Africa’s Dilemma: Small Countries & Too Many Tribes

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.

16 comments for “Africa’s Dilemma: Small Countries & Too Many Tribes

  1. Billy
    July 25, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    i dont quite agree fully. kenya has done much to encourage growth of ict. however, they have forgotten that ict is about communications at the speeds of light and not zero rating computers per se. Look at great contents like the http://www.lovepot.com – africas top love resource, but where is the incentive from gok. no where..so users end up waiting for pages to load and dont bother anymore..they go back to traditional cultures and taboo of approach in life as they wont notice what fast comms can do for them. kenya gok still asleep..while the west is now toying wih the notion of future internet..and what it really could be like? computers will be obsolete in a few yrs. no one will use them..comms will take over. there will be just about 9 computers world wide..to serve the continents…mobile phones too will be gone with the computers…its coming very fast.


    May 5, 2011 at 8:28 am

    I think the failure of the African states is most due to the corrupt governments, poor economic infrastrutures …etc and the ever finger pointing citizens of the continent. Since independence in most of the states, corruption, hunger, high debt etc has been a constant; so we cannot use it as an excuse/reason for our failure. the failure has to be due to ourselves and our attitudes. why do so many people have to move from rural area to urban areas in search of jobs when unemployment is so hight ( whilst i can see the point on a personal/individual persons minds, i dont see the point in the numbers), why do we have to rely on the same crops which dont yield well as our staple food? why dont we use our waste to make our land more fertile for more food productivity,- in my opinion these solutins arent all that costly although they would need a great deal of passion. But then again, there is our parents who think without University education or some sort of diploma that we cannot excel – dont get me wrong i know education is good but if you have a D or an E – the alternatives would be more worthwhile!

    i dont advocate for corruption and all the injustice in Africa, but i think sometime we have to focus on feeding ourselves than pety politics. Having said that, i live in the UK and with the welfare system a good majority of the youth in this country have no education, are parents at a tender age and have no desire whatsoever to be working. the result has been one of low public funding for project and pressure on the housing – my point being that the failure in states is not just in Africa but different sense of failure for different parts of the world.

    My opinions!

  3. Mutegi
    April 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Guys come check out the following link http://www.tusijisunde.com/i-h.....-wikileaks isn’t it amazing what the muzungi came to do. . . .

  4. Julius
    April 26, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Africa just needs good leadership (benevolent dictatorship) to succeed. The continent is rich in natural resources but its leadership has failed it. Another big problem is that most africans do not believe in themselves and will copy everything from the west. Look at Asian tigers. They only copy what is good for them from the west and implement own political systems that suit their individual needs. Africa connot enjoy democracy when the masses are living below poverty line.

  5. Africa's Son
    April 26, 2011 at 7:38 am

    kenyanentrepreneur – It’s true that Raila’s chances have dwindled over the last few months following the ICC saga. However, he still remains a firm favourite for western powers that have him wrapped around their little finger. A lot can be speculated about western interests here in Kenya…we should remember that the west does not have FRIENDS but INTERESTS. Look around and you’ll see it. So a strategy may be in the works to ensure a western puppet (which they are) takes the day come 2012.

    Sijui and the rest – Africa’s problems are two pronged:
    1. Mal – governance by our leaders, which have generated symptoms (poverty, negative ethnicity, failed systems, resentment etc etc) currently faced by the people.
    2. The West whose interests are in the resources of Africa. Note the various civil wars that have been generated by western powers to destabilize areas of interest.

    So long as we remain oblivious of the true picture we are assured of staying the same until the coming together or establishment of a single world government (forgive the far fetched but likely reality).

  6. Julius
    April 23, 2011 at 3:30 am

    Can you give us examples of countries that had positive revolutions spearheaded by masses who can barely put a meal on the table? Even if they were to hold peaceful protests, they would soon start looting businesses and the protests will lose meaning. My opinion is that a hungry man is an angry man and therefore cannot exhibit any form of wisdom. As long as the masses in Kenya remain poor (courtesy of the leaders), they will never effect any meaningful changes whether politically or economically.

  7. Anon
    April 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Sijui- please tell us your theory then. Tell us what the problem is and more importantly, how we can fix it. African Leaders are the BIGGEST problem in Africa and this does not mean that Africans are foolish or cowards. They are just poor. Too busy looking for the next meal to really pay attention to the true/real damage caused by their leaders. And that’s EXACTLY why the leaders keep them poor. That’s what you have to do if you want to practice that type of ‘leadership’. It’s a game. Period.

