Home FINANCE & ECONOMY AFRICA – FACING THE 21ST CENTURY By …. Sir Shridath Ramphal &...

AFRICA – FACING THE 21ST CENTURY By …. Sir Shridath Ramphal & HUMAN DESIRE FOR POWER ….. By Obafemi Awolowo


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This compilation treats two important issues that appear very fundamental to Africa’s desire to move along the envisaged path of progress. These issues are matters for concern considering the fact that Africa is the richest continent in terms of mineral and natural resources, but is disappointingly the poorest region of the world. This compilation addresses the three concerns captioned above.

These are successor generation and debts problems addressed by former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Sir Shridath Surendranath Ramphal GCMG AC ONZ OE OCC QC, often known as Sir Sonny Ramphal, who was a Guyanese politician and the second Commonwealth Secretary-General. He held the position from 1975 to 1990 and was succeeded by Nigeria’s Chief Emeka Anyaoku as Commonwealth Secretary-General. Ramphal was awarded Commonwealth Lifetime Achievement Award 2013. Sir Ramphal delivered a lecture at the tenth anniversary of the Africa Leadership Forum, held in Cotonou, Benin Republic in 1998. The issues raised in that paper are still very helpful to the cause of Africa today. It is spiced with Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s postulation on Human Desire for Power, considered as one of the problems drawing Africa back.

“Let us make no pretense about it, every human being loves power; power over his fellow men in the state, or in business enterprises; or failing that; power over his wife and children, and over his brothers, sisters, and friends, or, in the case of children, power over his playmates. Of these categories of power, the desire for power over one’s fellow men is the strongest.”
Obafemi Awolowo
Elsewhere, the foremost nationalist noted that: “Power enslaves: absolute power enslaves absolutely. I have made a diligent search through history, and I have not come across a single instance where a regime, be it military or civilian, which has come to power at its own will, and has wielded that power for many years, has found it easy to extricate itself from the sweet uses and shackles of power, and then hand it to others outside its own hierarchy. It is possible, quite possible, that my search is not exhaustive and so, I stand to be corrected.” – Obafemi Awolowo; In Voice of Courage 198.

Guyana-born, Sir Shridath, was the second recipient of the award which was bestowed on the legendary Nelson Mandela in 2012..The citation of the Award recalled that “Nelson Mandela said of Sir Shridath that he is one of those men who have become famous because in their fight for human justice, they have chosen the entire world as their theatre”. “Elected three times by Commonwealth Heads of Government, he served for 15 momentous years as Commonwealth Secretary-General – the only person to have so enjoyed the confidence and trust of leaders over so long a time.

“He placed the Commonwealth at centre-stage in the common challenges that confronted the world and he effectively fashioned a consensus that allowed the Commonwealth – even though it could not negotiate for the world – to help the world to negotiate. Under his stewardship, the Commonwealth tackled the issues of poverty and development, of climate change and disarmament, of bridging the divide between countries of the North and South and seeking new paths for international co-operation. “He believes in the oneness of humanity. He led an unremitting Commonwealth struggle against racism in Southern Africa and in particular against apartheid in South Africa. He led that struggle with political acumen – often appealing to people over the heads of reluctant leaders – and bound together with the Commonwealth’s values of democracy and development and of human rights and human advancement.

At the Commonwealth Secretariat, he focused on change and renewal – constantly ensuring that the Commonwealth was relevant not only to the people of its own member states but also to the global community. “The Commonwealth owes more than it can repay to the tireless endeavours and creative statesmanship of the recipient of the 2103 Commonwealth Lifetime Award, Sir Shridath Ramphal.”

The failure to free Africa from the shackles of the debt problem all these years is all the more reprehensible in view of the fact that most of the region’s debt – nearly four-fifths, is owed to official creditors, i.e to governments under bilateral programmes or to multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. As a multiplicity of private banks is not involved, a successful approach to the question of debt reduction should have been easier. The approach now being followed, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries or HIPC Initiative, designed to help 4I countries of which 33 are in this region, is the best so far, but how slowly and how grudgingly does it confer its benefits! Since it was started in I966, only six countries have so far passed the stringent eligibility test that qualifies them for assistance under the programme, and only one country, Uganda, has seen any actual reduction in its debt. Mozambique will join Uganda next year, but it will be only in the new millennium that a third African country, Burkina Faso, sees any of its debt reduced.

