Editorial staff
 Table of Contents
 Africa in the age of a global network...
 Achieving human rights in Africa:...
 Governance, wealth creation and...
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Title: African studies quarterly
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Publication Date: Summer 2000
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Table of Contents
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    Editorial staff
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    Table of Contents
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    Africa in the age of a global network society: The challenges ahead
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    Achieving human rights in Africa: The challenge for the new millenium
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    Governance, wealth creation and development in Africa: The challenges and the prospects
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    Book reviews
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Full Text

African Studies Quarterly

Volume 4, Issue 2
Summer 2000

Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida

ISSN: 2152-2448

African Studies Quarterly

Editorial Staff

Nanette Barkey
Michael Chege
Maria Grosz-Ngate
Parakh Hoon
Alice Jones-Nelson
Carol Lauriault
Todd Leedy
Ken Mease
James Meier
Hannington Ochwada

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Table of Contents

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society: The Challenges Ahead
Patience Akpan (1-16)

Achieving Human Rights in Africa: The Challenge for the New Millennium
Paul J. Magnarella (17-27)

Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa: The Challenges and the Prospects
John Mbaku (29-47)

Book Reviews

Great Ideas for Teaching About Africa. Misty L. Bastian and Jane L. Parpart (Eds.). Boulder:
Lynne Rienner, 1999.
Gretchen Bauer (49-50)

Comprehending and Mastering African Conflicts: The Search for Sustainable Peace and
Good Governance. Adebayo Adedeji (ed.). New York: Zed Books, 1999.
Shedrack Chukwuemeka Agbakwa (50-52)

Imposing Wilderness: Struggles Over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa.
Roderick P. Neumann. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.
Cassandra Moseley (52-53)

"We Women Worked So Hard": Gender, Urbanization and Social Reproduction in Colonial
Harare, Zimbabwe, 1930-1956. Teresa A. Barnes. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1999.
Kathleen R. Smythe (53-56)

Western Education and Political Domination in Africa: A Study in Critical and Dialogical
Pedagogy. Magnus O. Bassey. Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1999.
Adam Meyer (56-58)

Drama for a New South Africa: Seven Plays. David Graver (ed.). Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1999.
Stephanie Marlin-Curiel (58-60)

Music, Modernity, and the Global Imagination: South Africa and the West. Veit Erlmann.
New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Stephanie Marlin-Curiel (60-62)

A Daughter of Isis: The Autobiography of Nawal El Saadawi. Translated by Sherif Hetata.
New York: St. Martins Press, 1999.
Kathleen J. Wininger (62-64)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society: The Challenges



Abstract: This paper considers the discourse that links African development with new
information and communication technologies (ICTs). It begins with an examination of
classical modernization theories of development and communication. It poses the
following questions: Are the new ICTs the solution to many of the challenges that face
sub-Saharan Africa? What are the immediate and future consequences for the region if
these new technologies are ignored? The paper attempts to resolve the tension between
the need to be part of the global network society and the urge to provide basic needs for
sub-Saharan peoples. It argues that assumptions about the new ICTs and their prospects
as instruments of economic development in Africa may be extremely exaggerated.

Nigeria's president, Rtd. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, has never been a favorite of Nigerian
journalists. His disdain for them when he was head of state the first time around was returned
in full measure, with regular reports and cartoons about his famous uncouthnesss." Days before
the February 27, 1999 presidential elections, Obasanjo's reputation as a "bush" man (Nigerian for
an "uncultured" man) received a boost from the man himself. During a televised interview with
journalists, Obasanjo reportedly reacted to questions regarding the Internet by playing on the
words "download" and "upload." If he is to download, he asked, when does he upload? On a
serious note, he said, he did not particularly care about technologies that download unless they
meet the basic needs of Nigerians. He was quoted in a Reuters report as saying that he was not
against the Internet or information technology, "but (acquiring) it ... should not be a priority
over the technology to produce food or pound yams" 1. This indication of his future policy
direction--a preference for "appropriate technology over newfangled ideas of globalization and
information technology"--generated vociferous attacks on Obasanjo from Nigerians at home
and abroad 2. One subscriber to Niajanet, a US-based Nigerian Internet discussion forum,
expressed concern over Obasanjo's "warped policy preference" and the "need for enlightened
people in leadership positions"3.
This episode is symbolic of the two major perspectives of the coming of new information
and communication technologies (ICTs) to Africa. Frequently the debates are framed in
either/or language, slotting advocates into uncomfortable positions of sounding either too elitist
or not "enlightened" enough. This structuring of the debate has been replicated at the scholarly
level. It becomes a "war" between the pessimists, such as Jegede 4, and the optimists, such as
Olivier Coeur De Roy 5. But there are also those who argue that it is not an either/or position
and present a middle ground between becoming "cyber-struck" at the perceived wonders of the
new ICTs and articulating policy strategies aimed at meeting the basic needs of African

http:/ /www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v4/v4i2al.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

2 I Akpan

The debate is clearly rooted in the classical theories about the role of communication in
development. The present focus may be on new communication and information gadgets, but
the debate goes as far back as the 1950s and 1960s when modernization theorists were engaged
in intellectual speculations on how to transform the newly emerging, formerly colonial states
into western-type societies. Although many modernization theories of economic growth and
political development have since been abandoned, or reformulated, their assumptions structure
much of the current debate on the prospects for African countries advancing to industrialization
and modernity via their modem connections.
This paper examines the classical arguments on the causal link between communication
and development. It also considers the possibilities and constraints for sub-Saharan Africa in
acquiring and utilizing the new knowledge and information technologies. It addresses the
following questions. How important is it for Africa to get "connected" when juxtaposed with the
urgency to provide basic needs for most of its populations? Are the new ICTs the solution to
many of the challenges that face sub-Saharan African or are they mere distractions? If one takes
the position, as Nigeria's Obasanjo does, that the priorities should be about addressing the basic
needs of the population, can these states afford not to be part of the global network society? In
the first part of the paper, I will explore some of the arguments that represent the two extreme
positions: the need to be part of the global network society and the urge to provide basic needs
for sub-Saharan Africans. In the second section, I will attempt to resolve the tension between the
two approaches by pointing to a third way, one that does not sacrifice the basic needs of the
people and at the same time does not place the region in an even more disadvantaged position
by ignoring the implication of the new ICTs. First, it is necessary to define some of the concepts.


