The events in Ivory Coast and in Kenya with the ICC cases has left me wondering whether Africa can ever truly resolve it’s underlying problems. Kenya and Ivory Coast used to be the shining stars of that continent. Stable countries in a sea of war and confusion, but today, Ivory Coast is all but destroyed and Kenya is facing a humiliating turn with six high level government officials facing charges of having committed war crimes.
One person suggested to me that what happened in Ivory Coast and what is happening in Kenya was inevitable. When you start to see huge divides in income and wealth, it builds resentment and that resentment often translates itself through ethnic violence. So, this is what happened in Ivory Coast — For years, as the country was building up it’s economy, the gap between the have and the have nots wasn’t that wide, but as time went on, you began to see a politically wealthy elite emerging and after being in power for over 20 years, they became very powerful. This political elite in Ivory Coast was primarily made of christians from the south. The muslims in the north have never ruled that country and because of this, they were largely unable to create a wealthy, powerful elite. Fast forward 25 years and the gap that this sort of scenario creates is what evetually led to Ivory Coast’s present day disaster. i.e. crony capitalism that cannot build up a sustainable middle-class. The endless corruption eventually comes back to haunt the country.
In some ways, the same thing may be happening (or may happen in a much worse way) in Kenya. Two tribes have ruled that country since independence. First, it was the Kikuyu and under Kenyatta, a politically, wealthy, Kikuyu elite emerged and it still exists today. Then, Moi came in and after 24 years in power, a new very wealthy group of Kalenjins emerged and they still exist today. Now, it’s Kibaki and a whole new set of very wealthy Kikuyu’s has emerged again (Transcentury, Equity bank, etc, etc). However, without real production, you cannot create or sustain a viable or large enough middle-class. All you really end up with is these tribally connected small pockets of very wealthy people who end up being surrounded by a mass of very poor people. Then, as time goes on and as these single tribes keep holding onto power for years, the divide just keeps getting larger and larger and the tribes that don’t have political power start becoming more and more resentful. Why? because they’ve seen that without political power, there’s no way you can become wealthy. The wealth is directly related to the politics because there is no real production. Outside of agriculture or mineral resources, Africans don’t make anything. The wealth is in the land and the way to control that land is through political power.
Now, the lesson of this type of ruling is becoming clear and it is this: If you practice crony (or in the case of Africa, tribal capitalism) you will not be able to create a large enough middle-class. Without this large enough middle-class, anything can happen and you simply cannot bank on ever having stability. Who would ever have thought that Ivory Coast would have descended this far down?
I found this comment on the NYT website and it was in reference to the war in Ivory Coast, but if you are interested in exploring this question further, the comment below identifies another problem and offers a solution. It’s interesting reading for those who might be seeking to gain a better understanding of the continent and it’s problems.
Comment below extracted from the NYT Website.
The problem in Africa cannot be solved with government changes because the root cause of all those problems is money and the lack of accountability. Having spent a huge part of my life in Africa I can honestly say I don’t trust Ouattara anymore than I do Gbagbo. All these presidents come and go and nothing ever changes other than the number of innocent lives required to make them leave and the riches they accumulate to move their families and friends to the US or France. Why? Because being president in Africa is the equivalent of winning the lottery in the US or being drafted the number 1 overall pick in the NFL draft…..You get the point. When president you make millions of dollars in a land where most people survive on $1/day. You become rich overnight without the need to report your income or answer to anyone but yourself. There are no real Checks and Balances, only smokescreens, so the people who helped you get there and stay in power are the ones who benefit the most, not the millions of often uneducated citizens who are constantly being fed the “reform” coolaid. When you’ve tasted the joy of being an African president it is hard to imagine not being one. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else. The limitless amount of power and money you amass without doing anything other than state addresses and occasional parades is akin to tasting the forbidden fruit. Why else would a person sacrifice his own people to stay in power for 4 more months???
African countries do not have the luxury of most western nations to fiscally deal with corruption, hence a corrupt president sets those countries back for as long as they have been president. Within that amount of time western nations go through technological revolutions and discoveries. Companies are founded and taken over as the global social and economic structure is forever altered by innovators who are encouraged by their governments to, well, innovate. Where is Africa when all this is happening? Drenched in civil wars, killing our own promising youngsters and being crippled by our own presidents; the same people who profess the evil that is America and Europe.
This corruption is destroying whatever is left of the economy of this dear continent of mine for the prosperity of one person and his posse. While some countries like Ghana and Senegal have managed to find a certain sense of normalcy, the best way to fix the African dilemma as a whole in my opinion is to unify all those countries under the name of the United States of Africa. This unity would be governed by one man elected by all of Africa. One man who needs to represent Africa globally, report to governors of all 47 countries and be accountable in front of the African Court of Justice. Why? Because there is nothing African presidents love more than ruling small countries. The anonymity and lack of true global presence is what fuels the corruption and the killings. I know this will never happen, but I guess one can dream.