SPECIAL INTERVIEW (Part 2) Development/Africa
Emerging African development thinking (2)
Kofi Akosah-Sarpong continues his discussions with Prof. George Ayittey on his argument that US President Barack Obama’s Accra speech that Africa’s future is in Africans hands is an “intellectual vindication” for the “Internalist School” of African development
Q. How did the “Internalist School” came about?
A. It evolved rather slowly in the 1970s. When Africa gained its independence in the 1960s, the euphoria that gripped the continent was infectious. “Free at last!” was the chant that resonated across Africa. African nationalist leaders who won independence for their respe3ctive countries were hailed as heroes and deified. Currencies bore their portraits. Statues were built for name and every monument was named after them. It was even sacrilegious to criticize them. They outlawed opposition parties, declared their countries to be one-party states and themselves “presidents for life.” It was their intolerance of dissent, lack of democratic freedom and creeping despotism that sowed the seeds of internalist revolt.
Very soon in the late 1960s, the euphoria over independence and the honeymoon wore off. It became increasingly clear that Africa had traded one set of masters (white colonialists) for another (black neo-colonialists) and the oppression and the exploitation of the African continued unabated. Soldiers stepped in a spate of coups in the 1970s but the soldiers were themselves another batch of “crocodile liberators” far worse than the despots they replaced. Africa’s post colonial story is one truculent tale of one betrayal after another. This has little to do with colonialism but leadership failure.
Q. But at the philosophical level from the 1960s on African leaders such
as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Sekou Toure and Mobutu Sese Seku came out with various developmental paradigms. For example, Kenneth Kaunda and “Capitalist Humanism,” where the humanist essence of the African culture should drive progress, or Mobutu Sese Sekou and “Africanization,” where African cultural values were highly encouraged and enforced in the Congo-Kinshasa’s development process. In historical and
practical terms, how is the Internalist School different from all these
A. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the terms “internalist orthodox,” “development paradigm” and ideologies espoused b the first generation of post colonial leaders such as Nkrumah, Kaunda, Nyerere and others.
After independence, having rejected both colonialism and capitalism, the new leaders needed an alternative ideology. Although some elements of communism seemed appealing, its adoption would have entailed their nations’ becoming satellites of the Soviet Union. European socialism, on the other hand, was a poor substitute. Its acceptance would have been interpreted as continued reliance on the European colonialists. Requiring a different ideology, the nationalists settled on “African socialism”–a nebulous concept that borrowed heavily from European socialism but with liberal usage of such terms as “communalism,” thus enabling it to be portrayed as based upon African traditions. Further, the definition could be made flexible enough to permit different interpretations and applications to suit the social conditions prevailing in each African country.
As a result, a proliferation of socialist ideologies emerged in Africa, including some that were quite bizarre. They included: Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa (familyhood or socialism in Swahili) in Tanzania; Leopold Senghor’s vague amalgam of Marxism, Christian socialism, humanitarianism, and “Negritude” in Senegal; Kenneth Kaunda’s humanism in Zambia; Marien N’Gouabi’s scientific socialism in the Congo (Brazzaville); Muammar Gaddafi’s Arab Islamic socialism in Libya; Kwame Nkrumah’s Nkrumaism (“consciencism”) in Ghana; Mobutu Sese Seko’s Mobutuism in Zaire; and Habib Bourguiba’s Bourguibisme in Tunisia. Only a few African countries, such as the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Kenya were pragmatic enough to eschew doctrinaire socialism.
Regardless of their professed ideology, nearly all the leaders chose the same development paradigm: state-centered or state-led development model in which the state was to spearhead development, be the entrepreneur, the planner etc. This model was adopted by even “capitalist” countries such as Ivory Coast, Kena and Nigeria.
The internalist doctrine refers to the causes of Africa’s current crisis. A crisis is a short term adversity and has to be managed before development, a long term process, is tackled. The internalist doctrine has not yet been converted into a development paradigm.