First used by Manuel Castells, "the network society" refers to "movements, linkages, and
flows which reshape and often undermine the integrity and coherence of borders and spatial
entities" 6. "Network" is a word spun from the actions of a spider and its web creation; it literally
refers to any system of lines that cross, or a group of people who work together to promote
common goals. More relevant to ICTs, a network is a system that links together a number of
computers 7. In a network, there is the potential for parts to become an intrinsic to the whole. To
understand the function of global in this context, it is necessary to seek its definition in the
larger process of globalization.
Globalization is not new, but it has become one of today's buzzwords. David Held and
Anthony McGrew define globalization as a multifaceted process manifested most vividly in
four issue areas: security, economy, politics, and law 8. The effects of globalization are felt most
deeply and extensively in the economic sphere. "The internationalization of production and the
globalization of financial transactions, organized in part by a relatively small number of
powerful transnational corporations" 9 have drastically shrunk the economic world. This
process has been hastened by advances in transport, communication and information
technologies that facilitate the rapid movement of capital around the globe.
Ron Kasmir refers to globalization as the "unprecedented volume of flows of capital,
people, commodities, microbes, cultural images, technologies, religious and political ideologies,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society I 3

weapons, drugs, and pollution--all cutting across political and cultural borders"_10. While geo-
spatial boundaries have disappeared to the point where the world is truly a "global village,"
sub-Saharan Africa seems ever more distant from the core of economic and political processes.
The African continent in general seems to occupy a complex position in the global system.
"In one sense, [Africa] is the system's most marginal geographical region. But in another
sense, Africa is central to how the system constitutes itself, whether as a harbinger of doom in
Robert Kaplan's apocalyptic vision; the moral focus of humanitarian concerns; a laboratory for
peacekeeping, epidemiological, and environmental interventions; or the source of pride and
commitment for diaspora communities." 11
This complexity fuels the debate on the need for Africa to be part of the global society--to
create a niche for itself, if it is ever to escape its poverty and marginalization.
The notion of "society," as used here in the classic Grotian sense, seems to resolve the
tension between Africa's location on the periphery of the global process and as an integral node
or unit in a global network with its implicit assumption of equality. In the Grotian image of the
world, states in the "societies of states" are not only equal through sovereignty, but they are
willing to cooperate with each other in the pursuit of common goals 12. This means that, despite
their marginality, African states still belong to this society of states, although their role and
participation are necessarily constrained by their structural location on the margins of the global
Taken together, therefore, these concepts produce the idea of a "global network society,"
also variously referred to as the global information society, the information society or the
postindustrial society. In a global network society, "boundaries and borders of all sorts are
being re-imagined or re-figured in complex political and cultural ways" 13. One effect of this
process is the shrinking of the global network society, with geo-spatial boundaries giving way
to digital spaces where distance is measured in time--the number of seconds it takes to transmit
data across cyberspace. In this global network society, new and wider spaces have opened up,
prompting many Africans and Africanists to argue that it is time sub-Saharan Africa, the
poorest region in the world, finally shared a spot in the sun.


One side of the debate on the implications of the new ICTs for development in Africa
argues that entering these new spaces will depend on how connected, or plugged in, the region
is. The region's ability to take advantage of the "information revolution"14 will depend on how
it engages with the high-tech world of information and communication technologies. Hence the
push for the region to accord high priority to the acquisition of the new ICTs if it hopes to be
part of what is approximating not only an empirical global village, but a planetary village.
These technologies include, at the basic level, the telephone, and, at the more advanced
level, satellite communications. In between is the Internet, a technology developed in 1969 by
the US military for the purposes of protecting strategic military information in the event of a
nuclear attack. The Internet came into public usage in 1974, starting in the academy and
spreading rapidly, to general usage in North America and Western Europe. While all the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

4 I Akpan

information and communication technologies do feature in the debate on sub-Saharan Africa's
entry into the global network society, many of the references to ICTs in this paper are
specifically about the Internet and related hardware and software--telephone, computer,
modem, access to the Internet itself, databases, and all aspects of the World Wide Web.
In many countries in the West, having an e-mail account to exchange data over the Internet
has become very common, but even in the industrialized world, the new ICTs have not lost
their novelty. As Michele Martin writes, "The print media [in Canada] often tend to highlight
the grandiloquent aspects of the project (massive job creation, mammoth investments,
revolutionary home services, etc.) ..." 15. Vincent Mosco also argues that "as is common with any
new technological innovation, the current discourse surrounding the information highway
tends to focus on the 'novelty' aspect of the project" 16
The technology assumes an astronomical level of grandiloquence and novelty when
discussed in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has the lowest telephone density in
the world. By comparison, 99 per cent of the population in Canada have access to a telephone 17
There are more telephone lines in Manhattan, New York than there are in all of Africa. But then,
with the highest infant mortality rate in the world, sub-Saharan Africa can be forgiven if access
to telephones is the least of its headaches. This attitude toward communication technology in
Africa is being challenged in the current discourse by those who argue that it is important for
the region to link up with the global network society. While the end-goals are not always well
articulated, the idea is that when sub-Saharan Africa arrives at the cyber El Dorado, all other
things will follow. This echoes the Biblical injunction to "[S]eek ye first the kingdom of God, and
his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." 18. Therefore, all that sub-
Saharan Africa needs to do is get connected first and worry about other things later. The central
argument around the need for this is based on two major premises. Much of the debate on the
new technologies is rooted in the first premise, which focuses on the new ICTs as means to
economic growth in other sectors of national economies. The second, and less articulated, is an
analysis of ICTs as ends in themselves, as revenue earners.
As means or avenues to economic development, ICTs present sub-Saharan Africa with an
opportunity to participate in the production of knowledge about Africa and about the world.
This argument resonates with the "knowledge is power" rhetoric. It also echoes the exposure
and diffusion theories of development communication. Accordingly, if African countries have
control of and access to knowledge, they will be in a stronger position to compete with the rest
of the world. Through access to information about events and issues in the "outside world," the
region will be exposed to "industrial values" that will motivate people to change by
transforming their attitudes. Viewed from this perspective, information plays the dual role of
empowering and transforming.
Also, the new ICTs can be the means to development because access to information and
data in other parts of the world will lead to the creation of an African scientific community. This
community will then produce knowledge about the continent and make the knowledge
available to the rest of the world, while also appropriating useful knowledge from other parts of
the world.
The need to be producers of knowledge harks back to the 1970s debate on a new
information world order. The South was rejecting the unidirectional flow of information from

