PBS: Escaping Eritrea … [Read More...] about ካብ ውሽጢ ቤት ማእሰርታት ኤርትራ
George Klay Kieh, Jr. and Pita Ogaba Agbese:
Introduction: The decolonization process in Africa witnessed the colonial powers transferring an authoritarian state construct to the first generation African leaders. Fashioned in the image of the colonial state, the post-colonial construct retained the nature, mission and character of its colonial progenitor. In terms of its nature, the post colonial state in Africa is a by-product of the historical and cultural proclivities of colonialism and imperialism. In essence, the post-colonial state in Africa by its design reflects the interests of neo-colonialism and imperialism.
Accordingly, the primary raison d’etre of the post-colonial state is to create and maintain a conducive and enabling environment in which foreign-based capitalists and the advanced capitalist states can promote their economic and political interests. Also, the post-colonial state in Africa has a multidimensional character described variously as “repressive, exploitative, prebendal, neo-patrimonial, predatory, criminalized and vampirish,” among others. Given the specific circumstances, one or a combination of the dimensions of the character of the post-colonial state may become ascendant.
Significantly, the first generation African leaders had the opportunity to shepherd the process of deconstructing, rethinking and democratically reconstituting the post-colonial state in Africa. Regrettably, with very few exceptions—e.g., Ghana and Tanzania—the first generation leaders chose to retain the colonial state in its post-colonial form. Accordingly, the post-colonial state in Africa retained all of the features of its colonial predecessor. According to Claude Ake, the first generation African leaders were not interested in the democratic reconstitution of the post-colonial state “because they lacked a democratic agenda.”
Moreover, the succeeding generations of African leaders equally failed to make the democratic reconstitution of the post-colonial state the epicenter of the state building project. Hence, over the past five decades of independence, the postcolonial authoritarian state has enveloped Africa in multifaceted crises of underdevelopment-cultural, economic, environmental, political, security, social, etc.
The evolution of the authoritarian post-colonial state: The authoritarian post-colonial state in Africa was fashioned by the colonial and imperialist powers and bequeathed to Africa at independence. The post-colonial construct is substantively similar to its predecessor. Julius Ihonvbere provides an apt description of the glaring similarities between the two constructs:
The post-colonial state was a continuation of the colonial state with very minimal changes, mostly in terms of personnel rather than structures, functions and relations to civil society. Thus, it remained as interventionist, exploitative, and repressive as its predecessor. It is therefore inappropriate to expect good governance, transparency, social harmony, respect for human rights, adherence to the rule of law, and political stability in social formations presided over by weak and non-hegemonic elites.
In essence, the post-colonial state retained the authoritarian characteristics of the colonial state. For example, the mission of the post-colonial state is to create conducive atmosphere for the private accumulation of capital by the metropolitan-based owners of multinational corporations and other businesses and their local African clients, including state managers. In performing its mission, the post-colonial state tramples on the rights and freedoms of the African peoples. That is, because the post-colonial state is an illegitimate formation detached from the people it rules, the post-colonial state primarily relies on coercion and other repressive methods to promote the interests of the ruling class (the internal wing consisting of state managers and local entrepreneurs, and the external wing comprising the owners of metropolitan-based multinational corporations and other businesses).
The post-colonial state has a multidimensional character. For example, like its colonial progenitor, the post-colonial state is violent and repressive. As Claude Ake asserts, “At independence, the form and function of the state in Africa did not change much for most countries in Africa. State power remained essentially the same: immense, arbitrary, often violent, always threatening …”.
Another feature is the post-colonial state’s predatory proclivity. The state, for example, likes to collect taxes and other fees from its citizens, but does not provide services. Instead, the resources of the state are used to enrich the members of the ruling classes. For example, while the masses lack the basic necessities of life, the members of the ruling classes and their families live in opulence. This is because the state provides propitious conditions in which the members of the ruling classes and their relations can engage in the predatory accumulation of wealth at the expense of the subaltern classes (working, peasantry, petit bourgeois, the unemployed and the lumpen). In other words, the state is analogous to a “buffet service in which the members of the ruling classes and their relations ‘eat all they can eat’ for free.”
