A despicable cycle of corruption continually repeats itself across Africa and is becoming tiresome – as are some of the usual explanations for underdevelopment in Africa: colonialism, neo-colonialism and the inability to fully recover from its lingering after effects. These old excuses are little more than convenient spiels designed to divert attention away from the most immediate root of underdevelopment in much of Africa today – greed and corruption.
No more excuses for Africa by Aaron Akinyemi
Africa must own up to and challenge the role its morally bankrupt elite are playing in the continent’s underdevelopment
When Gabon‘s president of 42 years, Omar Bongo, died in June, many breathed a sigh of relief, hoping his departure would usher in a new era of democracy and responsible leadership.
Bongo had been the world’s longest-serving leader, having banned political opposition for much of his tenure to reinforce a stranglehold on the presidency and plunder the tiny central African nation of much of its oil wealth.Despite 80% of Gabonese living in poverty, Omar Bongo thought nothing of decorating his private jet using $2.6m of aid money, hoarding $130m of public funds away in foreign accounts and maintaining at least 39 luxury properties in France worth $190m.
It is easy to empathise with the exasperation and accusations of rigging, therefore, when Bongo’s son Ali-Ben was “democratically elected” as his father’s successor last month.A despicable cycle of corruption continually repeats itself across Africa and is becoming tiresome – as are some of the usual explanations for underdevelopment in Africa: colonialism, neo-colonialism and the inability to fully recover from its lingering after effects.
These old excuses are little more than convenient spiels designed to divert attention away from the most immediate root of underdevelopment in much of Africa today – greed and corruption, which according to the African Union costs the continent around $140bn a year and seriously hampers economic growth.
It is high time for Africa to stop passing the buck and acknowledge the role its leaders, whose mental faculties are held to ransom by their own avarice, are having on the continent’s inadequate rate of development.Europe too certainly has plenty to answer for vis-a-vis underdevelopment in Africa.
A legacy of slavery and colonialism left the continent’s human and natural resources exploited and spent. Sophisticated indigenous socio-political systems were dismantled, arbitrary geographical boundaries drawn up and scores of different ethnic groups lumped together with little regard for their different languages and customs.
When Europe finally exited, it left behind governmental systems largely based on patronage and thus prone to graft. Cue decades of coups, warfare and military dictatorships. Today, western countries are complicit with corruption in the developing world through bribery and in the case of France, propping up kleptocratic African leaders and helping to facilitate the 1994 Rwandan genocide, one of the worst atrocities in modern times.
But where does victimhood end and personal responsibility begin? Almost half a century after independence and a trillion dollars worth of aid later and poverty remains rife in Africa. Any well-meaning attempt to help from the outside world is largely useless if there is no transparency and political will at the other end to ensure it ends up where it is supposed to.
My father became the first indigenous director general of the Nigerian Institute of Management and a director of the National Bank of Nigeria in the 1970s – a decade of untold economic prosperity thanks to the oil boom. Spurred on by a moral, if idealistic, desire to redistribute the wealth and improve the lot of ordinary Nigerians, Chief OIA Akinyemi ventured into the political arena, where he was constantly propositioned with bribes, which he rebuffed at every turn.
Needless to say, he didn’t get very far in politics. Political and moral corruption now seems an unspoken prerequisite to attain office in Africa, insidiously weaving its way into Africa’s cultural fabric.
More than a decade earlier, in 1958, my father had spoken as a guest at the Ealing branch of the United Nations Association in London, where he called for an end to irresponsible leadership in apartheid-era South Africa and across the continent.
Over half a century later, and the consequences of the unmitigated greed – which almost wrecked the Nigerian banking system – are only just catching up with old family friends.
And there are many stories similar to my father’s. Nuhu Ribadu, the former chairman of Nigeria’s economic and financial crimes commission, was feted internationally as a beacon of hope in Africa’s fight against corruption when he recovered billions of dollars in stolen public funds and successfully prosecuted scores of international advance fee fraudsters and top government officials. When his investigations began to get too close for comfort and he refused to be bought, the government essentially sacked him and forced him into exile in the UK, where is currently a fellow at Oxford University.
Decent people do exist in Africa – they just aren’t often allowed to speak. Similarly, encouraging success stories such Botswana and Ghana frequently seem overshadowed by setbacks such as those recently seen in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Zambia.
Africa must own up to and challenge the role its morally bankrupt elite are playing in the continent’s underdevelopment and in the suffering of its disadvantaged citizens. But developed nations must also consider the impact of their own complicity in corruption on the continent.
It’s a myth that fraud is the sole preserve of the developing world, and sanctimonious calls for political transparency ring very hollow when the likes of Britain and China send subliminal messages that bribery is acceptable.
Pointing fingers at the west won’t build good roads or feed the poor. Modern-day external exploitation can only be adequately challenged once Africa gets its own house in order.
And the time for that is now. No more excuses.