Africa Betrayed


Africa has been betrayed. Freedom from colonial rule has evolved into ghastly tyranny, arbitrary rule, and denial of civil liberties, brutal suppression of dissent, and the wanton slaughter of peasants. (Ayittey, 1993: 10)

I have wondered why there are many institutions and centres focusing much on Africa especially in this 21st century. However, as I try to search for answers I come to the realization that Africa has a lot to study about.  Indeed, Africa has problems and success stories too. More particularly, the problem I see about Africa is a leadership crisis. With the dawn of independence in many African countries the masses seem to have forgotten that leaders should come and go. As we were gripped by the pomp, fanfare and euphoria of independence we forgot to checkmate our fellow comrades who emerged as our ‘new leaders’. We enjoyed the long dance of freedom. We danced in the moonlight, we danced all day, and we danced in the rain. Little did we knew that our happiness will be short-lived. Little did we knew that we should appoint leaders who are responsive to our needs. Little did we knew that we should create strong independent institutions which are free from the manipulation and influence from the executive.

New Leaders in Africa:

They came to the podiums wearing suits and ties. That was the very moment we lost them. They offered well–crafted speeches whilst hammering the podiums (in emphasis). We chanted slogans, we broke into dance and song. We offered them a red carpet. Look what they did. They started by saying we are busy re-constructing what had been destroyed. This was meant to divert our attention. They went on a massive wealth accumulation spree. Then they started drinking coffee, mineral water and tea. They started appearing more Victorian and British in outlook. They started rolling expensive limousines, Mercedes Benz you name it. They started building expensive state of the art mansions in Paris, Switzerland, and across Africa. They started operating businesses. Soon their Swiss accounts became fatty overnight.

We all wondered whether these were ‘new leaders’ in Africa. What’s ‘new’ in them. To us they all remained the same if not worse than the system they replaced. What only happened was to remove white capitalism with black capitalism. They started controlling the means of production. They started mining diamonds, cobalt, gold, platinum, asbestos etc. They started operating industries. They started stealing and breaking what had been built during the colonial years. They started reading Walter Rodney’s book entitled How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. They forgot to read the famous books by the Ghanaian author George B.N Ayittey entitled Africa Betrayed and Africa in Chaos. As they addressed the masses in the village they blamed all of Africa’s problems on colonialism and neo-colonialism.

They stood in the verandas and spoke in high tones that it was better to misgovern ourselves than be governed well by others. Sooner if not later, the reality dawned upon us that we were being taken for granted. Politicians proved to be the same. Bribery Index has risen with Zimbabwe being amongst one of the top African country which is deemed more corrupt according to Transparency International rankings as of 2012. We have all witnessed the fall in human development index (HDI) across the African countries from the Cape of Good Hope to the Nile River. Our freedoms have been stifled. The leaders have enacted more repressive and draconian pieces of legislation to curtail our freedoms. All these African leaders pretend to be illiterate; they seem to forget to read Amartya Sen’s must read book entitled Development as Freedom.

They pay us pittance, we work for starvation wages. When we fall sick, we fail to access Medicare due to high charges demanded by doctors in Africa. When ever an African leader falls sick s/he is rushed to Europe, Asia or to the USA.Were do they get the money to fly to such faraway countries, one may be forgiven for asking? Isn’t this taxpayers’ money. It is also worth quoting Steve Biko here, it is the poor people who have no hospitals and are therefore exposed to exorbitant charges by private doctors. It is the poor people who used untarred roads, have to walk long distances and therefore experience the greatest wear and tear on commodities like shoes. But it is the leaders who betray us. Each African country celebrated its day of independence with unbounded euphoria. Freedom at last! But not for long. That fresh breath of freedom from colonial rule was to prove ephemeral. ‘One man, one vote’ came to Africa only one time. (Ayittey, 1993: 100).

Cheetah Generation versus the Hippo Generation: Which Way Africa?

George Ayittey offers quite an interesting metaphor of cheetah generation on the one hand versus the hippo generation on the extreme end. What we need in Africa is the cheetah generation to borrow from his analogy. Cheetah generation is the young emerging African leaders

Who brook no nonsense about corruption, inefficiency, ineptitude, incompetence, or buffoonery? They understand and stress transparency, accountability, human rights, and good governance. They also know that many of their current leaders are hopelessly corrupt and that their governments are contumaciously dysfunctional and commit flagitious human rights violations. The Cheetahs do not look for excuses for government failure by wailing over the legacies of the slave trade, Western colonialism, imperialism, the World Bank or an unjust international economic system. (Ayittey)

These are the young leaders who aspire to take Africa to the proverbial Promised Land. The Hippo generation is the extreme opposite these are

Intellectually astigmatic and stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. They can see with eagle-eyed clarity the injustices perpetrated by whites against blacks, but they are hopelessly blind to the more heinous injustices they perpetrate against their own black people. They care less if the whole country collapses around them, but are content as long as their pond is secure. And they would ferociously defend their territory since that is what provides them with their wealth. (Ayittey)

In the unfolding crises in Africa, many people are asking that is this what we fought for? African masses across the African political plateau are questioning the hardly won Independence, some are beginning to agree with Ngugi wa Thiong that African independence is independence with a Question mark. Many Africans including myself also still believe that what we earned was a mere flag and anthem independence. We have been betrayed and we continue to be betrayed during election time. Ayittey argues at length that Africa is suffering from a catastrophic leadership failure or monumental deficit of leadership.

