Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What Africa Deserves

A recent short piece by Joachin Chisano[1] which appeared in the African Executive (April 7, 2010), has as its title: Africa Deserves Better Leadership. The author’s main thesis revolves around the quality of leadership (or lack of leadership) in Africa. In his view, a “majority of Africa’s leaders are more of a liability than an asset to their countries. They are more interested in fulfilling their selfish personal ambitions than working for their people”. Mr. Chisano goes on to enumerate incidences where leaders short changed their countrymen (and countrywomen) and other leaders who put their people first and worked to improve their standard of living. Although the message is not new, it needs to be said and said often. Perhaps one day what has been said can be translated into action.
Everyone who is concerned in one way or another with Africa, whether as an active or a passive participant bemoans the prevalence of corruption, the blundering of rich resources, and the over presence of ethnic violence and mass killing.
Many articles and volumes have been written, speeches and advice have been given by African and non-African scholars, ordinary people and concerned citizens. But nothing suggested seems to have worked well. Nothing seems to penetrate the armors that shield corrupted leaders and/or corrupted citizens from the day of reckoning if such a day were indeed to come. As one of those scholars who came lately (I am not a development economist or engaged in regional studies) to the recognition that efforts, no matter how small, should be exerted so that we, the outsiders, could understand better why corruption persists, why leaders behave the way they do and above all why little seem to work or has been accomplished over decades of writing, speech giving and aid.
As I mentioned earlier, I did come lately as a concerned scholar about the progress of Africa (see the mission of the Institute for Economic Policy Studies, http://www.iespolicy.org/about.html). In addition, to IEPS conferences, the blog media offers me an outlet for airing out some of the problems and concerns I have about what is happening in the continent (see Ott’s Blog 2007-2010).
Two issues should be up front in addressing the leadership issue. A solution, a “viable” solution, must be found to deal with them otherwise, all writing and lecturing will be for knot. These two issues are: Length of executive tenure—how long the country leader stays in office—and corruption—especially external corruption. Let us look at these two issues starting with the length of tenure.
Citizens of the world are not unaware of the fundamental link between the institution of democracy and the length of the leader in office. In most democratic states, there is a “constitutional” limit on the tenure of the leader (president), but is absent or flaunted in non-democratic states. Many countries on the African continent have leaders “who won’t go”. This phenomenon was commented upon in an Economist’s piece: “Another President Who Won’t Go”. This piece in the Economist (March 15-17, 2008, pp 49-50) was in relation to a debate which was taking place in Cameroon regarding presidential tenure limits. The Economist reported that on February 24th and 25th , 2008, violent protests broke out in Douala, Cameroon’s commercial capital, in response to Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya’s declaration that he might stay for a third term of another 7 years. President Biya has presided over Cameroon for 25 years. The new constitution that came into force in 1996, limits the president to only two terms in office. For the president “not to go”, the constitution had to be changed. And as the story goes he did not go—Paul Biya still remains in office.
At the time this event was taking place, I wrote a blog (April 8, 2008) with the title “No, No, We Won’t Go: Why Some African President’s Refuse to Retire” (http://attiatott.blogspot.com/2008_04_01_archive.html). Old men in Africa, most of whom are in their late seventies or in their eighties have ruled for over two decades. Most of these rulers have come to power on the heel of independence or following the overthrow of dictators with the blessing of their citizens. Expectations ran high. But then expectations dimmed, hope dashed. What went wrong?
To be “scientific” one needs to examine a country by country experience. Two excellent books give an account of what has transpired: “The Fate of Africa From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair: A History of 50 Years of Independence” (2005) by Martin Meredith, and “A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa” (2004) by Howard W. French. The Ott’s Blog (2008) gives information on the relation between the ruler’s tenure and the Freedom House rating of freedom over the period of 1973-2006. The upshot of this analysis is to uncover the link between the state of democracy and the “won’t go” phenomenon. The findings are not unexpected: FREEDOM with all its ramifications is the most significant factor in determining the staying power of a ruler. Freedom is much more than conducting an election. It involves the guarantee of political rights and civil liberties. Few of these rights are guaranteed in many Sub-Saharan African countries. When elections are held, the current ruler most often either “wins not fairly and squarely”, the opposition either attacked, silenced or jailed (see French for examples).
