In The Name of Global Equality: Power Acquisition and Corruption of the African Elite
By Dohrea Bardell
In the rush for global economical equality, many of the Third World governments signed up for hefty loans from the World Bank in order for them to develop and modernize their countries, with the ultimate goal of enjoying the fruits of the advanced Western industrial life style. Global equality through national development seemed like a worthy purpose. Although the African continent is known for many rich resources and marketing possibilities, the lure of equality to the Western hemisphere motivated many of its leaders to join the developmental projects with $450 billion worth of loans since 1960, but with little signs of improvements (Ayittey, 2009, p. 37). Worse, Africa’s dire economy is spiraling downward without a sight of hope for the millions of suffering people. What happened to the plans to modernize and develop? To banish poverty and become an equal player in the global market place? In Misleading Africa (2009), George B. N. Ayittey explains the politics of power and corruption in the African ruling elite, whom the World Bank and Western powers have entrusted with large sums of money, propping them up, only to witness disaster after disaster “sucking the country into a vortex of carnage and mayhem: Somalia (1993), Rwanda (1994), Burundi (1995), Zaire (1996) … For some of these countries, there is still no end in sight” (p. 42). In this essay I will summarize and critically review Ayittey’s examination of Africa in his article Misleading Africa (2009), his perspective as to what went wrong in Africa, and the strengths and weaknesses of the solutions offered to remedy Africa’s political and economical state.
The Western approach has been to loan money to Third World countries and then restructure the loans when the countries cannot make the payments, adding many conditions that strip away power from the local government, enforcing changes to national and foreign policies—from cutting budgets to education and health care services, to changing commercial and agricultural participation in the global market. The result is that the “restructuring” of the policies that govern the states, administer rulings that reposition the World Bank/IMF from entities of global lenders, helping countries to develop and grow—to power yielding entities that “restructure national economies and redistributes power within the state” (McMichael, 2008, p. 141). The shift moves resources from state agencies that support the “majority of citizenry” to the “agencies more directly connected to global enterprise: global economic criteria override national social criteria” (p. 141). McMichael describes the “shrinking” of the states in Africa as a decision by the World Bank to “help” in the “reorganization of state administration”, since the governments were too corrupt, using the funds for their own prosperity, such as Zaire President Mobutu “lavish life style” (p. 142). Economical prudence seems like a good reason for reorganization, except that the World Bank is using the scheme to gain a “growing external control of these countries” (p.142).
Critical Review: Misleading Africa (2009)
In the name of global equality, many African leaders utilize money given to their countries as means to garner power. These are the leaders Ayittey (2009) labels the “ruling elites” who have “learned to amass private wealth, punish their rivals and perpetuate their grip on power” (p. 42). But the political and economical state of affairs is even more disturbing than a few rulers amassing money on the side, building up their estates and bank accounts in order for them to be considered as “equal” to the Western leaders. The acquisition of power is a behavioral pattern that has been practiced throughout history by many political leaders, filled with the desire to prop their name up and utilize power to their maximum benefit. In Africa, the West “unwittingly compound[s] this tragedy. In its haste to develop Africa…billions of dollars in Western development aid flowed into the modern sector and urban arena—the seat of government and the abode of ruling elite” (p.42). The ruling elite have created “the vampire state” to the point that Ayittey considers the position of the government in Africa as dead: “Government as we know it ceased to exist. In its place arouse the vampire state—a government hijacked by a gang of unrepentant bandits and vagabonds… who used the machinery of the state to enrich themselves” (p. 42). The West on the other hand advertizes many states in Africa as “success stories” (pp.37-38), painting a picture of progress with “a respectable 5.2 percent rate of economic growth in 2007” while the reality of the global recession is undoing the expansion, the poor is still suffering, and there is no real investments in the countries for future growth (p. 38).
Ayittey (2009) emphasizes the need to investigate Africa’s culture and history to understand how to help the continent heal and develop. His key point is that the majority of Africans, the producers of “Africa’s real wealth—cash crops, diamonds, gold and other minerals” live in the “traditional and informal sectors”, while the West with money for development projects focused on the “modern” and urban, with the “assumption that this sector would be the engine hauling the rest of society into prosperity” (p. 39). And that is the mistake the West has made: investing in the wrong sector of society, which “has only strengthened the artificial, parasitic African vampire state in its quest to devour the rest of society” (p. 39). Africa’s traditional and informal sectors have sustained its people for centuries, families rather than governments owned land, “pool the resources of its members to produce agricultural products, the surpluses of which are sold on free markets at the village and regional levels” (p. 40). Free enterprise was the social and economical structure for these sectors until the colonial rule “disrupted but did not destroy the traditional political economy in most places” (p. 40), which means that the colonial rule knew how to keep these structures operating for their own benefits. The real change occurred after the colonial rule, with the desire of its new leaders to ignore the “backward and primitive” and modernize (p.41).
In his analysis, Ayittey (2009) brings to view how the African leaders, blinded by the Western ways, yet rejecting democracy as “imperialist dogma”, imposed “A plethora of state controls”, “consolidate[ed] their authority” (p. 41), amassed power and wealth, all the while creating “a system of economic apartheid” (p.42). The West, ignoring the power and corruption, continued to pour billions into the hands of the elite, somehow expecting success while “build[ing] on foundations of despotism, repression, state terrorism and manipulated ethnic hatred” (p.42). In the name of creating global market equality, industrialization as a mean to develop and modernize the African states may have worked if it was given to the right sectors, allowing the existing free enterprise system, run by families to thrive and grow (p. 41). The ultimate question is therefore, does the West care to whom it has given the money, as long as Africa produces the commodities that the West desires? Ayittey does not ask this question as he assumes that the West does care. A weak key point in his analysis.
