Recalling George Ayittey:Soiled African Continent Needs Purging- October 4, 2011

Africa’s creaky statist interventionist behemoth needs to be de-wormed, de-tribalized, and thoroughly cleansed. Bloated bureaucracies, packed with cronies and tribesmen, reek of graft, venality and inefficiency. The state sector or “government” has become the arena of self-enrichment. Everybody who wants to be rich heads straight into government. The richest people in Africa are heads of state and government ministers. Quite often, the chief bandit is the head of state himself.

These ruling vampire elites suck the economic life-blood out of the country to deposit in overseas accounts. Because they benefit enormously from the rotten status-quo, they are not interested in reform, PERIOD. If you exert pressure on them to reform, they would perform the “Babangida boogie” — one step forward, three steps back, a flip and a side-kick to land on a fat Swiss bank account. Much ado about nothing.

Former president of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, was very adept at this ritual dance. The “Moi massamba” was well described by The Economist (19 August 1995): “Over the past few years, Kenya has performed a curious mating ritual with its aid donors. The steps are: One, Kenya wins its yearly pledges of foreign aid. Two, the government begins to misbehave, backtracking on economic reform and behaving in an authoritarian manner. Three, a new meeting of donor countries looms with exasperated foreign governments preparing their sharp rebukes. Four, Kenya pulls a placatory rabbit out of the hat. Five, the donors are mollified and aid is pledged. The whole dance then starts again.”

The ruling vampire elites are simply not interested in reform. Using the state machinery for self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment is the main preoccupation. They care less about reliable supply of electricity, clean water and medical care for the people as long as they (the politicians) have access to them. When they need medical care, they go abroad. Their food is imported. They send their children abroad for education. As for the people, they can eat grass.

Ask these vampire elites to cut bloated state bureaucracies or government spending and they will set up a “Ministry of Less Government Spending.” Ask them to establish better systems of governance and they will set up a “Ministry of Good Governance” (Tanzania). Ask them to curb corruption and they will set up an “Anti-Corruption Commission” with no teeth and then sack the Commissioner if he gets too close to the fat cats (Kenya).Ask them to establish democracy and they will empanel a coterie of fawning sycophants to write the electoral rules, toss opposition leaders into jail, hold fraudulent elections and return themselves to power (Ivory Coast, Rwanda).Ask them to place more reliance on the private sector and they will create a Ministry of Private Enterprise (Ghana).Ask them to privatize inefficient state-owned enterprises and they will sell them off at fire-sale prices to their cronies (Uganda).

The chicanery of these ruling vampire elites knows no bounds. As a result, the reform process across Africa has been stalled by strong-arm tactics, vaunted acrobatics, vexatious chicanery and willful deception. But without reform, more African countries will implode or remain stuck in the mud.

The prospects of reform in Kenya remain as bleak as in Ghana. First, the ruling vampire elites aren’t interested in reform. Back in 2002, it was civil society which drove the reform agenda. This time around, the politicians are making “noises” about reform — noises because they break their promises like Idi Amin cracked the skulls of his critics with a sledge-hammer.

Second, to implement REAL reform, the winning presidential candidate must have a clear mandate from the people and his party must command a SUPRA majority to push constitutional reform through parliament. Neither is likely to happen with a field of 9 presidential candidates.

The MORE candidates there are in a presidential race, the MORE likely things will remain the SAME. This is not rocket science because the “reform vote” will be divided, diluted and extinguished. Consider Benin, a country of 7 million people but with over 100 political parties. Mali also has over 100 political parties. Both have had free and fair elections in the last decade. But reform? Nada.

Maybe, we might need General Ibrahim Babangida after all. Because the U.S. has two political parties, Babangida created EXACTLY two for Nigeria in 1985: “one a little to the left and the other a little to the right.” The rest is history.

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