Building a Better Society in Africa is all About Leadership: Borrowed Lessons from the East. Lord A. Adusei

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This article is primarily written to compare West Africa in terms of its developmental pace to that of the East and to argue that the difference in terms of development between the two sides all boils down to differences in leadership! To wit, East Africa is growing economically, West Africa is stagnating and it is all about leadership!

A new, wise and dynamic leader has appeared in East Africa. He is the 42-year-old Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali. He is fast turning the Horn of Africa into a peace paradise. Since becoming Prime Minister in March this year, Abiy has transformed Ethiopia’s relations with Eritrea and Egypt. He is also changing the democratic outlook of Ethiopia. He has released several thousands of prisoners including journalists and opposition activists incarcerated by his predecessors. He has unblocked several websites and TV stations closed down by politicians who came before him. And most importantly, he is building on the success of his predecessors’ sound economic policies that have made Ethiopia one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

East Africa has one well-known wise leader who is changing his country and the region. He is called Paul Kagame, the man who turned war-ravaged Rwanda into one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Kagame’s transformational leadership is second to none in Africa. In recent weeks, he has managed to lure the automobile manufacturing giant VW to set up assembly plant to assemble cars in the country. He has transformed Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, into a beautiful functioning city. Kigali, once adjudged the cleanest city in Africa, had been described by many visitors and tourists to the place, as a modern city with no pot-holes. Kagame’s economic policy is rapidly reducing poverty in the country. He has invested in health and education, among others. As a result, life expectancy in Rwanda has increased from 41 years to 67 in the last two decades. Under his leadership, Rwanda was adjudged the country with least child mortality in the world. Not only that, the business community in and outside Rwanda loves him because he has reduced the difficulties businesses face when setting up operations in the country. In the 2017 World Bank ranking of 190 countries where it is easy to do business, the country was ranked 41 ahead of Italy (46), Belgium (52), Israel (54), Luxembourg (63), Greece (67), China (78), Kenya (80), Botswana (81), South Africa (82), Ghana (120), and Nigeria (145). Indeed, in the whole of Africa only Mauritius (which was ranked 25) did better than Rwanda. He has stepped up the fight against corruption making Rwanda one of the few countries in Africa where corruption has been tamed. Under his tenure, Rwanda is adjudged the least corrupt country in the whole of East Africa, according to the latest 2017 Corruption Perception Index report. Their national airline, RwandAir, is rated one of the most efficient and cheapest on the continent.

A number of East African countries continue to proudly run their own national airlines. Ethiopia Airlines, Kenya Airways and Air Rwanda (RwandAir) compete aggressively with the global best. The existence of these national carriers is not only a symbol of national identity but also signify economic power. Because the leaders in East Africa are committing themselves to the development of their region, the East African region’s geo-economic position has been enhanced. Few weeks ago, China opened one of the largest free trade zones in Djibouti. Djibouti, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam are positioning themselves to become leading harbours in the world and be able to handle huge cargos moving between Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.

West Africa is a totally different place. Despite having a large population fertile for market and possessing some of the world’s most important strategic resources (e.g. oil, natural gas, uranium, gold, cocoa, coal, etc), West Africa continues to be an economic graveyard. Apart from raw materials such as crude oil and cocoa, nothing of global importance is manufactured in the region. In fact, West Africa’s leadership deficit continues to hamper the region’s development. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest crude oil producer, gushing out about 2 million barrels of the black gold a day and reaping tens of billions of dollars of revenue a year. Ghana is the second biggest producer of gold in Africa (second only to South Africa) and seventh in the world. Ghana is also the second biggest producer of cocoa, second to Ivory Coast. Niger is a major uranium producer much of it is shipped to France to produce electricity while many citizens in Niger sleep in darkness. In fact, majority of the population in West Africa live a wretched life. There is no evidence of the huge resources being produced in the region having impact on the population. Thanks to the visionless, narrow-mindedness, power-hungry, corrupt and uninspiring leaders in the West.

