Monday, August 24, 2009

Corruption & Africa : The Introduction

I have been waiting for quite a while for the inspiration to start my blog posting here on LMG World TV and just as I was beginning to think that I was devoid of one creative bone in my body, today as I began reading the latest in corruption news I felt the familiar writers twinge to express.

So here goes. This year I made two trips to the continent of Africa, one to Tunisia in MENA (Middle East North Africa) and the second to Nigeria (Sub-Saharan Africa). The differences between the two could not be more stark from cultural, lingual, political, historical and economic perspectives and perhaps the differences could lend some insight into the plight of Sub Saharan Africa states. Tunisia with a population of a little over 10 million is culturally very middle eastern in its food, music, language and identity (approximately 98% Arab - CIA Factbook), the language is arabic and french, political system is a parliamentary democracy and historically a former french colony. From an economic perspective Tunisia has a diverse economy, with agricultural, mining, tourism, and manufacturing sectors and a GDP per capita of approximately 7900USD.

Nigeria on the other hand with an approximate population of 149 million is a former British colony, culturally diverse with 50% muslim, 40% christian and the rest indigenous cultures. There are over 200 languages and an economy centered around petroleum and a GDP per capita of 2300USD. According to sources oil-rich Nigeria, has been long hobbled by political instability, corruption, inadequate infrastructure, and poor macroeconomic management.

It would seem that Tunisia on a per capita basis is certainly more well off than Nigeria, providing its citizens with a higher quality and standard of living and this I did observe first hand when I was there, notwithstanding the grandeur of Nigeria's new capital city Abuja. Abuja, as ostentatious as LA, a city conceived and built from scratch by the Nigerian Government, some 20-30 years ago, to reflect the true essence of the country is full of fantastic structures, four and five lane highways, massive sometimes palatial homes but shockingly at night no traffic lights or street lighting! When I asked about why this was so, I was informed that there was not enough energy coming into the city!

No doubt, Sub-Saharan Africa is a fascinating continent reflecting a disturbing paradox of wealth and poverty. Some African countries can be said to be some of the richest in the world when one looks at the abundance of resources like oil, minerals, sunshine but also some of the poorest in the world when one considers the quality of life, health care and poverty statistics. Many writers have tried to explore the phenomenon about why Africa is poor with varying degrees of success.

It is clear that the answer or answers are not as simple as one would hope and some of the theories postulated will certainly ruffle the feathers of many. It certainly could not have helped Sub Saharan Africa to actualise when from very early its resource richness was seen as an object of plunder by external forces. It could not have helped that the growth of many of these nations was stunted by the mass exportation of slave labour or the subsequent "take vs build" and "divide & conquer" imperialist ideology, the remnants of which remain firmly embedded in the culture and thinking of the people. It could not have helped that people were thrown together with artificial boundaries regardless of culture, language or religion by external parties. It could not have helped that as the developed world in this century began to take responsibility for the travesty of Africa that the dis-empowering solution proposed was the "give a bible and some bread" philosophy without consideration of the longer term focus on sustainable economic growth and development.

Now while I am the first one to jump on the bandwagon of all the above reasons for Africa's plight and what follows is no watering down of this at all - there does come a time when responsibility must be taken from within the boundaries of Africa for the continued suffering of its people. Recently Obama in his speech in Ghana and Hilary Clinton as she made her tour of Africa as US Secretary of State urged the leaders to clean up the mess. Certainly it is easy for us to proselytize from the outside. Is it true that corruption is now a significant factor in Africa's current economic plight?

YES Africa has been raped and pillaged by other countries and suffered through dis-empowering aid efforts and continual disadvantage from unequal bargaining power in international trade negotiations BUT is that 100% of the story? Is there a level of culpability which the post colonial African leaders must have for the continued plight of Africa? Is it true that African Leadership seems attracted to positions of power not to serve but to enrich themselves? Is the African Leadership truly blind or ignorant to the effects of their actions on their impoverished constituency? This is the rhetoric now because the statistics are revealing that corruption does play a part in diverting the wealth of the countries' resources into the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. How big a part it plays when one takes all the factors into play? That is a question to be addressed. The future of the children of Africa will depend on the response of its leaders to the present crisis.

In this series Corruption & Africa, I propose to take one Sub Saharan African country at a time in no particular order and analyse (i) their political, regulatory and economic systems and (ii) the actions of their leaders to determine the extent to which corruption can be said to be a significant part of the answer to the question : why Sub Saharan Africa remains so impoverished? Many writers have traversed this road and we will be citing some of their work as references along the way. This is the LMG Window to Corruption and Africa. If this is a topic that interests you and you want to learn more I look forward to you taking this journey with me. If you have done some research in this area already, even better! Feel free to drop a line, statistic, story, factoid or point of view which will assist us as we build this work.

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