Do current political trends and patterns paint Africa as a wise investment?

   

Democratic trends in Africa

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the West embarked on an aggressive push for the democratization of the African continent. This involved the observance of human rights, multiparty elections and greater transparency.  Despite these attempts, inflexible African elites continue to dominate the modern political landscape. It is these heads of state who determine the political climate that shapes policies which impact economic activity and opportunity.

In Senegal for example, 85 year old President Abdoulaye Wade has been in power for 11 years and announced is running for a controversial third term. Not only does this violate term limits, but he has also proposed two controversial electoral reforms to ensure his victory and in a sheer act of nepotism appointed his son who had no prior political experience to several high level ministerial positions from energy to infrastructure.[1]

Cameroon’s recent elections on October 9, 2011 witnessed 78 year old President Paul Biya beat out 22 other candidates[2] to extend his 29 year rule. Biya’s control over the electoral commission mired the election in fraud, intentional delays and organizational shortfalls. There was evidence of voters casting more than one vote while others were not able to cast any vote at all.[3] 

Equatorial Guinea’s 2009 elections brought forth no surprises as 69 year Teodoro Obiang nicknamed El Jefe (the boss)[4] has been in office for last 32 years. His party the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) dominates and runs the country as a single party state. Elections held while the PDGE has been in power are considered to be the most ethnocentric, corrupt and undemocratic by International electoral observers.[5] 

Despite the perceived dysfunctional political culture that has plagued modern Africa; the winds of change are blowing.  All across Africa, citizens especially the youth are seeking greater demand in the steering of the country.[6] Secondly there is a resurgence of western educated expatriates returning home to Africa with a desire to develop the economic base in the form of entrepreneurialism. [7] Thirdly changes in hiring practices by multinational NGOs are allowing a greater number of Africans to have more access to employment and higher positions. Jobs that were once reserved for educated Westerners are now going to locally educated Africans who can perform the job at a lower cost.[8] These patterns that are taking place in Africa are having a resounding impact on its consumer base and are increasing the ranks of a highly skilled labor force among the local population. The incorporation of western ideals with local culture marks a shift in attitude that challenges the notion of the old guard and its refusal to make room for the next generation. All of this is giving way to a more viable and stable political and economic environment.

 

Political and Economic trends of the African diaspora

The economic and political power of the diaspora upon the African continent cannot be taken for granted. Diaspora aid in the form of remittances has surpassed international aid on the continent.[9] According to the World Bank remittances in 2007 were estimated at US$30 million and have doubled since.[10] Remittances to Uganda in 2006 were $845 million or 9.3 percent of the GDP and have increased to about $2 billion between 2006 and 2010,[11] while remittances to Kenya were roughly $525 million, 2.2 percent of their GDP.[12]  In 2010, Nigeria’s diaspora remittances totaled $12 billion[13] and rising despite the global economic downturn. These remittances are raising the standards of living as a form of supplemental income that enables family members to pay for school fees, hospital bills and to finance small enterprises along with other goods and services.

Aid from Africans abroad is expanding beyond remittances into long term economic development for their respective countries. For example  on October 2011, the Kenyan Embassy in Washington DC organized an event of over 500 participants to present the vision for a 2030 initiative[14] designed to harness the economic and political power of those in the diaspora to play a greater role in decision making and public policy in Kenya.

In July 2011 the director-general of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) unveiled the Nigerian Trust Fund which will allow Nigerian-Americans to invest in the Nigerian Stock Market.[15]  He also advised the association to develop a small board of political advisors to lobby on behalf of Nigeria. This trend goes beyond the “brain drain reversal” of African professionals returning from the West to live and work on the continent. Africans abroad are seeking more creative and impactful ways toward developing economic opportunities and political stability.

Africa 2020 Vision 

Africa 2.0 is an advocacy group made up of 250 young emerging leaders from all across Africa and the diaspora. Its aim is to achieve an inspiring and prosperous Africa within the next 20 years.[16] Businessmen, social entrepreneurs and opinion leaders from nearly 40 African countries, six of which are within the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, has marked 2020 as a key milestone toward the culmination of this Africa agenda. The agenda addresses key issues such as infrastructure, poverty gap, technology and governance.                                                                          

Underserved population

It is estimated that Africa’s population will reach two billion over the next 40 years. Currently, of the top ten fastest growing populations; six are African countries which include Uganda, Ethiopia, DRC, Tanzania and Nigeria. Accompanying the rise in population is the marked growth of the continent’s GDP.[17]  Interestingly over the last decade growth rates between Asia and Africa have been parallel and current IMF projections show that Africa will take the lead by approximately 2015.[18]

Following the lead of telecommunication giants Orange and MTN,[19] western retail chains like Wal-Mart[20] are aiming to duplicate similar success with sights on Africa’s growing middle class and their demand for branded goods and other consumer services. The GDP growth of Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria and Morocco makes them attractive targets.

The link between employment and domestic security as it pertains to population growth within emerging economies is of keen interest for both foreign investors and political elites. Creating economic opportunities that will absorb surplus youth population are a priority as no state wants the threat of civil unrest by idling youth or worse ex-child soldiers with scarce employment opportunities. This is a significant issue for African political elites to address as continued socio-economic stability is dependent on it.

China-African labor relations

For all the enthusiasm expressed by African elites over China’s spending spree across the continent, there is a growing pattern of violent confrontations between Chinese owned businesses and African employees that is having an adverse effect on the investment climate. The weak enforcement of labor laws within African states has contributed to the lax observance by Chinese companies. The problem has become too large to ignore, as African elites are being forced to address citizen’s concerns for labor and environmental conditions while still maintaining a healthy economic relationship with China. The failure to resolve this issue adequately will result in politicized labor strikes which directly impacts foreign investment, global markets and threaten Africa-China relations.