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society I 5

the North, which distorted information and knowledge about the South. The new ICTs provide
an opportunity to reverse the trend. This is a highly contested claim. In the first place, the
technology still comes from the North in the language of the North, and is financed, in large
part, by aid or investment funds from the North. The US, for instance, in 1997, promised to
spend $15 million on a project to get Africa connected. Already six countries have been linked
to the Internet with this assistance.
The link is tenuous, but it is expected that by bringing the continent in to the information
age, economic development will be stimulated. In the global economy, the argument goes,
information and communication technologies are vital variables in the growth process. Olivier
Coeur De Roy (1997) stresses the need for information in the development process in Africa,
referring to it as a first and necessary objective:
"these technological developments in networking and communication infrastructure are
not a luxury-they are a priority for Africa as they comprise considerable and tangible stakes:
stakes of power, because nowadays being on the information highway gives power, economic
stakes because of the huge investments involved with new information technologies;
technological stakes in the choices being made over infrastructure and methods of connection in
Africa; and stakes in the research sector to develop the new information technologies according
to the priorities, needs and expectations of the African continent" 19
The assumption here is that the problem of African underdevelopment is tied to lack of
access to information. The Internet provides a window to the world in cheaper and more
accessible ways than ever before. The cost-and-accessibility aspect of this argument is highly
disputable. For example Internet access in Zimbabwe (the country with the third highest
number of Internet users in Africa) costs US$300--the equivalent of the minimum annual
income for an average worker in the country 20. This does not include the cost of acquiring the
basic phone line or the hardware and software required to access the Internet.
It is indisputable that access to information facilitates research in a variety of sectors. For
education, ICTs allow both students and educators to access databases and libraries worldwide,
including full-text academic journals and textbooks. Through telemedicine connections, medical
practitioners in sub-Saharan African countries can access information and consult with
specialists. Information on pest control and seeds can also help local farmers achieve bumper
harvests. The greatest beneficiaries of the new ICTs, of course are, entrepreneurs who reap the
optimal benefits of the new technologies by increasing their productivity with the help of time
and laborsaving communication and information devices. Business, and especially financial
speculators and stock traders, can access on-the-spot information in real time that enables them
to make profit-maximizing decisions.
There are many other specific examples that highlight the importance of the Internet and
other new ICTs in everyday life in Sub-Saharan Africa. In an article which first appeared in the
Nov. 25, 1995 issue of the Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland, Michiel Hegener quotes research staff
with the Association of African Universities in Accra, Ghana as saying:
"...Yesterday, I received a postal query from a lady in Nigeria. She sent it four months ago!
The postal services in Africa are extremely slow, the delays are endless, and many letters never
even reach their destination. Whenever I'm outside Africa and I see the Internet working--as at a
recent conference of the Internet Society in Hawaii--I know that this is what we need! It's as

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6 I Akpan

clear as day. For education in Africa, you need the Internet--it'll give you all the information
you can possibly desire" 21
Nat Tanoh, adviser to Ghana's minister of communications, sums up the views expressed
by many Africans about the Internet: "There is an absolute need for us to lay our hands on state-
of-the-art technology that will allow us to do a bit of catch-up ... with the developed world" 22
Tanoh was interviewed during an Information Society and Development Conference attended
by representatives of 39 developing countries in Midrand, South Africa, in May 1996. The
conference was aimed at "exploring how to bring the developing world into what has been
dubbed the global information society." At that forum, South African Deputy President (now
President) Thabo Mbeki remarked that:
"The continuing growth of the Global Information Society, as it is being termed, will have
profound implications for African countries. Some fear that it will only accelerate the
marginalizaton of Africa, as the pace of growth accelerates even more and the gap between
those who are linked up and those who are not grows larger. Africa's disadvantage is a function
of its underdevelopment in general, and of the low density of telephone connections in Sub-
Saharan Africa" 23
From the need to facilitate personal communication in the face of bad roads and poor
postal services to the need to access information for research, the new ICTs are considered to be
the tools that will enable sub-Saharan Africa to get connected, both literally and metaphorically,
with the rest of the world. But within the countries themselves, ICTs have the potential to
generate growth in the high-tech sector. Like the Industrial Revolution, the explosion of
information and communication technologies has created employment opportunities and
increased productivity in industrialized countries. Much of the sectoral growth in Western
economies has occurred in the high-tech industry. As someone puts it, "revenue from
information technology could be larger than life in the next few years" 24. This assertion might
be exaggerated, but, stripped of the hyperbole, it nonetheless stresses the need for sub-Saharan
Africa to purposefully engage with the global network society by taking advantage of these new


The debate on the central role of information or communication in the development
process in Third World countries dates back to the modernization discourse of the 1950s and
1960s. The original theory that linked communication with development revolved around
assumptions that exposure (exposure theory of communication) to "modern" values through the
mass media would transform behavior and attitudes and in the process create a political and
economic actors who would sow the "right seed, use credit efficiently, voice political views and
demands through the appropriate channels, and organize the institutions needed to push
traditional societies over the threshold of modernity and into the twentieth century" 25. The
actor's modern attitudes and influence would diffuse to the rest of the traditional society
through the media which would adopt "modern" attitudes about savings that would in turn
usher in economic development (diffusion theory of communication). "Classical and

