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Emerging African development thinking
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


To read PART ONE

Q. How did the “Internalist School” come 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 earlier thinking?

A. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the terms “internalist orthodox,” “development paradigm” and ideologies espoused by 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.

Cont'd/ Next page



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