Friday, July 07, 2006

the decline in african fortunes since the 1960's has no better summary than this one by charles onyango-obbo of the nation media group in nairobi, kenya ...

For African states, ending graft is like committing suicide

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

There are African presidents who, occasionally, break with the mould and speak the plain truth. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni used to be a great one for that.

These days, you can expect some refreshing performances from Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, and even Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. But, most particularly, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade.

Last week Wade, one of the crafters of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), said it had failed miserably. Under Nepad, Africans leaders agreed to adopt higher standards of managing their countries’ affairs; stop stealing the people’s money and oppressing them; and allow their peers to review the way they were running things. In exchange, the donor countries would increase their development aid support; and write off the foreign debt of the nations that made the grade.

Wade said nothing had come out of Nepad partly because lousy managers had been appointed to run it, and very few countries had submitted themselves to peer review. Though aid and debt forgiveness came, there was little to show for it. "Nepad has not built a single mile of road," he said. He promised, however, that the problems that have plagued it would be fixed. That said, any new efforts might still change Africa’s corrupt ways only marginally, if at all.

One reason is that corruption today forms the building block of nearly every African political enterprise. Something happened on this fair continent when the euphoria of independence began to fade at the close of the 1960s and the commodity export economies started collapsing in the 1970s. In the 1980s, most African countries were buried and only started to resurrect in the mid-1990s. Some, like Somalia, still remain in limbo.

The economic crisis into which most countries plunged eroded the ability of governments to win legitimacy and support through offering public goods like new schools, hospitals and roads.

Because bankrupt governments could no longer win popularity through things like provision of services, the architecture of patronage changed.

Governments’ main resource was no longer, for example, how many jobs they created, but how many of the existing jobs they could give out to cronies.

Where previously a government would build a road to a county and then top it off with a dispensary, it now moved to picking out a few people from the tribe living in that area and feeding them on "behalf" of their tribe.

Several governments succeeded remarkably at this. Corruption and nepotism came to serve a representational purpose. To this day, delegations come from upcountry to many African State Houses not to demand a road or electricity for their district, but to complain that the president hasn’t appointed their "son" to a plump job.

But for corruption to become as entrenched as it has, it needed something else to fuel the culture of unaccountability. That partly came through the donor money that was poured into some of the basket cases.

Donor funds were seen either to be free, or were viewed as strangers’ money; therefore, the kind of guilt that people feel at stealing from a neighour was absent when they looted it.

In this way, many African countries plunged into the Catch-22 morass they are in today. Because they are poor, corruption thrives. And as long as their governments remain corrupt, they can’t deal with graft – one of the key factors entrenching poverty.

No African country has been able to deal effectively with corruption through conventional reform. In those that have made some successes, like Rwanda, the old state and extraction networks first had to collapse and dissolve in the war and genocide of 1994.

The moral of this tale is very scary.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s managing editor for convergence and new products.


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Thursday, June 22, 2006

... we live in interesting times.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

the grandeur that was rome ... that is the verdict on the new georgia aquarium. it is massive!! with massive exhibits ... especially liked the beluga whales and the whale shark (king of fish). however, as anyone that has visited the nearby tennessee aquarium would attest, this georgia thing, all $300 million of it, doesn't hold a candle to the tennessee one. there is something intimate about the tennessee aquarium, something that makes you feel you are getting your money's worth ... not so with the georgia aquarium. hopefully georgia aqua will come up to speed and improve the exhibits ... cause if others go my route and decide the place ain't worth a second visit, they may be in trouble. but then again, schoolkids will always be there ... and they stand to benefit the most from the project.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

so, jm coetzee wins a nobel prize for lit and of course there is such a
brouhaha because he is a white writer writing about africa, and white
europe colonized black africa, and therefore his work, especially in so
far as its protagonists are white, cannot be anything but a return of the
colonial & postcolonial misadventures of white europe. further, even
contemplation (by a white writer) of black protagonists exercising their
existence in africa falls under the purview of said misadventures.

and then i picked up disgrace and later waiting for the barbarians.
and those arguments took on a most spurious shade after i had the
opportunity to peruse these works. Disgrace is mostly about how south
africa has become a world of pitiless retribution and hard moral choices
(esp. for whites, but the black masses are not faring that much better
either). the gangsta film tsotsi picked up on this theme as well.

waiting for the barbarians, on the other hand, can rank as one of the
best novels ever. it is about a white man who is a judge at an anonymous
outpost of empire that gets relieved of his post by some smart-asses
from the capital. the judge is relieved of his post for about a year, and
the story is told during this period, as the judge comes face to face with
the barbarian in the hearts of men.

towards the end of the novel, the smart-asses are overwhelmed by the
savage, low-tech "barbarians" native to the lands at the frontier of the
empire. The smart-asses retreat back to civilization and the judge can
assume once more his command of the outpost. read as a metaphor for
life, it places the present at the frontier outpost, the past at the capital,
and the future at the world beyond the limits of empire, the land of the

written in 1980, the story anticipates the independence of south africa
by more than a decade. granted, some of the charges leveled against
conrad (esp. characterization) are valid against coetzee too in waiting for
the barbarians, except that many of coetzee's characters in the work are
developed only in a functional sense (even the main character). this, in my
opinion, only adds to the story's appeal.

so, what's not to like about coetzee? at the rate i'm going, i'll soon read
more of his works than i have of ngugi wa thiongo, david maillu, chinua
achebe, wole soyinka, nadine gordimer, naguib mahfouz, and barbara
kimenye. perhaps someone can shortcut me to the one book of his that
really pissed black africa off (if it exists). and for the record, i enjoyed
the heart of darkness tremendously, and have joyfully absolved conrad
of many of the charges leveled against him in the second half of the 20th
century. except for participating in the colonial venture, off course.

Monday, March 06, 2006

for the first time in a bit, the folks at the academy awards have awarded oscars to a movie and an actress that i think are pretty good: "crash" and rachel weisz.

i did not see all the oscar-nominated movies for 2005, but i watched "crash" and it was the best movie i'd watched in a long while. doesn't rattle as much as "the passion of the christ" but it does rattle all the same (doesn't bite like GoK, though). highly recommended if you haven't watched it.

rachel weisz is famous for movies where she rewinds the weary theme of european misadventures in africa ("mummy 1 & 2", "constant gardener"). nonetheless, i like her work in "about a boy" and "the shape of things" very, very much. i've seen her in supporting roles mostly, hope she will move on up to big things and anchor a major motion picture some day.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

To the Commander of the Golden Heart: A Protest

We are pained and shamed at the horrors of the night
We are crazed and maimed by the tremor of the sight
We decline to disillusion on the clamor of these shouts
King of hearts respond to this: who are the gods routs

- On the raiding of the Standard Newspaper Offices in
Nairobi, Kenya. March 2, 2006.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"Teachers have killed poetry and the corpse they present to students in secondary schools invokes fear and dread. " - Egara Kabaji

I rarely agree with this guy but I concur with the above statement. Check out the link to the full article ...