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society I 7

neoclassical economic thinkers saw communication as a necessary factor for economic
development and growth" 26
Also arguing from this perspective, Daniel Lerner wrote in 1958 that communication
changes attitudes by transforming "traditional" people into modern; and Lucian Pye (1963)
added that communication was a prerequisite for development because "it can destroy
traditional societies" 27. Presumably, the problem of underdevelopment is traditionalism.
Alex Inkeles and R.H. Smith in their famous work, Becoming Modern (1963), enthused about
the role of the mass media in effecting modernization. The media, they argued, were the
inculcators of individual modernization. The theories that linked communication with
economic (and political) development were primarily based on two major assumptions. First, it
was assumed that there was a correlation between underdevelopment and the lack of
information technology. That is, one could tell the difference between a developed and an
underdeveloped country by simply looking at the number of western-type ICT gadgets that
each country had. Local means of communication, such as the use of the gong man for public
announcements, or the marketplace as a forum for exchange of information and views did not
count 28. To prove the point, Stover (1984) presented a statistical analysis of the penetration of
mass media gadgets in countries and their levels of economic growth 29. He concluded that
"poor countries have fewer means of communication than rich ones, and the lack of information
correlates with a low level of development" 3.
Stover does not critically analyze his data to explain the causality between the level of
development and the presence of mass media gadgets. That is, he fails to explain whether some
countries have many communication gadgets because they are developed and can afford them,
or whether they developed because they had communication gadgets prior to achieving
development which he implicitly conceives as a static plateau that industrialized countries have
reached. He also leaves unexamined the assumption that poor countries are poor because they
do not utilize communication gadgets in their development strategies. This line of argument
was so prevalent in the 1950s that UNESCO established a threshold of access to media of
communication. For a country to seriously begin the process of development, the UN agency
suggested, it had to "provide ten newspaper copies, five radio receivers and two sets of cinema
seats for every 100 inhabitants" 31. It did not matter if the "100 inhabitants" could read, or if the
community had electricity.
Exposure to these media was expected to automatically enable people in "traditional
society (to) ... gain new skills and attitudes" that would usher them into the dawn of a modern
(western) era of development. This thinking is replicated in the current discourse on new ICTs
despite the fact that the development theory of communication, just as many classical
modernization theories, has since proved unable to explain underdevelopment in sub-Saharan
Africa. For instance, the UNDP is now at the forefront of projects aimed toward getting Africa
"connected." In 1992, the agency initiated the Sustainable Development Networking Program
(SDNP) with 12 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. "The program emphasizes the
importance of sharing information at all levels of society in developing countries. Access to
information sources by decision makers and by different members of society is the essential
element in understanding and furthering the concept of sustainable development" 32

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8 I Akpan

Other facilitators of African communication networks include the World Bank (All in One)
and the US Agency for International Development, which in 1997 set aside $15 million to fund
the Leland Initiative, a program that aims at getting some African countries hooked up. Private
transnational communication corporations, such as AT & T, are considering the business
opportunities that Africa offers.
John Fleming, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, sums up the interest of the UNDP
and other development agencies in giving Africa Internet handouts: "The message of all
institutions and other organizations involved in development programs emphasizes the
urgency of providing Africa with ways to enter and participate in the world economy, where
information and communication technologies are a factor of economic development" 33. This
statement sounds eerily familiar. In 1964, Wilbur Schramm argued that "it was the duty of
advanced countries ... to provide communication expertise, hardware, and software to less
developed countries, thus stimulating their quest for modernization" 34. More than 30 years
later, the western scholarly community is still pondering underdevelopment in Africa.
Obviously, radio and television sets did not succeed in transforming the continent into an
industrial society. If previous efforts by aid agencies and donor countries to provide access to
now traditional media outlets (such as radios) to Africans did not work, the current optimism
on the miracle-working powers of the new ICTs seems eminently utopian.
A related assumption about the linkage between communication and development is that
communication can facilitate change in less developed countries. And in contemporary
development discourse, "information technology can help organize a development project,
letting primitive [italics added] villagers know that shovels exist, can be ordered, delivered, and
used to accomplish the goal of obtaining ground water to increase agricultural production" 35
This statement presupposes that the primitive villagers have access to telephone lines and
computers with modems -- all necessary items before they can place an online order for a
shovel. It also assumes that they are all literate in the mainstream language of the new ICT--
English. Why, then, are they still "primitive?"
While the earlier assumptions about the potential of communication to assist in the
development implied transformation from one level to another, there was also concern that
communication could be used to maintain the status quo. This was a critique that emerged in
the 1970s, mainly from neo-Marxist perspectives. The argument was that western
communication tools might actually help in not only perpetuating the gap between Africa and
the rest of the world, but also widen the domestic income gap. This point was clearly rooted in
the emergence of military and authoritarian regimes in 1960s Africa and the use of the media by
these regimes as propaganda tools. The concern about the perpetuation of inequality through
communication is even more acute now because the development of new ICTs is creating
another level of disparity--that between the information haves and information have-nots 36
A glimpse at the distribution in the use of the Internet indicates the new power structure
that is emerging in the world. About 41 million of the 68 million Internet users in 1997 were
based in the US, with 68 percent of all Internet servers based in the US37 Meanwhile, the whole
of Africa accounts for less than one percent of Internet activity in the world 38.
Within Saharan African countries, the gap between those who have access to the new ICTs
and those who do not also widens. With a teledensity of one telephone per 1,000, slightly higher

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society I 9

in South Africa and Ghana (3:1000), clearly the new ICTs will be accessed by the very wealthy, a
factor that will invariably maintain the status quo in areas of inequality and distributive justice.
It is hard to imagine that the elite in urban areas who have access to ICTs would be willing to
share the "gains" accrued from their access to electronic knowledge and information, unless it
serves their interest in maintaining the power structure. Getting the general population
connected to the Internet is a more arduous task than providing everyone with access to basic
needs. And 40 years after many sub-Saharan African countries gained political independence
from their colonial masters, that task has not even begun.
Ironically, while focus on the external pervades discourse about the new ICTs, the top
fifteen obstacles to economic growth in Africa in 1997, as published in the Africa Economic
Report, were all internal. The report listed corruption at the top, with terrorism at the bottom.
An "inadequate supply of infrastructure" placed third. While one may read new ICTs into
"infrastructure," there is no indication in the report that lack of access to the new ICTs was a
factor in the slow economic growth recorded for the continent in 1997. "Thus one can safely
conclude that high priority must be given to eliminating corruption and regulating taxes in all
African countries, in order to help businesses flourish" 4o. Admittedly, one could insist that the
countries performed as poorly as they did because they did not pay adequate attention to the
role of communication in the development process.