During Zambia’s elections newly elected Michael Sata ran on a populist platform heading up the controversial labor issue pertaining to pay and hazardous working conditions particularly within the mining sector. On October 15, 2011 Chinese managers from the Collum Coal Mine (CCM)shot and wounded 11 workers who were among a group who brought their grievances concerning unsafe conditions to the mine’s managers (it is unclear what happened between the time workers presented their concerns to management and the shooting). CCM has a long history of unsafe work conditions. For example, in 2009 steam from the mine polluted villages and caused a cholera outbreak. In 2008 the same mine recorded three accidents in one week during which workers received no compensation and accidents continued throughout 2009 and 2010.[21]

In 2010 between 100 and 115 Chinese owned garment factories experienced work stoppages in Newcastle and the Kwazulu Natal province in South Africa. The work stoppages were caused by employees who went on strike and campaigned for minimum wage and safer work conditions.[22] Ghana experienced a similar situation where poor labor practices brought a halt to the construction of a major road in the Volta region. The cause of the work stoppage was due to the non-compliance of labor laws by China’s Jiang International Construction Company over the banning of employees from joining a union and failing to pay compensation after serious injuries occurred. [23] Violent protests by workers against Chinese managers have been reported from Algeria to the DRC.

Although labor relations has been tense between China and African states, both  are currently developing initiatives to bring Chinese owned companies into compliance with local labor laws. These initiatives will address environmental and wage concerns. Resolving these issues is mutually beneficial for both stakeholders as Africa continues to seek to develop its infrastructure and China seeks to meet the demands of its growing economy.

Summary

The path laid before Africa is a series of convergences that include multinationals and emerging economies seeking new investment opportunities and resource acquisition. The progressive and active engagement of the diaspora coupled with the repatriation of highly skilled and professional Africans to the continent. A burgeoning middle class placing greater demands on material consumption thereby affecting supply and demand and the inevitable decaying of geriatric leaders whose rule cannot last ad infinitum thus making way for new and effective administration. It is these patterns and trends that are challenging long held beliefs and perceptions of Africa as being the bastion for disease, poverty, corruption and ethnic conflict and in turn making investing in Africa smart, savvy and lucrative.

References

[1] Royal African Society, S Mbaye, 2012. Senegal’s day of reckoning: it’s the economy stupid! [online] Available at <http://africanarguments.org/2012/02/08/senegal%E2%80%99s-day-of-reckoning-it%E2%80%99s-the-economy-stupid-by-sanou-mbaye/> [Accessed 2nd February 2012]

[2] BBC News, October 2011. Q&A: Cameroon presidential elections. [online] Available  at: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15219543>   [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[3] Cameroon Center for Democracy and Human Rights, 2011. Cameroon not ready for transparent for transparent democratic presidential election on October 9, 2011 [online] Available at <http://www.ccdhr.org/press-releases/2011/09-26-CameroonNotReadyforTransparentPresidentialElection.htm&gt;  [Accessed 2nd February 2012].

[4] New Internationalist, 2006. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo [online] Available at <http://www.newint.org/columns/worldbeaters/2006/09/01/obiang/&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[5] 100reporters, 2012. Obiangs American Enablers [online] https://100r.org/2011/12/obiangs-american-enablers/ [Accessed 6th February 2012].

[6] ACSS Special Report, 2011. Africa and the Arab Spring: A New Era of Democratic Expectations [online] <http://africacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/ACSS-Special-Report-1.pdf&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[8] Eprints. Are expatriate staff necessary in international development NGOs? A case study of an international NGO in Uganda [online] <http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/29092/1/int-work-paper4.pdf&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[9] IFAD. Sending Money Home to Africa: Remittance markets, enabling environment and prospects [online] <http://www.ifad.org/remittances/pub/money_africa.pdf>%5BAccessed 5th February 2012].

[10] Diplomat East Africa. Leveraging Diaspora Remittances for Development [online] <http://www.diplomateastafrica.com/component/content/article/106-leveraging> [Accessed 4th February 2012]

[11] FutureChallenges, 2011. “Cash Back:” Remittances from the African Diaspora [online] <http://futurechallenges.org/local/cash-back-remittances-from-the-african-diaspora/&gt; [Accessed 6th February 2012].

[12] Center For Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, 2010. Housing Finance in Africa: A review of some of Africa’s housing finance markets [online] <http://www.housingfinance.org/uploads/Publicationsmanager/AFRICA%20HF%20YEARBOOK%202010.pdf&gt; [Accessed 4th February 2012].

[14] Kenya Diaspora Conference – USA 2011. Theme identifying opportunities for the diaspora under vision 2030 [online] <http://kenyaembassy.com/pdfs/conferencepacket.pdf.&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[15] Leadership, 2011. Former US envoy calls for Nigerian Diaspora Investment Fund [online] < http://www.leadership.ng/nga/articles/1328/2011/07/01/former_us_envoy_calls_nigerian_diaspora_investment_fund.html&gt; {Accessed 6th February 2012].

[16] CP-Africa, 2011. Africa’s emerging leaders launch 2020 growth vision- CNN [online] <http://www.cp-africa.com/2011/10/13/africas-emerging-leaders-launch-2020-growth-vision-cnn/&gt; [Accessed 4th February 2012].

