The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the same political structures that we have blindly adopted since 1950’s.
Guest Column by Vince Musewe
Reading Martin Merendith’s book — State of Africa, has shocked me to appreciate that the pattern and results of black rule has hardly changed from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
We are such fools indeed, we never learn.
Black governments took over political power motivated by the passion to create more equitable and developed societies. Liberation struggle leaders came into power while promising to correct the wrongs of the past and to fight poverty and discrimination; that was their ticket to State House.
It worked to get them there, but it seems that, as soon as they did, they forgot why they were there and, more importantly, who had helped them to get there.
Virtually all of our leaders behaved in a similar manner once they moved into State house; they became arrogant and selfish in pursuit of personal wealth.
Liberation ideals became an inconvenient truth while those who fought with them were neglected.
Once they took over, and after getting used to the trappings of power, they all started to decimate their economies, starting with agriculture and then industry under the guise of black economic emancipation.
Political and business elites emerged overnight and had unfettered access to huge government contracts. While doing that, the country’s debts soared and became unmanageable; food shortages, poverty and unemployment increased while their currencies became worthless. Zimbabwe has not been spared from this burden.
Country after country, we see that all African leaders left their countries worse off. It is as if they all came from the same mother with one purpose in mind; to loot as much as possible.
They all oppressed their own people, justifying one-party state mentality, while they lived like kings. Black politicians and the elite acquired unimaginable personal wealth and abused State resources to entrench their interests. They deliberately stifled the media and any dissenting voices. They surrounded themselves with family and praise singers in an orgy of primitive accumulation. They ruled by instilling fear and not through earning respect. They centralised power while ensuring their safety through patronage, corruption and if necessary assassinations of those seen as threats.
Viable state enterprises established during colonialism became their playground to reward cronies, party officials including the army. As a result, the State enterprises became inefficient, unproductive while running huge public debts. Large infrastructure projects which were unsustainable were launched for the wrong reasons and were soon abandoned. It was more about prestige than economic development. Africa’s bloated bureaucracies still exist today in most of Africa; their role being to provide jobs, contracts and favours to kinsmen and political supporters.
From Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe, they all blamed imperialism as the root of all evil. They became insular and most of them were eventually ousted from office by their own followers who aspired to wealth and power as their leaders had once done.
The interesting fact is that almost all of these past leaders died broken men, lonely and melancholic; the fruits of their lives were similar and brutal.
Now, when someone like Julius Malema stands up and threatens to nationalise and do exactly what has failed in Africa since 1951 and gets applauded from the masses, it shows the sheer lack of the understanding and appreciation of history. African leaders created poverty and devastated the productive assets of their economies under the banner of nationalisation and empowerment of the masses.
The challenge for us is to break this pattern which, if left alone to persist will create the same results — poverty, hunger, patronage, waste and dictatorships.
It is important that we do all we can to prevent the emergence of personality cults, dictatorships and abuse of power. This means we must avoid political parties that are structured or operate in such a manner because they merely transfer their existing power relations into government structures once elected.
Political parties reward loyalty and popularity among other despicable behaviours, but these qualities do not result in good leadership. They tend to reward everything besides integrity and good leadership. These are then the very people we elect into office; no wonder why Africa is still so backward.
The idea of a one party State is totally unacceptable. Funny enough, all of Africa fell into the myth that having a singular political entity is better than multiple parties. This contributed to the widespread failure of politics to serve the needs of citizens. One party State mentality is bad for democracy and accountability.
Unfortunately, Africa is not learning from the past; our government structures and how we elect leaders continue to produce the same terrible results. The black man’s burden continues to be his thirst for power and inclination towards primitive wealth accumulation. Add superstition and witchcraft to this then you have the typical African leader; self-centred, ruthless, uncaring and fearful of change.
The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the political structures that we have blindly adopted from developed countries. Our political parties have failed to drive the inclusive development agenda throughout Africa, even in cases where the resources are in abundance.
In my opinion, it is necessary that we first change the structure of political parties and what they stand for before we can see different results.
The people come first!
Vince Musewe is an economist based in Harare and you may contact him on email@example.com