It could be argued that increased activity in the information and communication high-tech
sector will result in economic growth that will eventually trickle down to the masses. Through
taxes and high levels of employment leading to increased savings and investment of foreign
and local capital, new ICTs will generate revenue that would accrue to national governments.
But this raises some pertinent questions. First, has the income gap between the poor and rich in
industrialized societies diminished as a result of growth in the high-tech sector? One may argue
empirically that Western societies attained their levels of economic growth because of their use
of communication and information technologies--both old and new. Secondly, and more
relevant to the allocation of scare resources, should African governments give priority to this
sector and hope high-tech wealth will trickle down and benefit all, or, should they focus on
projects that more directly affect the majority of their populations? These questions are not new;
they were asked during the oil boom era, when oil-producing countries in Africa (for example,
Nigeria) gave priority to grandiose projects in their strategies for development. Peter Enahoro, a
Nigerian journalist and political analyst, had this to say about the dilemma then which vividly
mirrors the current dilemma:
"We now have some of the best roads in the world, but it is questionable whether the
money we spent building new expressways should have been used that way.... Nigeria imports
millions of dollars worth of rice, yet we are a tropical country and could grow our own food. On
the other hand, if we had not built highways, someone would say, they have magnificent
mechanized farms but they cannot transport their produce.... So there is a debate over whether
we have chosen the proper priorities" 41

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

10 I Akpan

Enahoro made this statement in 1982, shortly before the oil crash, when the effect of the
debt crisis began to hit home. Interestingly, those expressways that were some of the best in the
world are now some of the worst. And the country does not have the mechanized farms either
and can now hardly afford to import rice. Although times have changed, the dilemma expressed
by Enahoro seventeen years ago still applies as many sub-Saharan African countries engage in
the debate over local needs, on the one hand, and getting plugged in on the other. Stover
attempts to resolve the dilemma by arguing that "communication is essential." For him, a cause
of underdevelopment is the inability of rural people to "communicate their needs effectively"
and in so doing become part of the development process. But does giving them e-mail accounts
help, when the only account they have is with the local money lender?
Even if sub-Saharan African countries do succeed in getting connected to the global
network society, they still confront many infrastructural obstacles. According to Jegede:
"[T]hree quarters of [the] African population is illiterate (so hooking them to the Internet is
out of the question); three quarters of Africa is rural without basic facilities of electricity and
telephone (so hooking up to the Internet can only be restricted to the urban areas); three
quarters of universities in Africa have depleted library resources, have overworked academics
and run computer science departments without computers ... And there are currently 200
million personal computers world-wide but less than one percentage of them are located in
Africa" 42.
Besides, argues Jegede, even if everyone in Africa was electronically connected, this would
not necessarily develop Africa. In fact, it would divert attention from other problems of
development 43. "Most Africans are concerned about having enough to eat and worry little
about choosing the best Internet service provider. The digital revolution has indeed opened the
vast world of Internet information to Africa, but only to the rich and privileged. Ironically, this
availability actually widens the already huge gulf between the rich and the poor" 44


The optimism about the new ICTs may be misplaced. Scarce funds should be applied to
development projects that actually tackle the enormous poverty that exists among African
populations. About 80 per cent of African populations, many of whom have never used or seen
a telephone, do not need to be part of a global network society. They do need clothes to wear,
roofs over their heads, and food to eat.
In obvious response to the failure of mainstream theories of economic growth,
development theorists are returning to the theoretical drawing table. Indices of growth were
incorrectly anchored on macro-economic indicators that had nothing to do with how ordinary
people lived. If one must insist on the linkage between development and communication, then
the emphasis should be on how to use communication tools to get people to actively participate
in the development process, in what John Brohman (1996) refers to as the popular development
model 45.
In this vein, Stover proposes a new concept of participatory developmental communication
that integrates the social, political and economic aspects of development. It is characterized by a
two-way flow of information "where information is shared rather than simply disseminated

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society I 11

from the top downward. It must also be horizontal in nature, where relative equals exchange
messages and link themselves together, and it must be decentralized so that villages and rural
areas can participate." He then goes on to define participatory, developmental communication
as "a process that involves understanding the audience and its needs ... planning around
democratically selected strategies,' producing, disseminating, and receiving messages,
encouraging interpersonal discussions with peers, and feedback" 47
This is a definition designed for a global network society. Nevertheless, we can still see
some new spaces opening up for the type of development strategies that straddle the need to go
global and the need to stay local. Perhaps the new ICTs can help, as the old media were
expected to, in changing the mindset of African peoples so they can move away from a
conceptualization of development and modernity as being synonymous with macro-economic
indicators and westernization. There is nothing wrong with "becoming modern", but tastes
must match locally available resources. Otherwise, sub-Saharan Africa will never break away
from the disempowering relationship of dependence that currently ties the region to the apron
strings of industrialized countries.
If development is conceived of as "the fulfillment of the necessary conditions for the
realization of the potential of human personality, which translates into reductions in poverty,
inequality and unemployment, (and as)--the increasing satisfaction of the basic needs such as
food," then African governments need to get down to the real business of development--
addressing the basic needs of the people48. While the new ICTs should not be completely
ignored, there should be greater emphasis on the development of appropriate technology and
integration of imported technology in local ways of doing things. This departs from the
mainstream development strategies that focused on "top-down diffusion of development
impulses" 49. In this new strategy, priority is given to "employment creation and basic-needs
provisions, rather than economic growth per se" 50. The assumption here is that a "healthy" GNP
is meaningless if the most vulnerable of the population lack access to basic health care.
On the other hand, the region can not afford to be left out of this information revolution. As
Hamid Mowlana (1997) points out,
"A new power structure is emerging based on information, data, and knowledge and
leaving behind it leveling effects on traditional and existing social strata. Many decisions
affecting the global sociocultural environment are now largely occurring outside local and even
national political and economic systems. Not only are communication networks as cultural
ecology affecting the sociocultural environment, but information and cultural relations are
becoming ever more central to the conduct of international and global systems" 51
To navigate its way from the margins to the center of human progress, sub-Saharan Africa
needs to actively engage with the "outside world," politically, economically and socially, but it
must do so on its own terms. Underdevelopment in Africa has shown that, there is no empirical
causal relationship between development and communication. Rather than pump scarce
resources into more white-elephant projects that meet the needs of a fraction of the population,
governments should turn to the private sector. Leaving this new technology in the hands of the
private sector has its own drawbacks, but for now, this should not be a major concern, as long
as it frees up public funds for spending in areas that meet the needs of the greatest number of
people. Already, private businesses, donor countries, and international nongovernmental