There has been a strong campaign to persuade rich country governments to make the scheme less rigid and offer faster relief to debt-burdened poor countries. The UN secretary-general has called for broader access to HIPC relief, and the UN Children’s Fund and developmental agencies like Oxfam have drawn special attention to the effect that high debt service payments are having on children because these are forcing governments to cut expenditure even on their health and education. Improvements in the HIPC scheme are known to have been blocked by the intransigence of certain countries, notably Germany. It is to be hoped that the recent change of government in Bonn will lead to a more accommodating approach.

DEBT RELIEF: Relief from the debt burden can give a much-needed stimulus to the development efforts of many countries and would be particularly valuable now in helping to moderate the effects on Africa of the worldwide recession that is now threatened. In addressing the role of the international economy in securing humanity’s future, the Brundtland Commission on Sustainable Development made the basic point that “the pursuit of sustainability requires major changes in international economic relations.” It elaborated this in its report “Our Common Future” as follows:

Two conditions must be satisfied before international economic exchanges can become beneficial for all involved. The sustainability of ecosystems on which the global economy depends must be guaranteed. And the economic partners must be satisfied that the basis of exchange is equitable; relationships that are unequal and based on the dominance of one kind or another are not a sound and durable basis for interdependence. For many developing countries, neither condition is met. That was in I987.

In I995, the Commission on Global Governance had this to say:
A sophisticated, globalized, increasingly affluent world currently co-exists with a marginalised global underclass. The post-war system of economic governance has seen – and facilitated – the most remarkable growth in economic activity and improvements in living standards within human history. Many indicators of social progress – infant mortality, literacy, life expectancy, nutrition – have improved significantly, at least in terms of global averages…. brings this out better than the bondage of debt. Let the numbers speak for themselves: Microsoft Corporation makes $34 million profit a day. This is what Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region, pays each day in debt service (interest and capital repayments). Developing countries paid $60 per person in debt service last year – a total of $270 billion, up from $I60 billion in I990.

A PICTURE OF AFRICA WITHOUT DEBT – AS AT 1998: If African countries did not have to pay the debt, the money released would save the lives of about 2I million children by the year 2000 and provide 90 million girls and women with access to basic education. Each day, developing countries pay rich countries US$7I7 million in debt service. By I980, developing countries owed the rest of the world $600 billion. Today, the figure stands at $2.2 trillion. Britain spends $926 per person each year on health and $568 per person on the military; Jamaica spends $48 per person on health, $II per person on the military, and $264 per person on debt service. Yet Jamaica is not eligible for debt relief as its debts are not big enough. There has seemingly been no lack of international activity to deal with this problem. The number of conferences at which the debt issue has been discussed is legion.

A mélange of capitals or countries has given their names to initiatives intended to relieve the plight of indebted countries: London, Lyons, Mauritius, Naples, Toronto, & Trinidad. But the results have been meagre. The predicament of poor countries struggling under the debt burden has prompted commentators to recall the Greek story of Sisyphus, the king who was condemned to Hades, to remain there and roll a stone endlessly up a hill, a stone that kept rolling down each time it was rolled up. Not only does the stone of debt keep rolling down, but – like a snowball – it also becomes bigger and heavier as it does so, as accumulated arrears, on interest payments and capital repayments are added to the debt. Two-thirds of the increase in the debt of sub-Saharan Africa since I988, are attributed to arrears. Only in Africa region has debt as a proportion of national income risen over the last decade.

AFRICA LEADERSHIP FORUM has been involved with leadership development since 1988. The vision of ALF is to improve the quality and performance of Africa in the critical position of authority in Africa. To encourage the diagnosis, understanding and informed search for solutions to local, regional and global problems, taking account of their inter-relationship and mutual consequences, involving both current and future leaders To develop, organize and support programmes for the training of able, capable and promising Africans with leadership potential so as to expose them to the demands, duties, and obligations of leadership positions to prepare them.

