The Sins Of The Fathers (By Babatunde Fagbayibo)

Posted: March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized
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The question of how, when and where Africa got it wrong remains the subject of numerous theses. Both fictional and factual works have thoroughly addressed the reason(s) why Africa continues to struggle to attain its potential. Reasons range from colonisation, tribalism, corruption, governance deficit, leadership crisis, and conflicts. While these issues individually and collectively offer some salient explanations, there is still the need to zero in on the underlining factor.

Writing about Nigeria, the world-renowned writer, Chinua Achebe surmised: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land, or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” If one inserts Africa into every part where Nigeria is mentioned in the foregoing quote, then the picture of “where the rain started to beat us” becomes clearer. The centrality of quality leadership to sustainable development cannot be ignored. If quality leadership is broadly understood as a stimulant for national unity, development, service delivery, effective governance and the development of critical institutions, then it is easy to understand where the problem of the continent lies.

The question then is what is the root of Africa’s leadership crisis? This is particularly important against the background of the problematic tendency of leadership across the continent to engage in activities that negate the ethos of democratic norms. The inability to build a sustainable democratic culture is better understood within the context of the failure of the first generation of African leaders or independence elites to build a culture of democracy. Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Sekou Toure, Milton Obote, Kamuzu Banda, and Kenneth Kaunda (just to mention a few) all instituted a culture of personalization of power and decimation of state institutions. It is ironical that while they claimed to build national unity, they simultaneously engaged in activities that not only suffocated real development but widened the differences among their people. Access to state resources under their regimes was determined by ideological leanings and tribal affiliations. Their “one-party state ideology” successfully entrenched alienation more than creating unity. As if their countries were experimental laboratories, these leaders implemented economic policies which largely had ruinous effects. Some people would blame the negative effect of their economic policies on the influence of western powers without critically assessing how these leaders contributed to the failings of these policies. Claude Ake famously noted that these leaders never had development on their agenda as they were more obsessed with the centralization of power. Rhetoric rather than effective actions became the hallmark of their regimes.

The heirs to independence elites have adapted to the realities of a post-Cold War global politics by only adopting the forms, without the substance, of democracy. In this sense, they have become masters in holding periodic elections (which are neither free nor fair) and the creation democratic institutions (with no real powers). With very few exceptions (e.g. Mauritius, Ghana, Cape Verde, South Africa and Sao Tome & Principe), the so called new leaders still carry the anti-democratic torch of their political forbears. The so called “new generation” of leaders that emerged in the 1990s have only succeeded in consolidating autocratic structures. As the cliché goes, “the more things change, the more they remain the same”.
The sins of the founding fathers in terms of laying the foundation of autocracy continue to haunt the continent. Failing to learn from past mistakes, many African leaders continue to manipulate and monopolize the politico-economic milieu. The need to provide national unity and the worn out idea of “economic democracy before political democracy” remain the primary justifications of their dictatorial regimes. Reports on positive GDP growth rates also provide some form of validation for some of these dictators, a factor which often glosses over serious deficiencies in macro-economic structures.

The actions of the founding fathers resulted in growth and development going south, to continue with their “sins” can only spell disaster.

Follow this writer on twitter @BabsFagbayibo


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