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Emerging African development thinking (3)

Continued from Part Two


To Read Part One

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong continues his discussions with Prof. George Ayittey on his argument that US President Barack Obama’s Accra proclamation that Africa’s future is in Africans hands is an “intellectual vindication” for the “Internalist School” of African development

Q. Did the “Internalist School” demonstrate that African intellectuals have finally come out with an African-centred development paradigm, filling a long-running vacuum in this regard?

The internalist orthodoxy and the Africa-centered development paradigm are two separate animals, although they are somewhat related. The development paradigm refers more to development that benefits Africa and not metropolitan Europe. Recall that under colonialism, the colonies were expected to be purveyors of raw materials and labor for Europe’s industrial machines. That was a Euro-centric development model. The internalist orthodoxy, by contrast, deals with the causes of Africa’s crises. Now, it is possible to expand the internalist orthodoxy into development modeling by insisting that the model should not only be Africa-centered but also draw its inputs from Africa, which I tried to do when I coined the express “African solution for Africa’s problems” in 1994. For far too long, African leaders sought external solutions – from the World Bank, Western donors and the international community – for their development problems. They also copied too many foreign models – for example, the “Asian model.” They should be developing their own “African model.” Such a model can be found on the African continent itself —in Botswana.

Q. “I listened to Obama’s speech with a bemused sense of vindication. To many of us, what he was saying was not new. We have known of these “self-evident truths” for decades – just that we were afraid to say so openly or publicly.” You wrote this at (2009-07-20). Why were African elites, civil societies and the Western world afraid to campaign this aloud as it confirms your “African solution for African problems” paradigm?

In the West, political correctness or racial over-sensitivity has shielded African leaders. Whites are reluctant to criticize black African leaders for fear of being labeled racist. Black Americans, for reasons of racial solidarity, won’t criticize black Africans leaders either. Those Africans like me who publicly criticize African leaders have been pilloried, reviled and denounced as “traitors,” “Uncle Toms,” House niggers” and accused of “washing Africa’s dirty linen in public” and providing “ammunition to racists.” This atmosphere of intimidation and vilification has prevented many Africans in the West from speaking out publicly against atrocities committed by African leaders against their own people. This sort of gives African despots a free pass as they are shielded from criticism from the West, even when muted.

The intellectual environment is even more pernicious in Africa where repression still prevails. Freedom of expression is not tolerated in many African countries. Write something an African government doesn’t like and “poof!” you are either dead or in jail. Take corruption for example. To fight it, it must first be exposed. "He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured," says an Ethiopian proverb. Yet, for much of the postcolonial period, exposing a problem in Africa has almost always been impossible because of censorship, brutal suppression of dissent, and state ownership or control of the media. Corrupt and incompetent governments deny or conceal their embarrassing failings (abuse of power, looting and atrocities) until the problems blow up in their faces. But by then it was too late to solve them. As Adam Feinstein, editor of the monthly publication of the International Press Institute put it: "The press is always a first scapegoat of governments. They can't blame themselves, so they have to blame somebody else" (The Washington Post, April 6, 1995, A15). Examples abound in Africa:

• On April 22, 2003, Mozambique’s Supreme Court president, Mario Mangaze sued the weekly newspaper, Zambeze, for libel after it alleged that he had tried to intervene in the decision of a lower court in return for gifts of land in Maputo province. Mangaze’s lawyer accused the paper of failing to check its sources. But the newspaper director, “Salomao Moyana said officials had told his reporters that ‘affairs of a state institution are not discussed in the press’” (Index on Censorship, July 2003; p.154).

• On May 5, 2003, the weekly Le Temps in Gabon was suspended for three months after publishing an article about state mismanagement of funds (Index on Censorship, July 2003; p.146).

African governments always want to hide the truth and keep their people in the dark. Teeming with barbarous dictators, Africa is now a continent where freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the free flow of information are most restricted. In its Freedom of the Press Report, 2007, Freedom House noted that free news media exist in only 8 African countries: Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde Islands, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius, Sao Tome & Principe, and South Africa. In Equatorial Guinea, the people "can choose among two TV and two radio stations -- in both cases the government operates one and Teodoro Obiang (the president) the other. There are no daily newspapers, and the few publications that do circulate offer fawning praise of the regime" (The Nation, April 22, 2002; p.18).

