African Continent: Contrasts and Paradoxes
AFRICA, 25 Nov 2013
When one analyses the bankruptcy of the African continent, one could wonder why since its independence of 1960s, it did not produce effective elite to manage their countries accordingly. The paradox is that a lot of managers were trained in the European universities but once they got back home they could not feel like working fairly for their new nations. The main problem might be the barriers they encountered from the leaders who did not change their mentality and used force to harass their subordinates. This might also be the reason why those highly qualified Africans preferred to flee their countries in order to live abroad where they could not face social injustice. If one was working in a bank and had the notion of how to improve its management, he could face harassment from anyone who had no knowledge of the bank operations to dictate him what to do because he was brought there by his high ranking relative. In this respect banks went bankruptcy and the IMF and World Bank were asked to rescue those ones which had been victims of mismanagement.
The IMF and the World Bank are working regularly on several issues of assistance to member countries and have launched several joint initiatives. The conditions under which cooperation acts have been defined in a concordat in 1989, to ensure effective cooperation in which they share responsibility. When one or the other developing countries requires a credit to any of these institutions, the latter do impose them a rate that is sometimes higher than normal, which constrains the country applying for the credit to be insolvent in the long run. Then negotiations will follow to reduce the debt burden or outright cancellation. Why don’t developing countries come to honour their commitments? One can say that these institutions are made to control and sometimes to subject developing countries to severe conditions of finance.
In some cases, the debt becomes colossal due to accumulations, in other words when an African country does not pay the interests, the debts are capitalized and added to previous capital to make a much larger credit. It is then necessary to negotiate lower charges or even the annulation of the debt. However, it is essential to justify the reasons that led to the bankruptcy in order to get a favour. The IMF and the World Bank are also working together to reduce the burden of external debt of the poorest, most heavily indebted countries in the framework of the “Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative” and “Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.” The goal is to help low-income countries to achieve their development goals without falling back into debt distress. The IMF and the World Bank have been working together on the analysis of debt sustainability, guided by the Framework for Debt Sustainability (CVD) produced by the two institutions. However, all these efforts do not help African countries to improve their life standing since one can observe how people in general strive to survive while a group of elite live better than their European counterpart. This means that there exist compromises between multinationals and African officials to embezzle the money that are due to carry out some development projects. In other words, when a country borrows money from any European institutions, one part goes into the pocket of the African officials and another into the pocket of the the so-called donors from Western countries. So, local population in Africa will not even know about the amount of the money that was granted and the terms of the accord negotiations to be part of them in order to own their project and will continue starving as usual.
Poverty and corruption in Africa
Africa south of the Sahara has been messed up for many years by various problems such as poverty, corruption and disease. This means that despite social justice, solidarity and well-being of the human person, it has not been successful as it had been expected – lack of these three things continues to prevail unhindered. It is at this level that I will discuss these three questions and try to show how some social teachings have not really managed to improve the situation of the African countries.
Most people in Africa suffer permanently from hunger because they are not getting enough calories to live a normal life as possible, and their number is increasing. Poverty is increasing in Africa especially in urban areas. Most urban dwellers do not have access to safe drinking water, sanitation and are not entitled to housing. When commodity prices rise, there are people who beg here and there in the streets where chaos is total and some of them die over there.
Driven by hunger and poverty in the country and attracted by visions of a better life, millions of people flock to the cities every year in search of jobs. Too often, jobs are scarce in those cities due to the fact that only qualified individuals can be hired. Some families settle in slums where there is no water, electricity, etc. As said above, a lot of people arrive in places where unskilled workers are no longer in demand. Industries tend to turn to a saving technology at a cost of labour as they aim to higher quality. The trade between developed countries and developing countries benefit only from developed countries. Raw materials from Africa are bought cheap by Western buyers. Once processed, the raw materials back to African countries as finished products and are sold at exorbitant prices. The raw materials of Africa are weak in the international markets demand and therefore the terms of trade continue deteriorating. It was only found that persistence farm were willing to relax the terms of trade in favour of poor countries in case those poor countries would develop themselves too quickly.
Many African economies are dependent on a few commodities such as cash crops, coffee, tea, cocoa, cotton, etc. This makes them vulnerable to international price shocks. While other countries in the world are able to increase the production resources between different activities to suit price – shocks, African countries do not have this intention. Much of the African economy is managed by foreign multinational companies such as Brooke Bond, Block Hotels, etc. and the financial stock assets of companies do not belong to African countries. Profits are repatriated in developed countries. The foreign aid means that the flow of aid come from developed countries to developing countries. It is considered as a charitable donation from the rich countries to the poor countries to help them overcome their problems. Supposedly, such aid is given to help African countries achieve economic independence; it actually creates more dependence on the developed world. The old masters of Africa consider it as a boost to stimulate a continued and growing presence in African countries, which acts as a lubricant for neo-colonialism. Today, after the end of the fifth decade of independence, Africa still has the world’s least developed countries. With this in mind mismanagement of public affairs and corruption contribute to the weakening of the African continent.
In Africa, corruption has become a way of life. You cannot get what you want without giving a bribe. For one or another service, even to have access to employment, one must corrupt those in charge of recruitment in order to be hired. This has made life worse in Africa than elsewhere because the African economy is already bad. How can we get money to bribe while poverty persists? This was a negative experience for most people and made life difficult day after day. As a result, corruption is a scourge that has destroyed Africa because it spoils the principle of public services and blocks any assistance to those who cannot afford to bribe each time the so-called local officials need to deal with a file. Corruption has infiltrated some public services and they are wreaking havoc- whether medical, legal and otherwise, it is positioned between having and being, but put forward the fact of “having.‘’ This virus has reached a pace that cannot be reversed easily, because everyone knows that corruption is a way of acquiring a service by purchasing the consciousness of an individual.