    You can shout on the roof tops all day long but as long as people are poor (read hungry), no change will happen.

  8. Sijui
    April 21, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Anon and Julius, I never have and never will buy that old tired canard about ‘African leaders.’ For one it insults my intelligence but more importantly it insinuates the mass stupidity of Africans-constant bystanders to their own destiny or worse gullible, feckless cowards. As an African and living amongst Africans it would be delusional to pretend otherwise-our societies are products of ourselves, as well as the same leaders we purportedly despise.

  9. Anon
    April 20, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Julius you are correct- Just like on Animal Farm…

  10. Julius
    April 20, 2011 at 9:54 am

    The main problem with africa is that a father will eat a whole goat alone while his malnourished children watch in a locked cage. Then if the child survives and grows up, he eats a whole cow while his children are dying of hunger. I call it absolute capitalism.

    So the child never gets to purnish the father but punishes own children. This is what African leaders (both political and business do). The control 80% of resources while they watch the masses starve. They also cripple the little livelyhoods and freedom the masses they may have (like the children locked in a cage) to avoid them ever ascending to their positions. But if one of the oppressed masses manages to get out of the cage alive, he will just become like the leaders and start dining with them and forget about the masses.

  11. Anon
    April 19, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Sijui- what do you mean? What was going on BEFORE the Lancaster House Conference? That’s BS.

    Africa’s ‘problem’ is that it is very rich in natural resources. Everyone wants a piece of that action.

  12. Sijui
    April 19, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Africa’s dilemma is Africans themselves. Plain and simple. At the Lancaster House Conference that divided Africa, the British famously said ‘we are going to save Africa from Africans’ history has proven how salient that point is.

  13. Anon
    April 18, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Can someone tell me why politicians in Kenya are paid SO MUCH?? What do they do?

    This problem is complex anyway. Tribes, poverty, post-colonial issues, corruption….the works! Where does one start?

  14. Julius
    April 14, 2011 at 5:29 am

    The mzungus do not want Raila as president. they would have helped him to grab power in 2007. Infact the O6 issue has made his prospects to become president worse since the tribes of the O6 do not trust him anymore. Most kenyans are now wondering, if Raila could not prevail upon his supporters to avoid commiting atrocities in the name of a rigged election, how can he rule the country of 40M kenyans?
    The problem with africa is that politics is too lucrative compared to other industries. Many leaders are ready to kill to get political position. We need to weaken political systems by implementing strict accountability and paying politicians just like civil servants.

  15. kenyanentrepreneur
    April 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Africa’s son:

    Is Kenya headed for the same in 2012? The problem is, I can’t figure out what the west wants for Kenya. The Ocampo 6 list was not just compiled by Ocampo alone. Western powers were absolutely behind it (The EU, America, etc, etc)

    But, now, Raila has lost his tribal support and won’t be able to win a democratic election. So, how will his mzungu bosses make sure he becomes the president in 2012? That’s the question.

  16. Africa's Son
    April 12, 2011 at 8:38 am

    You remind me of similar sentiments brought to light by one Silence Chihuri.

    The root of all African problems in my opinion is the mal – governance of African states. From governments to amorphous pseudo – democracies to empower the few in power while at the same time subjecting the ordinary people to intolerable cruelty.

    And no…you cannot argue that this is just beginning with our current leaders. It is traceable all the way to the so called Pan – Africanists who were handed over the responsibility of LEADING their countries together with the power that came with it. Look all around from Sierra Leone to Rwanda to Zimbabwe, great countries that are now former shadows of their pasts.

    And let us not wait for the west to come to our rescue this shall and will never happen as history has shown us (interesting how we easily forget). Take Rwanda’s case for example, the world (read US and UN) turned a blind eye to the genocide and after 100 days of Africans butchering each other to death all Clinton and Annan had to say was to blabber something in the sense of how they were not aware of the gravity of the situation.

    My only question is, ‘Will we ever learn from history as Africans or will every election in Africa be followed by marrings and killings as Africa heads on a downward spiral?’

    Is Kenya heading in the same direction come 2012 even as the leaders are advocating for the so called peace? The ball is in your court…

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