Due to the explosion in the number of satellite dishes, electronic communications (fax machines, the internet, e-mail, etc.), much more information is now available in Africa. The new technology has severely crippled the ability of African dictators to control the flow of information and keep their people in the dark. In their desperate attempts to retain control, corrupt African despots resorted to defamation or libel suits, heavy fines and assassinations. The new tactic is that private newspapers are allowed to operate -- hence, there is a "free press." But publish an offending article and a newspaper can be slapped with a huge fine that makes it impossible to continue operation. Private newspapers that are courageous enough to expose problems of corruption are often shut down and their editors either jailed or murdered. Perhaps a quick tour of Africa would be instructive about the fate of journalists who attempted to expose corruption:

• Angola: BBC reporter Gustavo Costa was slapped with a defamation suit in June 1994 by oil minister Albna Affis after filing stories about government corruption. On 18 January 1995 Ricardo de Melo, the editor of the Luanda-based Impartial Fax, was killed for writing stories about official corruption. On April 13, 2000, Angolan news editor Graca Campos and editor Americo Goncalves were sentenced to 4 months and 3 months in prison respectively and ordered to pay $40,000 compensation for a series of articles published in 1998 and 1999 in their paper, Angolense, which described Kwanza-Norte governor Manuel Pedro Pakavita as “incompetent” (Index On Censorship, 3/2000; p.86).

• Burkina Faso: The Independent Commission of Inquiry investigating the death of journalist Norbert Zongo on Dec 13, 1998 concluded on May 7, 1999 that Zongo was “assassinated for purely political motives because he practiced investigative journalism.” He was investigating allegations of corruption among the ruling elite. The Commission’s 35-page report released a list of “likely culprits,” including six soldiers from the President’s security regiment (Index on Censorship, July/August 1999; p.130).

• Cameroon: Emmanuel Noubissie Ngankam, director of the independent Dikalo was given a one-year suspended sentence, fined CFA 5 million ($8,800), and ordered to pay CFA 15 million in damages after publishing an article alleging that the former minister of public works and transportation had expropriated property in the capital Yaounde. Also in Cameroon, staff at two other newspapers, La Nouvelle Expression and Galaxie, were sued for defamation by Augustin Frederick Kodock, state planning and regional development minister, over newspaper articles alleging that the minister's private secretary had embezzled large sums of money. Then "the Cameroonian newspaper which reported President Biya's marriage to a 24-year-old has been suspended by the government. When Perspectives-Hebdo ran the story on March 17, 1994, police quickly seized all available copies. Joseph-Marie Besseri, the publisher, said the official reason for the ban was failure to show the edition to censors before distribution, as the law requires. He denies the charge (African News Weekly, 8 April 1994, 5).

• Kenya: Abraham Kipsang Kiptanui, former controller of State House, was awarded over $250,000 in damages on March 31, 1998, for libel caused by an article published in Target magazine. Kiptanui sued over an article entitled, "Three Billion Shilling Deal Off" (Index On Censorship, May/June, 1998, 113). On March 28, 1996, Kipruto arap Kirwa held a press conference at Kenya's Parliament Building to complain about the stifling of alternative views with the ruling KANU party: "I had hoped President Moi would, on the basis of his wealth of experience and shrewdness as a political operator and a democrat, albeit reluctant one, find some accommodation [with] those of us with dissenting views. But I have now come to the conclusion that the President is not a democrat of any shade" (The African Observer, 25 April - 8 May 1996, 13). Since he delivered that broadside, Kirwa has not been seen, fueling speculation that he might have paid the penalty reserved for overly outspoken critics of Moi. As mentioned earlier, in 1990 former Foreign Minister Robert Ouko was murdered after threatening to expose corruption in the government.

• Mozambique: Carlos Cardoso, an investigative journalist, was murdered in November 2000 for uncovering a bank scandal in which about $14 million was looted from Mozambique's largest bank, BCM on the eve of its privatization. The official in charge of banking supervision, Antonio Siba Siba, was also murdered investigating the banking scandals. Cardoso's six alleged killers were finally put on trial in November 2002. One of them, Manuel dos Anjos, admitted taking part in the killing but claimed to have acted on orders from Nyimpine Chissano, the son of the president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano (The Economist, Nov 23, 2002; p.45). Nyimpine Chissano has a strange way of warding off inquisitive journalists. In October, 2002, three journalists probing the president's son were sent dozens of live chickens, allegedly by the president's wife, Marcelina. "They saw this as a threat (Nyimpine Chissano is known as the `son of the cockerel')" (The Economist, Nov 23, 2002; p.45).

