[Website browsers: While looking for employment on Capitol Hill, my son Matthew has been writing op-eds on various international topics. The following memo from George Ayittey, a native Ghanian who runs the Free Africa Foundation — on whose board of trustees I serve, came in response to Matt's e-mail to George inviting thoughts on how to save Africa. The memo is so interesting, I got his permission and Matt's to share it with you. Tomorrow, I will run one of Matt's op-eds.]
To: Matthew Wanniski
From: Prof. George Ayittey, American University
Date: April 4, 1997
Subject: SAVING AFRICA
It was nice hearing from you. Sorry if I have been remiss in following up with e-mail correspondence. I have been somewhat pre-occupied with the crisis unfolding in Zaire. I have been making almost weekly commentaries on the Voice of America and the BBC regarding the situation in Zaire.
I will encourage you to write an op-ed piece on Africa. In a nutshell, the basic source of Africa's woes is the STATE — specifically, the concentration of both economic and political powers in the hands of the state. This transformed the state into something like a pot of gold, for which all sorts of individuals and groups competed to capture. This competition often degenerated into civil war: Angola, Mozambique, etc. Once captured, the state machinery was used by the head of state to advance the economic interests of himself (kleptocracy), his cronies (cronyism), relatives (nepotism) and tribesmen (tribalism). All others were EXCLUDED — the politics of exclusion. The richest persons in Africa are heads of state and ministers.
Therefore, "government," as it is known in the U.S., does not exist in many parts of Africa. What exists in Africa is a "MAFIA" or "VAMPIRE STATE." That is, a state hijacked by a coterie of con artists, gangsters and crooks to enrich themselves. "Government" is not a vehicle to serve but to fleece the people, through confiscatory taxes, levies, and other state controls. As your Dad pointed out in his excellent book, The Way the World Works, people the world over rebel against excessive taxation with deleterious effects on economic growth. But in Africa, the issue goes beyond taxes. Those EXCLUDED from the good life have two options available to them: Either rise up to overthrow the ruling elites and replace them with themselves, or secede (Biafra in 1967; Somaliland Republic in 1993). Either prospect results in violence, carnage and chaos.
The solution therefore is very simple: Take POWER out of the hands of the state and give it back to the African people — or decentralization. On the economic front, this involves reforming the state-controlled economy by establishing a free-market economy. This is what the World Bank is pushing under its program called "Structural Adjustment," but the World Bank is the WRONG institution to be pushing this. On the political front, decentralization involves democratization and power-sharing arrangements. If Samuel Doe of Liberia, Siad Barre of Somalia and Juvenal Habryimana of Rwanda had been willing to relinquish or share political power their countries would have been saved. But they adamantly refused to. Now, they are dead and their countries thoroughly destroyed. Mobutu of Zaire is making the same mistake. (The whites in South Africa DID NOT make that mistake. Had they done so, South Africa would have been engulfed too).
Why the resistance to reform? The main reason is FEAR. These African despots know that they have done "bad" — their hands are dripping with blood and their pockets full of booty. They are afraid that their gory misdeeds would be exposed if they are out of power. So they cling to power at all cost — even at their own peril. Makes no sense. One possible solution is a BUY-OUT. Consider that the international humanitarian mission into Somalia cost a staggering $3.5 billion. If $50 million had been set aside to buy out the corrupt regime of Siad Barre, imagine the savings. Ditto for Liberia and Rwanda.
I hope this analysis helps. It is developed further in my forthcoming book, Why Africa Is Disintegrating, which will come out, hopefully, in June.
ON MANDELA: There is little Mandela can do to fix Africa's problems and we should not be placing too much of our faith in him. Of course, he has been a great leader and all that. But he is indebted to the African despots who supported the ANC during their struggle against apartheid. He is a great conciliator and can be useful as a mediator. But he cannot take or advocate punitive action against an errant African government. Besides, he has South Africa's own problems to contend with. Corruption and crime are fast becoming a problem in South Africa. We cannot unload all of Africa's problems on his shoulders. More importantly, we should place our faith in INSTITUTIONS of free markets, democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, etc., rather than individuals, regardless of their charisma. And as you already know, I believe in INTERNAL SOLUTIONS. Looking up to Mandela suggests to Africans that only an external MESSIAH could help lift them out of poverty. FARRAKHAN: Yes, Minister Farrakhan is a great orator. I am very much attracted to his message of SELF-HELP. In fact, editors of his publication, Final Call, consult frequently with me. A week ago, one of them, Toure Muhammad, called me for a commentary on the situation in The Gambia. Now, whether Farrakhan can help fix BLACK AMERICAN problems, I don't know. His past anti-Semitic invective dogs him and tends, in my view, to detract from his excellent message of self-help. He says he has "changed" but Jewish leaders would be a better judge at that than me. He could drop his characteristic incendiary rhetoric. But if he did that, the media would ignore him. Matt, one of the saddest aspects of the media today for black people is that, unless you hurl racist invective and threaten, nobody will pay much attention to you. Minister Farrakhan is media-savvy. You don't get on CBS by preaching self-help alone. I call it a Farrakhan conundrum: The message is good but the invective is bad. Drop the invective and the media will ignore you.
On helping fix Africa's problems, I see Farrakhan playing very little role. First, he does not connect with suffering African people. He consorts with the tyrants in Libya, Ghana, Nigeria, etc. He denounces racists, imperialists, Zionists and colonialists when he is in Africa. I have yet to hear him denounce one African despot. Second, ISLAM or the Arabs are becoming a problem in Africa. Islam is not indigenous to Africa, where the Arabs were no different from the Europeans. Both were colonizers and slavers. Slavery is still practiced by the Islamic regimes in Mauritania and Sudan TODAY and Minister Farrakhan has persistently refused to denounce it. Now, if the Europeans had not colonized Africa, the Arabs would have. And for being beaten at the game, the Arabs never forgave the Europeans ~ one reason for Arab hatred of the West.
Therefore, during the struggle for independence in Africa, an Afro-Arab solidarity was inevitable. "The enemy of my enemy must be my friend," Africans thought. But now, African way of thinking has changed drastically and anyone promoting Islam in sub-Saharan Africa is regarded with suspicion.
I will share this letter with Jude because he also asked me about Farrakhan. Let me know how I can help with the op-ed piece.
George Ayittey, Ph.D.