Why is Africa in such a mess?
By Harold Acemah
Posted Tuesday, December 14 2010 at 00:00
In October 1993, I bought a little book titled, Tiny Roland: the ugly face of Neo-colonialism in Africa by an EIR Investigative Team. EIR stands for Executive Intelligence Review, based in Washington DC, USA.
The thesis of the book, which at that time I found outrageous, but which I am now more sympathetic to, was that Africa is on its deathbed, its people relentlessly mowed down by starvation and disease. Among the perpetrators of this holocaust are the International Monetary Fund, the former colonial powers, the transnational corporations and commodity cartels such as the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
On this list, one should add African leaders and the elite. Increasingly, I believe we, the elite of Africa, are the primary enemies of ordinary Africans. We, and especially our leaders, have let Africa down, very badly. Current events in Ivory Coast confirm the tragic role African leaders have and continue to play in the destruction of Africa. I fear Uganda is next.
According to EIR, one man above all the rest, bears special personal responsibility for turning the 1960s dreams of independence into a nightmare. His name is Roland Walter "Tiny" Roland, boss of a British Transnational Corporation, LONRHO. LONRHO is acronym for the London Rhodesia Company. For decades this shrewd fellow was the most powerful Western businessman in Africa. He had access to all African Heads of State and government as well as African freedom fighters, guerrillas and even bandits.
He would do business with African leaders, while funding guerrillas fighting the very leaders he was wining and dining with. He was a practitioner of the dictum: Never put all your eggs in one basket.
The introduction to the EIR book on Tiny Roland is prophetic. It begins with a short three-word sentence: "Africa is dying". It denounces Tiny Roland and asserts that "the list of African leaders and guerrilla leaders with whom Tiny Roland has had intimate financial dealings reads so much like a Who is Who of modern African history. It includes past and present leaders of Uganda and Kenya. Like all devious types, Tiny Roland had a tragic end and is no more.
Aside from the treacherous behaviour of African leaders, Sub-Saharan Africa is simply poorly led, by mediocres, conmen, frauds and drop-outs. Since the advent of independence in the 1960s, Africa has had far too many tyrants and gangsters as leaders, far too few statesmen, let alone merely competent office holders at political and bureaucratic level. Too often African leaders reject sound policy advice and refuse to take the long or broad view of their job.
For example, how can anybody justify and rationalise the sale of Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB), Apollo Hotel, Uganda Hotels and Uganda Electricity Board, to mention but a few, under the guise of liberalisation and privatisation. All these parastatals were making profit, but more important, they were owned by the people of Uganda. UCB was fondly and rightly called "The People's Bank". UEB was sold to ESKOM, a company owned by the government of South Africa. It defies logic and one does not need a PhD in Economics to see through the absurdity of the actions of African leaders.
The few African leaders who seem to be progressive at the beginning of their tenure of office soon revert to the familiar form of autocratic one-man rule. Some are literally insane and remind me of the Roman Emperor Caligula. Take the example, Master Sgt. Samuel Doe and Sgt Jean Bedel Bokassa. The former became a General and Life President of Liberia while Bokassa crowned himself Emperor of the Central African Republic. He was following the footsteps of his hero, Napoleon Bonaparte of France.
Today, another crazy young man called Yahya Jammeh who has terrorised tiny Gambia for years, now wants to be crowned "King of Gambia" and establish a dynastic rule in that ruined and impoverished strip of land which is too small as a runway for the airbus 380 Jumbo Jet. And the international community is just watching. For the enemies of Africa it confirms their worst fears and prejudices about Africans. During the 1960s many of these types used to patronisingly argue that Africans are barbarians and not yet ready for self-government, let alone independence.
When one looks at the map of Africa from Zimbabwe to Somalia to Eritrea and Gambia and in between, it is painful for me as pan-Africanist to nod my head and in silence admit that these enemies of Africa were perhaps partly right. We Africans are our own worst enemies. Let us stop blaming colonialism, the slave trade, imperialism, etc for our own self-made tragedy.
Our education has failed to remove the village mentality in most of our leaders. All we think and talk about is "eating" or "manger" in French. Some allege they have killed an animal and must be given eternity to feast on the carcass. With such mind-sets Africa may indeed sooner, rather than later, die. Yes, Africa is dying. Our primary challenge is to save Africa from imminent death and keep the hopes of our people alive.
Mr Achema is a political scientist, consultant and a retired ambassador based in Arua