Too little too late – leadership crisis in Africa

Africa is getting richer, but political violence and inequality is on the rise. There are now peacekeeping missions in 11 African countries. Or as one angry Nigerian wrote from Lagos: “Why is it that Africans seem to love killing other Africans?”

Nearly all conflicts in Africa is a mixture of poverty, ethnicity and religion. The impressive economic growth has not been translated into jobs for young people.

Terrorist movements and criminal gangs take advantage of the widening levels of inequality and opportunity. Poor, unemployed youth is a ticking time bomb. They are easily recruited to terrorist organizations and crime. Governments have failed to take political action.

Sometimes ethnicity is the real source for the conflict. However, some politicians use ethnicity to promote their own ambitions.

Ethnicity is an identity. The challenge is to build a unified nation with different ethnicities peacefully coexisting. Some countries, like Tanzania and Zambia, with a large number of different tribes, have succeeded. I don’t think the former presidents Nyerere and Kaunda have been given the credits they deserve for having achieved this.

The two ex-presidents understood that nation building in Africa means to give some room to ethnicity and traditional identity, but not allow it to dominate the political life.

Today we see two Africas: One is the new land of opportunity, economic growth, optimism and limitless possibilities for investors. The other Africa is the hopeless continent with poverty, hunger, corruption, crime and countries being easy prey for foreign investors and land grabbers.

Fortunately, some emerging African politicians will not use the ethnic card. They understand that failing to address Africa’s inequalities is a recipe for social unrest.

The question remains, however: Will this new generation of promising African politicians (or “cheetahs” as George Ayittey label them) ever reach power? And will they, once in power, change and only follow in the footsteps of their predecessors?

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Development aid – knowledge more important than money


In some countries aid should be phased out or decreased. There are countries ready to take greater responsibility for their own development.

Other countries, many of them in Africa, can’t do without aid for now.

But aid needs to change. It should be more country-oriented, recognising that development largely comes from inside. Where and how this support can be of use, varies from country to country.

From a distance it is difficult to see the African ways beneath the surface. Unless the donors go there and walk there, they don’t have the knowledge about how Africa works and the social systems and networks present.

Often donors are trapped in their own policies and views on what a poor nation needs and how much money should be made available. The challenge is to find the balance between what countries in the South request and believe foreign players can contribute with, and the donor organisations’ impact agenda.

The best results have been achieved when aid has been spent to speed up development policies that the recipient country already has decided to carry out and have the capacity to do. When outsiders decree the solution and pour in money, most aid is wasted.

Donors together with representatives in the host country should plan together where aid should intervene in development. A ‘diagnostic’ approach to development means to determine where the greatest barriers to development lie in a country.

The donors should not become a key actor in policy making, but be allowed to propose and present ideas.

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Perceptions and realities of corruption in Africa

The poorer the country, the more vulnerable are its citizens.Petty corruption annoys the rich and makes life miserable for ordinary people.

According to a survey undertaken by Transparency International, 37 % of Kenyans who had contact with public services admit to having paid a bribe. In many countries police and the courts, institutions which exist to safeguard citizens`s rights, are seen as the most corrupt..


The donor community has provided millions of dollars to governments and civil society to fight corruption, with few positive results.

To fight large-scale and illicit money flows is hard work, time-consuming and sometimes dangerous.

As long as rich countries provide safe heavens for looted money and loopholes for companies cheating national tax-systems, they function as enablers for problems other representatives of rich countries say they want to fight. It is also discouraging to note that the best lawyers and accountants in the world so willingly help with illicit money flow.

One cannot expect the beneficiaries of corruption to engage in efforts to stop corruption. As long as it benefits both the giver and the taker, corruption will continue.

Any private company being tempted to speed up processes by paying a bribe is easily caught in vicious circle. Once you start, there is no end.

Sometimes the reports on corruption are exaggerated. I don’t always trust the perception reports about corruption. I believe there is some “overreporting”. In Zambia there is a tradition that politicians continually accuse each other for corruption, without having to substantiate their claims.

A culture of allegations has developed.The general perception is therefore that there is corruption all over.

One example is when the former president of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda lost the election, his successor accused him of having $60 billion in Swiss banks. Six Scotland Yard detectives were brought in to investigate. They found nothing.

Rwanda has chosen another development course. The country has achieved impressive results, including reduction of corruption. The government has decided to restore some of the indigenous values and institutions. The system is based upon a centralized and authoritarian government, but with considerable freedom to the lower level of the hierarchy with some of the old systems of checks and balances being reintroduced.


