Africa Lives

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Africa Lives: Governance And The New Corporatist State
 

By

 

Pat Utomi

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, July 27, 2005

I have a confession to make. It has been a prolonged battle with my conscience. Perhaps I am wrong in being pessimistic about our recent national experience, even of the African condition. Maybe I should become a cheerleader for the extant order and hope we can talk up progress even if the metrics with which we measure opportunity costs suggest little reason for celebration. Then I watch Zainab Badawi host a slice of Africa as the BBC TV series Africa Lives, places a searchlight on the African dilemma. Is it the moment, the tipping point for the continent of failed promise as all else prosper, she asks. Last to round up in the fair-size panel was former president of Ghana Jerry Rawlings.

Rawlings, candid as always, wished he could be as optimistic as others on the panel. He noted however, that external powers need to be weary of legitimizing African Leaders who have a proclivity for tyranny because the invariable consequence is lack of accountability. The lack of progress, which follows that, is obvious. The African experience from the 1970s till date is proof positive.

This must be the ultimate paradox. Jerry Rawlings putting his finger on tyranny as the root of the African challenge with accountability, and ultimately, with state performance. On the one hand I felt vindicated in my personal choice about which I have been pressured into soul searching on many occasions. If tyranny is the problem and turning our back to tyrants, whether they be in uniform or claim to be democrats, is claiming the moral high ground and a practical response to the view that tyrants cannot sustain success, then one so disposed must not feel it is the making of pride. But is Rawlings right in his assessment? After all most of these Africans now lead "democracies". I guess people tend to forget that Hitler was elected.

I must admit that I see much truth in the Rawlings perspective. But my real sin here is the envy for active political science scholars in Africa and some regret I drifted away from the discipline. What remarkable material they have to work with. From concerns about the modernization process to the man on the horseback, military rule, to worries about the state in post colonial Africa, and the corporatist state sucking in elements of civil society to legitimize itself in its failings to serve the people. Listening to Rawlings I felt a rush of de ja vu.

Yesterday's tyrants incorporating leaderships of the Bar Association and the Medical Association etc are dancing to new tunes Washington and London seem to or pretend to love. They profess to be democrats, they proclaim great wars against corruption, and they pursue outlines of the Washington consensus policies supervised by the multilateral agencies.

But because they are basically tyrants they may lay out many Institutions for ensuring horizontal accountability and use them even to hunt down their enemies but they cannot sustain policies that provide sustainable growth and development. It is simply the nature of the animal, the disconnected state as havens of goal displacement for people in authority. It is such that even the good initiatives eventually get sabotaged at alter of personal convenience. The end of the myth of the benevolent dictator. This must be why Nigeria has a recursive economy; two steps forward and three steps backward. Tyrants no matter what good measures they proclaim and even pursue, eventually cannot sustain progress because they do not account to the people.

Across Africa it must interesting to observe a new dimension to the new corporatist state. A business elite perceiving that its interest is advanced by closeness to power is incorporated in a mimicking of state guided capitalism of South East Asia. We who have celebrated the South East Asian model are supposed to applaud the private/public sector partnership. The only problem is that the African model is not a wealth creating but a rent-seeking strategy. If you were at the last Nigerian Economic Summit you would be able to tell the real regard for this partnership between the public and private sectors. The CEO of Nigeria incorporated did not even bother to show up as he journeyed from one village in West Africa to the other. Suddenly I am not so sorry about feeling that this whole thing may not be as hoped for as I am seriously burdened from time to time that I many be wrong in my assessment.

And then I remember James McGregor Burns. That former president of the American Political Science Association and author of the seminal book: Leadership, and subsequent volumes of Transformational leadership made the point, years ago - a leader and a tyrant are polar opposites. Tyrants, even when they can produce spectacular results, like Hitler, eventually cannot sustain human progress.

Africa is unfortunately in the tragic situation of placing tyrants in leadership roles. Sustainable developments are not possible under those conditions. What is remarkable is that it takes a comment from Jerry Rawlings, of all people, to restore my faith in old principles and to stop hitting at my conscience that it is prideful purity to seek decent distance from what is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

For students of Political Science the old corporatist state may absorb the labour leadership, the medical Association leadership into the Health Minister, position, the Bar Association leadership the Attorney-General position, etc the new corporatism assembles crony capitalists and pronounces a partnership with the private sector even when the state does little to improve the environment for a real value creating private sector to thrive. If you look at the emergence of the South Korean Chaebols, no matter that men we lionized yesterday like Woo Chong have become icons with feet of clay, as Daewoo's past gets a beam of light, you will still spot the difference between the South Korean experience and the African experience.

Theirs created wealth and redistributed it as can be seen in the Gini index trends that show a robust middle class emerging. Here the rent-seeking nature is clear as it is redistributing wealth upwards in favour of a narrow few, creating conditions for Kaplan's Coming Anarchy as the gap between the bottom deciles and the top widens. Tomorrow I will try to show how the difference which caused Rawlings to worry is reflected in a lack of strategic orientation in sectors of the Nigerian economy.