Q. As some of the names mentioned above show, such as Mobutu, is the
problem of hatching African-values driven development paradigms for
Africa’s development with the nature of African leaders and elites
thinking or is it with the mindset of the leaders and elites or the
prevailing political climate that was to fertilize these ideas? How does
the Internalist School reconcile all these contradictions and float a new
African development paradigm?
A. The real problem is the fundamental lack of understanding of African values, cultural, political and economic heritage. These leaders were not taught about them in the colonial schools, which taught African students more about European history. As a result, the first generation of African leaders had only an imperfect understanding of their own indigenous African institutions. Even today, this anomaly has not been rectified. If you asked any educated African today how an African chief is chosen and removed from office, they will be stumped.
The problem was this: You had African leaders and elites who genuinely wanted to craft an “African-values driven development paradigm.” But they only had scant understanding of the indigenous sstem. The results were meretricious caricatures of what they thought were the indigenous. One egregious example was Sekou Toure’s of Guinea’s program of “Marxism in African Clothes.’ Under that program, “unauthorized trading became a crime. Police roadblocks were set up around the country to control internal trade (The New York Times, Dec 28, 1987; p.28).
Markets and trading have been part of indigenous African economic heritage for centuries before the colonialists stepped foot on the continent. The supposedly “backward” chiefs of Africa seldom banned any market trading activity. But the most outrageous perfidy occurred in Ghana between 1981 and 1983.
Denouncing markets as dens of profiteers, the military regime of Ft./Lte. Jerry Rawlings (Provisional National Defense Council) of Ghana imposed stringent price controls on commodities and established Price Control Tribunals to enforce them and hand down stiff penalties. Market women who violated the price controls had their wares confiscated, their heads shaved, and were stripped naked, flogged, and thrown into jail. Markets were burned and destroyed by Air Force personnel when traders refused to sell at government-controlled prices. Economic lunacy was on the rampage. Having jailed the traders and destroyed their markets, the government of Ghana discovered to its chagrin that there was no food to feed the people it had jailed. “Thirty prisoners died in Sunyani prison for lack of food; 39 inmates died at another” (West Africa, July 15, 1983, p.1634).
Many of the post colonial leaders established political and economic systems that were not only defective but also alien. The one-party state systems that degenerated into despotism or tyranny were copied from the East; not based on African political heritage. Chiefs do not declare their villages to be one-party states themselves presidents for life. Chiefs are chosen and can be removed from office. As the famed late British economist, Lord Peter Bauer, once said, “Despotism does not inhere in the African tradition.”
Indigenous African governments were gerontocracies (government by elders). But the elders were not infallible. Nor was respect for the elders a form of servility. Young adult members of the community could participate in the decision making process by either attending the council meetings or the village assembly. They could express their opinions openly and freely. The chief or councilors did not jail dissidents or those with different viewpoints. Nor did the chief loot the tribal treasury and deposit the booty in Swiss and foreign banks. This native system of government was misunderstood by many foreign observers who were more pre-occupied with its “primitive” external manifestations. “Primitive” tontons summoned the village assembly, not by a public announcement over the radio or a published notice in a newspaper. There were no administrative clerks to record the proceedings meticulously. The venue was under a tree or at an open market square, not in an enclosed roofed structure.Granted, the facilities were “primitive”. But there was a tradition of reaching a consensus, which is the more important observation. There was a forum (village assembly) and freedom of expression to reach this consensus. There was a place (village market square) to meet and the means (talking drums) to call such a meeting, however “primitive”. And never mind the fact that no administrative clerk recorded the proceedings in writing. The institution was there, before the colonialists set foot on the continent.
More crucial was the existence of the institution, not the outward manifestations or its form. Although elections were not held in pre colonial Africa, the African king or chief was chosen; he did not choose himself. Moreover, he could be removed at any time. As Oguah (1984) argued, “If a democratic government is defined, not as one elected by the people but as one which does the will of the people, then the Fanti system of government is democratic”.