Similarly, the post-colonial state is exploitative. This is demonstrated in several ways. For instance, it pays low wages to civil servants; these wages are woefully inadequate to meet the basic needs of these civil servants and their families. Also, in some cases, the state does not pay civil servants regularly. In this vein, civil servants are usually unpaid for several months. Meanwhile, the upper echelon of the public bureaucracy pillages and plunders the state’s coffers, while telling civil servants the “state has no money.” Also, the state facilitates the exploitation of workers in the private sector by multinational corporations and other foreign-owned businesses. Characteristically, these workers are paid abysmally low wages. But, when they protest, the state employs the full battery of its repressive apparatus to cow them into submission.
Also, the state has a neo-patrimonial dimension to its character. Essentially, recruitment to the public service is based on personal connections and . rather than on merit. State managers employ their relatives, friends, cronies and others to occupy various positions in the public sector, including ministries, autonomous agencies, the police, the military and security services.
Each particular dimension or a combination thereof of the state’s character is usually ascendant, depending on the special set of circumstances. For example, the prebendal aspect of the state’s character might be dominant in a particular circumstance. At other times, the violent and repressive dimensions might dominate. Alternatively, the exploitative and repressive elements might be most apparent. Anyway, no matter which dimension is dominant at a given time, the fact remains that the character of the post-colonial state is intrinsically anti-people, anti-democracy and anti-development.
The tragedies of authoritarianism: The horrendous performance of the post-colonial state in Africa is vividly captured by the multifaceted tragedies it has engendered. Culturally, in many cases, the post-colonial state has polarized ethnic groups. That is, rather than promote peaceful coexistence, and a sense of nationalism and patriotism based on allegiance to a common patrimony, the post-colonial state usually pits one ethnic group against another.
Given the lack of a democratic agenda and therefore legitimacy, state managers tend to seek refuge in the provinces of their respective ethnic groups. Accordingly, the state has become ethnicized: the polity has become the exclusive province of a particular ethnic group usually associated with the incumbent president. The other ethnic groups are then banished to the periphery of the society. The emergent “us” against ”them” struggle has, and continues to be designed for the achievement of two major goals.
First, the incumbent president relies on his or her ethnic group for support, against the backdrop of the loss of national support. For example, the incumbent president fills the major positions in the state bureaucracy, the military, police and security establishments with the members of his or her own ethnic group. By so doing, the incumbent president believes that his or her regime would be secured. Second, the incumbent regime uses ethnic manipulation as a vehicle for foiling the development of class solidarity among the members of the subaltern classes. By orchestrating “ethnic differences,” the incumbent regime is able to prevent members of the subaltern classes from various ethnic groups from forming the bonds of solidarity that are exigent for waging a struggle against the ruling class.
In the economic realm, the African masses are enveloped in mass abject poverty and very low standard of living. For example, at the dawn of the twenty first century, 323 million Africans lived on less than $1 a day. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence of poverty in the world, and unlike almost all other regions of the world, poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa has been rising over the last decade. For example, of the world’s l.2 billion people who live on less than $1 a day, 24.3 percent are in Sub-Saharan Africa. To make matters worse, Africa has the second most unequal income distribution next to Latin America. The Gini coefficient for Africa as a whole is 44 percent. By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, mass poverty remained ensconced on the landscape of the political economies of African states: about 51 percent of the people in Sub Saharan Africa lived on about $1.25 per day. Similarly, about 388 million people in the region lived on about $1 a day.
The economic crises generated by the authoritarian state in Africa are exacerbated by high debt and the attendant debt servicing. Substantial portions of the export earnings of African states are devoted to paying the interests on the usually odious debts owed to the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), the advanced capitalist states (United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, etc.) and the major capitalist commercial banks.