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Development aid at a crossroad – some lessons learned

Development aid has had and will continue to play an important role in the global fight against poverty and inequality.

However, it needs to change. Some good results have been achieved, but not good as hoped for.

The prominent British researcher Paul Collier concludes that Africa south of Sahara would have been 25% poorer without development assistance. Other maintain that aid has undermined the ability of African governments to take enough responsibility for their own development.

Interestingly the most passionate advocates for increased aid to Africa are not Africans. This may be a reaction to the oversimplification in the donor community that more aid equals less poverty.

After more than 50 years of development assistance, some important lessons learned are:

1. Changes in a society largely comes from inside. Any nation, and in particular those who have a colonial history, will resist external pressure. With lack of involvement and support by those most affected by a donor initiated project, the project is almost bound to fail.

2. Without a good understanding of the politics, culture and power relations, the donors should not expect any effective impact.

3. The donors need to show respect for the recipients own decision-making process. Ability to relate and gain confidence is as important for effective aid as policy statements and money management. African countries want to be part of an international community that respect them and to not tell them how to run their country.

4. Africa has many realities. Every generalization is wrong. The opposite might also be true. To interfere and influence development in a foreign country requires knowledge and experience. Africa has never been short of advice or solution on paper from sources outside the continent. A recipient fatigue has developed.

5. Development assistance is a relatively small contribution to development. Goals and expectations on what could be achieved should therefore be modest.

6. Aid can speed up development that people have decided to carry out and has capacity to follow up. Money is not always the answer, but often it helps.

7. Donors and recipients need to reconsider where aid should intervene in development. Some countries in Africa should now be ready to take more responsibility for their own development and aid should gradually be reduced.

8. Donors should avoid building up their own state within the state with parallel structures. This might be efficient and give good short term results, but it is not development.

9. Donor support to a sector may tempt the recipient to switch their own money to consumption or to reduce their own commitment to raise taxes and collect revenues.

10. Donors should not be a key actor in another country’s policy making, but be allowed to propose ideas and solutions.

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Why rich under the soil and poor above?

Something has gone wrong when Africa with its huge potentials for agriculture has the world`s largest number of malnourished and hungry children.

Two thirds of Africans depend on farming for their livelihood. The sector’s potential is enormous. The World Bank has estimated that African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth $1 trillion in 2030.

However, agriculture is not attractive for African youth. To be a farmer is regarded as backbreaking, hard labor in the fields with meager benefits. They have seen their parents, poor with ragged clothing, using old-fashioned equipment, always short of fertilizers and other inputs to survive. Farming is for the elderly and poor in rural areas

The upcoming generation of young people, often with poor and irrelevant education, prefer to settle in urban areas in search of employment there.

However, agriculture still is and will continue to be the engine driving many African countries. Small-scale farmers are the backbone of African agriculture. Agriculture is not only important for growing food necessary to feed the growing population, but also to create employment and wealth and add more value to the continent`s natural resources before exporting..

If agriculture were to get the same political support and financial investment as the mining sector, agriculture would be capable of providing more jobs with decent income. Reforms have to be introduced to mechanize and produce the agriculture more efficiently.

Urban people are often fed by imported food, which undermines domestic agriculture. Africa imports $34 bn. of food annually, but could easily feed itself if agricultural productivity improved.

The need to reverse decades of policy neglect and to increase investment in African agriculture is widely recognized. Some critics, however, argue that large-scale investment can marginalize Africa’s small scale farmers and open up for increased land grabbing by international companies with little understanding of local land rights.

Foreign investment in agriculture is not necessarily ‘land grabbing’. The main reason why international land-rush to Africa is providing bad news for rural people has to do with the failure of governance and lack of control of the decision-making process. Large land deals are signed over the heads of local people, while greedy politicians are busy getting their share of the investment.

Job creation for young people is more about political leadership and political will than about shortage of funds. When Asian countries were poor as African countries today, they decided to change their economies, starting with smallholder agriculture.

Investing in agriculture could benefit food security at both global and national level.

But the enormous resources has to be managed by competent governments.

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Africa and development – is Africa ready to reform the donors?

Aid debate in most Western countries has a donor perspectives on development. The size of the aid budget is often more important than discussing the role aid should play in development in a foreign country. Visions and missions are discussed before programmes have been agreed upon with the recipients and implementation possibilities considered.