The Africa they Report About

The Africa they Report About

*For far too long, a majority of Africans have been indifferent to misrepresentations about who they are. They have remained objects of the ill-informed caricatures of a once glorious heritage disfigured by colonial and post-colonial predators* Chido Nwangwu

*Africa is a place where the outsider is forever welcome. In the hardest of times and in the most desolate of places, I have been greeted with a warm hand and an open heart* Alagiah

The above two quotations show the competing narrative on both the positive and negative portrayal of Africa by outsiders. As Africa is being portrayed in bad light we are forced to reconsider Tonnie’s famous thesis that the struggle to define and influence public opinion is a distinctive feature of modern societies. From the onset I should make it explicitly clear that I am not writing this article from a Pan-Africanist perspective. What I am attempting to do is to put the debate on/about Africa in a proper perspective. Many at times Africa is in the media for the wrong reasons. The international media seem to be pre-occupied with reporting the negative Africa. Does this mean there is nothing positive and worth emulating in Africa? The answer is an outright No.

The international media seem to forget that Africa is engine that drives their industrialized economies. Africa is home to vast amounts of raw materials that China, USA and other developed countries badly need. Regrettably, many at times we still hear the derogatory term that Africa is a ‘dark continent’. One may ask how dark is it? What makes it dark, is it the pigment (colour and skin) of its inhabitants that make it a dark continent? Some have even gone into an ignorance overdrive of asking whether Africa is one country. Whilst some say Africans are all the same as they look alike.

Of course in Africa, we have had our own fair share of challenges just like in any other continent. We had some seasons of ethnic violence, genocide, wars, military rule, coups, civil strife, then came the era of one partyism (one party state). However, we are still facing the challenge of long incumbents who cling to power at all costs. Omar Bongo from Gabon who has been in power since 1967,so is Obiang Nguema Mbasongo –Equatorial Guinea who has been in power since 1979.Paul Biya Cameroon who has been in power since 1982 the list is endless. But that does not mean that all is bad in African politics. The recent 2012 presidential elections in Ghana can testify to the fact that we as Africans we are also capable of holding free and fair periodic and democratic elections. This runs contrary to the negative portrayal of Africa as a place were elections are always violent, bloody and rigged.

However, we should also not run away from the very fact that most African elections are characterized by violence, frog marching, rigging and other electoral irregularities. But that does not mean that all elections in Africa are a farce.Baffour Ankomah a pan-Africanist and writer in 2008 writing in New Africa Magazine wrote that

Language is perhaps the most crucial battleground. Noble words such as ‘democracy’, ‘liberation’, ‘freedom’ and ‘reform’ have been emptied of their meaning and refilled by the enemies of those concepts. How many people know that, in revenge for 3 000 innocent lives taken on 11 September 2001, up to 20 000 innocent people died in Afghanistan.

The above quotation clearly shows how the international media (western media) in particular massage facts and events. This hypocrisy also shows how Africa has been on the receiving end of such bad publicity. Whilst in actual fact she is not the only continent suffering from instability. To this end, it is the task of us Africans to teach the world about our people, culture, history and politics. Countries such as Zimbabwe has gone to an extend of re-branding Zimbabwe under the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign. Such efforts help in showing the positive and good side of Africa.

For years there seem to be a long held perception of Africans as victims and not victors. It is worth quoting Alagiah at length here

For most people who get their view of the world from T.V, Africa is a faraway place where good people go hungry, bad people run government, and chaos and anarchy are the norm.

To put it differently in Biekart’s (1999) words many citizens from the North seem to be convinced by the images of children in the South (either crying or laughing) central to private aid advertising and televised charity campaigns that the crisis is still out there and not yet resolved. The question in the offing is for how long will Africa continue to be portrayed in a more negative way? Is there nothing positive to portray about Africa, one may wonder. It is high time Africa rise as one giant. It is time for her people to re-brand and portray Africa as progressive continent just like any other continent be it Latin America, Asia, South America, North America etc. Thabo Mbeki also asks tough questions on who will define Africa. Let me end by quoting my favorite author who reminds us that,

We are the Miracles that God made, to taste the bitter fruit of time, we are precious and one day our suffering will turn into the wonders of the earth…Ben Okri