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World Must Shame African Leaders Into Taking Action
LONDON, April 25, 2008 — The recent African summit at the United Nations could not conceal the number of failed states in Africa.
For years there has been no effective government in much of Somalia. We, who live under the rule of law, can hardly imagine what it must be like to be in a country where there is no authority capable of stopping intimidation, robbery and violence.
The position in Zimbabwe under the "presidency" of Robert Mugabe is little better. The government regularly flouts the laws and the security forces behave with deliberate brutality. Inflation is out of control. Millions of Zimbabwe currency notes will hardly pay for a bus fare or a loaf of bread. Three to four million people have fled from Zimbabwe to neighboring countries while some 70 to 80 percent of people of working age have no fixed employment. In a country that had one of the richest agricultural areas in Africa, people are starving. Expectation of life has declined significantly to around 37 years.
Mugabe, aged 84, however, lives in luxury as do his henchmen. He has prevented publication of the results of the recent presidential election because he was defeated in the polls and seems determined to stay in power with military backing from China and North Korea.
Meanwhile African leaders watch and wait.
The recent elections in Kenya nearly resulted in all-out civil war. Tribal jealousies and feuds were re-ignited. Fortunately with the help of the former secretary general of the U.N. a truce was patched up and it is to be hoped that the two main antagonists, now president and prime minister, will cooperate to save Kenya.
The new Cabinet has been enlarged unrealistically to give jobs to the boys and the signs are hardly encouraging.
Factions in the Congo continue to contend for power and the rule of law is applied arbitrarily, if at all. Rwanda and Burundi lost vast numbers in a horrifying genocide that brought shame to the U.N. for its inadequate efforts to stop the murders. In the Sudan, the Christian south resents extremist Muslim rule from Khartoum and seeks independence or at least full autonomy. In Darfur, in the east of the country, government-backed forces harass and murder poor tribesmen. The U.N.-sponsored African peacekeeping forces are too small, under-equipped and under-trained to ensure that further atrocities do not take place.
In northern Uganda the civil war is causing great hardship. The rebels in the so-called Lords Resistance Army regularly abduct children to serve as fighters and sex slaves.
Nigeria in West Africa has significant oil revenues but the ordinary people see little benefit from this wealth, which ends up in the hands of corrupt politicians who are reputed to slash much away in Swiss bank accounts.
Liberia and Sierra Leone have partially recovered from civil wars but standards of life remain low and the injured are neglected.
The situation in French West Africa from Mali through the Ivory Coast to Chad does not reflect well on France, the former colonial power.
Slavery still exists in many parts of Africa. Prostitutes are generally treated like slaves. Workers on cocoa and coffee plantations are often indentured. Pay is rarely more than a pittance and the "fair trade" movement has not so far been able to achieve much improvement in conditions.
Poor harvests, due to droughts, floods and inadequate management, have greatly reduced food production in many African countries. World food prices are rising fast and significant numbers in Africa are starving or at the very least malnourished.
AIDS is a major scourge in parts of Africa, including South Africa, and has left many families without fathers and mothers and with children dying.
Other crippling and lethal diseases still flourish despite developments in medical treatment.
The U.N. calls for more and better coordinated aid. The voluntary agencies and charities do what they can with the limited funds available to them. A major problem is how to ensure that aid reaches those most in need and is not siphoned off into the pockets of the gangsters who hold sway in many parts of the continent.
The improvements Africa needs require better government under able and honest leaders. There are educated Africans with such qualities but in many countries not least Zimbabwe they are excluded from any share in power.
Much hope had been pinned on South Africa, which had emerged from the cruel years of apartheid with a democratic system of government and significant economic base. But President Thabo Mbeki has failed as a leader of a resurgent South Africa and has lost the respect of African as well as Western leaders.
China , in its search for natural resources, should have played a constructive role. But it has often obstructed efforts to improve the situation. In particular it has failed to put pressure on the Sudanese government to restrain the murderous militia in Darfur.
Instead of working on Mugabe to respect democratic rights, the Chinese are sending more arms and ammunition.
Other countries should do more to influence developments in Africa. India, which also seeks natural resources and energy from Africa, has not so far used its moral authority sufficiently to demand better governance in African countries. Its reluctance may stem from a mistaken fear that criticizing African governments has colonialist overtones. The Japanese government has also maintained its usual low posture; it should be more forthright in its support of democracy and the rule of law.
The World Bank and the IMF need the backing of all responsible leaders in their efforts to eradicate corruption. The pope in his recent U.N. speech was right to call on all countries to do more to uphold human rights. We must all do much more to shame African leaders into putting their houses in order.
There are failed states and evil dictatorships in other parts of the world, e.g., North Korea and Myanmar, but a particular effort is needed now to lessen the misery of millions of Africans.
Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.