Similarly, the neo-liberal agenda being championed by the United States and the Bretton Woods institutions is making the economic crises worse, by, among other things, forcing loan-seeking African states to dismantle their respective “social safety nets.” That means, African states with welfare programs are removing subsidies for such human needs as education, health care, public housing and public transportation. Additionally , the privatization ethos and the associated “rolling back of the state” is creating more hardship by selling critical public corporations such as utilities to private companies. In tum, these private firms are charging high fees, which poverty-stricken Africans cannot afford.
In terms of the environment, degradation is prevalent. This has been occasioned by an assortment of factors. The imperatives of poverty have forced scores of Africans to rely on the felling of trees as a source of survival. The trees are then used to make [char]coal. As well, the lack of viable reforestation programs is leading to the destruction of valuable species of trees. In addition, logging companies are exploiting the forests of various African states for profit-making reasons. These companies, mainly foreign-based, are cutting logs and processing them into timber for export. Again, the lack of viable national reforestation programs is causing massive destruction of scores of species of trees.
Furthermore, scores of Africans are using various bodies of water for multiple purposes—from “laundry marts” to lavatory facilities. The use of bodies of water for various purposes, especially as lavatory facilities, is causing health problems. This is because many Africans use the water that serves as a lavatory facility for cooking and drinking purposes as well. Similarly, the air is being polluted by myriad activities—from the emission of carbon dioxide gas by dilapidated automobiles to smog by various industrial activities. These activities have been identified as the major causes of the emergent phenomenon of “global warming.” For example, in various West African countries—Ghana, Liberia, etc.—the temperature is consistently hot and humid both during the dry and the rainy seasons. Historically, the temperature has been relatively cooler during the rainy season.
Politically, the authoritarian post-colonial state has occasioned numerous problems. At the base is the primacy of the “cult of the presidency.” The president in African states is deified: he or she is considered omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Hence, his or her edicts are to be obeyed and not questioned. Moreover, the president is above the law. That is, the law is for the mere mortals, not the “presidential demi-god.” The “cult of the presidency” is manifested in several leadership styles that Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg have variously referred to as “The prince, the autocrat, the prophet and the tyrant.”
The related problem is the centralization of power in the hands of the president. Despite the existence of the legislative and judicial branches, the president wields the greatest amount of power, which is unchecked by the formal institutional mechanisms. As Richard Sandbrook notes, “The strongman, usually the president, occupies the center of political life.” With unlimited and unchecked powers, the president has carte blanche to do whatever he or she pleases. For example, he or she can order the minister of finance to provide any amount of money for his or her use, outside of the approved annual state budget and the legislative process. Similarly, he or she can use the state’s resources for private purposes, including placing government vehicles and homes at the disposal of his relatives and friends.
One of the major tragedies of the authoritarian state in Africa is the bastardization of the multiparty system. In authoritarian states like Burundi, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, there are several de jure political parties; but, in reality, there is one de facto party—the ruling one. Under this arrangement, the ruling party, given its suzerainty over the state apparatus, controls the electoral process. For example, during the 2005 Egyptian Presidential Election, the incumbent, President Hosni Mubarak, used his control over the state machinery to bring fabricated charges against his major opponent. The ostensible goal of President Mubarak was to use the state’s legal process as a cover under which to prevent his main opponent from contesting the presidency.
Another major political problem is the vitriolic violation of political rights and civil liberties by the various authoritarian states and their regimes. For example, in 2011, the Angolan government used excessive force to crack down on anti-government protests. More broadly, the Angolan government continues to impose restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, despite strong guarantees, protecting these rights in the country’s 20 I 0 constitution. Similarly, in Egypt, Remy Essam, a 23-year-old charismatic singer, guitarist and songwriter, who became famous during the Tahrir Square protest as “The singer in the square,” was detained and tortured by the Egyptian military after President Hosni Mubarak was deposed from power by a popular mass uprising.