There is a saying that “power corrupts”, and, the longer the tenure, the more power to the corrupt. So now I turn to the phenomenon of corruption.
Corruption and bad governance is as natural if not inevitable like birth and death. What makes us, more accurately, at least some of us “incorruptible” is civil education and good sense of what is in it for me vis a vis what is good for someone else. The concept of a leader as distinct from the people the leader is supposed to serve has evolved from being one of us, to one of himself. But what defines corruption and who is instigating the corrupt behavior?
There is a great deal of literature on corruption. For the sake of brevity it suffices to offer definitions for the two types of corruption: internal or domestic corruption and external corruption. The first type is relatively insignificant whereby an individual in one nation bribes an individual (most often a government official) in the same nation to facilitate action on an impending request. The second type, external corruption is the one talked about when the term corruption is used.
So what is it? External corruption arises as one individual or an official of one nation bribes another individual or an official of another nation.
Transparency International (1995) definition is one that is commonly used. It defines it as “abuse of public office for private gain”. Jain A., (2001), “Corruption: A Review”, Journal of Economic Surveys, 15(1): 71 -121 defines it as “an act in which the power of public office is used for personal gain”. In both definitions, what is stressed is who is being corrupted and for what purpose. Just as Freedom has been indexed, calculated and the results published for most countries in the world, so corruption scores are calculated for developed and developing economies. Corruption scores are good indicators for the quality of leadership and governance in the same way as economic variables like GDP and GDP growth are indicators of the growth path of the economy. Available data illustrates not only why many “bad” leaders are the product of corrupt practices in their countries, but also why once practiced it is difficult to get rid of, it persists (see N. Bissessar, (2009), “Does Corruption Persist in Sub-Saharan Africa?”, In International Advances in Economic Research, Special Issue: Developing the African Continent, pp. 336-350, Attiat F. Ott, guest editor).
Using corruption scores obtained from TI over the period 1989-2006 countries are ranked as highly corrupt (scores 0.00 – 3.59); middle corrupt (scores 3.60 – 4.19) and least corrupt (scores 4.20 – 6.00). The results obtained for 27 Sub-Saharan countries show that most of these African countries 63 percent – 100 percent (pp.336 – 350) fell in the most corrupt category while the percentage of countries in the low risk category was less than 7 percent. Of note is the fact that corruption which began to subside between 1984-1995 has taken a turn for the worst. The percentage of countries in the most corrupt category rose steeply and the percentage of countries in the middle corruption category fell dramatically (p. 339).
But corruption data, although stands on its own conveys little about societal structures—political, cultural, economics—that give rise to corruption and worse of all perpetuate its hold on society. Rather than “wring one’s hand in despair by pointing out that corruption is the “norm” rather than the “exception”, one needs to look closely at society’s make up and see how these “structures” made corruption not only tolerable but also persistent as well. Few data will help this search. Societal attributes such as ethnic, language, religion, literacy rate as well as the type of government (democratic, semi-democratic or authoritarian) in place help us understand why many leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as elsewhere are corrupt and most of all why corruption is tolerated. In a paper “Is Economic Integration the Solution to African Development?” presented by Ott at a conference held on August 19-21 in Botswana (2008) sponsored by the Institute for Economic Policy Studies, these attribute along with corruption scores were compiled for 44 Sub-Saharan African countries over the period 1986-2005. From the data provided in Table 1 in the paper, it is clear that Sub-Saharan countries are quite diverse in terms of population profile—they are quite diverse in terms of ethnicity, language and religion. With respect to political structure there too, the democracy rating show the majority to be partly free or not free but the most disturbing finding perhaps is the level of education attained. The data shows a wide dispersion in the literacy rate, from a low of 22 percent for Burkina Faso (with high corruption score; partly free) to 84.4 percent for Mauritius (low corruption; free) and Namibia with a literacy rate of 85 percent (low corruption and free) (for more details see, www.iespolicy.org/files/Is%20Economic%20Integration_Ott.pdf) In short, by understanding the societal structure one may be able to pinpoint the factors that need to be addressed to promote good citizenship. After all, in post colonialism the leader is not the “stranger”, he/she is one of the people. What Africa deserves is good citizens with power to change the status quo. A good place to start is with education.

[1] Joachin Chisano received the Mo Ibrahim Prize for demonstrating good leadership.