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Will Africa Ever Develop?

Tue, 9 Dec 2008 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

Two recent cause- and effect-espousing intellectual pieces produced by the Sierra Leonian-born Sorious Samura, presently a BBC News Panorama reporter, have stoked in me embers of righteous indignation towards African leaders whose toadyism, self-importance, inaction and self-aggrandizement have forlornly and incessantly impeded ordinary Africans’ attempts to lift their continent from the sordid clutches and doldrums of poverty, deprivation and disease. That Africa’s collective growth ? social, political and economic ? remains stunted many decades after all colonists had departed for their respective native countries is indicative of what I generally refer to as a congenital splotch on the mental terrain of the black man. If after so many decades of pervasive self-determination Africans are still unable to unflinchingly meander through the quiescent tides of basic economics and social organization, then I am sorry to state that there is little hope for both the present generation and posterity alike.
Sorious Samura, in “The pitfalls of Africa’s aid addiction” and “Addicted to Aid,” bemoans the failure of African states to take responsibility for their poor decisions on governance, although “most African countries have now been independent for over 40 years” (Samura, BBC News, 2008). Mr. Samura attempts to identify the causes of corruption on the African continent, which he attributes to both Africans’ continual selection of inept leaders and the negative effects of foreign assistance, the latter a scenario that, paradoxically, entrenches corrupt governments. Mr. Samura believes that foreign aid, instead of helping ordinary Africans, instead becomes a tool that emboldens corrupt leaders to maintain a firm grip on the diadems of power.
Noting that even with the aid Africa receives each year, citizens’ priorities ? these include improved health care, good roads, quality education ? have often been ignored by mean-spirited and imprudent politicians, Mr. Samura provides the reader an example of “how dozens of mothers with newborn babies [were left] on the blood-spattered floor next to disposed needles” (Samura, BBC News, 2000) in a Ugandan hospital, which the former visited as part of his campaign to sensitize Africans about how their aid dollars were being incredibly wasted on the wrong projects by those elected ? and appointed ? to govern. Why the Ministry of Health of Uganda would purchase 1,800 sport utility vehicles for its senior staff, even while at one of that nation’s largest health care delivery centers, Mulago Hospital, there were only 4 ambulances to serve the entire community, was shocking to Mr. Samura. Sure enough, a senior member of that country’s health ministry would have the impudence to defend such absurd government policies. Sounds familiar?
Mr. Samura would also visit his native country, Sierra Leone, as part of his sub-Saharan African tour, where he complains about government employees selling supplies meant for ordinary Sierra Leonians: “On sale in Freetown’s pharmacies are mosquito nets and medicines from Unicef and the World Health Organization. These are supplied to the Government of Sierra Leone and are meant to be handed out to the country’s vulnerable children free of charge. Instead chemists, who know these life-saving medical supplies and drugs are supposed to be free, sell them to parents ignorant of the fact, who often go hungry to buy them.” (Samura, BBC NEWS, 2008). Mr. Samura would also narrate the extremely sad story of how, in contemporary Sierra Leone, students must pay bribes to some corrupt teachers in order to receive the good grades that they deserve, with the teachers blaming the government for inadequate pay as the reason for their despicable actions. Corrupt Sierra Leonian officials, like leaders of other African states, continually divert foreign aid meant to revamp an ailing economy into projects that are primarily self-serving, outrageously parochial and scandalously unproductive. Sounds familiar?
Sadly, Western nations and powerful donors, although aware of the poor governance in many African countries, continue to pour aid into Africa for a litany of reasons. According to Bräutigam and Knack (2004), a postcolonial legacy meant that African nations were unable to establish “strong, indigenously rooted institutions that could tackle the development demands of modern states,” but for how long would Africans continue to blame colonialism for the continent’s overall underdevelopment? Is the blame simply not an excuse for many decades of African leaders’ inaction and ambivalence, even as other regions of the world were modernizing? Shortly after World War II, the United States provided financial support to a decimated Western Europe ? the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations had rejected a similar U.S. financial assistance on ideological grounds ? in what became known as the Marshall Plan. So, if Western Europe was able to “convalesce” from its economic and social perils a few years after that gory war, what then is stopping African nations from making a permanent move towards self-sustenance?