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

12 I Akpan

organizations are getting actively involved in the process of getting Africa connected to the
global network society.
Governments' only role should be the creation of an enabling environment to facilitate the
production of local communication infrastructure, software and basic equipment. The goal
should be self-reliance, rather than dependency on industrialized and donor countries. The
region must meet its basic needs and rely less on external linkages. This is a paradox in an era
when the boundaries between the domestic and international are becoming increasingly
blurred. But globalization should not be another excuse for sub-Saharan Africa to continue to
lag behind the rest of the world. The region must negotiate the terms of its engagement with the
global network society in ways that benefit its populations. Sub-Saharan Africa cannot
successfully go global until it has met its local obligations.


Classical theories that link communication with development structure the current
discourse on the place of sub-Saharan Africa in the global network society. Communication by
itself does not lead to development, but should communication and development become fused
as Hamid Mowlana suggests, it should not detract attention from what really matters: access to
basic needs 52
It is in Africa's interest to formulate national policies that will promote the allocation,
integration and development of the ICTs in locally appropriate ways. It is hoped that in the near
future satellite communications will eliminate the need for telephones in accessing the Internet
and thus open up access to the global network society to a greater percentage of the population.
This optimism, however, overlooks one crucial factor: the high illiteracy rate in many African
countries. Introducing software in local languages does not eliminate illiteracy as an obstacle
because a minimum threshold of literacy is needed in order to make meaningful use of the new
ICTs. As a policy prescription, therefore, African states should invest heavily in education, and
the infrastructure required for ICTs. A systematic focus on development-oriented education and
the provision of basic technological infrastructure will diffuse to other spheres of the society
and thus spur development. This will in turn facilitate entry into the global network society.
Africa first needs to define development for itself in order to determine how the new ICTs
can assist in that project. In the end, Nigeria's Obasanjo may have found the right balance.
Technology is of no use to Africans, unless it can enable them to meet their basic needs.


1. Chiahemen, John, "Earthy image dogs Nigeria's Obasanjo," Reuters, Feb. 26, 1999.
2. Ibid.
3. Achebo, Nubi, in a posting sent to Naijanet@esosoft.com, Feb. 27, 1999.
4. Jegede, 1995, cited in Obijiofor, Levi and Abraham Ninan, "New Information and
Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Socio-Economic Development: A Pilot Study
of Africa."

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society I 13

5. De Roy, Olivier Coeur, "The African Challenge: Internet, networking and connectivity
activities in a developing environment." Third World Quarterly, 1997 Special Issue, Vol. 18
Issue 5, p883-1000.
6. "Crossing Borders: Area Studies and the New Geographies," Institute of International
Studies, UC Berkeley (funded by the Ford Foundation).
7. Definitions taken from the 1999 World Book, an IBM-computer-bundled (CD-Rom)
8. Held, David and Anthony McGrew, "Globalization and the Liberal Democratic State," in
Global Transformation: Challenges to the State System, Yoshikazu Sakamoto, Editor. 1994.
9. Ibid., p. 64.
10. Kasmir, Ron, "The internationalization of African Studies: A view from the SSRC," in
Africa Today, Apr-Jun 97, Vol. 44 Issue 2, p155-63.
11. Ibid.
12. Holsti, Kal J., The Dividing Discipline: Hegemony and Diversity in International Theory. 1985,
Boston: Allen and Unwin.
13. Kasmir, Ron, "The Internationalization of African Studies: A view from the SSRC," in
Africa Today, Apr-Jun 97, Vol. 44 Issue 2, p155-63.
14. Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, "Power and Interdependence Revisited," in
International Organization, 41, pp.725-53.
15. Martin, Michele with contributions by Graham Knight, Communication and Mass Media:
Culture, Domination and Opposition. 1980, Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice Hall Allyn and
Bacon Canada. p. 271.
16. Ibid., p.272.
17. Ibid.
18. Matt. 6: 33, King James Version of the Bible.
19. De Roy, p. 883-2000.
20. Dickinson, Garth, "The Internet Comes to Africa," Canadian Medical Association Journal,
Feb. 2, 1999, Vol. 160 Issue 3, p382.
21. Posted at http://www.toolnet.org/hege
22. Fleming, John, "Poor nations leapfrog to a future via new technologies," in Christian
Science Monitor, May, 22, 1996, Vol. 88 Issue 124, pl.
23. Ibid.
24. See fn. 3.
25. Mowlana, Hamid, Global Information and World Communication, 2nd ed. 1997, Sage
Publications. p. 188.
26. Ibid., p.189
27. Pye, Lucian W., ed. Communications and Political Development. 1963, Princeton, New
Jersey: Princeton University Press.
28. The gong man in many African societies is the Western equivalent of the news person.
He (always male) "broadcasts" news and information by going around the community
early in the morning or in the evening, with his wooden gong. He beats on the gong to
draw attention, then makes his announcement, beats on the gong again to conclude the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