The Kenya Government concurred. In a Sessional Paper (No.10 of 1963/65), it asserted:
In African society a person was born politically free and equal and his voice and counsel were heard and respected regardless of the economic wealth he possessed. Even where traditional leaders appeared to have greater wealth and hold disproportionate political influence over their tribal or clan community, there were traditional checks and balances including sanctions against any possible abuse of power. In fact, traditional leaders were regarded as trustees whose influence was circumscribed both in customary law and religion. In the traditional African society, an individual needed only to be a mature member of it to participate fully and equally in political affairs (paragraph 9).
Suddenly after independence, the same African nationalist leaders and elites, who railed Western misconception about Africa were singing a different tune. Democracy was now a “colonial invention” and therefore alien to Africa. For example, according to Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, an insidious dogma propagated by the imperialists was that “Western democracy and parliamentary system are the only valid ways of governing; that they constitute the only worth-while model for the training of an indigenous elite by the colonial power” (Nkrumah, 1968; p.8). Democracy an “imperialist dogma?”
Then the Kenyan government, after independence, suddenly decided that, in African society, a person was no longer born free and equal and his voice and counsel were not to be heard unless he belonged to KANU – the sole legal party. Participation in the political decision-making process, regardless of wealth and political affiliation, was not African after all. Claiming that democracy was alien, many other modern African leaders justified the imposition of autocratic rule on Africa. They declared themselves “presidents for life”, and their countries to be “one party states”. Military dictators pointed to the warrior tradition in tribal societies to provide a justification for their rule, while other African dictators claimed that the people of Africa did not care who ruled them. Most of these claims, of course, betrayed a rather shameful ignorance of indigenous African heritage.
African chiefs have been the enduring fixtures on the traditional system. They command far more authority and respect from their people than central governments. In addition, they are the custodians of the land. As such, no credible agricultural development can take place without their participation. Et after independence, they were not consulted. In fact, African nationalist leaders saw them as a political threat and stripped them of their traditional power and authority. In the case of Ghana, the Governments of Ghana took away the authority of traditional rulers by passing laws (or acts) and decrees. In 1951, the Legislative Assembly passed the Local Government Ordinance which substituted Local Councils for the Native Authorities or the Council of traditional rulers. The Ordinance intended that elected persons rather than traditional rulers should act as the guardians of the welfare of the community. In 1954, another Ordinance of the Government deprived the traditional rulers of their representation in the Local Councils. In 1958 (a year after Ghana became independent), the Local Courts Act abolished the courts of traditional rulers and took away the authority that the Colonial Government had given them to settle disputes among the people, as they had done in the days before colonial rule itself. Also in 1958, the Legislative Assembly passed the “House of Chiefs’ Act”, which confirmed that traditional councils and the Houses of Chiefs could resolve disputes among traditional rulers.
There were subsequent laws in 1962, 1969, 1971 and various amendments. But,
the manner in which the Governments of Ghana have applied some of these laws greatly weakened the position of traditional rulers and made it clear even to those who had no idea of the new laws that the traditional rulers can act only if the central Government wished them to do so. The Governments had had certain rulers removed from their stools by notifying the public in the Gazette that they no longer “recognized” those rulers. The most famous examples are the removal of the rulers of Akyem Abuakwa and Wenchi by the Government of Kwame Nkrumah, and the rulers of Akyem Kotoku, Wenchi and Yendi by the National Redemption Council under the Chairmanship of the late General I.K. Acheampong. Nigeria was supposed to be the exception, since its federal constitution provided for some devolution of authority toward local authorities and traditional rulers. Furthermore, in the struggle for independence, there was little friction between the traditional rulers and the elites. In fact, the position of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon in its 1954 manifesto was quite explicit: “Our Emirs and Obas, Obongs and Etubons and Amayonabos, are sovereigns in their own rights. This is the verdict of our history. Accordingly, our National Rulers must fit into the position of Constitutional monarchs”. But it did not turn out that way.