[17] AFDB, 2011. The Middle of the Pyramid:Dynamics of the Middle Class in Africa [online] <http://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Publications/The%20Middle%20of%20the%20Pyramid_The%20Middle%20of%20the%20Pyramid.pdf&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[18] The Economist, 2011. Africa’s Impressive Growth [online] <http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/01/daily_chart&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[19] African Brains, 2011. Israeli telecom firm enters Africa market. [online] Available at: <http://www.africanbrains.net/2011/01/06/israeli-telecom-firm-enters-africa-market/> [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[20]The Guardian, 2011. Walmart gets first foothold in Africa. [online] Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/may/31/walmart-to-buy-massmart&gt; [Accessed 7th February 2012].

[21] MAC: Mines and Communities, 2010. Zambia: Chinese managers arrested for shooting protesting mineworkers [online] Available at: <http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=10463&gt; [Accessed 7th February 2012].

[22] Human Rights Watch, 2011. “You’ll Be Fired if You Refuse” Labor Abuses in Zambia’s Chinese State-owned Copper Mines [online] Available at: <http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/zambia1111ForWebUpload.pdf&gt; [Accessed 8th February 2012].

[23] China Africa News, 2011. Blog: Discontent spreads after Sata Victory [online] Available at: <http://www.chinaafricanews.com/index.cfm?fa=contentGeneric.ovyutlplrkflmoex&pageId=4701534&gt; [Accessed 8th February 2012].


Is the reluctance to concede power by African leaders a main cause of instability throughout the region? Senegal riots: A case study

                                                                                                                      

 Le Monument de la Renaissance africaine

Le Monument de la Renaissance africaine

Pharaoh Complex

In ancient Egypt Pharaohs were the political and spiritual leaders who ruled until natural death or assassination. Their reign was hereditary and considered dynasties. By and large this brand of autocratic rule has been found throughout the African continent since antiquity and has become synonymous with modern African politics. Within the last several months local populations and the international community has posed challenges to these political dynasties. In Egypt for example, former President of 24 years Hosoni Mubarak was ousted from power through civil unrest and is now being tried in court for corruption and human rights violations. After losing the presidential elections and refusing to concede power the French military intervened and bombed former President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo out of power after 11 years[1]  The 42 year reign of Libyan strong man Mummar el-Qaddafi came to a bloody end by the hands of NATO backed Libyan rebels. Collectively all three former African heads of state have been in power for a total of 77 years, which would be the equivalent to approximately 19 consecutive U.S. presidential terms. This illustrates African leaders disregard for democratic order and their unwillingness to relinquish power in the face of popular dissent, caused by eroding social and economic conditions. This is evident in the recent Senegal riots.

11 is not enough

Bitten by the “pharaoh complex,” President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal breached electoral term limits by announcing his candidacy for a third term  prior to a ruling being made by the Constitutional Council  to decide whether he can legally run. He attempted to extend his 11 year reign and political shelf life by proposing electoral reforms that would reduce the number of votes needed to secure another term.  Secondly, he moved to abolish the senate vote needed to determine presidential succession in the event that the incumbent is unable to complete his term. Lastly in 2010 he appointed his son Karim Wade, who has no prior political experience, to various ministerial positions which included Minister of State, Minister of International Cooperation, Regional Development, Air Transport, Infrastructure and Energy[2] which accounts for 46% of the state’s budget.  These measures were designed to secure his son and running mate succession to the presidency thereby ensuring Wades political dynasty continues into the future.                                                                                

Heightened police presence at Sandaga Market, Dakar

Heightened police presence at Sandaga Market, Dakar

                                            

Systemic problems under Wade’s administration

The relentless rolling blackouts and Wades proposed electoral reforms were the tipping points that unleashed a wave of civil unrest in Dakar and throughout the region. Riots, street protest and the vandalizing of government ministries and power company offices highlighted deep cracks within Senegalese society which is often seen as a beacon of democratic stability in West Africa.

Firstly the bold attempt by Abdoulaye Wade’s Democratic Socialist Party (PDS) to introduce these kinds of reforms is evidence the regime overplayed its hand in thinking Senegal would just accept it with little to no fanfare because of a fragmented opposition and control over two-thirds of the parliament.[3] Secondly, the disillusionment with Wade’s administration particularly by the youth (citizens under 25 represent 68% of the population) who were his strongest supporters during the 2000 and 2007 elections is a clear indication of Wades weakening power and influence over his constituency. Thirdly of Senegal’s 12.9 million citizens, 55% live below the poverty line surviving on less than $1.25 a day.[4]  The rate of productivity is low and unemployment and underemployment rates are high. Senegal’s annual population growth is approximately 3% with some 100,000 young individuals entering the labor market each year with scarce employment opportunities available to them. In addition there is a lack of access to basic education and illiteracy is widespread, especially among women and girls.[5] Lastly the rising cost of living and food staples like bread and rice in Senegal and across the continent [6] has contributed to both hunger and malnutrition. Considering all of the above it is not surprising Senegal ranks 144 out of 169 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index[7] and civil unrest has occurred.

Challenges to the regime and looking ahead

Given the current climate of mass protest, electricity and gas shortages, rising cost of basic needs and pressure from the international community regarding its fiscal irresponsibility and misuse of aid,[8] Wade’s chances for re-election is in question but anything can happen between now and February . As it stands the opposition is still divided and fragmented along party lines. The inability to consolidate a coalition and the cunningness of Wade’s ability to subdue opposition is also a factor on the outcome of the upcoming elections.

Despite this, Wade’s former protégé and current Mayor of Thies, Idrissa Secka is being touted by the media as a contender for the presidency. Secka and Wade’s relationship soured when in 2004 Wade publically accused Secka of embezzlement of state funds which ultimately led to him serving a 7 month prison sentence. The current political climate moving toward support for Secka[9] is indicative of a growing trend of discontent for this nepotistic and maladaministrative style of governance. It also reflects a heightened demand for the people to begin having greater say in how the country is governed and the desire to hold their political leaders to a higher standard of accountability.

