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Shining stars in Africa, with caveats

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As we come to the close of the second decade in the twenty-first century I would like to highlight the three stars that embody the hopes and challenges of the continent. They represent in my very subjective interpretation, the way forward for the continent because the countries and leaders have achieved milestones that the rest of Africa could learn from. While COVID-19 is the major crisis we all face, for decades Africa has struggled with major socio-economic challenges that have left the continent at the bottom of league tables in most indicators on poverty, health, and food insecurity.

The major driving force for this situation has been poor governance which has made it difficult for the continent to make use of abundant natural resources and opportunities in economic development and trade and aid flows. The countries on my list are Ghana, Nigeria, and Rwanda. They have been chosen because of significant positive developments in governance, specifically relating to voters’ choice in elections, corruption and the efficacy and efficiency of the government.

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Ghana which led the way in terms of gaining independence has also led in terms of democracy, having changed governments peacefully multiple times in the last three decades. In fair and reasonably well managed elections, voters have punished/rewarded parties on the basis of their record in government and/or their positions relating to major issues. Ghana’s move to the democratic model is an interesting one, with a brutal break initiated by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlins who took over in a military coup three decades ago but then peacefully accepted the will of voters when they rejected his party. Since then voters have held the sway, the media and judiciary have been reasonably independent by African and world standards. The democratic model is still a work in progress with voting patterns often reflecting ethnic loyalties and significant levels of fake news because journalists have been “bought” and corruption.

In 2015 Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer cited Ghana as the second-worst performer in Africa in a survey of people’s views on corruption, with 76% saying that corruption had increased. Voters no doubt considered that flaw with the government among other reasons when they decided to remove the party in government at the time of the Transparency report as noted in a review of a presentation by the president at the time.

When it comes to probably the most crucial indicator, economic growth, democracy has definitely been an improvement since Rawlins stepped in three decades ago when the country was at its nadir. The current government took note and made the economy its major focus, with the country recording the fastest growth in Africa and indeed the world at 8.3% in 2018 and 8.8% in 2019.

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The 2019 rate was double that of emerging economies and significantly higher than world growth. While the IMF attributes much of that to new crude oil production and gold and cocoa, it highlighted a stable democracy and initiatives to formalize the economy. The government is obviously aware that it has to perform for its ultimate boss, the Ghanaian voter, taking into account the fact that its predecessor was kicked out of government partly because of the country’s lacklustre economic performance, corruption, and scandals. It should be noted that the democratic model could have a negative effect on the economy with regards to two developments. Firstly, the current government has a bloated administration with an unduly large number of ministers. The government has a policy of setting up factories in all administrative regions. These policies which are geared towards building support in all regions and ethnic groups are a move away from purely economic efficiency criteria.

The other shining star is Buhari’s Nigeria. Few leaders have displayed his integrity and vision which combined with the enormity of the task he faces, place Buhari’s Nigeria in this category, a point made when I argued for a second term for this remarkable leader.

In both his first go at the job, as a general in a military government and a couple of decades later as a civilian, Buhari has not personally been tainted by corruption, the raison d’etre of many African leaders.

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Combined with this integrity and his fight against corruption is his drive to improve Nigeria’s agricultural and industrial capacity. As a military leader, he tried to introduce discipline in Nigerian society and import substitution policies and as a civilian leader, he has embarked on his vision of making use of Nigeria’s abundant natural resources to grow the country’s agricultural and industrial capacity and rebuild its crumbling infrastructure.

As a civilian leader, he has tried to make use of the legal, economic, and political levers and policies to implement his core political and economic visions. The opposition has been fearsome. A very significant proportion of the political elite and judiciary has stymied his reform program. Legislative bodies, even in his own party, more used to dividing the spoils of a corrupt system than actual governance in the form of debating and implementing policies to further the interest of the country, are flummoxed, irritated and have fought back – as Buhari contemplates policies on development issues legislators bicker over their allowances. The judiciary, many if not most of whom have been used to remedying justice on the basis of the highest (bribery) payer have suddenly realised that they must actually dispense real justice.

Ghost (non-existent) government bureaucrats are being flushed out. In Buhari’s Nigeria, charity starts at home so in his party he has instigated measures where candidates are forced to actually fight in primaries for selection rather than assume that once elected the position is for life except for the perfunctory show primary when they shower voters with the crumbs of their ill-gotten gains. The creation of an Efficiency unit, the introduction of the Treasury Single Account System (TSA) which significantly reduced the number of accounts maintained by government departments used to defraud the government and, efforts to retrieve stolen funds are his signature policies in the fight against corruption. These measures are taking place within a background of stiff opposition from corrupt politicians, stymied by legal challenges, aided by an often corrupt judiciary. Buhari ‘s fight is not just in Nigeria as many politicians have moved themselves and stolen funds abroad and use the legal framework of reputable judiciaries in countries like the UK to fight to hold on to their ill-gotten wealth.

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The Buhari project is attempting to get the government to actually deliver its mandate. Government contractors actually have to put in and defend bids for infrastructure projects and once bids are awarded they have to actually do the work.

Changes in the allocation of foreign currencies have made it difficult for spurious subsidised foreign currencies to minimise corrupt manipulation of foreign exchange and encourage domestic manufacturers and agricultural producers who had been placed at a relative disadvantage through subsidisation of imports. The Buhari project, while in the right direction must at the end of the day yield tangible results in the form of key indicators, namely, the level of corruption, national security, the economic growth rate, industrial and agricultural production, power generation, new and rehabilitated infrastructure and ultimately, the perception of the public that the country is moving in the right direction. It should be noted that any assessment must take into account a number of factors, namely, the enormity of challenges Buhari faced, the strong opposition by the political elite, the precipitous fall in the world price of oil, and now COVID-19. In an analysis I made prior to the last election, I concluded that while he was on the right path it was still work in progress. Nigerian voters endorsed that position and gave him a pass when they re-elected him for a second term.

To be continued tomorrow
Rogers is principal consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford, (MEMO) United Kingdom.

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