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AFRICA: The Challenge Of State Building




Ojo Maduekwe



culled from THIS DAY, November 21, 2004


The year was 1966. The clouds of civil war were on the horizon. I had just enrolled as a Freshman Law Student at the University of Nigeria, soon to be renamed University of Biafra. The highlight of the Law Students Annual Dinner was a scheduled lecture by the already highly acclaimed man of letters and law, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa who had just been appointed a High Court Judge after surprisingly giving up a very lucrative private practice.

Justice Oputa's reputation for scholarly oratory was already part of the intellectual landscape of the era. An advocate in the finest tradition of the bar, our advertised guest speaker mesmerized his audience of young students itching for action in the war front with the depth of his scholarship and over all sense of connectedness to issues. It did not matter to us that like former United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and then a young Harvard Law student before the American Civil War, our first test was more likely to be under artillery fire in combat than forensic fire of opposing advocacy. We listened with rapt attention to a speaker who was an awesome expression of the Renaissance Ideal in his effortless blend of several disciplines with legal scholarship. His presentation during that eerie evening of 1966, unknown to any soothsayer, was an accurate anticipation of the mandate, which York University Centre for Public Policy was to adopt twenty years later in July 1986.

As stated in the letter of September 28 from Professor Bruce Ryder, Director Centre for Public Law and Public Policy of York University, the Centre's mandate “is to address itself to the research, study and public discussion of the role of law in the formation and expression of public policy and its impact upon society." I admit that so overwhelming was Justice Oputa's periclean delivery that not a few of us planned on a lifetime project of imitating him! It must be clear by now that I must have made such a poor job of following this great jurist's footsteps that barely few years of leaving the Law school, the seductive chant of politics carried me off to other endeavors. Perhaps my appearance here this afternoon will be a modest but acceptable atonement for the faltering of the resolve to walk the path of the remarkable Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, especially since 38 years after his lecture at Enugu Campus of the University of Nigeria, one of his listeners is here in Canada to share thoughts on how Africa can avoid the mistakes and miscalculations that led to the Nigerian Civil War.

I proceed however only upon first discharging the obligation of saluting the organizers of this important initiative. I also bring greetings from President Olusegun Obasanjo who warmly approved that I make this trip to Honour Justice Oputa whom he regarded highly enough to have appointed him to chair the Human Rights Investigation Panel very early in the life of his Administration.

The Nigerian President as you are probably aware of regards with utmost importance, the extraordinary potential which Nigerians in Diaspora possess in helping to turn things around at home. If the Chinese-Americans, Indian-Americans, and much earlier, Jewish-Americans could be pivotal for gigantic leaps of development in their countries of origin, there is no justification for Nigerians in North America not to make a difference in Nigeria.

It was obviously a very difficult time to leave home, as the second phase of a major strike was underway. This strike was at the instance of the central leadership of the trade union movement, which had declared itself official opposition to the Government, since in their view, regular political parties who lost to the ruling PDP (People Democratic Party) were either unwilling or unable to perform the tasks of an opposition. When you add to that, the unrest in the Niger Delta by groups that had mobilized armed militia against the nation, disturbing echoes of Biafra by some young men who were not born during the Civil War, together with other dissonance in the system, it was not the most auspicious time for me as the Adviser to the President on Legal and Constitutional Matters to travel overseas. But happily, Nigeria is work-in-progress.

Few weeks earlier, precisely on September 30, it had been my honour to deliver the 44th Independence Anniversary Lecture titled LEST WE FORGET. I had warned in a speech that was televised in full several times on national television that

"recent events such as the eruption in Plateau and Kano states of Nigeria, and the new assertiveness of well-armed militia in Niger-Delta of Nigeria coupled with fiscal irresponsibility of some elected officials who also terrorize those who elected them with new structures of authoritarianism, coupled again with the visionless and highly divisive debate about 2007, against the background of incendiary calls for a sovereign national conference ( a prescription normally reserved for collapsed states) all these strongly suggest that unless crucial strategic moves within the polity and economy are undertaken in the months ahead, the nation is at risk of slipping back around 2007 to a failing state or even a failed state status with severe consequences, not only for all our people, but for the whole sub-region.”