The riots that spread throughout Senegal in June were symbolic of the growing intolerance throughout the continent for neglectful and corrupt leadership. The emergence of organizations like Y’en a Marre (fed up), has placed sustained pressure on governments to become more accountable to its citizens.  With the inner political circles in Dakar faced with these challenges and conscious of the growing changes across Africa, it’s likely they will do what they can to avert further acts of civil disobedience that would set the stage for full scale unrest, akin to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. Senegal’s tradition for peaceful democratic transitions is crucial toward the further stabilization within the West Africa region and Africa as a whole.

References


[1] Monica Mark / Abidjan. (2011). Ivory Coast Epilogue: The Fate of the Gbagbos. Available: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2089794,00.html.  Last accessed 28th Oct 2011.

[2] Hassan.P. (2009). FORMATION DU GOUVERNEMENT : La composition intégrale de l’équipe de Souleymane Ndéné NDIAYE. Available: http://www.seneweb.com/news/Politique/formation-du-gouvernement-la-composition-int-grale-de-l-quipe-de-souleymane-nd-n-ndiaye_n_22588.html. Last accessed 3rd Nov 2011.

[3] Ibrahim, J. (2011). DEEPENING DEMOCRACY: Battle of Dakar . Available: http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/News/National/Politicz/5721325-147/story.csp.  Last accessed 3rd Nov 2011.

[4] Africaw Group.. (2011). Major problems facing Senegal today. Available: http://www.africaw.com/major-problems-facing-senegal-today. Last accessed 7th Nov 2011.

[5] Canadian International Development Agency. (2010). Senegal . Available: http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/ACDI-CIDA.nsf/Eng/JUD-217123240-NKY#a4.  Last accessed 7th Nov 2011.

[6] The World Bank Group. (2008). Rising Food Prices Spell Hunger for Millions Across Africa . Available: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/AFRICAEXT/0,,contentMDK:21727859~menuPK:258657~pagePK:2865106~piPK:2865128~theSitePK:258644,00.html.  Last accessed 7th Nov 2011.

[7] United Nations Development Programme. (2010). Senegal Country Profile: Human Development Indicators. Available: http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/SEN.html.  Last accessed 8th Nov 2011.

[8] Delevingne, L. (2010). The Joy Of Doing Business In Africa: How Senegalese Politicians Tried To Shake Down Millicom For $200 Million. Available: http://www.businessinsider.com/business-in-africa-how-corrupt-senegalese-politicians-tried-to-shake-down-millicom-for-200-million-2010-2.  Last accessed 8th Nov 2011.

[9] Fall, A. (2011). PRESIDENTIELLE 2012 Wade-Idy-Karim, la guerre du «plan B». Available: http://www.seneweb.com/news/Politique/presidentielle-2012-wade-idy-karim-la-guerre-du-laquo-plan-b-raquo_n_49729.html.  Last accessed 8th Nov 2011.

The United States of Africa: Viable or Necessary?

The vision

If Pan-Africanism were a company that was about to go public would you invest? If you were a seasoned investor you would properly research the background of the company and its performance history and gather enough information to determine its trajectory for future earnings. What would the research tell us about the track record of the Pan-African movement and primarily the impending fruit it will bear? Pan-Africanism is “the belief that African people share common cultural and racial bonds as well as objectives. Therefore, there was a need to unite to achieve these objectives” [1] which in its infancy between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, produced discourses which led to action toward addressing the crucial issues of the day such as the eradication of the vestiges of slavery, dismantling of colonialism and the promotion of independence. Since then African elites have sought to embark on fostering political and economic integration through the establishment of regional organizations like Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), East Africa Economic Community (EAEC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).  In 1963 The Organization of African Unity (In 2002 OAU became the Africa Union) was established to carry forth the colossal task of developing a continental government system where power is centralized for 54 sovereign states, soon to be 55 after the process of succession of southern Sudan is complete accompanied by a bewildering array of heterogeneous ethnic, cultural, and religious groups where over 2,000 languages are spoken.

Window of opportunity

Once again Africa finds itself en vogue. Foreign countries are seeking to establish new economic and diplomatic ties or re-establish them across the continent. The flurry of economic activity is marked by China’s growing economy and need for raw materials and food security. China has been criticised by the West for providing aide and loans without conditions attached, such as adherence to human rights, governance transparency etc.  This criticism maybe seen as the saying goes, “throwing stones while living in a glasshouse.” During the Cold War when the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for material and Ideological interest, U.S. aid was given to President of Zaire Mobutu Sesse Seko despite his poor human rights record under what could be considered the premise of “mutual interest.”[2] African elites were never passive players during the Cold War subjected to the demands of either camp and nor are they now during this new phase of material interest by foreign countries. They understood the interest of all stakeholders and knew how to tip the scales in their favor. Africa has what China wants which is oil, arable land and other resources while China has the ability to enhance Africa’s crumbling infrastructure such as building roads, rehabilitating railways and building schools. Moreover, Africa can take stock in China’s meteoric economic rise, which can in many ways be credited to its commitment to its cultural values regarding labour. “The Chinese don’t boast about their exploits or the ability to produce goods faster than other countries spend talking about it. Their speed at getting a product to the market is the envy of the so-called free world. The Chinese do not celebrate spectacular successes. It’s part of their life and their survival as a big player on the world stage.”[3] I am not suggesting Africa adopt labor traditions like China, because Africa is not China and it has its own from which it can pull from to rightfully develop its economy. The recent formation of the African Union Authority that will replace the existing AU Commission whose aim is to eventually bring into fruition the United States of Africa speaks to the incessant demand to reframe existing political and economic structures for new ones that will be able to meet the needs and challenges of those on the continent and to strengthen its bargaining power within the international system.

