The collapse of Qaddafi’s dictatorial regime in Africa has concrete benefits for the African Union, whose international standing has repeatedly been undermined by the Libyan leader’s eccentric Pan-Africanism and past embrace of terrorism. While Qaddafi sometimes helped African leaders from smaller nations to gain a global stage, his approach to Pan-African undermined genuine and worthy efforts to promote an image of “Africa” that accurately reflects the genuine diversity within the entire African continent and the Sub-Saharan. For Qaddafi, Pan-Africanism always seemed to be a cynical tactic. While Libya permitted black Africans to live and work in its country much more than other North African nations, Qaddafi never displayed any durable affinities Africa south of the Sahara. Qaddafi needed a forum and the African Union provided it. In return, Qaddafi provided funds. At certain times and in certain places, Qaddafi and Libyan cronies invested in African real estate but they never provided either finance or expertise to promote industrial enterprises. Should Qaddafi vanish permanently from the club of African leaders, the African Union will be the beneficiary. The AU struggles with legitimacy and effectiveness; Qaddafi made the tests of pragmatism and idealism much more difficult. His absence from the AU governing body will make the renovation of this disappointing regional body easier, though even without the burden of Qaddafi, the task facing reformers of the AU remains daunting.
Feb 21 2011
Richard Horton, editor of Lancet, argues in a new essay in The New York Review of Books that the Gates Foundation has chosen “the wrong road” in the fight to reduce, eliminate and perhaps even eradicate the scourge of malaria, which harms the peoples of the sub-Saharan far more than any other region in the world. Horton, himself a physician as well as the leader of a peerless medical journal, skillfully deconstructs the “silver bullet” strategy that Bill and Melinda Gates have directed their foundation (for which I once consulted) to pursue. The limits of pursuing of a vaccine are well known; Horton is only the latest to highlight that controlling the disease depends on the construction of adequate health-care systems in sub-Saharan Africa, not simply the development of effective and affordable vaccines, then delivered in what he calls the “verticalist” manner favored by Gates (which Horton defines as “a top-down effort to parachute in [to Africa] a technology.”
The trouble with Horton’s argument, while intellectually sound, is that “the right road” is not self-evident. If Africans themselves do not generate an effective health-care system, who should? If outside donors are tasked with funding, managing and even implementing health-care for Africans in Africa (say in the manner of Paul Farmer’s bottoms-up approach in Rwanda or the U.S. government’s top-down AIDS-treatment programs throughout the region), then the very same problems of sustainability, cost and dependency arise. Horton wants to encourage an alternative — investing in national health systems — when even such investments, when made and coordinate by outsiders, are themselves “silver bullets” whose efficacy can be undermined by the deficits of social trust, political wealth and path-dependent corrupt arrangements with local health specialists that threaten the various existing malaria-specific campaigns, the Gates effort notably. The missing option in the debate over African health care is the Africans themselves. International experts — whether “verticalists” of the Gates sort or “horizontalists” of the Horton/Lancet species — will inevitably be limited by their failure to account for the importance of African self-determination. Why do the well-meaning people in the international community continue to forget that there is no substitute for Africans creating and sustaining good government and moral societies for themselves and by themselves?
In the struggle for African self-mastery, the international community might play a useful role in forging incentives for their own health-care systems to avoid poaching the very African-raised doctors and nurses who work in Birmingham and Cleveland, London and New York, rather in their own countries of origin. That a medical doctor and vaccine crusader have little or nothing to say about complex patterns of migration by health specialists reared Africa is understandable. We are all limited by partial understandings of the world, borne of mission-orientation. Yet both Horton the horizontalist and Gates the verticalist would do well to display a greater appreciaton for the decisive role that Africans will play in the solution to their own systemic problems. And part of that appreciation may be connecting the health-care deficits in Nigeria with the presence of highly capable Nigerian health-providers in London and Detroit.
Feb 20 2011
The new conventional wisdom about Africa is rather welcome: not only is Africa not poor, but the most glaring economic problem in the sub-Saharan region is inequality of wealth, not poverty as such.
I’ve been banging away at this key concept for some time because understanding wealth inequality in Africa has the potential to transform public policies in the region. These policies — whether at a national or international level — have long been predicated on a stubborn belief in the pervasiveness of African poverty, and the inevitability of African poverty. In the space of the past decade, African political economy has become normalized. As everywhere else in the world, the problem is wealth — and who gets it, why and what should they do with it — rather than absolute poverty and its specter.
The Economist is the latest discerning chronicler of African affairs to realize that a full-throated espousal of market capitalism means that the problem of wealth will be as much as an existential problem in Africa as in the U.S., Brazil or France. And the inevitable concern — moral, political, cultural — is that Africa’s poor “deserve so much better” than the results unbridled market forces will deliver.
To be sure, the critical issue now is what Africans, from elites to ordinary people, do with their wealth. What ends do they pursue? And will one of these ends be, spreading the wealth? And if so, how, in a world where growing inequality seems an unstoppable trend.
Feb 10 2011
The people of South Sudan have spoken: by an overwhelming margin, they have voted to secede from Sudan and form a new nation, with Juba as its capital.
The official voting tally is anti-climactic; the results were expected (though the 98% tally in favor of withdrawal does seem incredibly high). Yet there’s no mystery why the people of South Sudan wish self-determination and direct and total self-governance. The mystery is how self-governance will be realized.
The implications for other marginalized sub-national regions in sub-Saharan Africa are immense. Conflicts within African states are widespread and chronic. Federalism — and other variations of power-sharing within a unitary state — are ever attractive options. Seccession should only be viewed as a last resort. In Juba, the work of building a new country is already underway; the effectiveness of these labors will take months, years, and perhaps even decades to evaluate fully and clearly. But before too long, the example of South Sudan will be studied closely by aggrieved sub-national minorities and regions in Africa — for clues about how these marginalized peoples can better advance their own legitimate interests. The mere possibility of secession should focus the minds and hearts of many leaders in Africa. For they now have a golden opportunity to make the best case for holding their own nation-states together. Secession never occurs in a vacuum. The Khartoum government repeatedly failed the people of South Sudan. In the great capitals of Africa — from Dakar and Abidjan to Lusaka and Kampala — leaders face momentous choices about how to provide a more inclusive government to all of its people, so that the forces promoting break-up of nation-states lose momentum.
Failure to satisfy sub-national demands is inevitable. Not all grievances merit an institutional remedy. But the center of African politics risks unleashing a parade of secessionist demands — and stream of new nations — if the case for the superiority of national unity is not made through improvements in the lives of people. National unity is not a religious article of faith, but rather is an existential condition. Nations are constructed and, even in Africa, can be deconstructed if they cannot meet the reasonable needs of reasonable people in their domain. To echo Basil Davidson, African nationalism can be a curse. Secession is itself no panacea if it the act of withdrawal merely lays down a new curse of nationalism.