AKOSAH-SARPONG WRITES FROM CANADA
African States in danger of decaying beyond 'Threshold'
For long, it has been a common feature of European Africanists, most of whom do not have holistic grasp of Africa, especially the implications of her culture in relation to her development, see Africa from Eurocentric lens. In the process, they arrogate to themselves all sort of prescriptions and reasons for Africa's so-called agonies, which actually happened when Africa came into contact with the Europeans. "There is growing awareness that lack of development in post-colonial Africa has more to do with the political than the economic situation on the continent," writes Africanist-Lusophonist Prof. Patrick Chabal, who has written heavily on Africa's development issues, from purely Eurocentric perspectives in the Nairobi, Kenya-based "The East African." Matter-of-factly, the lack of development has come as result of African development process not rooted in African innate values, history and experiences, and mixing them with Africa's colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture. Prof. Chabal is head of Portuguese & Brazilian Studies Research at University of London's King's College and author of many publications such as "Community & the State in Lusophone Africa," "Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument [with J-P. Daloz]," and "Power in Africa: an essay in Political Interpretation."
Prof. Chabal's assertion that "After a decade of transitions, the most notable being the move to multiparty democracy, there is little evidence that governments in Africa can achieve the aims outlined in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and the Millennium Development Goals," further reveals his unbalanced knowledge and perceptions about Africa's innate cultural development process, which calls for understanding the continent's culture and experiences in her development process which pre-dates Prof. Chabal and his so-called Africanist rantings and the colonialists' imposition of their values or development values on Africa some 500 years, creating the current agonies Africa is experiencing.
Prof. Chabal's view that "The present debate on the role of decentralisation draws on the assumption that devolved governance is better than the central government," smack of a man who has not got it in terms of Africa's innate cultural political systems, born out of years of trial and testing in the kingdoms, empires and queendoms over 2000 years ago. In his ignorance, though Prof. Chabal may not think so, the innate African political system is heavily decentralised and the Western-imposed system, which imposed the now operating centralised system in the first place, wisdom demands, should have worked around these African innate decentralised political systems in order to work with African traditional institutions including her traditional rulers in a well structured accountable and transparent system, instead of thinking that there was nothing like these. This would have saved Africa from Prof. Chabal and his wrong-headed cohorts' view that "African States" are "in danger of decaying beyond 'Threshold'". In ignoring Africa's culture, the colonialists and African leaders who came after them either destroyed or weakened the long-running successful African indigenous decentralisation system which have sustained the African uptill now.
Prof. Chabal's opinion that "The state in Africa has gradually become too weak, with the World Bank now recognising that without a functioning state, there is very little prospect of development," reveals his view of Africa coming purely from Western lens that lacks Africa's inner values, history and experiences in terms of the continent's development driven by her culture. From African history, culture and experiences, there is no need for any debate that does not roll from Africa's culture, history, and experiences. Any debate about the state should be holistic, factoring in the continent's culture and history, that's how Africa's way of life interpretes its develoment and state evolution. African's don't want be Europeans, they want to be Africans despite some problems they are facing right now. Practically and culturally, Prof. Chabal's "too weak" of the African state is actually "too weak" of the Western structures imposed during the creation of the African state. This occured simply because African values, history, and experiences were not factored in during the creation of the African state.
Writes Prof. Chabal, who appears out of total grasp of Africa's cultural sensibilities and its implications in the continent's development process, "There has long been the debate about whether the role of the state is that of enabler or manager. Whatever the case, there is little doubt that there are minimal features of a state that are necessary for the upkeep of a society in which economic activities contribute to development." The African state, before the coming of the Westerners who failed to appropriate the minimal features of Africa's well-developed innate values in contemporary Africa's state creation, as seen through its historical empires, queendoms and kingdoms, had been upkeeping itself through its values for its development which have been able to withstand Western abuse and bastardisation of its system, and the Western created unfair international system, particularly the trade regime.
By failing to mix Africa's well-developed values with that of Western imposed structures, a long-running schism was set in place between Africa's traditional values and the Western ones, hence creating problems with "order and peace, operational infrastructure, basic health, social and education; and a financial and banking infrastructure." For instance, the Yurobas in Nigeria and the Asantes in Ghana had a well developed indigenous banking system (more appropriate called "osusu") which were destroyed by the colonialists instead of mixing them with colonialists financial system, thus making most Africans not only alienated from the financial system but do not understand the banking system. If the colonialists, and the African leaders who came after them, were to do so, that's mix African institutions with the colonialists, this would have brought greater understanding of the financial system and other development institutions to the African people and make the bAfrican not only feel that the system come from within his/her values but also able to use it more approriately.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Prof. Chabal says that, "In the first decade after inde-pendence, the state in Africa worked with some degree of efficiency and because world market prices for primary products were relatively high, a number of governments managed to discharge many of the above functions. But in the 1980s, state decline set in and has not been reversed since. Unfortunately, there was little sustainable economic growth. Why? The structure of African economies made them vulnerable to the vagaries of the market and impeded the long-term growth required for development." This has occured because initially the lack of coordination between Africa's innate values and the colonialists' ones had not been tuned up properly, had not been mixed in Africa's development process. So after some short-lived development dance it became clear that the two values have not been grafted at all and so started clashing, creating crises in Africa, hence Prof. Chabal's claim of the African state declining after the 1980s, worsened by the Western-structured international system that made Africa vulnerable to the vagaries of the international market system which impeded attempts not only to open up the African continent but also attempts to tie Africa's indigenous market system to the Western-driven international development paradigms.
Prof. Chabal's statement that "The bulk of Africans see the state as a predatory body from which they expect nothing but trouble - except for those who continue to benefit from the patrimonial largesse of the politicians in place. Once a large proportion of the population loses hope that the state can deliver, they also abandon faith in its development potential" is nothing new as Africans become increasingly aware that much of these criminal predatory body come more or less from the Western-trained elites who not only are confused because of their attempts to be like European and which have made them loose their African values, which appropriations in their nation building would have made them less predatory. Still, African elites, predatory or not, have not been able to ground the African state in African values, experiences and history, and
appropriate the enabling aspects of both colonial legacies and globalisation in the states' structures.
It is in this absence of openly grafting African values, experiences and history into the colonial legacies and the global, in order to give African values the much denied respect by the colonialists and their ensuing international systems, that have made Prof. Chabal reasoned that "This is why, so many ordinary Africans, though desperate for an improvement in their lives, take a cynical view of the possible benefits of democratic reforms for decentralisation." The African ethnic groups that form the African state have huge values in decentralisation and democracy but have not been appropriated in the African state's creation and development by their confused and interllectually weak elites. "It is," therefore, possible "to avoid state decay beyond redeemable thresholds through foreign expertise and local knowledge, given that there are no precise indicators that the state is failing and the population losing faith until it is too late," if the precise indicators that signal state failing are viewed from African values, experiences and history. This is the challenge for African elites and their accompanying Western accomplices.