Intrastate challenges

Embarking on an endeavour where all power is centralized will mean that African elites will have to concede varying degrees of power. This will not be an easy task where the modern political culture often dictates that once elected through the ballot or seize through a coup it’s for life.  Once in power state coffers are treated like personal bank accounts and retirement funds plundered at their leisure. General Sani Abacha, was the President of Nigeria between 1993-1998. In that time it is estimated he, his family and close associates, managed to steal between $3 billion and $5 billion from the Nigerian people.[4] Current dictator of Equatorial Guinea Tedoro Obiang Nguema has amassed a fortune through same means. According to the SEC, in 2004 a total of $700 million was transferred to the benefit of Obiang and his relatives, from oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp., Amerada Hess Corp., ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp.[5] In addition to stealing public funds President Obiang has an abysmal human rights record where the poor lack access to basic health services and critics and activist are vulnerable to intimidation, harassment, and reprisals.[6] Despite his track record President Obiang was elected chairman of the A.U., which devalues the credibility and serious attempt of developing a unified African system in the eyes of the international community and more importantly in the eyes of Africans themselves.

Secondly, since decolonization, African states have been plagued by deep-rooted ethnic conflict over access to resources and political power. The inherited borders and political and economic frameworks from the former colonial powers produced weak, insecure states at the time of independence. The failure to develop and secure cohesion amongst citizens under a national identity during colonialism has served as the foundation for ethnic conflict in post-colonial Africa. For example, under the British policy of divide and rule in Uganda the colonial administration purposefully provided the southern Bantu speaking people with economic and education advantages. Meanwhile in the north the Acholi and Langi ethnic groups were recruited for military and police positions, thereby ascribing particular talents and proclivities thus wedding ethnic groups to socio-political and economic status.[7] This laid the groundwork for conflict and civil unrest, which continues till this day. We find a similar construction in Rwanda where the Belgian entrenched the idea of the Hutu’s as labourers and the Tutsi’s as extenders of Belgian rule. The politicization of these two groups would greatly contribute to the Rwandan genocide of 1994. African elites have also played a huge role in the continuation of ethnic tensions. Their exercise of patron client relationships based on ethnic identity made resources scarce for others, as well as their contempt and ability to incite fear in other ethnic groups who appear to challenge their power base. So the question is, if the current political structures inherited by African states from their ex colonialist European rulers are not equipped to effectively manage their diverse ethnic societies and meet the socio-economic needs then what can African elites expect if they continue adopting foreign frameworks to govern themselves? Will the proposed United States of Africa mirror the United States of America, European Union or some other structure that is not tailored to the ethnic reality on the ground?

Summary

It may be a blessing that the chairman’s seat of the African Union is only a one year term, given the current despotic incumbent President Obiang. In a progressive move the AU created the African Union Authority for the purposes of moving forward on plans for the socio-economic integration of the continent despite the absence of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who breathed life back into it back in 2007. The African continent is endowed with an abundance of natural resources which includes oil and natural gas states like Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique and Sudan. However,  instead of the people benefiting from them as source of real development, are victims of malevolent public management on the part of local authorities and exploitation on the part of foreign powers.  This systemic condition is what contributes to African states as being weak. I think for the African continent to benefit from tenets of  Pan-Africanism carried forth by the AU in its quest to socio-economically integrate the continent,  must curb behavior that continuously reduces its mission to lofty speeches that produce empty promises by leaders whose track records have proven to be the antithesis of its values.

References


[1] Ayittey, George B.N. The United States of Africa: A Revisit The Annuls of the American Academy of Political and Social Science pg 86 (632) November 2010

[2] Omozuanvbo Ihonvbere, Julius and Mukum Mbaku, John, ed. Political Liberalization and Democratizaton in Africa: Lessons from country experiences . pg.217 Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2003.

[3] The Connaught Telegraph, 2010. How China became so powerful (Opinion article) [online] (Updated 28 Nov 2010) Available at: <http://www.con-telegraph.ie/opinion/olivers-twist/1753-how-china-became-so-powerful> [Accessed 21 March 2011]

[4] The other side of the coin. The UK and Corruption in Africa. A report by the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group, March 2006. (page 45) [online] Available at: <http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/other_side_of_the_coin_PDF.pdf&gt; [Accessed 21 March 2011]

[5] Afrik.com, 2009. Nguema, un président de 30 ans (Journal article) [online] (Updated 1 Dec 2009) Available at: <http://www.afrik.com/article18130.html%20viewed%2003/21/2010&gt; [Accessed 21 March 2011]

[6] Human Rights Watch, 2010. World Report 2011: Equatorial Guinea (World Report PDF) [online] (2011) Available at: <http://www.hrw.org/en/world-report-2011/equatorial-guinea&gt; [Accessed 21 March 2011]

[7] Kisseke-Ntale, Frederick. Roots of the conflict in Northern Uganda Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, vol. 32 No.4 Winter 2007

Islamic Civil Unrest Part Deux: The Senegal Option?

Amidst the upheaval across North Africa and the Middle East, the West tries to proceed with caution. Waiting as the political dust settles with the desire to be on the right side of history. Not only for ethical reasons but for the sake of continued access to resources in oil rich Libya but also for Egypt’s stabilizing force in a volatile Middle East as well as Yemen’s help to stem the tide of terrorism. The infectious wave of social unrest in North Africa has elites in sub-Saharan Africa asking the question “are we next”? Uncertainty looms as to what will happen when old regimes fade away and new ones emerge. Will concessions be granted to mask the maintenance of the status quo? Or will these new emerging regimes adopt reforms dedicated to deep seeded change?

