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African Implosion


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"Government," as most people understand it, does not exist in many African countries. "Government” has been turned into a criminal enterprise, operated by gangsters to fleece, not to serve, the people. What exists in most African countries is "vampire state" -- a government captured by crooks and bandits, who use the instruments of the state (or government machinery) to enrich themselves, their cronies and tribesmen, excluding everybody else (the politics of exclusion). The richest persons in Africa are the heads of state and their ministers. Quite often, the chief bandit is the head of state himself. To them, “development” means developing their pockets and “foreign investment” means investing their booty in a foreign country.

This vampire African state cannot and will not endure. It eventually implodes. Its extractive and exploitative ethic is morally, philosophically indefensible. Africans fought against the relatively less rapacious form of exploitation under colonialism. So too will they fight against mafia African regimes -- or black neo-colonialists. Nor can that "state vehicle" be used to take Africans on the "development" journey. Only a few live the charmed, opulent life. The rest of the population is excluded. But those excluded will take the abuse and the rape for only so long. They would eventually resort to one of the following three options:

1) Rise up and overthrow the ruling elites. That leads to a rebel insurgency and destruction of the country: Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Zaire, etc.

2) Secede, which the Biafrans tried to do in 1967 – from Nigeria. Currently, residents of Cabinda, the northern part of Angola are up in arms and threatening to secede. They sit atop huge reserves of oil and, yet, have no schools or good drinking water. Their oil is instead tapped to fight a senseless civil war. Secessionist threats are also being heard from the Yorubas, Ijaws and other ethnic groups in Nigeria’s delta region.

3) Flee and become refugees elsewhere in Africa. The continent’s refugee population has exploded in recent years, with the number reaching 12 million.

However, before recourse to any of these options, angry peasants may mount various forms of resistance against the marauding pirate state. They may withdraw from the formal economy, limiting their exposure to rape and plunder by the state, thereby taking with them potential tax revenues. They may also fight back, sabotaging the property of the predatory state and attacking its officials. Fed up with incessant power interruptions, they wreaked vengeance on "NEPA equipment in protest against power failures starting around the time of the World Cup televised from the United States. They also allegedly vandalized property worth about 212,000 naira [about $2,500] at the water treatment plant in the area to protest the perennial water shortage" (African News Weekly, 4 November 1994, 12). Government officials may denounce these as "acts of sabotage" and unleash security forces against the perpetrators. But that would only compound the problem.

In every society, there must be an avenue for people to vent their frustrations and release excess pressure. In civilized societies, when people are angry at their government, they may protest, hold demonstrations, lambaste the government in the newspapers, on the radio, or toss out the errant regime at the ballot box. But in most African countries, the mafia government has blocked each of these avenues.

In Ghana there has been a pattern of brutalities and blockage. On 22 March 1993, university students at Legon began a boycott of classes to press their demands for an increase in student loans. They were attacked and beaten up mercilessly by thugs hired by the ruling NDC regime. Libel suits were another weapon. When newspapers tried to expose corruption and wrongdoing by NDC government officials, they were slapped with criminal libel suits. "At least 30 libel suits have been filed against the independent press by leading members of the government in what is seen largely as an attempt to stifle freedom of statement," said Kwesi Pratt, Jr. President of the Private Newspaper Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG) (Free Press, 20 December - 2 January 1997, 8). By 1998, libel suits filed by government officials had reached 350.

In August 1998, Kwaku Baako Jnr., editor of The Guide newspaper, and Abdul Harruna Atta, editor of the Statesman, were jailed one month each for contempt by the Court of Appeal in criminal libel suits against them. The court also fined their publishers, Western Publications for the Guide and Kinesic Publications for the Statesman, 10 million cedis each for the same offence.