Beginning under Nigeria’s first president, Abubakar Balewa, the northern region government abolished the chiefs’ status of sole native authority. In 1963, the Emir of Kano was capriciously removed by the federal government. After the Nigerian military coup of 1966, the traditional rulers had hoped their fortunes would improve but it was never to be. As West Africa put it:
They lost their Native Authority police forces under one military head of state; under another, they lost more of their role and responsibilities through the Local Government reforms of 1976; they lost their critical authority over land use under a third; and they lost their own forum, the House of Chiefs, under the incoming civilian administration of the Second Republic in 1979. Under the next military government, they were forced for good measure, as it were, to witness the humiliation of two of their senior most colleagues, the Emir of Kano and the Ooni of Ife, whose passports were withdrawn in 1984 for displeasing the military government; in military idiom, the rulers were further humbled by being ordered not to leave their domain without the prior permission of their Local Government chairmen, the new and sole channel of communication between the traditional rulers and Government. Twenty five years after the brusque removal of the Emir of Kano, the traditional rulers watched the dismissal of the Emir of Muri, once again as the outcome of a clash with government, along with central intervention over the appointment of the Sultan of Sokoto himself (20 26 March, 1989; p.431).
It was the same in Mozambique. When President Joaquim Chissano’s Frelimo Party won independence from Portugal in 1975, he accused chiefs of having been puppets of the Portuguese and stripped of their power. During the liberation war between 1964 and 1974, chiefs in the province of Niassa gave vital support to Frelimo and their rejection after independence left them particularly disgruntled. The economic systems established by African nationalist leaders after independence were also alien. Many of them were based on the socialist ideology of state ownership of the means of production, state control, state planning, state-owned enterprises, etc. The socialist ideology, itself, is alien.
While it is true that Africans are imbued with a greater sense of community awareness than most Western cultures, the concept of the individual was not completely absent. According to a Fanti proverb: “Life is as you (the individual) make it”. And in the general African phrase: “I am because we are”, in which the “we” connotes community, the “I” (the individual or personhood) was not entirely absent. An analogous situation is supplied by the phrase: “Man is a social animal”. The meaning here is that the human being desires the company of others and abhors living alone. Accordingly, each person yearns for some “togetherness” or “a community”. But it cannot be inferred from this disposition that “man is a socialist”.
Being a “social animal” (sociable or socialistic) is totally different from being a socialist. Another distinction should be made: Socialism as public policy and socialism as an economic ideology. Public policy and responsible government mandate that the state should care about the poor, the handicapped, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly. In that sense, even the U.S. government is very socialist. However, that should not be confused with socialism as an ideology, which is rooted in political, economic and intellectual control by the state. The ideology of socialism, as understood and practiced, entails government ownership of the means of production; government control and direction of economic activity; the operation of state enterprises to the exclusion of privately owned businesses; price-fixing by the state and a myriad of state regulations and controls; one-party states and government ownership of the press. In other words, there is an absence of private ownership, free markets, political and intellectual freedom.
Indigenous African economic systems are not characterized by these absences and therefore cannot be classified as “socialism”. Economic, political and intellectual repression as well as state controls, were never part of indigenous African tradition. Nor could traditional African rulers establish a “socialist” (state-controlled economy) if they had wanted to since the logistics were well beyond their reach. The control mechanisms and measures needed to control the economy were not yet developed.
Many of Africa’s nationalist leaders either misread their own indigenous African economic systems or were ignorant of them. Nyerere (1962), for example, was right in pointing to the communalism of African peasants. It is true the people of Africa pooled their resources together (family pot or fund, working bees, extended family systems, etc.) and helped one another (“communal labor”). But that feature of traditional African society can not be interpreted as readiness for socialism. One can be socialistic or communalistic without necessarily being a socialist or communist. Many rural folks in America are socialistic in the sense that they care about their neighbors, offer voluntary labor to help neighbors rebuild homes devastated by tornadoes, and watch over neighbors’ property (neighborhood crime watch). But they are hardly socialist or communists. Neither are the Amish of Pennsylvania.