As I reflected on the theme of my remarks this afternoon, it became more and more obvious that the Nigerian scene was representative enough of the current African crisis of state capacity and state building. How well are new African democracies equipped to deal with the pressure cooker syndrome in which the removal of the lid of oppression originally put in place by previous authoritarian regimes tends to be followed by spasms of violence? This is not merely an African problem with the consequences limited to the continent because the epidemic of failed States, which can result from leadership incompetence in dealing with these issues, has global implications in an Age of Terror. Failed States are the best breeding grounds for the exportation of terror, and after September 11, 2001, civilized humanity is unified that this constitutes the simple biggest threat to a stable international order so vital to peace and sustained economic growth without which the poor countries of the world, most of which are in Africa, will be mired in more poverty and misery. Nigeria’s role is particularly pivotal here as every fourth African is a Nigerian, and it is safe to say that whichever path Nigeria goes, determines the way Africa would go. The leadership role which the country is currently engaged with international acclaim in bringing peace and stability to other African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, and even previously Rwanda and Burundi, and its historic effort in the dismantling of apartheid, all these are factors that reinforce the essential status of the Nigerian state in the African equation.

The central challenge of African politicians and decision makers is how to create and enhance state capacity in the continent. African states are weak and not a few are in danger of becoming failed or collapsed states. The implication for the international community of having a few more Somalis, Sudans, Sierra Leones, Liberias, and Rwandan scale of blood letting challenge friends and leaders of Africa to compel a return to the drawing board. That is the message I bring.

A brief explanation as to how we came to this sorry state should be in order. Several decades after independence, many African countries could not move substantially from statehood to stateness. Statehood is about flag independence, whereas stateness relates to the capacity of the nation-state to function as an efficient bureaucratic entity that could apply and enforce laws across the board without patrimonial diversions, evincing at all times political will to maintain order, police its borders, avoid capture by interest groups in the society, and mobilize for modernization. State capture has been the principle objective of African political parties, not state development, and this has led to further delegitimization of the Western model of the state in the eyes of African societies because of the kind of leadership thrown up by the process.

There has been a progressive decline of the African nation-state in the attributes of stateness. This is the explanation for the prevalence of corruption, ethnicity, violence and general misrule. As one African government minister described it: "when we gained power, the country was at the edge of the abyss; since then, we have taken a great step forward." Seen from the perspective of a decision-maker and practitioner who is still in government, I consider it useful not to wait for my memoirs before I ask the question of how adequately African governments are dealing with the challenge of state building, good governance, democracy, market reforms, development, globalization, environment, culture and terror? Is there hope for Africa and from Africa? What is the African Identity? In sum, whither the African state as a creator of wealth, social stability and cultural progress and significant contributor to world peace and the march of civilization in the 21st century? How do we move beyond song and dance and progress from entertaining the world to real empowerment of our people who look up to us, the political elite?

As I lay in my hotel room in London upon arrival from Nigeria en route to New Zealand from where I have come to make this presentation, the British Broadcasting Corporation presented a graphic account of the 20 years anniversary of the Ethiopian famine during the Mengistu years that saw millions dead until the intervention of Bob Geldorf’s BAND AID. I was startled to hear there are today more hungry mouths in Ethiopia than at the time of the Ethiopian Famine of the 70's. Such stories and several other disasters elsewhere in Africa tempt even the most robustly optimistic to a position of despair.

In his book of this year, ‘WHAT WENT WRONG WITH AFRICA,’ Noel Van Der Veen has aptly summarized the grim situation thus: "However we define poverty, it is clear that on average; people's lives have improved all over the world on every continent except Africa. Africa (more specifically sub-Saharan or 'Black Africa") is the only large contiguous region left out of the worldwide rise in prosperity over the past fifty years. The percentage of Africans living in poverty has not dropped but risen. In nearly all Africa, the average income has fallen since de-colonization, which took place around 1960 in most cases. Even a confirmed optimist would hesitate to predict that life in Africa will get better in the years ahead. Alongside poverty, the troubling hallmarks of the continent today are misrule, violence, corruption and AIDS. The human development figures speak volumes; so also the tales of travellers who returned to Africa in the early twenty first century after visiting around the time of independence. The writer Paul Theroux, revisiting many parts of the continent after forty years wrote: 'Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it - hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt.'