Immediately, a group of journalists, media practitioners, academicians, Members of Parliament and other media sympathisers bearing placards and singing staged a three-hour march to the Supreme Court buildings in Accra to protest against what they said was growing threats to press freedom in the country. Some of the placards read "Prison or no prison we will write," "we are not afraid of prison," "we will not surrender," and "How fair is press freedom in Ghana."

Mr. Kwame Karikari, the Acting Director, of the School of Communications Studies, University of Ghana, leader of the demonstrators presented a 5-page petition to the Deputy Judicial Secretary, Mr. George Afflah Aryeetey. In the petition, the Friends of Freedom of statement said since the return of constitutional rule, there has been an emerging trend from the decisions and sentences, which show that the courts are using the law to cripple the media.

The petition said the spate of sentences and orders for arrest and detention of journalists increasingly serve to cow courageous journalists and a threat to others. It said the courts are now becoming an institution to subvert press freedom," adding that the fines being slapped on journalists and publishers over the months point to a weakening of the media. The group said the overwhelming majority of the sentences, decisions, fines and damages are from cases involving high public officials or top functionaries of the ruling government or people very close to them. They pointed out that they are not against the courts performing their normal functions of interpreting the law and upholding justice nor do they intend to defend any act of irresponsibility by any journalist if and when that occur. The group said it is concerned with developments, which are tending to weaken the judicial system and the democratic process.

On 4 December 1994 police raided the premises of Charles Wereko-Brobbey, seized the transmission equipment of Radio Eye, and arrested five persons, including two Britons. When supporters of the radio station marched to parliament on 8 December they were attacked by thugs and beaten up. On 12 May 1995 over 80,000 Ghanaians marched through the streets of Accra to protest the unbearable cost of living and demand the withdrawal of the VAT. ACDR thugs opened fire, killing four of them. On 28 December 1995 when Vice President Arkaah went to a cabinet meeting, he was beaten up. On 1 June 1996 the National Union of Ghanaian Students held a demonstration to protest deplorable conditions at the country's universities. They were attacked and beaten up government-hired thugs. It happened again on Tuesday, 25 August 1998 when unarmed university students marched peacefully to the Ministry of Education to protest exorbitant fees being heaped upon them. They were confronted by hundreds of riot policemen armed to the teeth, who charged with naked violence, simultaneously spraying hot water on the students, mercilessly beating them with truncheons and opening fire on them.

In all these provocations, Ghanaians were counseled to be patient and that they would get their chance to throw out the vampire elites out of power at the 7 December 1996 polls. They turned out in massive numbers -- about 80 percent of the registered voters -- to vote. But the elections were rigged. As a result, a significant number of Ghanaians have lost faith in the ballot box (or the electoral process.

"They have vowed not to vote in any future elections if the voting pattern of Ghanaians remain the same. After all, they know that even if the right man is there, he will not be chosen.

Madam Ama Mensah, a trader of Obuasi Central Market, and a host of other tomato sellers in the market emphatically said in their remarks that they would never vote again in their lives because they had come to realize that truth does not matter in Ghana politics" (Free Press, 13-19 December 1996, 6).

If people lose faith in the ballot box, they may decide not to vote again or may seek alternate ways of removing a hated government from power. Several such options are available. People may decide to cheat the government, since the government cheated them of their vote. They may cheat on their taxes, refuse to recognize the regime or attend its functions. They may embezzle or sabotage government operations, generally make life miserable for the government, or render the country "ungovernable." Any of these methods would raise government expenditures and subsequently the deficit. They may also withdraw their services and refuse to deal with a government they regard as "illegitimate." Or they may resort to violence. Predictably on 10 December 1996 supporters of the ruling NDC reveled in the streets of Bimbilla, celebrating their "victory" in the election. They taunted opposition members, who went home to fetch machetes and butchered several of the NDC revelers.