In Equatorial Guinea, because there is no independent judiciary, the government therefore conducts arbitrary arrests, and denies detainees due process. For example, detainees are usually held indefinitely without telling them the charges against them. In Ethiopia, the government continued to severely restrict basic freedom of expression, association and assembly. Hundreds of Ethiopians were arbitrarily arrested and detained, and remain at risk of torture and ill-treatment. Also, the government continued its attacks on the political opposition and dissent.
The authoritarian state has made the use of violence a routine method employed to deal with both perceived and real opponents. In the continent’s various authoritarian states, the incumbent regimes harass, intimidate, imprison, kill and force into exile scores of citizens, who are either perceived as posing a threat or who are engaged in legal pro-democracy activities. Undoubtedly, enveloped in a morass of illegitimacy, authoritarian regimes are paranoid about opposition activities, which they fear could destabilize and end their reign. So, as Arthur Nwankwo posits, “The state apparatus, especially in its dictatorial genre …, its institutional and structural agencies of terror are, more often than not, geared towards the preservation of the regime, its personnel and privilege.”
In terms of security, the authoritarian state has focused primarily on regime maintenance and survival to the detriment of the security—physical and human—of the vast majority of the citizens. The regime has constructed a dialectical relationship between its security and that of the citizenry: in order for the incumbent regime to be secure, the vast majority of the citizens must be insecure [emphasis AHN]. This finds expression in the fact that the citizens are the principal targets of the state’s coercive apparatus. In other words, the caches of weapons that are purchased by the various authoritarian states are intended to “protect the regime” from the citizens. Accordingly, the regime does not hesitate to unleash brute force, even in very minor cases. Clearly, given the illegitimacy of the authoritarian states, virtually every action undertaken within the mass public is taken very seriously by the incumbent regime.
The other security crisis that has been occasioned by the authoritarian state is the human one. Because the state is fundamentally preoccupied with regime survival, substantial portions of the annual national budgets and other funds are allocated to the military and security establishments; these financial resources are then used to purchase weapons and logistics and to cover personnel costs. Accordingly, very little state resources are allotted to human security—education, health care, etc. Importantly, the ruling classes believe that their respective regimes are better secure, if they give priority to the military and security establishments than to the needs of the citizens.
In the social arena, the problems are legion. For example, in 2000, the beginning of the twenty-first century, 185 million Africans were undernourished; 273 million had no access to safe drinking water; and 299 million were without access to adequate sanitation. Also, life expectancy on the continent stood at 46.3 years; and the adult literacy rate was 63.2 percent. The overall Human Development Index (HDI) for Africa during this period was a paltry 0.465, the lowest in the world.
Over a decade later, the situation ·has gotten worse. For example, in 2011, about 240 million Africans were undernourished. Approximately, 328 million Africans did not have access to safe drinking water. About 572 million Africans did not have acceptable sanitation. The literacy rate was about 60 percent. However, the life expectancy improved to 52.2 years. During the same period, the HDI for the African Continent was a dismal 0.463, less than what it was at the beginning of the new millennium.
Interestingly, the ruling classes, their families and friends are unaffected by the social crises occasioned by the authoritarian state for several reasons. First, the members of the ruling classes have substantial sums of stolen money and wealth from the state. Therefore, the members of the ruling classes use their ill-gotten wealth to buy the “material comforts of life”—clean drinking water, access to sanitation, etc. Second, the members of the ruling classes and their families do not use the social services in Africa. For example, the children of the members of the ruling classes attend school in metropolitan countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Moreover, the members of the ruling classes and their families get medical attention from the developed states—the United States, Britain, Germany, etc. Third, the members of the ruling classes and their families have access to vast amounts of food; hence, they are able to eat as many meals per day as they desire. Accordingly, they are insulated from malnourishment and the associated diseases.