Personally, I believe that there is something innately wrong with how the African thinks, and unless there is a new wind of change regarding governance, no amount of aid will reverse Africa’s economic retrogression. A large amount of aid negatively affects internal tax collection capacity, since the nation receiving aid ? Ghana, for example, has continually received aid up to 30% of its Gross Domestic Product ? simply ignores the difficult but necessary task of collecting tax revenues from its citizens. By encouraging aid ? a dependency syndrome, really ? a dangerous trend is established: the indirect “empowerment” of the political elite to ignore the needs of the electorate. Bräutigam and Knack (2004) explain this deleterious relationship this way: “When the flow of revenue is little affected by government efficiency, there is little incentive to improve state capacity. When revenues do not depend on the taxes raised from citizens and businesses, there is less incentive for government to be accountable to them. Aid dependence structures accountability as something between the executive branch of government and aid donors rather than between state and society, weakening this important aspect of governance.”
Bräutigam and Knack (2004) also tell us, “Improving governance means building a better bureaucracy, increasing adherence to the rule of law, reducing corruption, and managing expenditure and revenue generation in a sustainable manner.” As such, Ghana cannot become a modern, financially independent state unless it trains and keeps its educated work force. Unnecessary putsches have also destroyed Africans’ ability to stay true to their march toward financial freedom, as these insurrections ? these are tentacles of unadulterated Leninism ? are simply a clog in the wheel of economic advancement. These soldiers, even while attempting to “redistribute” the national cake, generally end up serving their own interests in the long run, by squelching free market ideas and stultifying the private sector and destroying small businesses, the latter two the main engines of economic growth.
So, can Africans ignore ethnically aligned politics and elect politicians who will seek the best interest of the majority of the citizens? Yes, but this process can only take place when selfless leaders emerge: people who will place equal value on tarring the roads in their own hometowns as well as those in opposition strongholds; people who will refuse to benefit materially or monetarily from their elective offices; people who will stand up to donors and tell the latter that programs that will not benefit the nation as a whole will not be permitted as part of an economic package; people who will consider education a birthright, and not a privilege, and will invest heavily in schools to increase literacy rates among the populace.
Take Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, as an example. Is it not mind-boggling that KNUST students, after all these years, have been unable to build any notable labor-reducing equipment, such as a tractor, to help our farmers plough more land in less time? Ghana needs leaders who understand that technological advancements are necessary to develop the capacity of the nation to fend for its citizens. After so many decades, KNUST should be producing prototypes of trucks, modern tractors, mowers and other important agricultural and manufacturing equipment, but with the nation’s leaders interested only in lining their own pockets and littering the countryside with mansions erected from illegally acquired resources, our circumstances will continue to remain gloomy.
Many African nations are truly multifaceted, not only in terms of languages spoken but in terms of prevailing beliefs and ideologies as well. Additionally, there are the different tribal entities to contend with in each nation. These differences should, however, be harnessed to make each nation stronger, rather than exploited for parochial gain. Africans must become more patriotic, rooting out greedy politicians in the process. We must promote the national interest over partisan politics. We must allow transparency in the highest levels of government ? this trend will simply trickle down to political appointees and the legion of the continent’s bureaucracies. We must encourage private enterprise and enable those citizens with the desire and wherewithal to pursue productive ventures to do so without unnecessary hindrances.
It is quite absurd and comical that Ghana’s contemporary democratic culture has produced a nation of two halves: the minister of state who rides in an avalanche of sport utility vehicles and sedans versus the common man who can barely purchase a pair of second-hand shoes to traverse the two miles between his house and place of work; the government official who, as part of his fringe benefits, insists on having a maid, a watchman, a driver and a security detail versus a member of the proletariat whose cries for help go unanswered by an ill-equipped police service even while being attacked by armed robbers in his own house; the party devotee and hanger-on who criminally but unrestrictedly spends government resources to campaign for the incumbent versus a political office seeker who barely gets air time, although the facilities in question are owned by the taxpayers. The Government of Ghana, should it decide to do away with some of these profligate perks and benefits enjoyed by ministers of state, will save huge amounts of money each year, resources that can be channeled into more productive ventures to improve the economic conditions of the ordinary citizen.
Ghana ? and other African nations ? can and must stop this dangerous and unending trend of poor governance, if it is to join the comity of nations in the future as a progressive nation. But first, we must educate the population; invest heavily in health care to maintain a healthy work force; embark only on projects, albeit donor-sponsored, that will improve the conditions of all and not just a few; train our own work force and stop depending on expertise from overseas; build into the system checks and balances to detect and punish corrupt practices; and fight to keep our intellectuals and academics from leaving for greener pastures, by wooing them with commensurate salaries. The time to act is now, for we should no longer tolerate reckless and barren methods of leadership and governance, which have recurrently left Africa in a sorry state and on the fringes of economic advancement.