People will not tolerate injustice, brutality and abuse indefinitely: "K. A. Britwum, the Ashanti Regional Secretary of the New Patriotic Party [Ghana's main opposition party], says it will not sit down for the ruling NDC to molest, intimidate and brutalize its supporters and members. Referring to the brutalities meted out by certain military and NDC machomen to NPP supporters during the Afigya-Sekyere parliamentary by-election, Britwum warned that the NPP will in any future elections match the NDC boot for boot in all aspects of the game of brutalities and intimidation, if need be, adding that `After all, violence is not the monopoly of any one group or group of persons'" (Free Press, 25 June - 1 July 1997, 3).

Similarly in Nigeria, the military rulers have blocked every avenue for redress of political and social grievances and brutalities have been heaped on activists, who therefore resorted to violence. A group calling itself the United Front for Nigeria's Liberation (UFNL) claimed responsibility for 18 January 1996 plane crash in which head of state General Sani Abacha's first son and 14 others were killed" (The African Observer, 1-14 February 1996, 2). The next day, January 19, 1996, two bombs went off at two locations connected to Abacha: the Kaduna Hotel, which he allegedly owned and Kano Airport, which was the major transit point for people attending his son's funeral. Since then, bombs went off intermittently in 1996, causing the U.S. State Department to issue an alert to Americans traveling to Nigeria.

Resentment has steadily built up against northern Nigerians who have dominated the government and the military for 28 out of Nigeria's 38 years of sovereign existence. The sudden death of Chief Moshood Abiola, the apparent winner of the June 12, 1993 elections, sparked riots in Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan, in which Hausa and other northern Nigerians were targeted. At least 60 people were killed. "We are fed up in the South," said Christopher Abiodun. "I believe 50 percent of us want war. I believe it, because we cannot send our children to school anymore. No food. No shelter. We cannot continue" (The Washington Post, July 15, 1998, A20).

In several other African countries, such as Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya, Libya, Sudan and Zimbabwe, political strife and discontent are brewing. As noted earlier, on 7 July 1997 church leaders, opposition politicians, student groups, and civic organizations demonstrated in Nairobi, demanding constitutional reform to level the political playing field before elections scheduled for later that year. The opposition claimed that free and fair elections could not be held unless changes were made. President Moi, who had been in power for 19 years, controlled all the levers of power: the parliament, security forces, judiciary, and electoral commission. His police shot, clubbed and tear-gased the demonstrators, including Reverend Timothy Njoya of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. Eleven people were killed. "On April 8th, 1998 Amnesty International described Kenya as a `powder-keg waiting to explode' and blamed the government for its divide-and-rule tactics in encouraging ethnic conflict" (The Economist, 18 April 1998, 42).

The politics of exclusion has been the basic cause of turmoil in Africa. Eventually, those excluded from the political spoils eventually will rise up and set out to either overthrow the system or secede. The Biafran War of 1967 is an example. Another is the island of Anjouan, in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros. It broke away from the Comoran Islamic Federation in August 1997. In December 1998, clashes between rival militias left 60 people killed (The Washington Times, 13 December 1998, A10).

Regardless, secession or insurgency degenerates into violence, chaos, and destruction. The Liberian civil war started in 1989 when the excluded group (Americo-Liberians, Mandingos and Moslems) set out to remove Samuel Doe and his Krahnmen from power. Two years later (1991), the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) started a war that eventually led to the complete destruction of Sierra Leone. As The Washington Times (June 10, 1999) explained: “In the beginning, it was simply an insurgency under the control of the political party long out of power because the ruling party had set up a one-party dictatorship and governed the country for three decades” (p.A16) The 1994 Rwandan massacre began when Tutsi rebels set off from Uganda to remove the Hutu from power. The disintegration of Zaire began with rebellion led by Laurent Kabila in 1996 with easterners excluded from power by Mobutu. Civil war and strife, together with famine, have claimed the lives of at least 5 million Africans since independence in the 1960s and have driven millions more into exile.

But Africa's mafia governments have learned nothing from all these civil wars and carnage. They repeat the same foolish mistakes again and again in country after country.