Recall: Who Is To Save Africa? By George Ayittey- October 3, 2011

Africa has taken hefty blows on the chin from a number of quarters. It is bad enough to take a left hook when standing but it is something else when you are lying prostrate on the floor. The first blow came from newly-elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a speech in Senegal in late July 2007. He came to lay out his vision for African relations. Who can blame him? After all, China has a 5-Point Agenda for Africa.

Addressing a joint session of the National Assembly in Abuja, Nigeria, Chinese President, Mr. Hu Jintao noted that development is good and should not be denied any part of the world. He said he was in Nigeria to “increase mutual trust, enhance mutually-beneficial cooperation, advance common development, and forge a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership.” China, Jintao added, will continue to promote “multilateralism and democracy and rule of law in international relations, establish a new international political and economic order and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Africa” (This Day, Lagos, April 28, 2006). China to promote democracy and rule of law, while maintaining cozy relations with rogue regimes in Africa?

Does Sarkozy have a better vision for Africa? He went to Senegal in late August to deliver it but how he said it has rankled many African leaders and intellectuals, leaving them fuming and outraged. “The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history … They have never really launched themselves into the future,” Sarkozy said in the address at Dakar’s main university. “The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words . . . In this realm of fancy. . . there is neither room for human endeavor nor the idea of progress,” he added.

Senegalese newspaper Sud Quotidien branded the speech as “an insult.” Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the African Union Commission, swiftly labeled it “declarations of a bygone era”. For many, the speech was a throwback to France’s murky colonial past.

How dare Sarkozy lecture Africa about the future when he can’t manage his own country? A rebellion is brewing against his presidency. Public sector workers have gone on strike. Fed up with his imperial and egotistical style, the town council of Sannat, a village in the dead center of France decided not to hang Czarkozy’s, (as his critics call him) official portrait in the town hall. François Fillon, the country’s Prime Minister says that the economy is in such bad shape that the French state is “bankrupt.”

Another left hook was delivered by Dr. James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unraveling of DNA, and one of the world’s most eminent scientists. In an extraordinary row in London on Oct 17, he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that “equal powers of reason” were shared across racial groups was a delusion. He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. According to him, Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when “testing” suggested the contrary. Perhaps the controversy is an insidious “publicity stunt” – to promote the sales of his latest book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science. He has already bored me.

Now comes jailbird Paris Hilton on a mission to “help Africa.” After spending 23 days in jail this summer for violating her probation on a DUI charge, she claims she is a changed woman. “When I had time to reflect, I felt empty inside. I want to leave a mark on the world,” she offered. She will be going to Rwanda for five days, visiting schools and health-care clinics and staying in decidedly un-Hilton-like accommodations. Said James Mukazango, a Zimbabwean exile in the San Francisco Bay: “It must now come to this? I give up!” But why not give her a chance since every single entity that tried to help Africa in the past left a horrible trail of failure?

A number of quarters have failed Africa. The United Nations, for example, cannot enforce its own 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It allows grotesque abusers of human rights to sit on its own Human Rights Commission. The UN has never heard of the apothegm: “Prevention is better than cure.” It waits patiently like a vulture for an African country to implode and then appeal to the international community for peace keepers. Of the nearly 40 civil wars that have raged in Africa since 1960, the UN has resolved and restored stability to only 4. The UN is waiting for Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea and Zimbabwe to implode and then . . .

The next platoon of abysmal failures is Western aid, World Bank and IMF programs. More than $500 billion in foreign aid – the equivalent of six Marshall Aid Plans – has been pumped into Africa between 1960 and 1997 with little to show for except crumbled infrastructure, show monuments, a multitude of “black elephants” and inscrutable dependency. “I’ve never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit,” says President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal. Countries that have developed — in Europe, America, Japan, Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore — have all believed in free markets. After 50 years of engagement in Africa and spending more than $40 billion, the World Bank is yet to draw up a coherent list of just 10 African economic success stories. Each year, it trots out a phantom list of such “economic stars” only to see them implode in a year or so. Guinea, Lesotho and Uganda are currently such imploding stars.

African-American civil rights leaders and the Black Congressional Caucus constitute the next group that failed Africa. Best positioned to influence legislation and effect real changes in Africa, they mobilized world opinion and led the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. But beyond South Africa, they disintegrated. Afflicted with intellectual astigmatism, they could see with eagle-eyed clarity injustices perpetrated by whites against blacks in South Africa, but were hopelessly blind to the equally heinous de facto tribal apartheid in Rwanda and Burundi. They can’t see the brutal in Sudan and Zimbabwe, much less the continued enslavement of blacks by Arabs in Mauritania and Sudan.

The greatest failures of all, have been the leadership in Africa. It is always important to draw a distinction between the leadership and the people. The leaders have been the problem, not the people. Since 1960, Africa has had 204 heads of state. Fewer than 20 can be adjudged to have been “good leaders,” The overwhelming majority – over 90 percent – were monumental failures. The only three things they can do efficiently are: squelch all dissent and opposition to their misrule; pillage and loot the treasury and perpetuate themselves in office. The politicians are more interested in increasing their salaries and perks than attending to the needs of the people. In 2003, the weekly newspaper Angolese Samanario published a list of the wealthiest people in Angola: 12 of the top 20 were government officials and five were former government officials. Africa’s opposition forces are scarcely any better — fragmented and given to incessant squabbling and stabbing each other in the back, some of them are “closet dictators,” exhibiting the same autocratic tendencies they loudly condemn in the leaders they hope to replace.

If even the African intellectuals – an argumentative lot – have a “pull-him-down” (Ph.D.) DNA embedded in their genes, programmed like crabs in a barrel to pull down and rip to pieces anyone who attempts to rise to escape from the barrel, who now is left to save Africa? First came a galaxy of Hollywood celebrities: Angelina Joline, Brad Pitt. Then rock stars: Bono, Madonna. Then the Chinese, the Russians, Brazilians, and Indians. Now Paris Hilton.

To be fair, African leaders made one gallant effort to save their continent in June when they held the African Union Summit (AU) in Accra, Ghana. Everyone was waiting with baited breath – for some real solutions to African crises. “We shouldn’t hide the fact that we ended up, after a difficult and sometimes painful debate, in a kind of confusion,” said Alphar Oumar Konare.

Even before the summit, confusion reigned. Speaking in the Guinean capital Conakry, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi Qaddafi who pushed for the formation of the AU in Sirte, Libya in 2002 dismissed the AU as a failure. Why did he bother to attend the AU Summit? Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, one of the founders of NEPAD (New Economic Partnership for Africa – Africa’s own blueprint), weighed in: “NEPAD was a waste of time of money which had failed to produce concrete results.” But it gets better.

A report by the international auditing firm Ernst and Young found that the AU could not account for almost $3 million it spent on a conference for African intellectuals. Furthermore, it could not verify how much it paid members of the Pan-African Parliament, an AU body. A report by AU’s own financial experts showed that only seven of the 53 member states were up-to-date with their payments to the AU.

Maybe, Paris Hilton might be the white knight in shining armor Africa has been waiting for. She can teach African leaders a thing or two about the “rule of law” and wealth creation.” She made her wealth in the private sector, not in government. But, alas, they might be crossing paths. While Paris Hilton will be visiting villages in Rwanda, African leaders will be attending an EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon, Portugal in December. At least, Paris Hilton knows where real African development begins – in the village.

Ayittey was until recently a Distinguished Economist at American University and President of the Free Africa Foundation.