Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Africa Needs More Enlightened Leaders, Not More Strong Men

It has been more than fifty years since the first countries in Africa began coming out from under the yoke of European colonialism, and less than twenty years since the fall of the last apartheid regime on the continent.  It can’t be argued that colonialism created problems for African countries; distorted economies, ethnic struggles caused by arbitrarily drawn borders, lack of enough educated people in the early years of independence; but, after so many decades, is it still possible to blame colonialism for Africa’s problems?

What of the leaders of the African countries; countries that at independence were wealthier than their Asian counterparts, but are now among the poorest countries of the world?  What of countries ruled since independence by dictators who, because they fought for independence, feel that it entitles them to rule for life, and who treat their countries and fellow citizens as property belonging to them and their cronies?
Does Africa need more strong men, men on the model of Libya’s Gaddafi, or does it need more statesmen like Nelson Mandela?  What of the institutions that underpin governments and give citizens a stake in how their countries are managed?  Institutions, by the way, that Africa’s strong men seem to fear; fear to the point that they either block their development, or where they have existed, destroy them.  No, Africa doesn’t need any more strong men.  It needs strong institutions to mitigate the damage done by those strong men who have been inflicted upon it.  No more the iron fist of strong men, more the shining beacon of enlightened leadership and the anchorage of functioning institutions.