“The third wave of democratization”, authoritarianism and the crises of underdevelopment in Africa: In 1990, the “third wave of democratization” incepted in Africa. Like a whirlwind, the “third wave” swept through the continent amid mass weariness with authoritarianism and the multifaceted crises of underdevelopment. The ”third wave” raised high hopes among the members of the continent’s subaltern classes. On the political front, the ”third wave” occasioned the processes of political liberalization (the opening up of the “political space”) and democratic transition (the holding of democratic multiparty elections).
Clearly, these twin developments broke the stranglehold of authoritarianism on the continent. In the socio-economic realm, “reformed peripheral capitalism” became the mode of production that was reified as the panacea to the continent’s perennial problems of mass abject poverty, unemployment and the lack of other basic human needs, among others. After more than two decades, progress has been made in the efforts to establish liberal democracies on the continent. This is evidenced by the fact that the number of liberal democracies has increased from three—Botswana, Gambia and Mauritius—in 1990 to nine in 2012. However, authoritarianism remains a staple on the African political landscape. For example, 23 African states had hybrid regimes (mixture of liberal democratic and authoritarian), and 22 countries had authoritarian governments.
Several factors have accounted for the persistence of authoritarianism on the continent. First, there is the lack of commitment to the establishment of liberal democracy on the part of the majority of the ruling classes. This is because liberal democracy and its attendant institutions, procedures, rules and processes would impose restrictions on the African local ruling classes’ perennial proclivities of the lack of accountability and transparency in the conduct of state affairs. Thus, the members of the local ruling classes “speak the language of liberal democracy” but “practice the art of authoritarianism.” This is designed to placate the United States and other Western powers that have made the so-called commitment to liberal democracy the litmus test for receiving foreign aid, and as part of the broader ensemble of the “new world order.”
Second, political institutions remain quite weak, and democratic procedures and processes have yet to be institutionalized. In other words, democratic politics has not been institutionalized. This is because there is the lack of commitment on the part of the local African ruling classes to dismantling the authoritarian architecture that has provided the framework for the unbridled exercise of power, the violation of the law with impunity, and the use of state power as the instrument for the predatory accumulation of wealth.
Third, central to liberal democracy is the artificial dichotomy between politics and economics. The former is left to the political arena, while the latter is under the purview of “the market.” While some progress has been made to democratize the “political space,” the “market’ ‘ has not been able to democratize the economic sphere. Hence, economic inequities and inequalities and their attendant prevalence of mass abject poverty, unemployment and the other basic human needs deficit persist. In this vein, liberal democracy with its emphasis on political rights and freedoms has little relevance to the subalterns whose material conditions have gotten worse, in spite of the “third wave of democratization.”
At the global level, the world capitalist system has undermined the establishment of liberal democracy on the continent through its various undemocratic modes of “North-South” interactions. For example, under the “system of unequal exchange, “the bedrock of the international trading order, African states, as part of the global periphery, are still receiving less for their raw materials, while being required to pay more for manufactured goods from the core states. This continues to lead to the fact that African states are earning less for the sale of their raw materials—agricultural products, oil and minerals.
This means that even if the government of an African state was committed to democratization, it would be hamstrung by the inadequacy of financial resources to help improve the material conditions of the subalterns. Clearly, the improvement of the material conditions of the subaltern classes is pivotal to the success of democratization on the continent. Similarly, the United States and the other core states that are professing to be the champions of democratization on the continent and in the world have failed to match their rhetoric with practice. For example, the United States has criticized the Zimbabwean government for being authoritarian, but has supported the authoritarian governments of Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda, among others. Thus, American democracy promotion on the continent is only targeted at countries such as Zimbabwe that are adversaries of the United States.
George Klay Kieh, Jr. is Professor of Political Science at the university of West Georgia.Prior to this, he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of West Georgia. His research interests are in the areas of peace and conflict studies, democratization, the state, political economy, development, American foreign policy, and regionasl and global goverance.
Pita Ogaba Agbese is Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa. Previously, he served as Acting Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Norther Iowa. His reasearch interests are in the areas of civil-military relations, the militaary and politics, peace and security studdies, and political economy.