This is not the first time the Muslim world has experienced a domino effect of civil unrest tied to socio-economic and ideological struggle. Unfortunately, many Muslim countries managed the conflicts by neutralizing the opposition through the use of force. In 1979 the Iranian revolution opened the floodgates for Islamic revivalism throughout the region. “In 1980 with the ordered execution of the Iraqi Shiite revivalist leader, Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr, Saddam Hussein proceeded to ruthlessly suppress all religious opposition to his rule during the course of his decade long rule. Similarly, in 1982 President of Syria Hafez al-Assad deployed 12,000 troops in the city of Hama to suppress an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Thousands were killed in the process. Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia, and a host of other Muslim countries have also resorted to brute force to contain revivalism.” (1)

While these new upheavals are more about social and economic disparities rather than religion there seems to exist a shared notion within the West and echoed by some in the Muslim world that Islam is not compatible with modernity or a secular government. This perception is often reinforced due to the lack of understanding of the history and diversity that exists in Islam. Images recycled in the media of stateless sword wielding Muslims, highly publicized executions of hostages by Islamic extremists, Osama Bin Laden releasing his latest video tape as well as failed states such as Somalia or the strict code of Wahhabism which is widely practiced in Saudi Arabia, suffocates any consideration that Islam and democracy can coexist.

However, despite the heterogeneous composition of the Muslim world, Senegal has built up an institutional memory for managing and allowing a public space whereby both political Islam and a democratic government can coexist without one trying to neutralize the other. This relationship has produced a vibrant civil society, which has been able to vocalize dissent without fear of retribution. The socio-economic crisis of the late 1980’s and 1990’s also served as fertile ground for revivalism in Senegal. Inspired by the events in Iran, students and reformist challenged the Sufi brotherhoods, the state and the patron-client relationship that existed between them. With the dissident agitation reaching fever pitch and civil unrest unfurling, President Abdou Diouf’s regime decided to suppress the opposition by initiating a state of emergency and incarcerating the oppositional political leaders. These measures simply did more to fan the flames. Ultimately, President Diouf’s regime managed to avert further escalation of the conflict by entering into “A series of roundtable talks with opposition leaders, and though these negotiations were plagued with difficulties and disputes, they showed Diouf’s willingness to compromise. The revised electoral code that served for the 1993 elections was one of the outcomes of such negotiations, and though the new code provoked some problems it also symbolized progress toward democratization.” (2)

By providing the opposition a voice President Diouf successfully dulled the extremist edge, which eventually saw the absorption of some of the leaders into the Diouf’s government. Most notably was the current President of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade. Senegal offers credence to the fact that Islam is not innately resistant to democratic order. This perhaps can be used by other Muslim countries as a framework to operate from for resolving conflict, or at a minimum for loosening the grip on the political sphere which can lead to real engagement with opposition and yield favourable results. For the moment as onlookers we can only hope that while the seeds of change blow across North Africa and the Middle East it will bear fruit for all and not just a few.

References

[1] Nasr, S.V.R. (1985). Democracy and Islamic Revivalism. Political Science Quarterly, 110 (2), 261-85

[2] Thurston, Alexander. (2009). Why is Militant Islam a Weak Phenomenon in Senegal?Africa Today, Vol. 46, No 3/4  pg. 7

Nigerian Elections: Business as usual or breaking the norm?

This year Nigerians will go to the polls and elect its fourth president since 1999 when the country transitioned from a military to civilian government. From a distance the dizzying array of 63 candidates, all competing for the highest political office in the country makes for a colourful display of democratic exuberance. However, despite the numerous candidates and projected record number of voter turnout for this year’s election, Nigeria’s hobbling democracy is still mired in ethnic regional alliances that were by and large manufactured during British colonization. In 1947 the British introduced a new Nigerian Constitution to insure successful management of Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups as well as indirect control for successful extraction of resources.[1] This new constitution brought forth a federal arrangement equipped with semi autonomous regional enclaves based on ethno-religious identity. The outcome resulted in the Ibo (in the east), the Yoruba (in the west) and the Hausa and Fulani (in the north). The various ethnic groups of Nigeria mixed in to the new towns that grew with trade and administration. British bureaucracy demanded the need to identify people to meet official classification. The labelling would underline divisions within Nigerian society. Diverse ethnic groups were encouraged to think of themselves in terms of the main tribal grouping,[2] hence why the absorption of dozens of sub-ethnic groups exist within and assume the Yoruba identity today.

The religious, regional and ethnic tensions that intensified under colonial rule contributed toward Nigeria’s tumultuous political history. Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has had numerous coup d’état’s, multiple constitutional revisions, failed secessionist movements, military governments and four republics. In an attempt to mitigate these fissures in Nigerian society, in 1999 the Peoples Democratic Party put forth an unwritten power sharing agreement, called zoning. Zoning rotates the presidency every two terms or every 8 years between the north and the south.

Despite the best intentions, these changes are cosmetic at best. They are still predicated on colonial political structures. Under colonization Nigeria was based on 3 regions: Eastern, Western and Northern based on ethno-religious persuasion. Since then Nigerian elite have simply partitioned the country even more based on the same markers. Nigeria is now made up of 36 states, which are grouped into 6 geo-political zones.[3] They are as follows: south-west, south-east, south-south, north-central, north-east and north-west. These fragmented regions and geopolitical zones are supposed to provide greater access to power and resources for all Nigerian citizens. Also the increase of autonomy of ethno-religious regions operates against the political and social integration within the country thereby further weakening the state’s ability to manage conflicts as they arise. Political and economic power has been bottlenecked by the dominant ethnic groups, which disenfranchise minorities.

