Sheriff Mahmud Ismail: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 February 2023:
The recent upsurge in military coups, militant extremist groups and political protestations across Africa has rattled the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and the international community at large.
Studies show that coups are back, in parts. The overall number of coup attempts in Africa remained consistent at an average of around four a year in the four decades between 1960 and 2000. Then fell to two per year. Of the 16 coups recorded globally since 2017, all but one (Myanmar in 2021) were in Africa. Half of these were in West and Central Africa.
As Ernest Bai Koroma, former President of Sierra Leone put it regarding the situation in West Africa; “West Africa was the darling of democracy, coups were a thing of the past but suddenly they are back with us. This is attributed to leadership failure and the absence of the democratic dividend.”
Over the last three years there have been a series of High -Level dialogues, consultations, retreats and all manner of meetings by the regional and continental bodies. At the same time, a wide range of pro- democracy, peace and security organisations have apparently been scampering around for ways to halt and deal with the democracy reversal, insecurity and lack economic development particularly in West Africa.
This week, the Brenthurst Foundation, a South African based Policy Think Tank, is holding what it calls ‘The West African Security Dialogue’ in collaboration with the Kofi Annan International Peace Training Centre (KAIPTC).
The dialogue series started in Accra Monday February 5, 2023, amid real concerns about insecurity in the region and across Africa. The consensus is that poor leadership and its antecedents of bad governance, mismanagement of diversity, manipulation of electoral processes and violent contestation for political power, are among the main drivers of conflict particularly relating to public dissatisfaction with the political class, more so by Africa’s youths.
Director of the Brenthurst Foundation, Dr Greg Mills, opened the meeting with a sobering comparative analysis of Africa and other regions of the world, tracing Africa’s economic development from the colonial period through the early independence era to the present. The figures are damning, and the prognosis is worrying.
“If Africa had increased its wealth at the rate of Vietnam, a country with a particularly difficult post-1945 inheritance, and a challenging geography, it could be touching the global per capita income average instead of being nearly seven times less,” Mills said.
The Brenthurst Foundation Director also said that “If sub-Saharan Africa had grown its economies at the rate of South Korea, its citizens would be enjoying wealth of over three times the global average.”
He further noted that even “if Africa had only been able to retain its comparative global position of 60 years ago, the income of the average sub-Saharan African would have grown (in real terms) threefold from $1,135 (in 1960) to $3,475. Sadly, the average African per capita income is $1,597. In other words, while the average global wealth has leapt more than 300% to $11,010, Africa’s has increased by just 40% in real terms.”
Even more disturbing is that fact that while the continent’s development has fallen dramatically behind the rest of the world, there is a steep rise in incomes of the African political elites. Mills therefore warned that unless something changes, this current situation, coupled with the upward march of the African demographic, there might be dramatic political consequences for Africa’s peace, security and economic development.
Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and chair of Brenthurst Foundation Governing Board, is concerned about the failure of economic growth in view of the growing population in the continent. He re-echoed Mills’s supposition that by 2050, Africa will add 595m people to the global workforce and be home to the largest and youngest population globally. The correlation of a population bulge in a failing economic environment to peace and security is stark.
Prof. Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi (Afrobarometer), was very direct when he said that: “West African youths have become intolerant to dictatorships…they are ready to fight for jobs and better conditions of life. The only way to stop them from fighting is to give them good governance and economic development,”
In reference to a Tunisian youth activist, Dr Ibrahim Bangura, an expert on peace and security pointed out the lack of food, jobs, and hope for a better future as factors driving young Africans into violent extremism.
“Young people now understand their agency; they know that they have been infantilized and instrumentalised. They now know that they can mobilize themselves and challenge governments and they are determined to do so.”
Mills illustrated the triangle of leadership, economic growth, and peace and security. “A country will not have peace if its economy is not strong, it will not have a strong economy if it doesn’t have peace and certainly, there will be no strong economy or peace if the politics is not doing well,” Mills said.
This ties in President Koroma’s view that: “A democracy where the space doesn’t exist for the media, civil society and opposition to freely express alternative views represent a threat to peace, security and economic development.” He also said that “Democracy is meaningless if the institutions are not independent, efficient and capable to function well.”
But Africa’s challenges are many, in addition to the above issues is the depth of the debt crisis consuming the continent. Of the 70 countries eligible for concessional lending under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT), the latest IMF Debt Sustainability Analysis ranks 8 of the 39 African countries on the list in ‘debt distress’ (Republic of Congo, Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan) and 14 (Burundi, CAR, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and South Sudan) as ‘high’.
To address this quagmire, Mills said Africa needs stronger leadership, less red tape, policy predictability and easier entry and exit of capital, including preferences and breaks, especially from local elites searching for rent.”
Bangura agrees, saying that “we need leaders who are ready to leave positive footprints on the sands of time.”
And former president Koroma did not mince his words on this leadership question. “If the individual is good by nature, that good nature will impact his policies. A good leader will know that democracy should be inclusive governance, tolerance of dissent, fair share of national development and equal opportunity,” the former president said adding that “Failure of governance is essentially a reflection of problematic leadership.”
Clearly, leadership (including vision, prioritisation, attention to detail, winning over partners, adroit use of political capital, ability to hire and fire) and building policy and relationships (internal and external) which are conducive to growth, is important as getting institutions to do their job is necessary. The Choice (of policy and people, and relationships) is therefore a critical determinant of good leadership with the stamina of reform.
No doubt, democracy has retreated. Even though most Africans prefer it, less than ten percent live in regimes classified as democratic. Of the 59 authoritarian countries listed by the EIU, 27 are African (half of all African regimes).
But democratic processes, slow and cumbersome they may be, do contain the enduring strengths of legitimacy and competitiveness and change when where meritocracy is a sine qua non, democracy is a sure path to improve the quality of government and lives of the citizenry.