

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


Can Africa solve its problems?          Photo courtesy
Why was Barack Obama able to say so today?


A. President Barack Obama could rail against corruption, tyranny and rule of brutality in Africa for two reasons. First, being black himself, nobody would be able to accuse him of being a “racist.” Second, his father is Kenyan, so, as he put it, he “has African blood in him.”


“The instinctive reaction by African leaders to every crisis on the continent was to appeal to the international community and beg for foreign aid. That, to me, deprecates Africa’s pride and dignity. Being an Internalist, I push for “internal solutions.” I coined the expression, “African solutions for Africa’s problems” when Somalia collapsed in 1992. The solutions to Africa’s problems lies in Africa itself – not along the corridors of the World Bank, the inner sanctum of the Soviet presidium, or on Jupiter.”


Q. Could you further elaborate on this?


A. There were free village markets in Africa before the colonialists arrived. Timbuktu, Kano, Salaga, Mombasa were all great market towns. Neither the World Bank nor the Western donors should teach us about markets and democracy. We have had participatory democracy based on consensus under our chiefs for centuries. There is nothing wrong with Africa’s indigenous institutions.


Our leaders made a mistake after independence by refusing to build on Africa’s indigenous institutions. [Only Botswana did]. They went abroad and copied all sorts of unworkable foreign systems and paraphernalia for transplantation in Africa. American farmers use tractors; so too must we in Africa. London has double-decker buses; so too must we in Africa. New York has skyscrapers; so too must we in the middle of nowhere in Africa. Rome has a basilica; so we built one at Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast. France once had en emperor; so Bokassa of the Central African Republic spent $25 million to crown himself as one. The list of unimaginative aping is endless. The continent is now littered with the putrid carcasses of failed foreign systems imported blindly into Africa. The post colonial period development can be characterized as “development by imitation.” It is time Africa developed its own model and crafted its own “African solution for African problems.”


Africa doesn’t need foreign aid. Its begging bowl leaks horribly. An African Union report in August 2004 claimed that Africa loses an estimated $148 billion annually to corrupt practices, a figure which represents 25 percent of the continent's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). At an African civic groups meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nigeria’s President, Olusegun Obasanjo, claimed that “corrupt African leaders have stolen at least $140 billion (£95 billion) from their people in the decades since independence” (The London Independent, June 14, 2002). These are gross underestimates. According to one UN estimate, $200 billion or 90 percent of the sub-Saharan part of the continent's gross domestic product was shipped to foreign banks in 1991 alone.


Civil wars in Africa cost at least $15 billion annually in lost output, wreckage of infrastructure, and refugee crises. The civil wars are over power, not redrawing artificial colonial borders, and are caused by the adamant refusal of African leaders to relinquish or share political power. The crisis in Zimbabwe, for example, has exacted an enormous toll on Africa. Foreign investors have fled the region and more than 4 million Zimbabweans have left the country along with 60,000 physicians and other professionals. The Observer [London] (Sept 30, 2001) estimated that Zimbabwe's economic collapse had caused $37 billion worth of damage to South Africa and other neighboring countries.


Africa can’t feed itself because senseless civil wars, preference for industry, misguided statist policies of price controls and marketing boards have devastated its agriculture. By 2000, Africa’s food imports had reached $18.7 billion, slightly more than donor assistance of $18.6 billion to Africa.


Clearly, the resources Africa needs to develop can be found in Africa itself – only if its leaders were willing to reform their abominable economic and political systems, re-orient their development policies toward agriculture, curb corruption and invest their wealth- legitimate or ill-gotten in Africa. But the leadership, wedded to the old “blame colonialism” paradigm, is not interested. It is programmed to look outside Africa and badger the West for resources.


Q. Is the “Internalist School” oblivious to the “Externalist School”? Is there any balance or confluence between the “Internalist School,” of which you lead, and the “Externalist School,” of Ali Mazrui of yesteryears? What is your disagreement with Ali Mazrui then?


A. All African scholars and intellectuals agree that there have been both external and internal causes of Africa’s crises. I disagree with Prof. Mazrui in three areas. The first is what relative weights to assign to the factors. Whereas Professor Mazrui would assign 80 percent of the causes to external factors, I would assign only 20 percent to the external. Second, for far too long the internal factors have been ignored. The average intelligent person looks both ways before crossing a street or risk being hit by a truck. Africa is in bandages because its leaders always looked one way – at the external. Third, I lay more emphasis on the internal factors because they are subject to our control. Take corruption for example. We can curb it if we are serious. Whereas, it you take the unjust international economic system, reforming it is out of our control.


The history of human development teaches that those who come up with new ideas, discoveries and inventions such as Socrates, Martin Luther or Galileo Galilei are either condemned, prosecuted or killed.


Q. Ayittey has been pointing out the same things Obama mentioned but people have been regarding him as a “nobody.”  Now that Obama, a “somebody” has reiterated them, I hope when Ayittey speaks, people will listen. How do you feel as the Internalist School thought patterns increasingly come to the fore of Africa’s development thinking?


A. I should be gloating but I am not. Instead, I am ANGRY – VERY ANGRY! Imagine what would have happened if the powers-that-be had listened to George Ayittey back in the 1980s. We would have saved millions of Africans and their economies from perishing. We would have saved many African countries from implosion. Here’s the tall of death toll from Africa’s senseless civil wars:


    • 1 million Nigerians died in the Biafra War (1967)
    • 200,000 Ugandans were slaughtered by Idi Amin in 1970s,
    • 100,000 were butchered by President Marcias Nguema in Equatorial Guinea in the 1970s,
    • Over 400,000 Ethiopians perished under Comrade Mengistu Haile Mariam,
    • Over 500,000 Somalis perished under Siad Barre,
    • Man-made famines claimed over 2 million between 1980-2000,
    • Over 2 million have died in the wars of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast,
    • Over 1 million died in Mozambique’s civil war,
    • 1.5 million in Angola’s civil war
    • 800,000 perished in Rwanda’s genocide,
    • 300,000 in Burundi
    • 3 million have perished in Sudan’s civil wars,
    • 4 million have died from Congo’s wars,

 The rough total is 16.8 million and this does not include deaths in Chad, Western Sahara, Algeria and those who perish at refugee camps.   


Historians tell us that the total number black Africans shipped as slaves to the Americas in the 17th and 18th Centuries was about 10 million and Africa lost another 10 million through the trans-Saharan and East African slave trade ran by Arabs. This means that, in a space of just 50 years after independence, post colonial African leaders have caused the deaths of about the same number of Africans than were lost to both the West and East African slave trades. And we are not done yet. People are still dying in Congo DR, Somalia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Why? Because of POWER!


Take Somalia for example.  The country is thoroughly destroyed, reduced to an ash-heap of rubble. Yet, you have educated barbarians who are fighting fiercely to determine who should be the next president. Am I happy that I have been vindicated? Of course I am not.

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