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If you ask Obama, African countries are one and the same on governance

Discussion in 'Habari na Hoja mchanganyiko' started by ByaseL, Jul 18, 2009.

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    ByaseL JF-Expert Member

    Jul 18, 2009
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    Benard Tabaire

    African countries are different in many respects as are the countries of other continents. In his Accra speech last week, however, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the African countries as though they were one and the same. American Presidents tend to act that way, and it can sound patronising. Disconcertingly, though, when it comes to good governance - the thrust of Mr Obama’s common sense speech - African countries are so much alike. Some are mirror images of each other in their lack of good governance.

    On corruption, the American leader said: “No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves...” With the possible exception of Botswana, this observation rings true all around.
    On tribalism and nepotism, Mr Obama spoke of his economist father’s misfortune of belonging to the wrong ethnic group in Kenyatta’s Kenya; yes, the same Kenya that exploded 18 months ago along ethnic lines. In Uganda, we yell a lot about ethnic marginalisation. Ivory Coast started to fall apart a decade ago because of ethnic intolerance.

    President Obama also denounced those who change national constitutions to cling on to power. Well, Uganda did that in 2005. In Zambia, Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, changes to constitutions to institute life presidencies have either succeeded or failed or the process is still under way.

    Coups? Mauritania, Guinea Conakry, Madagascar.
    “No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery,” Mr Obama said. We in Uganda have a lot to contribute to the subject of so-called safe houses and that of bribery in all its stinky guises. How about the Nigerians out west? Or even our good neighbours in Kenya with their Anglo-Leasings?

    The elements of misgovernment on the continent are eerily similar. It must be down to the power of example, bad example, as students of behaviour would argue. After Mr Sam Nujoma changed Namibia’s constitution in the 1990s to stick around some more and got away with it, every discredited leader has tried that path.
    These Big Men’s behaviour is similar to the small men’s behaviour on Kampala’s streets. Just watch when there is some hold-up in traffic. The most impatient motorist will cut out of the queue into the wrong lane and speed off. Because he has just gotten away with it, another follows, then yet another and in a minute you have a second queue, and a third thereby blocking oncoming vehicles. That is the making of a mighty jam that takes two hours to clear and yet if drivers had played by the rules, the jam would have cleared in minutes benefiting everybody. Several of our countries tie themselves up in jams through corruption and patronage and changed constitutions and then forget how they got all knotted up in the first place and thus cannot move. Then an Obama comes up to remind them and they take offence.

    After his Accra speech - which essentially laid out his administration’s approach towards Africa and was highly awaited for guidance by people working on Africa as entities such as USAID and embassies across the continent - we have criticised President Obama. We do not need lectures, we have huffed and puffed. And did the brother lecture, like the law professor he once was. In what appeared to be a swipe at a certain Jacob Zuma or a certain dude in some Ugandan village, Mr Obama demanded that “individual Africans also have to make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease...” Message or messenger? Make your choice.

    Instead of lecturing, we have argued, he should “listen to Africans much more”. And then do what after listening? “Meddle less.” Right, but he will not as long as we beg for crumbs from his country. To expect otherwise is mere fantasy. We have further responded that African leaders need the right incentives to govern well as we dismissed Mr Obama’s “moral pleas”. Economic or moral reductionism, Africa has room for both and more. We have also faulted Mr Obama for detailing Africa’s ills without acknowledging America’s role in creating the mess. America has backed dictators before and is backing Big Men today like Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia for selfish interest; and it continues subsidies to fat American farmers, a policy that hurts poor cotton farmers in West Africa. Fair point.

    But even if Obama owned up, that would do nothing to exonerate African leaders who actually make key policy and personnel decisions for their countries and then when things go wrong they rush to blame others or invoke the history of slavery and colonialism, as Mr Obama hinted. History should be invoked to inspire not to cover up for criminal behaviour.
    All said, Obama or no Obama, soaring speeches or not, escapist responses or not, we must end on the “simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans”. That is a message we can believe in.