Incumbent Jonathan Goodluck’s decision to run for president is a litmus test for the zoning agreement. Goodluck who is from the south is in violation of this agreement as the next four years is reserved for a northern candidate. Goodluck a member of the minority group Ijaw and from the Niger Delta region would signal two shifts within the Nigerian political system. Firstly it would represent a break from the tripodal politics of the three big ethnic groups.[4]Secondly the south-south is the only geo-political zone to produce a president, which ironically is the oil resource breadbasket of the country.[5]

The results from a recent electoral opinion poll projects a victory for President Jonathan Goodluck with 69 to 60 percent of votes over all other candidates, which also indicated that he could do well in the 19 Northern states.[6] Should these calculations hold true it challenges the prevailing notion of a north south monolith and prompt the questions: are we beginning to witness a gradual shift in voting habits along ethno-regional partisanship to one based on a results oriented candidates? If so will this shake up the political culture that has been responsible for so much deprivation in fostering greater governance accountability and transparency?

References


[1] Africa South of the Sahara 2003 regional surveys of the world 32nd edition pg 773

[2] Identity Transformation and identity politics under structural Adjustments in Nigeria edited by Attahiru Jega

[3] Http://www.thecommonwealth.org/shared_asp_files/uploadedfiles/911B9951-F8D0-41C5-8B26-0E717C6CD34B_Nigeria.pdf

[4] OsunDefender.org, 2011. Is Goodluck Nigeria’s bad luck? [online] (30th March 2011) Available at:http://www.osundefender.org/?p=13449 %5BAccessed 30th March 2011]

[5] allAfrica.com, 2011. Nigeria: 2011 Elections – Why all geo-political zones should support Jonathan[online] (Updated 24th June 2010) Available at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201006250288.html [Accessed 30th March 2011]

[6] allAfrica, 2011. Nigeria – Another survey predicts victory for Jonathan [online] (Updated 29th March 2011) Available at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201103290196.html [Accessed 30th March 2011]

Framing the City: Bringing Indigenous Values to Africa’s Urban Society

 

When one says that a city is alive, this statement is not an overused metaphor. Examining the anatomy of a city reveals a striking similarity to that of the human body and tends to operate in analogous fashion. In cities, buildings represent the skeletal frame of the human body. The streets, highways, and bridges serve as the vascular system. The people who occupy and move throughout the city are the lifeblood. The institutions that delegate what municipal services are to be carried out are the organs. To illustrate this further the sanitation department is comparable to the kidneys whose primary function is to rid the body of waste or the criminal justice system whose purpose is to uphold social control. Deterring and mitigating crime parallels the function of antibodies response to antigens that attempts to disrupt the normal function of the body. The body’s vitality and maximum output is compromised whenever it ceases to operate according to its own natural orientation. This generally occurs when disease is present. Similarly, a compromised city fails to deliver, maintain, and produce basic services and infrastructural requirements for its citizenry when the natural orientation of its citizenry is not honored.

Many African countries resemble Nigeria, whose display of venality and corruption has contributed to its arrested development. Much of the problems in Nigeria stems from the lack of investment in the basic infrastructure that enables a city to function. Both civilian and military have enriched themselves on earnings from the country’s vast oil and gas reserves, leaving the majority of the country’s 140 million residents to struggle in poverty. Lagos is Nigeria’s former capital and currently its most densely populated city and arguably the most economically important state of the country. Lagos has a crumbling infrastructure that is a major problem for all the city’s residents. A poorly developed central grid subjects Lagosians to an unreliable supply of electricity. Those who can afford to, buy their own generators to provide 24-hour power. However, the majorities go without, having their homes and work places plunged into stifling darkness in the middle of the afternoon. In addition to electricity problems, the city does not have potable water. Most of Lagos’s residents must buy water from street sellers or line up and collect it from shared stand-taps. Nine out of 10 Lagosians live in slums, according to the U.N., and less than 1 percent has flushing toilets. Cell phones are the main means of communication, as there are few working landlines. The postal service barely functions. Zip codes and a system for residential delivery has never been developed. An African city like Lagos has become the standard across the continent. Under these circumstances, few actually ‘Live the City’; most simply survive it.

In response to this deprivation Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatune Fashola in conjunction with international institutions like the World Bank has developed initiatives to tackle the systemic challenges. From this union the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a US$200 Million credit toward the Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project. Under this project, the aim was to target infrastructure, water supply and sanitation, rehabilitate neighborhood roads, public finance reform, and the strengthening of overall good governance. Given the current climate of international aid distribution to developing nations, along with the recent fanfare and tidal wave of celebrity style attention toward African affairs, such as Oprah in South Africa, George Clooney in Sudan and Madonna in Malawi it would appear at first glance that the realities of Africans are changing for the better. However, that is up for debate. Historically, aid packages have generally failed to meet the needs and demands of the people and have yet to produce sustainable results. Despotic African elites are typically the deliberate recipients of funding in exchange for ideological and material resources. This has stifled real growth especially during the Cold War as both the United States and Soviet Union lured African elites to their respective camps of either capitalism or communism with virtual blank checks in the form of aid. These funds would then find their way to offshore accounts, general lavish spending, and military hardware to neutralize dissenters with state sanctioned violence. Consequently, this creates an environment of fear and underdevelopment. Typically, when aid is appropriated and construction of infrastructure projects are underway, general labor tends to be accompanied by imported labor, equipment, and specialization. This means less employment and no technical training for native workers, which pose a grave problem when it comes time for maintenance and repairs. As a result, the local economy is not empowered and human capital is not fully utilized. What is left is infrastructure that cannot be maintained and the debt incurred by its implementation.