While the leaders in West Africa tend to believe their voices are important on international platforms, in actual fact very few people pay attention to what they say. Their economic policies are nothing more than sand castles and paper tiger. Nigeria’s Mohamed Buhari for instance was heavily mocked on social media for suggesting that he would mentor African countries on how to fight corruption. Akuffo Addo of Ghana is not showing any sign of being a transformational leader. He is not pulling any punches in terms of delivering serious blow to the dreaded unemployment and corruption problems in Ghana. Though Ghana’s economy grew by 8.4% in 2017 according to IMF, the economy is not showing any signs of delivering the jobs he promised Ghanaians. It is therefore not surprising, that West Africans constitute a significant portion of people fleeing Africa to Europe in search of better economic opportunities.

In the last few years, governments in the East African Economic Community and Southern African Development Community have been implementing a lot of policies to integrate their economies to make sure they gain competitive advantage. One area where they have focused is infrastructure building and importantly transport. Ethiopia and Kenya, for instance, have completed the construction of high speed railway network which is boosting trade and development in the region. Ethiopia spent $4.2 billion building high speed railway connecting Ethiopia to Djibouti, a journey of 756 kilometres. Kenya has also built 479 kilometres railway line connecting Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa at a cost of $3.8 billion. Tanzania and Uganda are also doing the same. Meanwhile the ECOWAS region, which is pregnant with leadership problems, is doing none of those things to integrate and grow economically. The Nigerian leadership for instance refused to sign the African Free Trade Agreement without any tangible, satisfying explanation. The same tactics prevented Nigeria from supporting the African Unity effort spearheaded by Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah. Indeed, the policymakers in West Africa in general and Nigeria in particular have no inclination towards transforming their agrarian economies.

As a result, the combined economy of the entire ECOWAS region of 15 members is less than that of South Korea. In 2017, South Korea exported more than $1 trillion worth of goods, most of them high-tech industrial goods, whereas the ECOWAS region’s exports consisted of raw material whose value is dictated by others. With such a small contribution to the global economy, it is not surprising that the ECOWAS region’s geopolitical and strategic significance has declined significantly. On several international platforms nothing of greater importance is associated with ECOWAS. Many policymakers in Europe and North America speak derogatory about the ECOWAS region as a hub of terrorism and insecurity. In other words, the contribution West Africa makes to global development is the region’s role as incubator of terrorism and insecurity.

Many experts believe that the growth of terrorism and insecurity in West Africa is largely linked to poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and deprivations such as lack of access to housing, healthcare, education, electricity, internet and telecommunications and crucially, jobs for the rising population, especially the youth. The experts blame the leaders in the region for not taking the necessary steps to alleviate the suffering of their population. Despite its huge hydrocarbon resources, Nigerians do not have access to electricity and have to resort to using generators and other expensive but environmentally hazardous alternatives. The Niger Delta region, where the bulk of Nigeria’s petroleum is produced is a place of environmental holocaust. It looks like a place that has been subjected to the combined effect of earthquakes, hurricane and Tsunami for 50 continuous years. Meanwhile, natural gas which could be used to generate electricity to solve the Nigeria’s stubborn power problem is flared making the country to lose $800 million a year. Since 1958, Nigeria has earned more than $400 billion from export of crude oil, yet about 70% of the population lacks good quality drinking water. Current estimates and indicators point to Nigeria as one of the poorest countries in Africa and in the world, with more than half of the population living in abject poverty. Considering those people who are still trapped in extreme poverty, the Oxford University scholar Max Roser’s website, Our World in Data, reported on HumanProgress website on 27th October 2017, used World Bank databases to estimate that 746 million people were living in extreme poverty in 2013. More than 380 million out of this number resided in Africa, and Nigeria was home to the largest number of the poor people (86 million). None of Nigeria’s over hundred universities appeared among the top 500 in the world. University of Ibadan which is the top university in Nigeria is ranked 991 in the world and 14th in Africa according to Times Education Ranking. This poor standing is due to poor funding.

The truth is that the West African sub-region is being left behind economically when compared to other economic regions in Africa because of its poor, less visionary, and uninspiring leadership.

Lord Adusei Aikins, Centre for Better Society Advocacy and Research Africa (CEBSAR-AFRICA)

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