20 February 2011

Will sub-Saharan Africa avoid Egypt-style chaos?

By James Shikwati

Nairobi. At 50 on average; many African countries’ ruling elites have found themselves disconnected from their subjects. The leadership is very much similar to an absentee father or mother who turns up decades later to push for national sovereignty. 

Tunisians and Egyptians have said: “No! Where have you been all this time?” Sub-Saharan Africa's leaders assume that since they are insulated by ethnicity, their tribes will not countenance the children of the nation rise up to demand for a home after years of being spectators in their own countries’ economic and political growth.

Will Kenya escape the strong currents sweeping the north? Alas; the quest for sovereignty that apparently serves the whims of the political elite has blinded leaders to the fact that no investment was done on nation building. One leader has publicly referred to Kenya’s flag as a useless rug. 

Others regard the country as a liver to juggle with. Majority simply refer to the country as a “cake” that each must have their turn to eat! The Kiswahili saying: “Sikio la kufa halisikii dawa” (loosely translated: the ear destined to die cannot respond to medication) is clearly exhibited by elites who flaunt money, power and ethnicity and disregard reasons why Kenyans voted for a new constitutional dispensation.

Sense of nationhood
Whereas the northerners have a sense of nationhood, Sub-Saharan Africans are very much like lost sheep. Since the Europeans tore into pieces their kingdoms and chiefdoms, people have been in the wilderness. 

At independence, the 'parents' left without bothering to breastfeed their 'babies.' They shifted allegiance to other 'spouses'; in this case, former colonists, donor countries and their own immediate networks. They used the constitutional infrastructure inherited at independence to create a façade of nations and nation building.

The forces that have driven political seismic  shifts in the north are still deep undercurrents in Sub-Saharan Africa: over 65 per cent of the continent’s young people are aged below 25 years; schools and universities churn out hundreds of thousands of graduates every year; governments are still beholden to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other international agencies to determine and drive their visions and goals. 

Sub-Saharan Africa’s majority live on less that $2 a day, witness over $150 billion in mining sector tax avoidance and $200 billion in corruption leakages to foreign banks annually. 
Citizens watch in disbelief as famine disasters turn into annual industries to enrich political elites destroying incentives to invest in a lasting solution.

African leaders be warned – a huge tribe of the unemployed, marginalized and those that suffer indignity are watching  you. You may choose to stockpile firearms, use money and the best public relations in the world, but events in the north show that these cannot stop an agitated population.

Governance programmes
Taxpayers from countries that fund governance programmes in Africa must be watching with keen interest as political seismic plates react with anger to their half a century project on the continent. Demonstrations against governments in the north are a pointer that people have not been part of defining good governance. 

The situation is no different in Sub-Saharan Africa, where determinants of good governance are rammed down the throats of Africans by donor countries.
Donor countries are running scared. Upheavals in Africa will throw populations on their shores. Millions will seek refuge from their countries that were plundered by sponsored political elites. 
A combination of gullible “run away parents” and donor interests have brought the continent to this precipice.

The author,  james@irenkenya.org , is director of Inter Region Economic Network

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