Being communalistic or socialistic did not necessarily mean the African peasant was communist or socialist and therefore willing to share his wealth equally with all members of the extended family. Julius Nyerere, ex president of Tanzania, for example, mistook the peasant’s emphasis on kinship and community as readiness for socialism Ujamaa (Nyerere, 1962). But even then, the sense of community did not extend beyond one’s kinship group. It was this fundamental inability on the part of African nationalist leaders to distinguish between “communalism” and “socialism” that caused many of them to adopt an ideology which they erroneously thought could be justified by African tradition. This resulted in some sort of comedy of errors after independence when they attempted to copy an alien system they did not understand to graft onto an indigenous system they did not understand either. One could well imagine the consequences.
Among western writers and analysts, there has also been pervasive mythology about indigenous African heritage. One of the most strikingly misleading statement has been the claim of “communal ownership of the means of production”. There was/is no such thing as “communal ownership” of cattle or land. Forests, rivers, lakes and the ocean were for common usage. However, a community could set aside some grazing land for such use. In general, however, land was privately-owned — controlled by lineages. In traditional Africa, the person who first settles on unoccupied land becomes the owner. He may pass this land on to his descendants and they can pass it to their descendants. Thus, the land becomes “lineage-owned” or controlled, belonging to the first ancestor, the original settler. Kings and chiefs may hold royal land or “stool land” in trust but it does not belong to them or the state.
The myth of communal ownership of land may have arisen innocently out of confusion or misinterpretation. When an European colonialist asked an African whom a plot of land belonged to, the African would have replied: “It belongs to us. We own the land”. To the African, the “we” meant his extended family or lineage, but the European might have assigned a much wider interpretation to the “we” to mean the entire village community or the tribe. Hence, “communal ownership of land”.
Furthermore, in indigenous Africa, all the means of production were privately owned. The economic factors of production — labor, capital, and the entrepreneur — were owned by the peasants, not their chiefs or the state. Huts, spears, and agricultural implements were all private property. The profit motive was present in most market transactions. Free enterprise and free trade were the rule in indigenous Africa. The natives went about their economic activities on their own initiative and free will. They did not line up at the entrance of the chief’s hut to apply for permits before engaging in trade or production. What and how much they produced were their own decisions to make. The African woman who produced kenkey, garri or semolina herself decided to produce those items. No one forced her to do so. Nor did anyone order the fishermen, artisans, craftsmen, or even hunters what to produce. In modern parlance, those who go about their economic activities on their own free will are called “free enterprisers”. By this definition, the kente weavers of Ghana, the Yoruba sculptors, the gold, silver blacksmiths as well as the various indigenous craftsmen, traders, and farmers were free enterprisers. The Masai, Somali, Fulani and other pastoralists who herded cattle over long distances in search of water and pasture to fatten them also were free enterprisers. So were the African traders who traveled great distances to buy and sell commodities — an economic risk taking venture. They all go about their economic activities on their own initiative, not at the behest of their traditional rulers the chiefs. For centuries, they have been selling their produce and wares in open, free, village markets. African chiefs do not harass them, impose ridiculous price controls on them, or even fix wages and jail violators: Africans bargain over prices. Nor do these chiefs monopolize the tribal economy, or operate “tribal government enterprises”, the equivalent of state enterprises.
Indigenous African markets have always been hospitable to foreigners. Nigerian traders are welcome, and can indeed be found, in virtually every West African market. The local chiefs do not expel them. Arab and Hausa long distance traders have for centuries traded freely in African markets. So too did the Europeans until they rolled out their guns and abused African hospitality. Free trade and private enterprise were the rules in indigenous Africa.
[I wrote a book about this called Indigenous African Institutions. It was published in 2006.]