By Jide Osuntokun
There is no point denying the fact that the situation of Africa as a whole is dire. We can also say the global condition of the whole world itself is not too good but there is no place on earth as distressed as Africa. There is nothing to cheer us up in Africa. There is no island of tranquility in the chaos that characterizes this continent where man became man if we are to believe the evidence of physical anthropology. It is here that homoerectus became Homosapiens. But since the beginning of time and the migration of man from Africa to settle in other continents in the world, there has been retrogression rather than progress. God has departed from the House of Israel, so to say, to put it in Biblical parlance.
The title of this piece derives from the 1979 BBC Reith lecture given then by Professor Ali Mazrui, the Kenyan political scientist who in later years became a towering intellectual. He was quite optimistic about the place of Africa in the world then but I am not that optimistic now seeing the terrible political and economic topography of the continent today.
Starting from the Maghreb, only Morocco has some semblance of stability and marginal economic development and growth. It’s neighbor, Algeria is being eroded from within by the forces of FIS (Front Islamique de Salut). What you have there is a resuscitation of the FLN (Front de la liberation nationale), the armed Algerian national liberation front that fought French colonialism and the settler French piednoirs who had to leave the country in their millions when General de Gaulle in 1962 felt there was no point fighting against the hurricane of African nationalism and withdrew French forces from that country, ending 130 years of French settler colonialism. Since then, Algeria has not managed to transform itself into a modern state and the president who took over from Ben Bella and Houari Boumedienne, Ahmed Bouteflika overstayed in power until he was rendered useless by the coterie of palace cabal ruling in the name of a sick man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and who could hardly recognize members of his government. The country has not recovered from the immobilism arising from absence of a dynamic leader. Libya, its neighbor to the east is now afflicted by war lordism and foreign intervention from Egypt, Turkey and Russia. The remnants of Ghaddafi’s army and the African mercenaries he recruited to beef up his security have now become a scourge on the whole of the Sahel from Mali across Burkina Faso, Niger, Northern Nigeria and Chad. The entire West Africa is besieged by this Ghaddafi renegades. Egypt itself has replaced the ineffective government of the Islamic brotherhood with a brutal military dictatorship of General Mohammed Abdel Fattah Al Sisi which means Egypt is back to square one and one-man rule until there is another general uprising and another man on horseback comes to salvage the situation.
The proliferation of light weapons and small arms in the hands of jihadists and ethnic armies and dissidents in the Sahel and the whole of West Africa has led to mass movement of poor people into the few pockets of safety which in turn creates suspicion and irritation among host communities branding them as fifth columnists of jihadist forces lurking in the recesses of ungoverned spaces and forests in the region. With the exception of Senegal, Benin, and Ghana, the whole of West Africa is a tinderbox waiting to ignite. Guinea is internally divided and enemies of the geriatric Alpha Conde are just waiting for him to expire before the place explodes. Mali is bifurcated between the jihadists in its northern part and the government in Bamako. The chaos in Mali has affected Burkina Faso where hundreds of people were slaughtered recently by jihadists driven by blind fury.
Niger’s government’s writ is only in the Southern part of the country while its Sahel North is a no man’s land in the hands of roving desert Berbers determined to create some kind of caliphate from northern Mali to Chad and Darfur. Nigeria the so-called giant of Africa, has been politically reduced to a drunken giant with marauding herders slaughtering farmers while its government looks on unconcerned. Crime is being daily committed without the certainty of punishment thus leaving victims to resort to self-help and retribution. The north-eastern part of the country is beset by the ravage of Boko Haram and ISIS in West African province (ISWAP). Their declared aim is creating an Islamic caliphate apparently adopting the brutal methods of ISIS and Al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden. The result of this in a religiously and ethnically plural country is the chaos unleashed on Nigeria while its government seems incapable of putting an end to what is an existential threat, giving rise to secessionist and centrifugal tendencies in the country which may yet succeed unless the federal government reverses its highly divisive sectional and religiously discriminatory policies and actions which are obvious and apparent to all observers except the government. The massacres of people in Darfur by the Arab Janjaweed from the Sudan continues without let or hindrance. The Sudan, both North and so-called independent Southern Sudan remain hell on earth and havens of ethnic militias and undisciplined army that seems to rejoice at killing its own people. Somalia is a sad commentary on how not to be a country. There is no government in the country that is now divided into three separate entities each vegetating in uncontrolled violence and mutual slaughter by their people. There was the recent spectacle of the president of Somali Republic taking on his prime minister in a boxing challenge at a cabinet meeting with bare knuckles in which the expertise of a dental surgeon was needed to put some of the teeth of the prime minister back in the poor man’s mouth. The situation in Ethiopia calls for caution and concern. Tigray, the site of the Holy city of Axum was invaded by Ethiopian federal forces ironically joined by the former secessionist Eritrea to put down rebellion in Tigray occasioning destruction of historic sites, raping and murders on an industrial scale in the name of national unity. No African government has raised its voice against genocide going on in our continent apparently because the same phenomenon is going on in their own countries. It is sad for this to be going on in Ethiopia which faces an existential threat from Egypt and The Sudan over the Ethiopian dam on the Blue Nile in their territory which the two Arab governments have threatened to destroy. One would have thought this is a time for unity in the face of external threat; rather than this, the Addis Ababa government is bent on self-destruction over an illusory national unity and is resorting to force where diplomacy would have sufficed.
Rwanda of Paul Kagame is perhaps the only going proposition while Burundi and the vast area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain largely ungoverned and in the case of the Congo, governed by war lords. The DRC appears too large for the governmental ingenuity of the African in a territory larger than Western Europe and potentially a great and rich country blessed with minerals, which, if properly exploited and accounted for, will give its people decent lives far better than their present miserable lives. The less said about the Central African Republic which has been reduced to a place of contending ethnicities perpetually at war with each other, the better. The other Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea have remained each ruled by one family for almost half a century while foreigners cart away their wealth while dropping some for the rapacious rulers who collude with them to rob their countries.
The former settler countries in East and Southern Africa seem to do better than the rest of Africa. If we excuse the non-democratic practices of the governments of Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe, we can at least see stability in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania while the situation in Mozambique is very concerning particularly the recent jihadist attack of its northern part, a situation which caught everybody by surprise. It is hoped that SADC would be able to take a leaf from what ECOWAS states did in the 1980s by forming a military component of their economic organization to assist Liberia and Sierra Leone. SADC should help Mozambique to resist external and internal forces of destabilization.
The question to ask is what is responsible for all these problems. The answers lie in the artificiality of the African states where unrelated people are lumped together to create states on the paradigm of 19th century European states. The borders of these African states have been declared inviolable by the African Union and Africans are therefore stuck with these rather unnatural states. Secondly, many of the African states are economically unviable. Where they are viable, their internal structure lends support to internal colonialism and ethnic arrogance with one group lording it over others. Sometimes those who generate the wealth are shunted aside while those who contribute little appropriate larger share of the national resources. A country like the DRC is just too big and has little interconnecting transportation grid with the result that people from one part are foreigners to one another. Bad governance manifesting in rampant corruption, autocratic dictatorship and looting of national resources and carting them abroad and living the poor masses to indulge in violence to satisfy their needs is another problem. From this survey, the smaller the country, the better the chances of good governance. Perhaps we need to look at the situation in Africa and allow culturally distinct people lumped with others to separate even though cultural homogeneity in Somalia has not led to stability. What seems most important to me is economic development. With a developed economy, with people employed and with high standard of living and with enough for everyone to satisfy their need not their want, Africa may yet stretch its hand to God and realize its potentiality and destiny.