The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Two recent cause- and effect-espousing intellectual pieces produced by the Sierra Leonian-born Sorious Samura, presently a BBC News Panorama reporter, have stoked in me embers of righteous indignation towards African leaders whose toadyism, self-importance, inaction and self-aggrandizement have forlornly and incessantly impeded ordinary Africans’ attempts to lift their continent from the sordid clutches and doldrums of poverty, deprivation and disease. That Africa’s collective growth ? social, political and economic ? remains stunted many decades after all colonists had departed for their respective native countries is indicative of what I generally refer to as a congenital splotch on the mental terrain of the black man. If after so many decades of pervasive self-determination Africans are still unable to unflinchingly meander through the quiescent tides of basic economics and social organization, then I am sorry to state that there is little hope for both the present generation and posterity alike.
Sorious Samura, in “The pitfalls of Africa’s aid addiction” and “Addicted to Aid,” bemoans the failure of African states to take responsibility for their poor decisions on governance, although “most African countries have now been independent for over 40 years” (Samura, BBC News, 2008). Mr. Samura attempts to identify the causes of corruption on the African continent, which he attributes to both Africans’ continual selection of inept leaders and the negative effects of foreign assistance, the latter a scenario that, paradoxically, entrenches corrupt governments. Mr. Samura believes that foreign aid, instead of helping ordinary Africans, instead becomes a tool that emboldens corrupt leaders to maintain a firm grip on the diadems of power.
Noting that even with the aid Africa receives each year, citizens’ priorities ? these include improved health care, good roads, quality education ? have often been ignored by mean-spirited and imprudent politicians, Mr. Samura provides the reader an example of “how dozens of mothers with newborn babies [were left] on the blood-spattered floor next to disposed needles” (Samura, BBC News, 2000) in a Ugandan hospital, which the former visited as part of his campaign to sensitize Africans about how their aid dollars were being incredibly wasted on the wrong projects by those elected ? and appointed ? to govern. Why the Ministry of Health of Uganda would purchase 1,800 sport utility vehicles for its senior staff, even while at one of that nation’s largest health care delivery centers, Mulago Hospital, there were only 4 ambulances to serve the entire community, was shocking to Mr. Samura. Sure enough, a senior member of that country’s health ministry would have the impudence to defend such absurd government policies. Sounds familiar?
Mr. Samura would also visit his native country, Sierra Leone, as part of his sub-Saharan African tour, where he complains about government employees selling supplies meant for ordinary Sierra Leonians: “On sale in Freetown’s pharmacies are mosquito nets and medicines from Unicef and the World Health Organization. These are supplied to the Government of Sierra Leone and are meant to be handed out to the country’s vulnerable children free of charge. Instead chemists, who know these life-saving medical supplies and drugs are supposed to be free, sell them to parents ignorant of the fact, who often go hungry to buy them.” (Samura, BBC NEWS, 2008). Mr. Samura would also narrate the extremely sad story of how, in contemporary Sierra Leone, students must pay bribes to some corrupt teachers in order to receive the good grades that they deserve, with the teachers blaming the government for inadequate pay as the reason for their despicable actions. Corrupt Sierra Leonian officials, like leaders of other African states, continually divert foreign aid meant to revamp an ailing economy into projects that are primarily self-serving, outrageously parochial and scandalously unproductive. Sounds familiar?
Sadly, Western nations and powerful donors, although aware of the poor governance in many African countries, continue to pour aid into Africa for a litany of reasons. According to Bräutigam and Knack (2004), a postcolonial legacy meant that African nations were unable to establish “strong, indigenously rooted institutions that could tackle the development demands of modern states,” but for how long would Africans continue to blame colonialism for the continent’s overall underdevelopment? Is the blame simply not an excuse for many decades of African leaders’ inaction and ambivalence, even as other regions of the world were modernizing? Shortly after World War II, the United States provided financial support to a decimated Western Europe ? the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations had rejected a similar U.S. financial assistance on ideological grounds ? in what became known as the Marshall Plan. So, if Western Europe was able to “convalesce” from its economic and social perils a few years after that gory war, what then is stopping African nations from making a permanent move towards self-sustenance?