Many scholars and decision makers have been at a loss to find adequate explanation as to what really happened. Yet a few attempts deserve some attention. Let us look at just two:

From Samuel P. Huntington (Harvard Government Professor of the CLASH OF CIVILIZATION fame):

"In the early 1990's, I happened to come across economic data on Ghana ad South Korea in the early 1960's, and I was astonished to see how similar their economies were then. These two countries had roughly comparable levels of per capita GNP; similar divisions of their economy among primary products, manufacturing, and services; and overwhelming primary product exports, with South Korea producing a few manufactured goods. Also, they were receiving comparable levels of economic aid. Thirty years later, South Korea had become an industrial giant with the fourteenth largest economy in the world, multinational corporations, major exports of automobiles, electronic equipment and other sophisticated manufactures, and a per capita income approximating that of Greece. Moreover, it was on its way to the consolidation of democratic institutions. No such changes had occurred in Ghana, whose per capita GNP was now about one-fifteenth that of South Korea's. How could this extraordinary difference in development be explained? Undoubtedly, many factors played a role, but it seemed to me that culture had to be a large part of the explanation. South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization, and discipline. Ghanaians had different values. In short, cultures count"

From Noel Van Der Veen (formerly of the Dutch Foreign Ministry):

"Compare an arbitrarily selected pair of countries, one in Africa and one in Asia: Zambia and South Korea, for instance. When the Zambians became independent in 1964, they were on average twice as wealthy as South Koreans. By the turn of the century, the South Koreans were on average, a fully twenty-seven times as rich as the Zambians. Or take Kenya and Singapore, which thirty years ago were just about equally poor. Now Singaporeans earn an average of about 24,000 euros a year, while the average Kenyan earns about 340 euros a year, or one-seventeenth of that amount. If we take any comparable pair of countries, one African and one Asian, and look at what has happened to them over the past few decades, the difference is always stunning, and the Asian country always comes out on top. It would be absurd to attribute such huge differences to the international economic environment, which was essentially the same for all these countries."

Just in case you think I am glossing over my country, Nigeria, in this litany of missed opportunities, I present again Van Der Veen:

“…African countries did not generally suffer from a lack of aid. The crucial factor, however, was what was done with the money, how profitably it was put to use. Here lay the great difference between Asia and Africa. Domestic circumstances in African countries were such that extra money would not have made any essential difference. A case in point is Nigeria, which for decades had several billions of "extra" income from oil. The Nigerian elite became both extremely rich and extremely large by African standards. The result was a host of states within the Nigerian Federation, each with a local elite and clientelist networks of its own, and internecine power struggles. This brought about chronic domestic instability. The billions of extra dollars did nothing at all to raise ordinary people's living standards. When Nigeria became independent in 1960, about twenty five percent of the population was below the poverty line. By 2000, the figure had risen to around seventy percent."

As one that is currently engaged in the political trench warfare for bringing about the desired change in the continent of Africa, I am leaving the business of analysis of the history or even evidence of our failure to scholars and researchers. I did not come to Canada to tell you what you already know about Africa. I am more inclined to heed the advice of Bernard Lewis who once observed that "when people realize things are going wrong, there are two questions they can ask. One is 'what did we do wrong?" and the other is 'who did this to us'? The later tends to conspiracy theories and paranoia. The first question leads to another kind of thinking. “How do we put it right?” In the second half of the twentieth century, Latin America (Africa) chose conspiracy theories and paranoia. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan asked itself “How do we put it right?”” I frankly prefer we place ourselves as decision makers in Africa in the position of the question that Japan asked itself in the second half of the nineteenth century. My reason is simple: the world is tired of excuses for African failure.