That more aid equals less poverty is still a simplification common in many sectors of the aid community. The opposite could also be a reality in some countries in the South.

Time has come for donors to remind themselves that the long-term goal for aid is for countries in the South to take greater responsibility for their own development. A success for a donor should be when they have to close down because the recipients are able to solve their own problems.

This will be a very hard step to take by many in the aid community.

But aid at its best could still contribute towards important development goals. To provide basic services to people who need them is a legitimate goal in its own right. There are still more than 500 million people in Africa living in permanent poverty.They are not likely to benefit from any other money flow than aid.

There is extensive evidence to show that aid does reach intended beneficiaries and provides them with key services. Norad’s annual result report gives many examples of success stories that both Norway and recipients have reasons to be proud of.

However, there are also examples of quick and well-meant funding that has been counterproductive. “Needs” of a country or a sector have sometimes led to lack of efforts by those who should be in the driving seat. Sectors are taken over are enthusiastic and well-financed donors. Donors have built up their own state within a state with parallel structures and created their own decision-making systems. The government has abdicated and donors have delivered services.

Donors have often had their finger in the pie, making some countries in the South skeptical of aid from Western countries. Opposition is particularly strong against foreigners who tell them how they should do their job. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe has managed to achieve for us a baffling popularity in many parts of Africa by playing on national pride, the right to make their own decisions in their own country and not to be bullied by a former colonial power.

Many feel that they are better able to choose which donors to work with. Soon, maybe, the offer of assistance will exceed demand. Not so much because of the content of the assistance program, but the way it is presented and planned. Lack of respect for countries’ own decision-making processes is still a major weakness in the aid community.

In countries with growing economies and vast natural resources, the donor role will change. It will be an ongoing challenge and find a balance between what countries in the South request for and believe foreign players can contribute with, and the donor organizations’ impact agenda.

Aid can never be more than a small tool in the efforts to combat poverty. Lack of sobriety and realism have been goodies for the critics of the aid. They point out, often with good reason, that there is a large gap between what the aid organizations say they will do and what is actually achieved.

The most realistic believe that aid at its best can only support the positive trends that are already there and only modestly change the politics and power relations, although that is what we most want to do.

The role of Norwegian aid in the years to come, in addition to humanitarian help to countries in crisis, should primarily concentrate on knowledge transfer, innovation, development of programmes of quality in health and education, exchange of experiences from the role of civil society, exploitation of natural resources, taxes, trade and economic development.

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Africa – how long wil it suffer from poor political leadership

Some years ago Afro-optimism was stronger than pessimism. Now the trend is about to change. Many countries in Africa seem to keep going around in circles instead of moving forwards.

There are, however, exceptions like Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda and Ethiopia. New leadership in Tanzania and Nigeria also gives some hope.

But Africa is still characterized by countries rich in natural resources and poor people. The elite doesn’t seem to care much about poverty. Patronage is stronger than democracy.

There are few outstanding political leaders in Africa today, but plenty of good leaders in other areas of society.

Ghanaian economist George Ayittey talks (see his TED talk here) about the old generation of “hippo leaders” who cling to power and protect their territory fiercely when they perceive they are being attacked. They do whatever to avoid being forced to leave their watering hole and then retire to the shadow.

Ayittey further refer to the typical African development scenario as bad drivers (leaders), bad vehicle (state craft), bad roads (infrastructure) and angry passengers fed up with lack of progress.

The difficult question to answer is: Why do so many promising, newly elected president fail to implement their visions once in power?

It seems that powerful forces in society that encompass the presidency have succeeded in defeating many reform initiatives. As soon as elected, the president is trapped by an elite that greatly benefit from the system of patriamonalism and status quo. And the new president gradually takes the role of a traditional chief who looks after his subordinates more as savior than as a political leader with long-term development goals.

Some presidents are paralyzed by external pressure. He therefore starts to allocate privileges among the powerful elites to secure support when re-election is on the agenda.

It shall be interesting to follow the future route of the new Tanzanian president John Magufuli. He has created big expectations by his anti-corruption and anti-luxury stand. Public officers will no more be allowed to drive limousines when going to the village and there will be no more flying first class to meetings in Europe. And the pilot of the presidential plane is said to be under-employed…. However, on the negative side is his skepticism to freedom of the press.

But it will be interesting to follow his ability to manoeuvre in a patriamonial system and see if he has the strength and ability to implement his political platform.

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