Jacques Chirac, President of France must have felt awkward when the news reached him at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles. An Air France had landed into the unwelcome embrace of a herd of cattle at the Port Harcourt Airport Runway. His Nigerian counterpart was coming to a part of the meetings. What should he say to the big man from Africa? I bet Chirac who only so recently saw his Prime Minister depart, in response to the unhappiness of the people could be wondering if anybody would be accountable for such endangering of lives.

But I trust also that his intelligence people could have told him that the lack of safety in Nigeria's airspace was routinely manifested and pretty little to make anyone accountable was being done. After all three weeks before, the visiting World Bank President could not meet some of his guest from Lagos because poor drainage caused a Chachangi jet to overshoot the runway the day after a similar event occurred in Jos. That little incident made travel from Lagos hell on earth for four days. Perhaps if they had a crystal ball they would have seen that a cargo jumbo would repeat the same thing three weeks after in Lagos bringing air travel through Nigeria's gateway to a stop for 24 hours that would soon be followed by a Lufthansa accident because of a pothole on the same runway, and a decision by BA to boycott Lagos Airport.

The point of the foregoing is to illustrate Zenaib Badawi's frustration with Africa's failed promise, as moderated the panel on the Africa Lives series on BBC TV. The concerns of the world, the Blair Commissions report and the hope of 2005 as the year of Africa was poured cold water by two short films, one from a Kenyan that dwelt o the pervasiveness of corruption as the crippler of Africa's progress and the other on response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic challenge. They raised the question of whether the world outside can really be blamed for many of Africa's problems. It seems to me that the lack of strategic view of economic sectors like the Aviation one in Nigeria, show how much dreams can fail to be realized as long as a culture of vertical accountability continues to be absent in Africa.

It is not just about who should have done what or that a drainage system that could be put in place from funds a few of us wearing rags and holding out bowls to air travelers can raise in one day, is damaging Nigeria so much internationally. It is that a culture of vertical accountability will force strategic initiatives that drive growth in a sustained manner.

When Virgin Nigeria was announced I cheered in spite of the jeers from some quarters because I though it was part of strategic recognition of how the aviation sector could help create million of jobs in Lagos as a natural hub for Africa compared to Jo'Burg in some southern corner or Nairobi in deep rightfield. If not so natural hubs have been made of Singapore and Dubai through sheer government determination in spite of natural disadvantages surely someone has come up with the number of people in employment around the Frankfurt area because the Frankfurt main airport is the Lufthansa hub the very entrepreneurial nature of the Virgin Nigeria leadership added more to this hope.

An immediate rational question would then be how come Lagos has only two Runways serving tens of millions of people. If instead of more runways one of the two has been out of commission for nearly a year for reasons not disclosed but which some rumour is ostensibly because the contractors have not been paid, and then flooding is creating problems even as the animal kingdom threaten to take over other runways, a most reasonable people will pause and wonder what is wrong?

The expectation would be that a long term perspective plan for the sector would identify imperatives for which you can hold people in charge accountable once they buy in and have the authority to find the most resourceful path to prescribed goals. Visiting Brazil in the last week and observing more closely a nation of great potential which has been stopped from reaching his true place of glory by problems of vertical accountability, I could empathize with the pressures on President Inacio Lula Da Silva who has had to accept the departure of the his party's chairman and three ministers and been made to pay a fine for "campaigning" for a party candidate, against electoral rules, even though the candidate still lost the elections.

The aviation sector examples as many more around Africa burden an emerging generation of leaders the Energy sector situation in Nigeria is even more pathetic. Even as we have been assured several times that the problem will be ancient history within months, no one has been held to account for failure of such epic proportions for a sector so fundamental to human progress in modern society. For many the challenge is whether to join the bandwagon in the hope they can change things gradually from within or should they keep away until a system that better delivers emerges. My Counsel has always been that it is not an either or question. I admire the talents of those who can work with tyrants and get results that advance the common good per chance a Gorbachev can lurk in their ranks and bring an inglorious end to the system that deserves it as was the case with the Soviet Union.

For those no so gifted and decided they will work for the end of tyranny I also have great respect. The key is for all to have an eye for the judgment of history. I have no doubt that History's Day of Judgment is not too far off. So those who choose not to fear those who can destroy the body but cannot destroy the soul should have as much a place as those who choose to engage in the quest for reform from within. Surely history's most unkind place is likely to be reserved for those who see these times as opportunity to make hay so they can stock up their barns and say to their souls it is time to be merry, History may use those same words for them you fool this very night an account will be demanded of you.

 

 

bulletProfessor Utomi, Chairman of Good Governance Africa, teaches at the Lagos Business School, Pan African University

 

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