Africa is a continent ravaged by wars, diseases, poverty, unemployment, political instability and a host of other problems that the continent has been gallantly fighting to no avail.
Presenting a paper: “Political Instability in Africa: Where the problem lies and alternative perspectives” Antony Otieno Ong’ayo at the 2018 International Day of Peace, argued that while it is not deniable that Africa faces a lot of problems, the African situation is not as bleak as portrayed in the media or by Africanists.
“In terms of political instability, it is also undeniable that the continent has had some difficult moments during the last fifty years or so. But what is still unexplained in the many analyses that have been looking at events in Africa is the fact that in almost all the cases of political instability in Africa, it is evident that the major problem is leadership.
In this context, Africa has seen its freedom heroes turn into dictators, while the plunder of natural resources, politics of exclusion and deprivation to tilt the balance of power continues to dominate the public sphere”, argues Ong’ayo, of the Amsterdam based African Diaspora Policy Centre, adding that “these problems have been pointed out and fought gallantly by ordinary Africans who have over the years, expressed their discontent with regimes imposed upon them, through the complicity of the international community”.
According to Ong’ayo, almost every country in Africa is still haunted by historical injustices and oppressive structures that were bequeathed to the post-colonial leadership. This is an aspect which informs the weak institutions of the state, flawed legislative systems and constant struggles for political power to the detriment of the wellbeing of many nations, which could have moved on a path of development as part of modern societies.
In his no blows barred presentation, Ony’ago unequivocally posits that political instability in Africa may owe its cause to internal factors, however the interpenetration of internal and external factors especially geo-political and economic interests of the international community constantly play a significant role in undermining the very processes and institutions that are expected to nurture democracy and to instil a sense of stability for societal development in Africa.
“In combination to such factors as unequal development, poverty, disease, violence and the manipulative tendencies of the local elite, political and economi9c stability in Africa is constantly under threat. This threat is however not emanating from within the continent but from external interests whose thirst for African resources, continue to shape the dynamics in areas related to governance. Resources in Africa if well managed are capable of providing for its entire population, hence the potentials for a more stable environment, however, it is well documented that stolen wealth from Africa often end up in banks abroad”, laments Ony’ago.
It is further observed that also problematic in the African context are the existing institutions and how they function. Despite the existence of institutional frameworks that are supposed to guide processes and delivery on essential services, the continued weakening of these institutions, through political mechanization and predatory nature of African elites, working in cohorts with external interests also contributes further to the undermining of stability in Africa. These tendencies exacerbate resources wars, ethnic rivalry, and more recently, the emergence of electoral violence as a characteristic of a multi-party era elections in Africa.
According to Ony’ago, despite the hardships the continent faces, African people have not remained static, even though there are retrogressive tendencies. The majority, whose perspectives are hardly captured in western media or academia, have made great leaps, in a number of areas, including their level of political awareness and popular participation in the electoral processes.
On a positive note, Ony’ago acknowledges that “the leadership dilemma and many other governance related malpractices are being challenged more and more from within, as people begin to u7nderstand the broader implications of bad politics and the consequences of governance structures that are autocratic and oppressive”.
Ony’ago argues that the leadership problem crept into the new states, as the new African leadership became the neo-colonialists, while liberators turned into oppressors of their own people.
Many countries in Africa have seen an increased level of political awareness in their people as citizens are demanding accountability in their governments. Participatory democracy is taking root, as country to country move from single party dictatorship to pluralism, while military take-overs are getting less and less.
“These are signs that Africa is not static, but progressively adjusting to universal standards as far as governance is concerned. The pace is however slow and sometimes, experiencing setbacks, especially by the few remaining bin men in Africa. However, it is also important to caution about these developments, since global events keep changing, hence creating new challenges for Africa. In this regard, efforts towards fast tracking certain political processes, establishment of institutional and legislative frameworks that can with stand global and domestic pressures, need to be speeded up. The political stability as a result of these framework and redistributive systems is therefore essential to Africa’s socio-economic development”, urges Ony’ago.
According to the presenter, bad governance practices and loopholes for plunder of public funds, demands an extensive regulatory system of contract rules and an effective legal supervision of their observation. As long as these mechanisms are being flouted in Africa, the markets even though touted as the solution to economic development problems, has still shown its failures due to misuse of power in relationships. These included corruption, rent seeking behaviour and the existence of externalities and related problems of free riding.
Ony’ago decries that “the market outcome of the allocation of resources especially in Africa is socially unacceptable; the cause massive deprivation and inequalities, marginalization and in some cases, trigger inter-ethnic conflicts as various groups struggle for scarce state resources. Again, this more common in countries less endowed with natural resources while in those countries with natural resources, regional conflagarations emerge as different parts of the country compete or lay claim to such resources, Furthermore, the consequence of external pressure combined with internal malgovernance problems in Africa are enormous and have had serious implications for political stability”.
Ony’ago acknowledges that calls for African countries to solve such problems ignore the reality on the ground and at the international level where special interests often determine the course of events in the periphery. Just as the problem is complex and multifaceted, their solutions also require a similar approach which encompasses a greater commitment from the leadership.
Chester A Crocker, a former secretary of state for African Affairs from 1981 to 1989 concurs explain that in Africa, as in every region, it is the quality and characteristics of governance that shape the level of stability and the prospects for economic development. There is no more critical variable than governance, for it is governance that determines whether or not there are durable links between the state and the society it purports to govern.
The nature of governance is central because it determines whether the exercise of authority is viewed as legitimate. Legitimate authority, in turn, is based on accepted laws and norms rather than the arbitrary, unconstrained power of the rulers. Governance also has an important regional dimension relating to institutional structures and norms that guide a region’s approach to challenges and that help to shape its political culture.
“This is especially relevant in looking at Africa’s place in the emerging world since the large region consists of 54 states – close to 25 percent of the UN’s membership – and includes the largest number of landlocked states of any region, factors that dramatically affect the political environment in which leaders make choices. Consequently, national and regional governance factors interact continuously”, reckons Crocker.