The African continent is often used to describe failed political systems, greed and corruption. How has the birth place of humans and humanity become associated with war and insecurity? It is often said simply that it is due to poor and unaccountable governance. But, not all of the 54 countries (African Vault, 2016) that constitute Africa are in disarray and many even prosper i.e. Botswana (to be explained later). The following paragraphs are going to critically discuss if African governments are truly influencing this hostile idea of political instability and corruption and how they are they perpetuating it, the role of autocracy, management of natural resources, what narrative is being taken out of African leadership and why are there so many examples of African state failure. In particular, Botswana and Sudan will be analysed for comparison.
Decolonisation and the plague of Autocracy
Before one dives into the issue of autocracy in Africa, we have to understand what came before. Why is Africa decimated by poverty despite being so rich in natural resources? How did the cradle of humankind, earliest known fossil records of human ancestors (Waymen, 2011), get left so far behind in relation to world development? Not all of these questions will help us find out why poor governance, poverty and political instability are so rife but perhaps we should start with the process of decolonisation in Africa and how it is seen to have stymied progression and development. However one also needs to consider the end of the Cold War, a political tension between the East and the West that began after the end of World War II.
African leaders accumulated much greater political power after WWII under Western (European) rule. During the process of decolonisation however these leaders chose either to side with the European systems, culturally or with regards to hegemony in order to protect their interests, or they decided to work against them (Talton 2011). However, all of the countries experienced different levels of success – most had achieved independence by 1990 except South Africa which was controlled by a cruel and autocratic regime, Apartheid (a system of racial separation enforced law). But the “legacy of European dominance remain[s] evident in…political infrastructure, education systems and…trade networks”. Decolonisation liberated African countries but failed in transformation of political and economic structures which means true autonomy still hasn’t been reached (Talton 2011). The new African leaders needed to focus primarily on the interests of their people and be brave in starting new and innovative developments. How was the focus of peoples’ interests shifted by autocratic rule?
In the case of Sudan, the government’s interests lie in survival of the ruling party, this perpetuates the realist view of the state. Omar al Bashir, the president of Sudan, is fighting tooth and nail to keep hold of his 27 year old power reign. However, his grip slips more and more each day especially because of the arrest warrants issued for him by South Africa in 2015 (African Arguments, 2015). This arrest warrant signifies Sudan’s “lack of vision” and demonstrates the “infeasibility of maintaining the [autocratic] status quo”. It seems as though autocracy propagates a culture of selfishness and corruption leading to poverty and insecurity. More evidence of this was Sudan’s mass emigration at the beginning of 2016 due to declining food security and repeated peace deal violations by the government, “50 000 flee Sudan’s instability” (Fox News World, 2016.). Let’s compare this to the prosperous Botswana.
Botswana is a good counter to Sudan because it highlights how democratic rule breeds a culture of prosperity and steadiness. It is in fact described as “Africa’s most stable country” which many believe is due to it being the continent’s “longest continuous multi-party democracy”. It seems here that democracy spreads prosperity. Botswana is also “relatively free of corruption and has a good human rights record” (BBC News, 2016). Seretse Khama Ian Khama is the current president of Botswana and came into power in 2008. He is often criticised for being an authoritarian due to his no-nonsense ruling approach but is regularly lauded for being “decisive and efficient”. It is obvious he is adored by his people with an overwhelming majority vote for him to serve another term in power and is also popular overseas because he is not timid in his criticism and accusations of “democratic abuse” in Zimbabwe by President Robert Mugabe (BBC News, 2016).
Another necessary comparison between the two countries is the infringement of freedom of expression and certain media outlets by Sudan. Botswana encourages public discourse and unlimited media releases (BBC News, 2016). The most recent media restriction in Sudan is from 2016 when “security officials…shut down a newspaper that had reported on official corruption, prompting fresh concern that there is a wider pattern of hostility” (BBC.UK. 2016). Autocracy, even though it may be in the process of failing, is still the leading political system in Sudan, and its restrictions on press do not encourage peace and stability, democracy in Botswana is evidently more viable with regards to public support.
The Cold War
To blame continental instability on the end of the Cold War is naïve as the Cold War only ended a few years ago (1991). Let’s look deeper into the last two decades which have seen “unprecedented violence” of a new nature in many African countries (Debrouwere, 2011). Liberia, DR Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone and East-Timor all horribly illustrate the ‘instability breeds instability’ maxim (Debrouwere, 2011). The Cold War however seemed to breed malicious circles of violence, “impoverishment, chaos, and lawlessness” which has in turn led to “brutal civil wars” to break out and provide a “lawless environment” in which criminals and terrorist organisations can gain traction on an international level (Debrouwere, 2011). Many people argue that this civil unrest is simply human nature but they have also “marked the Cold War era proxy wars” in many other non-African countries; Vietnam, Angola, Afghanistan and Korea. But is it not so that all post-WWII conflicts have been identified as “civil strife”, “government breakdown”, and “economic collapse” (Debrouwere, 2011)?
Management of natural resources vs. corruption
Botswana is an African leader in natural resource management and fights to avoid a weakened bureaucracy by keeping the needs of its people first. As one of Botswana’s main income sources is derived from its natural resource, diamonds, many believe that it therefore has “less incentive to tax its population and therefore is less accountable and not pressured to produce efficient public services” (Compareafrique.com, 2012). However Botswana has confidently avoided that situation and is reactive in responding to its people’s needs. “Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, as well as Mozambique, should seriously consider the good measures Botswana implemented” (Compareafrique.com, 2012). Botswana boasts a continued three decade average growth rate of over 5% with regards to its diamond mining. The largest diamond company in Botswana is owned equally by the government and De Beers and is “heavily involved in investing in the community”. Again, Botswana prioritises its relations with its people and has good quality transparent regulations and “anti-corruption policies” (Compareafrique.com, 2012).
However, the case is very different in autocratic Sudan. The use of land and water is incredibly unsustainably managed along with issues of climate change and drought – this has had a “devastating effect on the livelihoods of millions of Sudanese” (The World Bank, 2016). It has been managed so badly in fact that the World Bank has offered to step in and help the unaccountable government to “reverse the impact of land degradation” (The World Bank, 2016). The project aims to adopt a culture of sustainability with its land and water management by “promoting improved soil and water management practices, rehabilitating and managing the forested ecosystem, establishing shelter belts and sand dune, and demarcating animal migration routes and grazing land rotations” (The World Bank, 2016). It is clear that this autocracy could not achieve the sustainability practices by itself, an indicator of poor governance leading to increased poverty and instability.
Breaking the stereotype
It is clear that many African countries are in need of some political ‘spring-cleaning’ due to issues concerning unaccountable behaviour, “Mr [President] Bashir also denied allegations of abuses perpetrated by the Sudanese forces in renewed violence against black African villages who took up arms in the country’s western Darfur region.” (BBC News Africa, 2016). However not all countries need to re-evaluate what they are doing. Botswana must continue to do good work and inspire other African countries with its management of natural resources, accountability and general democratic successes.
Even though Africa has a stereotype of being unstable due to poor governance, let the countries like flourishing Botswana guide your judgments and be a role model for other struggling African countries. Democracy is an indicator for stability and efficient community engagement while autocracy is characterised by greed and unaccountableness leading to widespread poverty and general instability. In conclusion African governments can be great influencers of political instability and corruption through certain regime types but the governments can also propagate prosperity by putting the needs of the civilians first which is characteristic of a democratic system.
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Cover Photo: http://imgur.com/gallery/jxye2