Personally, I believe that there is something innately wrong with how the African thinks, and unless there is a new wind of change regarding governance, no amount of aid will reverse Africa’s economic retrogression. A large amount of aid negatively affects internal tax collection capacity, since the nation receiving aid ? Ghana, for example, has continually received aid up to 30% of its Gross Domestic Product ? simply ignores the difficult but necessary task of collecting tax revenues from its citizens. By encouraging aid ? a dependency syndrome, really ? a dangerous trend is established: the indirect “empowerment” of the political elite to ignore the needs of the electorate. Bräutigam and Knack (2004) explain this deleterious relationship this way: “When the flow of revenue is little affected by government efficiency, there is little incentive to improve state capacity. When revenues do not depend on the taxes raised from citizens and businesses, there is less incentive for government to be accountable to them. Aid dependence structures accountability as something between the executive branch of government and aid donors rather than between state and society, weakening this important aspect of governance.”
Bräutigam and Knack (2004) also tell us, “Improving governance means building a better bureaucracy, increasing adherence to the rule of law, reducing corruption, and managing expenditure and revenue generation in a sustainable manner.” As such, Ghana cannot become a modern, financially independent state unless it trains and keeps its educated work force. Unnecessary putsches have also destroyed Africans’ ability to stay true to their march toward financial freedom, as these insurrections ? these are tentacles of unadulterated Leninism ? are simply a clog in the wheel of economic advancement. These soldiers, even while attempting to “redistribute” the national cake, generally end up serving their own interests in the long run, by squelching free market ideas and stultifying the private sector and destroying small businesses, the latter two the main engines of economic growth.
So, can Africans ignore ethnically aligned politics and elect politicians who will seek the best interest of the majority of the citizens? Yes, but this process can only take place when selfless leaders emerge: people who will place equal value on tarring the roads in their own hometowns as well as those in opposition strongholds; people who will refuse to benefit materially or monetarily from their elective offices; people who will stand up to donors and tell the latter that programs that will not benefit the nation as a whole will not be permitted as part of an economic package; people who will consider education a birthright, and not a privilege, and will invest heavily in schools to increase literacy rates among the populace.
Take Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, as an example. Is it not mind-boggling that KNUST students, after all these years, have been unable to build any notable labor-reducing equipment, such as a tractor, to help our farmers plough more land in less time? Ghana needs leaders who understand that technological advancements are necessary to develop the capacity of the nation to fend for its citizens. After so many decades, KNUST should be producing prototypes of trucks, modern tractors, mowers and other important agricultural and manufacturing equipment, but with the nation’s leaders interested only in lining their own pockets and littering the countryside with mansions erected from illegally acquired resources, our circumstances will continue to remain gloomy.
Many African nations are truly multifaceted, not only in terms of languages spoken but in terms of prevailing beliefs and ideologies as well. Additionally, there are the different tribal entities to contend with in each nation. These differences should, however, be harnessed to make each nation stronger, rather than exploited for parochial gain. Africans must become more patriotic, rooting out greedy politicians in the process. We must promote the national interest over partisan politics. We must allow transparency in the highest levels of government ? this trend will simply trickle down to political appointees and the legion of the continent’s bureaucracies. We must encourage private enterprise and enable those citizens with the desire and wherewithal to pursue productive ventures to do so without unnecessary hindrances.
It is quite absurd and comical that Ghana’s contemporary democratic culture has produced a nation of two halves: the minister of state who rides in an avalanche of sport utility vehicles and sedans versus the common man who can barely purchase a pair of second-hand shoes to traverse the two miles between his house and place of work; the government official who, as part of his fringe benefits, insists on having a maid, a watchman, a driver and a security detail versus a member of the proletariat whose cries for help go unanswered by an ill-equipped police service even while being attacked by armed robbers in his own house; the party devotee and hanger-on who criminally but unrestrictedly spends government resources to campaign for the incumbent versus a political office seeker who barely gets air time, although the facilities in question are owned by the taxpayers. The Government of Ghana, should it decide to do away with some of these profligate perks and benefits enjoyed by ministers of state, will save huge amounts of money each year, resources that can be channeled into more productive ventures to improve the economic conditions of the ordinary citizen.
Ghana ? and other African nations ? can and must stop this dangerous and unending trend of poor governance, if it is to join the comity of nations in the future as a progressive nation. But first, we must educate the population; invest heavily in health care to maintain a healthy work force; embark only on projects, albeit donor-sponsored, that will improve the conditions of all and not just a few; train our own work force and stop depending on expertise from overseas; build into the system checks and balances to detect and punish corrupt practices; and fight to keep our intellectuals and academics from leaving for greener pastures, by wooing them with commensurate salaries. The time to act is now, for we should no longer tolerate reckless and barren methods of leadership and governance, which have recurrently left Africa in a sorry state and on the fringes of economic advancement.
The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.