A deep examination of the history of leadership and governance in Africa is replete with instances of leaders who violate or change constitutional provisions fraudulently to perpetuate themselves in office. Some have succeeded while others yet were forced out by revolts. In its 12th April, 2019 edition, The Nigerian Guardian newspaper examined the issue of sit-tight leaders in Africa. It utilized Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir’s as an example noting that: ‘’After a 30-year rule, mostly characterized by government repression, violation of human rights, restrictions of religious freedom and disregard for basic obligations to citizens, the rug was pulled from under feet. In a military take-over, Al-Bashir, 75, was ousted from power and the curtains were drawn on an inglorious spell on the Sudanese people. He subsequently got re-elected as President thrice in elections that were said to be questionable. He was accused of allegedly directing a campaign of mass killing, rape and pillage against civilians in Darfur. He was ousted violently.
Algeria’s President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika: Algeria’s President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82 years old was in his fourth term in office and had rarely been seen in public for nearly six years as a result of a stroke, had plans to seek a fifth term. Left with no options, the military, led by Lt. Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah, waded in and declared Bouteflika incapable of carrying out his duties. And Bouteflika fell.
Libya’s Moummar Ghaddfi (assumed power in 1969), Tunisia’s Ben Ali (1988), Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (1981), Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (1980) to Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh (1994), Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema all have the same story of getting into power only to feel reluctant to quit office after several years of ruling their countries. It appears to some observers that their people had been hoodwinked or were simply helpless about the situation following the authoritarian disposition of these leaders who were alleged to have operated the most corrupt governments.
•Presidents Nguema Mbasago of Equatorial Guinea (since 1979),
•Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (since 1986),
•Blaise Campore of Burkina Faso (since 1987),
•Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea (since 1993)
•Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (since 1995)
•Idrissu Deby of Chad (since 1990),
•Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho (since 1998),
•Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti (since 1999),
•Mohammed VI of Morocco (since 1999), Mswati III of Swaziland (since 1986),
•Paul Biya of Cameroon (since 1982)
•Paul Kagame (since 2000).

Even in instances where some of the leaders are elected through the democratic process, they manipulate vital democratic institutions/frameworks such as the judiciary and the legislature and the constitution to enable them to suppress opposition to their bids to hang on to power. The late President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana led his country to independence from Britain in 1957 and contributed immensely to the liberation of other African countries from the colonialists. He was elected Ghana’s President in 1960. Unfortunately, when he caught the bug in 1964, he declared his party CPP as the only legal party to participate in elections. He was later overthrown in a military coup while on a visit to China in 1966 after ruling for nine years. Thereafter, he lived in Guinea on exile.
•Felix Houphouet-Boigny, first president of Cote D’Ivoire was President for 33 years and died in office. At his death, he was the third longest-serving head-of-state in the world.
•Laurent Gbagbo was president of Cote D’Ivoire for 11 years. He lost his re-election bid in a free and fair election was disgracefully removed.
•Hosni Mubarak was in power in Egypt for 30 years and was removed by the Arab spring protests that hit North Africa
•President Ben Ali of Tunisia ruled for over 20 years before his removal from office by the Arab Spring revolt.
•Gnassingbe Eyadema was president of Togo for 38 years. He came in through a coup d’état and refused to leave until his death. Eyadema ran Togo as a personal estate. His son, Faure Gnassingbe, became the President of Togo in 2005 after his father’s death. In all, Togo’s presidency has been in the household of the Eyademas (father & son) for 53 years, no break
•José Eduardo dos Santos was Angola’s president from 1979-2017. He later changed the constitution to enable him stay in power until 2022 when he will be 80 years old. He has, however, voluntarily stepped down, ending his 38-year rule.
•Ahmadu Ahidjo and Paul Biya have been the two presidents of Cameroon since the nation secured independence in 1960. President Ahmadou Ahidjo after 22 years in office, while Paul Biya has been president for more than 30 years. Biya assumed office in 1982, and in 2008 got the parliament to pass a controversial amendment to the constitution that enabled Biya, 87years old, run for a third term. He won another election to remain in power.
•It is the same in Rwanda, where Paul Kagame has not only held on to power but also masterminded a constitutional amendment to make remain in office till 2024. A constitutional referendum was held on December 18, 2015 and amendments were made to allow President Kagame run for a third term in office in 2017 as well as shorten presidential terms from seven to five years. The latter change would not come into effect until 2024.
THE IDEAL: Famed Nelson Mandela was in office for only five years. Mandela spent 27 years in prison fighting for democracy in South Africa. He chose to be president of the country for only one-term of five years, after which he toed the path of honour by stepping down. For the purpose of an academic exercise, we will quickly pull out the opinion of Chief Obafemi Awolowo on this trend.
May the Good Lord Bless Nigeria! And may the Good Lord Bless Africa!!