The Western leaders may not be as ignorant of Africa’s historical and cultural structures as Ayittey deems to believe. The article emphasizes that the West does not reach into the depth of Africa, and only deals with those who speak Western languages, most often the elite who wants to acquire power and money “who may or may not take the interests of the larger society to heart” (p.39). However, the colonial rule has already penetrated into many of Africa states, and learned of Africa’s cultural and economical configuration. Although Ayittey’s key point has merits, and the reality of the ruling elite is evident (p. 40-41), his view does not take into account the Western role in creating the desire for an artificial equality; a Western lifestyle that is non-sustainable, far from the African cultural and historical constitution, and was corrupt in how it has acquired its lifestyle habits, and manifested its wealth. Throwing money at Africa, may be one way of controlling Africa’s resources, an act the West, in fact, has proliferated all over the Third World (McMichael, 2008, p. 134).
Undoing Power and Corruption Ayittey (2009) has several key solutions to “fixing Africa”, requiring a restructuring in how democracy is built and governed, the “diffusion of power”, and implementation of “power-sharing arrangements particular to local realities” (p.42). Since Africa’s ability to govern in this manner is “deeply embedded”, the possibility of positive changes in the political and economical structures are promising. The only thing standing on the way of reform is therefore the ruling elite who will not relinquish their power. Furthering the possibility for positive change is China who “[doesn’t] seem to mind dealing with the vampire elites. One-stop shopping for China’s voracious appetite for natural resources is, after all, quite convenient” (p.43). Ayittey forgets that the West also does not mind dealing with these vampire states and gives or stops giving money to Africa for its own reasons. The solution outlined to fix Africa, with the reasons of “practicality” (Africa will implode generating “humanitarian crises”) or ethically (the guilt of the West in propping up “tyrannical regimes”) for reforming its aid don’t serve the interest of the World Bank/IMF or any Western governments, transnational corporation or the WTO. Ayittey declares the G-8 promises to increase aid as “vain initiatives”, feeding the vampire states only, and considers the work of Jubilee 2000 to cancel the debt as creating a debased “moral hazard by rewarding past reckless behavior” (p.44), and allowing the elite to continue in their corruption. The problem with this perspective is that the poor citizenship of Africa suffers more as the debt grows, shouldering both the West and its own elites political and economical transactions.
Ayittey’s desire to see the elite ruling class dealt with is akin to many Third World groups who are fighting their own governments and Western institutions like the World Bank or the IMF. Many demonstrations have erupted to give voice to the citizen’s anger (McMichael, 2008, p. 136). His key insight is that real solutions would have to be generated internally, building upon “Africa’s own institutions”, free trade and free market (p.45), calling for African “central bank” to deal with the World Bank, a judiciary system that is national and local, free election, civil service and independent media “to ensure free flow of information” (p.45). The outline is of a democratic government, but with the caveat that Europe and the U.S participate in creating this structure, bringing the American unions, expertise of how to get rid of “despotism”; putting the expertise of the West “to use in Africa” (p.45). Can Africa rise up and create a revolution within, freeing itself from both Western rule and its own elite rule?
Ayittey does not seem to think that Africa can restructure and recreate its own economy without Western help. He is of the mind that global economy means that the more powerful West has to help, albeit in a certain way, in order for Africa to reshape and reform. Much of his blame is on Western naïveté of African culture and history, the guilt emanating from colonial days, with emphasis on African elite ruler, the “vampire states”, who amass power and money from the hands of the West, continuing on to devastate and pillage African resources, leaving in their wake poverty and disease. Although Ayittey’s analysis grapples with the realities many Third World countries are experiencing, the “colonial rule” seems to bond the West to Africa in a special attachment of guilt. Furthermore, the elite rulers seem to “charm” Western leaders into believing “a new African renaissance” in happening, as Clinton did in 1998 (p.44).
McMichael (2008) outlines how the pattern of the Western powers has been consistent in establishing the rules and regulations that destroy the economies of Third World countries, with Export-oriented industrialization (shifting states resources—into export manufacturing, pp. 88-89), Export processing zones (zones within the country ruled by transnational corporation utilizing cheap unorganized labor, pp.93-95), and other practices such as inducing monoculture, and destroying lands and forests in the process (pp. 32-33). Africa is a part of this pattern. McMichael (2008) labels the globalization projects of the Western institutions of power as “Global Recolonization” (p.219), and that is the key point that stands out as missing in Ayittey’s article: Africa is a stand-alone continent, not touched by the world’s struggle with the World Bank/IMF and WTO. It is viewed as a unique case, with its own exceptional inner democracy, cultural and historical beauty that is being abused by the ruling elite; and supported by the West. The colonial rule is spoken as a bond rather than a destructive force, worldwide, that many countries are still struggling against. It is a disconnected article from the rest of the Third World countries and that is its main weakness. For Africa to stand on its own, it needs support, not from the West (although many organizations in the West can indeed help), but from other Third World organizations who are engaged in the fight for freedom and national governance. Ayittey article is a rich analysis of not only African search for success, but many Third World struggles to develop their countries and enjoy the much advertized “American Dream”, manifested as a global project to industrialize the whole globe, create free markets and participate in world commerce, all for the purpose of being “equal” to the West in the established modern lifestyle. Ayittey close examination of Africa’s ruling elite, how money is spent, power and corruption, as well as depicting the traditional cultural free enterprise of the African people, can be found in many other countries, hence his strength of his analytical skill of Africa is also his weakness—he forgets that Africa’s struggle is also the struggle of billions other people, living in many parts of the world.
Ayittey, G. Misleading Africa. The American Interest, March/April, 2009, pp. 36-45.
McMichael, P. (2008). Development and Social Change. Thousands Oaks: Pine Forge