How We Fall Apart

0
12

This article tries to explore the issue of political independence that has failed to bring about economic development to sub-Saharan Africa. The one-party rule that was adopted soon after independence by almost all sub-Saharan African states in the early 1960s, is first and foremost responsible for this failure and its consequences. After having outlawed political opposition and intimidated civil society into silence, the leaders shifted their attention from being concerned with the welfare of the citizens to being wholly preoccupied with keeping themselves in power indefinitely. Different methods were used to control the citizens. A “perfect man” syndrome was created whereby the head of state was no more the number one civil servant of the people, but a demi-god to be worshipped or a tyrant to be feared. His authority was beyond question that he could appoint, reshuffle and dismiss ministers and top government officials at will. Perhaps, only “those who represented foreign interests” would try to question his actions. Streets, schools, airports, bridges, soccer stadiums and many other structures were named after him. When moving from one place to another, a large entourage of fast and recklessly driven cars and scooters would escort him, bringing the whole surroundings to a complete standstill. When departing to or returning home from another country, government ministers and members of the diplomatic corps would line up at the airport to see him off or receive him back, while cultural groups would dance themselves sweaty with one performance after another. Often it is the poor and the barefooted who would do the dancing. The head of state and his ruling party were glorified beyond proportion with poems and songs of praise, some of them elevating the head of state above God. History was twisted, distorted and corrupted in favour of the head of state and the ruling party. Party organs, like the national executive and central committee, assumed more power than parliament. Trade unions, women, youth and student organizations were all compelled to affiliate to the ruling party. The media was censored only to disseminate what the ruling party wanted the citizens to know. Party branches were set up everywhere and party functionaries were appointed to head virtually every section of society, from government ministries and departments and from para-state agencies down to village administration and open markets. The whole society was politicized with cheap propaganda. Then unscrupulous and self-seeking individuals seized the opportunity to have themselves appointed to high public offices, feigning loyalty to the ruling party and discrediting every likely competitor around. Then nepotism and bribery in job allocations, inefficiency, mismanagement and waste, corruption and self-enrichment set in rendering completely ineffective the functioning of the government. Many professionals and other educated individuals left for better working environments in the developed countries, leaving behind a professional and intellectual void in all spheres of society. Consequently, sub-Saharan Africa found itself left far behind by the rest of the world in terms of human resource development as an engine for economic development. The wave of democracy that had swept across the whole world at the close of the 20th century had also reached sub-Saharan Africa and had created high expectations for a better future in the hearts of the ordinary citizens. A number of dictatorial socialist states of Eastern Europe collapsed under the weight of popular demand for democratic change. In order not to be swept away in the same way and also to obtain development assistance from democratic countries, most leaders in the one-party sub-Saharan Africa allowed for the adoption of democratic constitutions in their countries and played about with popular democratic catchwords and phrases like transparency, good governance, human rights, reconciliation, collaboration with civil society, free and fair elections and others. However, when the real test of democracy was presented to them in the form of being challenged at the polls by popular opposition parties, these leaders fell back to their one-party rule habits and openly displayed their true colours. Their ruling parties monopolized accessibility to public facilities like national radios and televisions and misused telephones, faxes and vehicles during election campaigns. There are countries where leaders have been accused of having stolen public money to fund their parties’ election campaigns. In others, they simply rigged the elections. Worse still, there are countries where laws have been enacted to specifically make it quite difficult for the opposition parties to operate effectively. Civil society organizations have also been negatively affected by these laws in these countries. Today, these countries are faced with the reality of dominant parties that are failing to bring about economic development and whose leaders’ main preoccupation is to keep themselves in power indefinitely. When the deadly and mysterious disease, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS, broke out in the early 1980s and it later became clear how it was being transmitted from one person to another, democratic governments in collaboration with civil society, religious organizations and peers launched coordinated and clear information campaigns. In some of these countries, leaflets were sent to every household and distributed to all schools to convince the population of the seriousness of the situation and how to avoid infection. Risky groups in the main population centers and along busy highways, sex workers, soldiers in the army barracks and those being sent to peacekeeping missions in other countries were given special orientation on how to protect themselves from infection. As a result, the spread of HIV/AIDS was effectively brought under control in these countries during the last part of the 1980s. However, it appeared that governments in almost all the dominant party states of sub-Saharan Africa were scared that talking directly about the scourge of HIV/AIDS might make them unpopular in the eyes of the public. It also appeared that, because of their own preoccupation with holding on to power. Some of these leaders just did not really bother to understand what was going on in their countries. Therefore, they did almost nothing to give clear and comprehensive information about the disease that was quietly decimating their populations. To mollify the citizens, some such leaders even attempted to deny the existence of the epidemic by laying the blame elsewhere. Generally, dominant party states have a hostile attitude towards educated people and independent civil society organizations and groups. With some modifications, they employ almost the same methods of controlling the populations as those that were being used by the one-party states as mentioned above. To domesticate the citizens, independent civil society organizations that are involved in any form of awareness campaigns are called all sorts of derogatory names. If such organizations are under black leadership, they are labeled as being on the payroll of imperialists and the people involved in them as unpatriotic, traitors and foreign puppets. If they are run by white citizens, they are accused of having been collaborating with their kith and kin colonialists during the independence struggle. Overall, the ordinary citizens are warned not to cooperate with such organizations and only to engage themselves in the activities of the organizations that are affiliated to the ruling party. People being noted of cooperating with independent civil society organizations risk facing the consequences. Those working in the public service risk being suspected of collaborating with “anti-government elements” and the consequences are non-promotion, demotion or losing one’s job. Those unemployed risk not getting employment in the public sector. Business people risk withdrawal of government tenders or losing government contracts to ruling party loyalists. Students risk not getting government scholarships, bursaries or loans. While democratic structures elsewhere worked to effectively curb the scourge of HIV/AIDS, in sub-Saharan Africa such structures have been put under arrest and thus could not help reduce the spread of the infection, resulting in this part of the world being the hardest hit by the epidemic today. Independence civil society organizations and groups are therefore challenged to close ranks, network closely among themselves and with others internationally, in order to help save the populations of this part of the world from annihilation by HIV/AIDS. Samson Ndeikwila Coordinator Forum for the Future