We cannot in one breadth talk of equality of races and nations, and in another play the eternal victim who must be perpetually assisted to get on its feet. For a continent that is the home of mankind and cradle of civilization, it is time to grow up! We must display a new can – do spirit that clearly affirms we have got our destiny in our hands and that we can turn the corner. It is all about leadership, and a new paradigm for development - a paradigm I shall call MEKARIA, an Igbo word for persistent reach for excellence. The MEKARIA spirit, a new performance ethic, is what African leadership needs to get to work and inspire our people to produce and compete. It is a new Productivity Paradigm which would be our response to the crisis of debilitating poverty, the outcome of a mental attitude towards wealth and production.

The essential challenge of our time is therefore one of production. How can we both as leaders and followers move from the ethos of corruption and ostentatious consumption and waste to the ethos of production and investment? How can we substitute a preference for "to work in order to live" to that of "to live in order to work."? How do we begin to internalize the concept of work, especially efficient, continuously improving, work into the existential affirmation of our individual meaning and communal reality?
Is it true that the state has failed in Africa? If so, why is it so? What can African politicians do to reverse the trend? What are we doing even now to deal with this challenge? What are the prospects? I am convinced that of all explanations for African failure, what makes most sense to me is the failure to evolve an Idea of the African State both before independence and after.

We inherited the contraption called the nation-state, which the colonizers put together for commercial/administrative convenience and failed to breathe life into it from the standpoint of some ideological commitment to an African success story. The few occasional flashes of such concern or capability was during the period of left-wing flirtation with socialism, but even that became subverted by Cold War rivalries and the greed of those African leaders who mouthed Marxism but reached for maximum personal enrichment from the national till. And this, together with the lack of rigour on the part of African social scientists and social philosophers on issues that are African have left us with an intellectual black hole concerning a mobilizing idea of the African nation-state. Such an Idea would have crystallized issues of development, production, role of the individual, rule of law, human rights, and even democracy within an African experience and meaning.

What I intend to do here is to draw attention to a few core problems and attempt some solutions.
The picture that presents itself in Africa is generally disturbing -

• Over half of the 600 million people who live in Sub-Saharan Africa live below poverty line.
• Infant mortality (children under 5) is at the rate of more than 100 per 1000 in at least 28 countries, the highest in the world. In fact in Sierra Leone, it is 335 per 1000.
• Population growth rate is almost 3 percent, which is about four times the rate in high-income countries. This neutralizes the marginal gains being expected from ongoing reforms.
• More than 50 percent of women are illiterate in not less than eighteen countries.
• More than 50 per cent of the adult populations of at least thirteen countries are illiterate.
• The gap between the rich and the poor is one of the worst in the world. The most affluent 10 percent account for over 47 percent of income in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, and about 43 percent in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
• The severe structural weaknesses of democratic institutions and cultural resistance to global best practices.
• The HIV-AIDS pandemic has become Africa’s 21st century equivalent of the bubonic plague that decimated medieval Europe.

We can no longer blame all these on colonialism, not only because four decades after the exit of colonial masters who left more functional institutions than the ones we have mismanaged, we should have found our feet, but because in virtually every other corner of the world where there was a colonial experience, that did not eternally weigh them down to misrule and persistent governance collapse. I agree with Lawrence Harrison, Senior Fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies that “the statute of limitations on colonialism as an explanation for underdevelopment lapsed long ago.” The issue is about leadership - leadership that can take the high moral strategic road to see that persistent African failure scandalizes all of us, wherever we are, and no matter how much wealth and comfort we enjoy, legitimate or illegitimate. In a world that still echoes William Du Bois’ observation that "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line and the relation of the darker to the lighter race of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea", images of Africa on Television screens that speak of famine, HIV-AIDS, corruption, ethnic cleansing, and elite incompetence and misrule would reinforce racism, discreet or overt. The colour of state failure need not be African. Political leadership can make a difference, as exemplified in the cases of Singapore, Malaysia and even the African state of Botswana or indeed, as indicated in the quiet revolution currently taking place in Nigeria.