Sometimes corruption occurs when there is lack of control of public services. For example, if a hospital does not have enough medicines, there is a tendency for physicians to seek a bribe before giving medications to patients. This means that corruption in Africa has reached its paroxysm; this is seen when a society is unable to meet the basic needs of its inhabitants. As we can imagine, this is the shortage that corruption has grown.
Most leaders and those in positions of responsibility either in the government or in the private sector tend to be corrupt. Some people say that African leaders are easily corruptible, because they are egocentric, see themselves, their families and do not mind the general interest. Those who are in the right place at the right time are not all reliable; they often lack education which should make them appreciable by the people. They are there because an invisible hand has been placed as they are close, a sort of clientele that undermines the African management.
It is impossible to eradicate corruption because most African leaders are born and raised in corruption. African countries have leaders who shed tears and confessed that they love the people and strive for justice for all, but they never use their power to make life better in their countries. Some of these bad leaders were forced to leave shortly after they caused enough damage to people; this is valid for almost all African countries where organized coup d’état were made. Corruption has caused problems for the people of Africa; it swallowed the ability of African talent and placed a curse on the African people whose brains are fleeing to locate in the West where their safety is guaranteed. Workers in Africa live under the weight of big problems. The minimum wage cannot feed a single family, and even offer fewer tuition fee to a pupil, money and clothing, transportation; salaries are too low, etc. As a result, people do not work effectively because of poor conditions and lack of incentives that make them lose confidence in their governments. The African leaders look for quick ways to make money, so the only possibility is corruption. Hence, it is fair to say that corruption is a result of poor management of public affairs. One would even say that the word “integrity” doesn’t exist in African vocabulary, or “compliance” with the law.
The misappropriation of public funds
The African economy is stagnant, and for some time, in some countries, it regresses. This is a reality and nobody can deny that people in Africa are desperate due to the bad governance and lack of fair institutions. The vilest writers of the bourgeoisie order of course argue that it is the fault of Africa itself or the African mentality. On the left wing of the Western governments, it is more subtle. It suggests that the fault lies to African leaders precisely the squandering of the old corrupt African leaders who stole their people and plundered their country in order to put their money in the banks of Switzerland or elsewhere. These so-called leaders remember vaguely that there exist other social classes only when it comes to assessing the liability of the riches to privileged layers of Africa.
Africa and illicit enrichment
The Label of the left wing in the West becomes as a pretext since solidarity and social values are preached; these people willingly talk about unequal exchange as if they were economic mechanisms suspended in the air, somehow immaterial. But that is not what it is! It is rater a shameless exploitation because it impoverishes some and enriches others. And those that such exploitation enriches are not only the African leaders but these ostentatious new rich. They are those financial companies, those capitalist societies, and those placed on the list of high staff whose economic power is extremely larger. If Africa is now bursting literally, this is not the nature of its soil or the mentality of its people. This is not Africa that is in bankruptcy! It is maybe the capitalist economic system, whose failure has been particularly in the case of Africa a barbaric form.
My intention is to remember that if today Africa is bloodless and if the plight of the exploited classes is unbearable, it is because the exploited masses of this continent have been enriching Western bourgeoisie for decades. Also, one can say because the relationships that have been imposed by gunfire during the colonial period continue to exist, and occasionally continue to be imposed by violence, the case of the DR Congo is telling. Furthermore, due to inadequate management of local banks, Africans worked at a loss until some countries have sought to make a diagnosis in order to declare bankruptcy. Indeed, in some banks there was the departure of the colonizers advisors to assist local officials in the post-independence era. However, the non-qualification of the local officials led to mismanagement and some banks closed; the case of the Savings Bank in many African countries remains eloquent. Those local officials together with their local masters contributed to embezzle the wealth of their banks by accepting the order coming from above; hence they could also plunder in the name of the high ranking leader.
If Africa wants to stop the practice of misappropriation of its resources, it must find a solution into education. Education for all would be a real asset to fight corruption which people discover when they were born and opt for it because around them the system is made of corruption. Fighting corruption must not be an individual concern; it must call upon the consciousness of each one of the African society. The real problem is that corruption starts from the top and it is spread all over the national services to shake the economy of low income and vulnerable individuals. With this in mind, I personally believe that without fair anti-corruption education, all Africa will become a real jungle where people will continue to suffer from poverty, hunger, disease, etc. Is democracy one of the ingredients to boost anti-corruption and inculcate the culture of integrity?
Pierre Celestin Bakunda, Ph.D. is a professor of sociology of Africa at EDHEC Business School and ESPEME School of Business in Lille, France and a researcher in Social Sciences. His focus is Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation in African Great Lakes Region. He is a peace activist who attended Peace Studies Programmes at the European University Centre for Peace Studies, EPU, Schlaining, Austria, and Wold Peace Academy, WPA, Basel, Switzerland. He is the author of “Rwanda, the Inferno of Implicit Rules,” L’Harmattan, July 2006, Paris; and his thesis, the Implicit Rules of the Rwandan Society and their Impact on Social, Political and Economic Development, Anrt Press, Lille, October, 2007 and many articles on Africa.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Nov 2013.
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