14 I Akpan

message, and moves on to the next section of the community. The gong man is generally
a member of the community governing council and his announcements are mostly
official (public service), but personal notices such as weddings and funerals are not
29. Stover, William James, Information Technology in the Third World: Can I.T. Lead to Humane
National Development? 1984, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press/A Westview Replica
30. Ibid., p. 8.
31. UNESCO research paper no. 9., 1955.
32. Dickinson, Garth, "The Internet comes to Africa." Canadian Medical Association Journal,
Feb. 9, 1999, Vol. 160, p. 382.
33. Fleming, John, "Poor nations leapfrog to future via new technologies." Christian Science
Monitor, May 22, 1996, Vol. 88 Issue 124, pl.
34. Paraphrased in Stover, p. 9.
35. Stover, p. 7.
36. Akpan, Patience Idaraesit, "Newspapers Through the Window: Creation of the Online
Newspaper," an unpublished Master's Research Project. 1996, Carleton University.
37. Sens, Allen and Peter Stoett, Global Politics: Origins, Currents, Directions. 1998,
Scarborough, Ontario: ITP Nelson. p. 470.
38. Dickinson, p. 382.
39. Ibid.
40. Africa Economic Report, 1998: 24, posted at: http://www.afbis.com/analysis/eca%20report
41. Quoted in Stover, p. 21.
42. Jegede, 1995: 221, quoted in Obijiofor, Levi and Abraham Ninan, "New Information and
Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Socio-Economic Development: A Pilot Study
of Africa." 1998.
43. Ibid.
44. Dickinson, p. 382.
45. Brohman, John, Popular Development: Rethinking the Theory & Practice of Development.
1996, Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
46. Stover, p. 12.
47. Ibid.
48. McLean, Iain, ed. Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics. 1996, Oxford & New York: Oxford
University Press. p. 138.
49. Brohman, 1996, p. 201.
50. Ibid., 204.
51. Mowlana, 1997, p. 204.
52. Ibid. p. 196.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Africa in the Age of a Global Network Society I 15


Africa Economic Report, 1998. http://www.afbis.com/analysis/eca%20report

Akpan, Patience Idaraesit, "Newspapers Through the Window: Creation of the Online
Newspaper," an unpublished Master's Research Project, Carleton University, 1996.

"Bringing the Internet to the Developing World." American Libraries, Sept. 98, Vol. 29 Issue 8,

Brohman, John, Popular Development: Rethinking the Theory & Practice of Development. (Malden,
Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1996).

"Crossing Borders: Area Studies and the New Geographies," Institute of International Studies,
UC Berkeley (Funded by the Ford Foundation.) http://www.undp.org/sdnp/aif/isocprop

Cyamukungu, Matthias, "Development Strategies for an African Computer Network."
Information Technology for Development, Oct. 1996, Vol. 7 Issue 2, p.91-95.

De Roy, Olivier Coeur, "The African Challenge: Internet, Networking and Connectivity
Activities in a Developing Environment." Third World Quarterly, 1997 Special Issue, Vol. 18 Issue
5, p883-1000.

Dickinson, Garth, "The Internet Comes to Africa." Canadian Medical Association Journal, Feb. 9,
1999, Vol. 160, p.382.

Fleming, John, "Poor Nations Leapfrog to Future via New Technologies." Christian Science
Monitor, May 22, 1996, Vol. 88 Issue 124, pl.

Hegener, Michiel, "Telecommunications in Africa - via the Internet in Particular." Available at:

Kassimir, Ron, "The Internationalization of African Studies: View from the SSRC." Africa
Today, Apr-Jun 97, Vol. 44 Issue 2, p.155-63.

Lishan, Adam, "Brief communication: Content and the Web for African development." Journal of
Information Science, Vol. 23, Issue 1, p.91-97.

Martin, Michele with contributions by Graham Knight, Communication and Mass Media: Culture,
Domination and Opposition. (Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice Hall Allyn and Bacon Canada).

McAnany, Emile G., ed. Communications in the Rural Third World: The Role of Information in
Development. (Praeger Publications, 1980).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

16 I Akpan

McLean, Iain, ed. Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics (Oxford & New York: Oxford University
Press, 1996.

Mowlana, Hamid, Global Information and World Communication, 2nd. (Sage Publications, 1997)

Obijiofor, Levi and Abraham Ninan, "New Information and Communication Technologies
(ICTs) and Socio-Economic Development: Pilot Study of Africa." (Upcoming publication).

Pye, Lucian W., ed., Communications and Political Development. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1963).

Sens, Allen and Peter Stoett, Global Politics: Origins, Currents, Directions. (Scarborough, Ontario:
ITP Nelson, 1998).

Stover, William James, Information Technology in the Third World: Can I.T. Lead to Humane National
Development? (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press/A Westview Replica Edition, 1984)

Wilhelm, Donald, Global Communications and Political Power. (Transaction Publishers, 1990).

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Akpan, Patience. 2000. African in the Age of a Global Network Society. 4(2): 1. [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Achieving Human Rights in Africa: The Challenge for the New




Fifty-one years after the United Nations adopted the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human
Rights and almost nineteen years after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) adopted its
own African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the human rights situation on the African
continent is decidedly bleak. Indeed, achieving genuine respect for human rights may constitute
the greatest challenge facing Africans in the new millennium.
In June 1999 UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor expressed his deep concern over
the ever increasing number of African countries afflicted by war and associated human rights
abuses. Fighting has raged in Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Congo, the Democratic
Republic of Congo, Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi, Ethiopia and Eritrea 1. The same month, a
report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimated that more than 120,000
children from ages seven to seventeen were being exploited as soldiers across Africa. Some of
these children voluntarily joined government or revolutionary armed forces, but tens of
thousands of them were forced to become soldiers at gunpoint 2
Amnesty International also reported that twenty-four African countries had serious and
widespread human rights violations in 1998 and that armed conflicts, social and political unrest
continued unabated, leading to appalling human rights abuse throughout the continent 3. The
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that in 1998 there were about 3.5
million refugees in Africa, eighty percent of them women and children under the age of five 4.
In its 1999 survey, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Africa's refugee population had
increased to 6.3 million 5. "Of the ten top refugee producers in the world, five were African:
Burundi, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan" 6. In general, HRW concluded that "much of
Africa made little headway in adjusting to the imperatives of democratic rule and respect for
human rights" 7


What are the causes of extensive human rights abuses in Africa? A recent OAU report
attributed Africa's poor human rights record mainly to racism, post-colonialism, poverty,
ignorance, disease, religious intolerance, internal conflicts, debt, bad management, corruption,
the monopoly of power, the lack of judicial and press autonomy, and border conflicts 8. Poverty
is certainly an endemic factor. More than seventy-five percent of the continent's 700 million

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University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

