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Anglosphere - Part 5


Saturday, June 14, 2008


A few years back, I had the opportunity to interview African economist Dr. George Ayittey, a veteran commentator for various journals and newspapers as diverse as the New York Times, The Ghana Drum and the Wall Street Journal. His book, “Africa Betrayed” presented a myth- shattering view of the myriad problems of his native continent.

No friend of western imperialism or black African tyranny, Ayittey contended that the pre-colonial cultures of the African continent were rich in both social and economic institutions – a past that provides the implicit key to a future African renaissance today. Africa’s abysmal realities belied its amazing potential. Compared to the Asian economic tigers – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan- Africa is blessed with an abundance of mineral wealth and a relatively low population density.

Pre-colonial Africa was poised in many respects to follow a development curve similar to that of late-medieval Europe. Authoritarian regimes, such as those of the Fertile Crescent, the Nile, the Indus, and the Yellow River were not part of the African heritage. “Land was abundant,” Dr. Ayittey wrote, “and tribes that found themselves subjugated could always move elsewhere.” The most successful African empires were loose confederations of vassal states. The Ghanaian Empire lasted for some 900 years. By contrast, the Zulu Empire of Shaka, centralized and authoritarian, lasted a mere ten years. Pre-colonial Africans, members of 2,000 tribes were ill inclined toward the authoritarian systems, which impeded modernity in the great empires of the East and Middle East.

Pre-colonial Africa was rich in nascent free market institutions as well. “The means of production in traditional Africa,” says Ayittey, “were privately owned and never owned by the Chief or the King…. Village markets were free and the Chief did not fix prices.”

Imagine what Europe would have looked like if the twin bulwarks of the Franks and the Byzantines had not prevented the establishment of a trans- Mediterranean Islamic Empire in the middle Ages. Decentralized Europe, isolated in the backwaters of the great authoritarian civilizations, leapt from feudalism, to commercial empire, to industrial empire and finally to political hegemony.

Africa was less fortunate. Successive waves of slavers – first Islamic, then European-were followed by the colonialists. The abrupt departure of the Europeans resulted in totalitarian states based on the structures they’d left behind – bureaucracies not organic to African institutions, unbounded by popular restraints of any kind.

Post-colonial African leadership looked not to indigenous institutions, but to European models, including Marxism and ultra-nationalism. “Our leaders failed us,” Ayittey told me, “It is not racism to say that. We need to distinguish between the African people and their leaders.” For almost two generations, the African experiences has been characterized by one party dictatorships, unrivalled kleptocracy, and declining economic performance, leaving many nations on the continent worse off than ever before. The color of the oppressor’s skin gives scant consolation to those who are starving or dying of AIDS.

Ayittey saw any future renewal must stem from a rebirth of the decentralized political and economic traditions of the continent. The West can help in minor ways. First, Western nations must demand real reform in exchange for aid. Leaders who reject property rights and civil liberties may benefit from Western aid—their peoples do not. Ayittey believed that Africans need training in the art of democracy, much like the residents of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Ayittey maintained Africans must solve their own problems. Aid administered through corrupt centralized governments merely exacerbated the continent’s problems, reinforcing regimes that ought to fall. Ayittey took the contrarian view that Africa needs less aid not more and Africans must turn to their pre-colonial roots. According to Dr. Ayittey, societal rebirth required loose-confederated government, which protects tribal rights; political freedoms; and reestablishment of property rights.

One aspect that could improve Africa status is the development of South Africa. The English speaking aspect of South Africa do belong to the Anglosphere and if South Africa government can maintain the domestic conditions to encourage while South Africans to stay, then the South African experiment can succeed and become an Anglosphere outpost in Africa. James Bennett writes, “South Africa would also be advised ….radically decentralize the South African Federal State.” This move could encourage a free South Africa and provide a portal of freedom in sub-Sahara Africa. A free and democratic South Africa may allow Dr. Ayittey vision of a free and prosperous Africa to progress.

The first true test of South Africa will be how it handles the Zimbabwe crisis. Robert Mugabe has essentially destroyed Zimbabwe by driving out its most productive citizens and copying the North Korean autarky society. Mugabe policy has killed thousands and South Africa must take the lead in repairing the damage. Among many of the South African leaders, there have been a reluctance to undermine a fellow revolutionary leader but Zimbabwe is disaster at South Africa doorstep. Millions of refugee and a once promising economy in a free\fall will eventually affect South Africa own place. It will be just as tested in post Mugabe Zimbabwe.

posted by Tom Donelson at 7:12 AM

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