• Namibia: President Sam Nujoma and Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo have served separate summonses on the weekly, Windhoek Observer, for defamation and are demanding a total of up to $200,000 in damages. President Nujoma served his summons against editor Hannes Smith on 7 August 1998 and is demanding NR 1 million for a series of articles that accused him of abuse of office, nepotism, criminal conduct and corruption. Ekandjo's complaint arose from an article which implied that he had abused his position to subvert the rule of law and that he was engaged in corrupt practices (Index On Censorship, November/December 1998, 102).

• Zimbabwe: Although the country is on paper a multi-party democracy, open debate -- let alone outright political dissent -- has been increasingly discouraged. At the University of Zimbabwe, students and staff have been swatted by riot police with teargas and clubs for complaining about corruption, a growing scourge. [And] three senior journalists at the weekly Financial Gazette, the country's leading free voice, have been charged with "criminal defamation." [And] a new law enables Mugabe to sack outspoken board members of any independent charitable organization and replace them with government-blessed appointees" (The Economist, 19 August 1995, 38).

President Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe has launched an all-out war against independent media, using weapons of mass intimidation that range from lawsuits to physical violence. Since January 1999, two local journalists have been tortured and two foreign correspondents expelled, while the secret service screens e-mail and Internet communications to preserve "national security." Bomb attacks twice damaged the premises of the independent Daily News; the second bombing followed close on the heels of a call from Mugabe's information minister to silence that paper "once and for all." Meanwhile, Mugabe makes liberal use of his courts to prosecute independent journalists for criminal defamation (From the web site of Committee to Protect Journalists, On April 28, 2000, state-owned media editors were instructed by the Information Minister, Chenhamo Chimutengwende, that “they had an obligation to support and amplify government policy and views without question and to write positive stories about the ruling party and to attack the opposition” (“Zimbabwe Alert: Government Tells state-owned editors to Conform,”, April 28, 2000).

On January 20, 2003, the office of President Robert Mugabe took control of the country's forecasting service after learning that the drought-affected country was facing two more years of low rainfall. "The government does not want any information on the weather to be leaked," an official from the Meteorological Office said. "All our forecasts are to be sent to the president's office, and only then can they be released" (The Washington Times, January 26, 2003; p. A7). The president's office was expected to 4 most negative aspects before authorizing their release, the official said. Informed sources said Mr. Mugabe feared that the revelation that no early end to the drought was in sight would heighten discontent at a time when nearly half the country's 13 million people were starving. Food riots had already erupted in the capital, Harare, and the southwestern city of Bulawayo.

Even the internet is coming under increasing attack by repressive governments. Many governments in Africa (Liberia, Sudan and Zimbabwe) restrict Internet access on the pretext of protecting the public from pornography, subversive material, or violations of national security. To restrict Internet access, governments may require special licensing and regulation of internet use, limit Internet traffic to filtered government servers, remove controversial pages from web sites, and even apply existing press laws to Internet content.

To be sure, the picture is not entirely bleak. Some progress has haltingly been made. In 1985, there were only 10 community broadcasters in the whole of Africa; in 2000 there were more than 300" (The Economist, May 11, 2002; p.43). But persecution of journalists, harsh press laws and resistance to press freedoms remain. In the beginning of the 21st Century, however, there was a subtle shift from the brutal tactics favored in the past. Africa’s "Big Men" began using new media laws to introduce a subtler form of censorship. "Instead of the heavy-handed ways they used in the past, dictators are using the laws of the country," said Yves Sorokobi, Africa Programme Coordinator with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "They have a lot to hide, they have skeletons in the closet, but they can’t get away with murder" (The Financial Gazette, May 3, 2002).

Recall that in Ghana in the 1990s, human waste was dumped in the offices of the Ghanaian Chronicle, Free Press, and Crusading Guide for publishing articles that displeased the Rawlings regime. It is this kind of intellectual barbarism that prevented Africans from speaking out and also held the internalist orthodoxy in check to the detriment of Africa’s progress. Today, most Africans point to the catastrophic failure of leadership – not external factors -- as the primary obstacle holding Africa back.

To be continued....


Interview conducted by:

Kofi Akisah-Sarpong, Canada. September 27, 2009



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