George B.A.Ayittey is a native of Ghana, a distinguished economist at American University and president of Free Africa Foundation. He is the author of Africa Betrayed (1992) and Africa in Chaos (1998).
In Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa’s Future (published in 2005 by Palgrave), Ayittey provides a provocative analysis of the why Africa is poor, and how the continent might move forward (or unchain itself). Tracing the roots of Africa’s problems, Ayitteh argues that independence and freedom did not bring the prosperity promised by national leaders. Rather, despite the continent’s immense development potential and untapped mineral wealth, Africa is still very poor, mired in steaming squalor, misery, deprivation and chaos.
He argues that African leaders and elites rail against racism and demand better treatment of blacks from whites but display contemptuous disregard of the welfare of their own citizens. Ayitteh characterizes African leaders as riddled by inferiority complex and functional illiteracy and embracing the religion of development that misinterpreted development to mean modern scientific ways of doing things especially in the area of industrialization. He lambasts African leaders for rejecting the existing ways of doing things as “old and backward”, instead embracing socialism and statism, importing or borrowing institutions little understood by the elites themselves, creating mass confusion and internally contradictory systems that bear no affinity to either the indigenous system or the colonial state.
In Ayitteh’s words, African leaders have repressed, brutalized, and plundered the wealth of the average African peasants, by using various devices, such as development levies, price controls and marketing boards. Thus, contrary to widely held views, poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is not the result of insufficient levels of foreign aid but rather due to lack of economic freedom embodied in the policies that these countries have imposed on themselves and made worse by the rampant corruption systemic in many of these countries.
It is these policies and corrupt practices that have provoked the wrath of the people resulting in the continent’s dire condition. Apart from their anger driving them in the street as a way of rebelling against naked exploitation, the peasants have withheld their produce, switched to other crops, produced just enough to feed themselves and simply smuggled their produce to places where it fetched higher prices.
Ayitteh offers a way out for Africa to get rid of its ‘leaky begging bowl’ by advocating a return to the indigenous economic systems castigated before by the elites as backward and primitive. He argues that Africa’s indigenous systems have a long history of free trade and free markets that can be harnessed along with increased investment, both foreign and domestic. However, he emphasizes the need for good governance and an enabling environment that can support economic freedom and new investment. By this he means rule of law, working infrastructure, and security of persons and property.
Moses Kibe Kihiko holds a Master’s degree in Leadership Studies. He recently published his book “Public Leadership: The Ten Defining Moments How Leaders Acquire & Handle Fame, Power & Glory “with Miraclaire Publishing, Website: www.miraclairebooks.com). Moses is the CEO of Practicum Leadership, a training, consultancy, writing and research firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.