A major point of departure which more creative leaders ought to begin to look again is the role of culture both as a facilitator or inhibitor of economic progress especially when concept of progress is hinged on high productivity. Africa must be led by its leaders to the work place. We must produce, and not merely consume what the rest of the world is producing. We have a challenge to drop or revisit those aspects of our "culture" that elevates consumption over production, waste over thrift; expenditure over savings, and today over tomorrow. We must begin to reject at the polls, leaders and political parties that symbolize those negative aspects of our culture that have been anti-growth and anti-development. We need leaders who symbolize a new paradigm of productivity - what I call the MEKARIA principle - Igbo word for "pressing for excellence". By factoring in new values of productivity into our attitudes, thinking and reflexes, a sea change is possible within a generation. Max Weber was definitely right when he said over a century ago that “if we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes almost all the difference."

In the evolution of a new productivity paradigm, democracy, both of the marketplace and political participation is key. It is the flourishing of individual creativity and innovation, so difficult in repressive authoritarian environment that is the critical ingredient for economic development. Such a new paradigm of productivity also requires a revision by the elite of underdeveloped societies as to what really constitutes wealth. As Mariano Grondona, Professor of Government at the Law Faculty of the National University of Buenos Aires describes it: "in societies resistant to development, wealth above all consists of what exists. In favourable societies, wealth above all consists of what does not yet exist. In the underdeveloped world, the principal wealth resides in land and what derives from it. In the developed world, the principal wealth resides in the promising processes of innovation."

The bold economic reforms contemplated and indeed being implemented by many African countries will not succeed unless we revise our thinking on the continent on our notions of distributive justice. Societies that are unable to develop are usually where distributive justice is mainly concerned with those who are alive today. It is only about winning today's elections and adopting populist measures that will pander to the masses, whether on the issue of subsidies on petroleum products as in the case of Nigeria, a matter which the Trade Union movement has threatened to bring down the government, or in protectionist measures elsewhere in the continent that discourages foreign investment so vital for real economic growth. This obsession on the here and now is also indicated in a "propensity to consume rather than to save."

Societies that have developed, particularly the Asian miracle economies of the past three decades of momentous leap, have been those that perceived distributive justice to also involve generations yet unborn; that saved for a rainy day; that did not treat finite resources (such as oil) as beneficence or God's gift to be consumed by those alive today, who would take Maynard Keynes out of context by saying since "in the long run we are all dead," let us make merry and be happy today" In those kind of self-denying and self-restraining societies, preference is for saving over consumption.


What is required is as follows:
• Serious commitment on the part of African leaders to institution building that is adequate to carry the various reforms on the continent.
• Debt forgiveness by the G-7 countries tied up to specific state-building projects in Africa and as a strategic positioning to deny African leaders the most trumpeted excuse for failure to deliver on development.
• The forging of coalition at the continental level for the sustenance of ongoing reforms so that they do not depend in each country, on the chance availability of one strong, committed leader, say, like Obasanjo in Nigeria.
• Urgent re-tooling of the justice sector to enhance independence of the judiciary and cutting-edge professionalization of police and other security agencies.
• Greater percentage allocation to Educational sector.
• Recognition of HIV-AIDS pandemic as a time-bomb ready to wipe off all the economic gains being expected in the short and medium term.
• Bill of Rights in all African countries strong enough to protect minority rights, enhance and emphasize citizenship over indigenous claims, facilitate pluralism, and local autonomy for multi-ethnic societies where there is demand for such.
• Evolve comprehensive Diaspora projects that will encourage a reverse brain drain and/or facilitate re-inflows of incomes from African Diaspora back to the continent.
• Evolve and implement a continental masterplan for both transportation and environment that will both integrate the continent and rationalize the use of its unique resources.
• A continental coalition that would declare corruption as Africa’s Public Enemy No. 1 and fights it as such.
I am convinced that if the necessary vision and political will are mustered throughout the continent in this direction, the spectre of state failure and institutional collapse will give way to the emergence of healthy and more viable states of real economic promise and political progress.
• Paper presented by Ojo Maduekwe (Legal Adviser to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria), at the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa inaugural lecture on Governance in Africa held at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Ontario, Canada on Friday, November 5th, 2004.



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