The origins of modern urban policy for African cities lie in the European points of cultural reference. The colonial planners of African cities largely ignored the indigenous historical, geographical, cultural and social context and precedents before beginning the design process. The primary emphasis was placed on the extraction of natural resources. Re-systematization of African cities was relegated to the physical infrastructure and indigenous political frameworks that would later guarantee the successful execution of this process. It was these transformations that conventionally reoriented Africans themselves and the optimum function of public and private institutions.

Presently Mr. Yacoob Abiodun, an urban planner and former secretary of the Housing Policy Council in Lagos, has pointed out the knowledge gap in specialized planning and policy analysis at both the state and federal levels. He further emphasized the need for specializations like urban design, transportation, housing, community development, and urban renewal/rejuvenation. Additionally he recommended these disciplines be taught in institutions of higher learning for the purposes of producing a trained cadre of specific-purpose planners. Although accurate in his assessment of the gap, the historical relationship between Africa and the West, which has been primarily based on the extraction of resources, must be considered. Despite advancements in modern urban planning, it still follows in the same legacy. To create a national training program based on the same framework is likely to produce more of the same inefficiencies, disorganization, and ineffectiveness that is so commonplace in Africa today.

The first president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere answered the call for new governance frameworks. In 1974, he attempted to resolve the issue of capitalist encroachment, which he saw as an expression of Western imperialism by creating a synthesis between indigenous knowledge and communism. Through Nyerere’s pan-Africanist lens, he maintained a romantic view of pre-colonial Africa where no man served as subjects of labor for the exclusive purposes of another man’s accumulation of wealth. Everyone worked in the interest of the community on a non-hierarchical basis where no one ever went without. For Nyerere this egalitarian perspective inherent within pre-colonial African culture was the common denominator with socialism. The intertwining of the two brought forth African socialism. Inspired by social engineering models utilized by the Soviet Union and China, Nyerere adopted similar schemes. The ujamaa village campaign from 1973 to 1976 was a massive attempt to resettle most of the country’s population into planned villages in an effort to harness the labor of the peasant farmer for maximum agricultural output under the guise of modernization. The execution of this scheme undertook massive resettlement programs under “Operation Dodoma,” “Operation Sogeza,” “Operation Kigoma,” and many others to create “communal villages.”These villages were planned according to grid block patterns, accompanied by streamlined farming techniques.

In spite of Nyerere’s good intentions for Tanzania, empowered by an economic scheme that is solely based on the premise of output without considerations for human capital is destined for failure not development. In a country where the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population resides in the rural sector of an agriculturally based economy it is economic suicide to embark on a rural resettlement scheme without seeking the consultation of the farmers. This is because they are the custodians of vital agricultural knowledge. As a result, the Tanzanian government spent 1.2 billion Shilling on food imports to feed its population, because agricultural production in the new village settlement area was not suitable for sandy soil, relied too heavily on mechanization and the chaos of the move itself and the slow process of adapting to a new ecological setting meant further disruption of production. The Nyerere administration favoring an imported rural design and agricultural techniques over the indigenous one revealed the shallowness of African socialism. The rural planning was a grid design whereby each family lived in linear formations with the rectangular plots behind their living quarters. The village settlements all ran parallel long the roadway. Crops also had to be planted along the same geometric pattern to mirror order. The flaw in this scheme was that the administration emphasized aesthetics over functionality and efficiency. Rural farmers were forced into a regimented living space where the intent within the design was to restrict movement and direct energy towards output. This was diametrically against the peasants existing rural practice, which included shifting cultivation and pastoralism. Both farming techniques involved migratory and cyclical methods that required not living near roadways while movement for space was crucial for successful production. The bureaucratic enclosures also impeded their enclosed natural orientation for social engagement and cultural practice, as assembly and movement outside of the village was highly discouraged by the state and closely monitored. Ultimately, rural planning along Euclidian lines gave way to chaos and disorder as resistance from the peasants invited various acts of coercion by the administration. The imposition of growing crops along a standardized formation was also met with disastrous results as this technique yielded crops well below expectation. Meanwhile, polycropping as traditionally practiced by the rural peasantry proved far more ecologically and economically sound. The exaltation of African socialism by Nyerere himself and other top officials stemmed from a prevailing bias against indigenous cultural practice, presentation and knowledge while favoring stylized frameworks, which proved inconsistent with the natural rhythm of the people.

The inevitability of African urbanization is readily apparent. Africa’s urban populations are exploding, and will continue to do so in the near future. Thus, a final key opportunity presents itself in the growing realization by governments in the region that rapid urbanization is here to stay. Responsive leaders realize that the demands of growing urban populations must be met and new approaches to development, including expansion of public-private partnerships, are both inevitable and desirable.

With this in mind, it is important to observe the fact that urbanization ideas were not grafted on to Africa from modern Europe. Africa has a historical reservoir of urban settlements templates from all regions. For example, lle-lfe is an ancient Yoruba city in southwestern Nigeria. Evidence of urbanization at the site has been discovered to date back to roughly 500 AD. It is located in present day Osun State, with a population of 501,952. By examining the relationships between economic systems, family and political institutions as well as religious beliefs, within pre-colonial African cities, we can unearth the guiding principles for new urban policy frameworks to ultimately create sustainable living environments. The research should particularly investigate key features of urban planning and management from both functional and aesthetical perspectives as it resonates with the overall orientation of the citizenry. As I have illustrated, the degree of deprivation in African cities like Lagos and Tanzania have been brought on by the neglect of indigenous point of reference. The advent of urbanization will not only offer an insightful anatomy of the evolution of cities but it may usher in a paradigm shift whereby penetrating interventions and innovations are developed and aligned to galvanize human capital so that citizens will advance from surviving the city to living it.