18 I Magnarella

people live below the poverty line, and ten of the world's thirteen poorest countries are in
Africa. Africa's troubling situation, however, is not unique. As I have pointed out elsewhere, in
many of the world's poorer countries, the following elements comprise the system leading to
human rights violations:

undeveloped economies, with limited resource bases and insufficient
employment/income opportunities for large segments of the population resulting in
wide-spread poverty
high population growth rates further straining the natural environment and local
resources, while intensifying competition for resources
ethnic diversity and/or regional factionalism promoting local/particularistic
identifications, while hindering the development of a national identification;
ethnic and/or class politics involving competition among leaders of different language,
cultural, or regional populations for state positions of political and economic power with
the spoils of victory going to supporters;
lack of regime legitimacy as those large segments of the population not culturally and/or
politically affiliated with the ruling elite and not sharing in the spoils refuse to recognize
the regime as legitimate;
resort to military/police force to maintain power by suppressing political opponents and
disgruntled civilians;
violation of economic, civil, and political rights by the regime on the pretext of "national
security" 9

Unfortunately, most African countries share these elements. Part of the reason stems from
the negative impact that colonialism has had on Africa's indigenous ethno-political traditions.


Because state creation in Africa differed so markedly from the European experience, the
Western liberal conception of individual-state relationships does not easily apply to Africa.
European imperialists imposed the state structure on collections of ethno-political communities
that historically lacked intercommunal coherence. The imperialists forced communities that
lived independently of each other to live together in the newly-created colonial state. Most of
these new citizens lacked any nationalistic bond to the colonial state. Today, only a few African
states bear any territorial resemblance to the political communities that existed prior to
European colonialism. The resulting disconnection between Africans and the modern African
state has created a crisis of cultural, social, and political identity.
As African scholar Makau wa Mutua points out, the post-colonial "African states have
largely failed to forge viable, free, and prosperous countries....The new African states have
failed to inspire loyalty in the citizenry; to produce a political class with integrity and a national
interest; to inculcate in the military, the police, and the security forces their proper roles in
society; to build a nation from different linguistic and cultural groups; and to fashion
economically viable policies" 10. This historic, psychological process has adversely affected many

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Achieving Human Rights in Africa I 19

African political leaders, who, lacking a genuine national commitment and sense of obligation,
exploit state budgets and power tostrengthen their ethnic power bases, enhance personal
privileges and thus retain power. Such a strategy ignores the human rights entitlements of
common citizens without discrimination.


Many African leaders have thus relied on ethnic support in order to achieve and maintain
positions of power. In return, these leaders have often favored their supporters with privileged
access to the limited available resources. Such politics, by favoring the few over the many, has
not and cannot generate the generality of legitimacy necessary for regime stability and internal
security. Some African leaders believed that, despite a country's ethnic, cultural, and regional
diversity, the development of a shared national identity and state stability could be achieved if
ethnic, regional, or other particularistic affiliations were eliminated. Hence, these leaders
supported strong central governments, often without tolerance for an independent judiciary or
effective local governance.
In the twentieth century, however, ethnonationalism or politicized ethnicity represents a
major legitimator and de-legitimator of regimes. A government's legitimacy rests, in significant
degree, on its ability to convince the governed that it shares, represents, or respects their
ethnicity. In many countries with multi-ethnic populations, the classic "nation-state" has proved
to be a dangerous fiction. Attempts by state governments to force diverse cultural populations
into a dominant ethnic mold have led to human rights abuses 11. Clay, an anthropologist,
concludes that "Post-independence efforts to eliminate tribal identities may have contributed
significantly to Africa's catastrophic problems" 12
The bias of the UN and existing states against autonomy or secessionist movements by
cultural minorities seeking self-determination and political independence from dominant ethnic
power-holders could very well prove detrimental to both the stability of states and the human
rights process. Historically, diverse ethnic populations with a tradition of mutual animosity
have not found common citizenship in a single state a sufficient basis for social harmony. On
the contrary, the state form has simply become the new arena for interethnic political and
economic battles.
In cases of intrastate, interethnic strife involving cultural populations who are numerically
dominant in different regions of the country, at least two political paradigms or structural
alternatives to the pluralistic state are possible. One structural solution involves replacing the
state (which in the developing world has commonly been dominated by the military or a single
political party) with autonomous, ethnic cantons that can opt for confederation on the Swiss
model. Another possibility is the creation of small independent ethnic states whose leaders may
(after feeling sufficiently secure) opt for some form of interstate integration on the European
Union model. Both the Swiss cantons and the states comprising the European Union opted for
forms of legal integration to achieve anticipated political and economic benefits.
The above solutions reverse the historic sequence experienced by most post-colonial
peoples who have had the state form thrust upon them without regard to their political
preferences. The above solutions first offer regional ethnic populations political autonomy.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

20 I Magnarella

Secondly, they offer the resulting ethnic political entities the option of voluntarily forming
larger political units for the purpose of attaining mutual political and economic benefits. Parties
can negotiate additional legal forms on a relatively equal basis. Hopefully, the mutual benefits
of the resulting interethnic cooperation will foster mutual respect for each population's human
However, in cases of intrastate, interethnic conflict involving populations intermingled
within the same territory, a culturally pluralistic, single-state solution may be necessary. In
order to significantly reduce and, hopefully, eliminate the causes of minority oppression and
state instability, the following minimal measures must be taken:

states must establish an independent judiciary
states must incorporate the various UN human rights conventions into its domestic law
state constitutions must place a duty on the state to guarantee all citizens legal equality
and non-discrimination, while also granting injured citizens standing in court to initiate
claims when these guarantees have been broken;
state constitutions must guarantee minority cultural rights, including the rights to speak,
teach, and write their own language; practice their own religion; and practice other
aspects of their cultures to the extent that such practice does not infringe on the rights of
government and military officials as well as the powerful elite must be responsive to
judicial decisions;
minority populations must be permitted some effective means of participating in the
political process (this may involve the institution of weighted rather than strictly
numerical voting, however the particular mechanisms chosen should vary somewhat
with each state's special conditions);
minority populations must be permitted some effective means of participating in the
economic process (in the case of underclass minorities, special programs such as land
redistribution, vocational and special education, housing, cooperative formation, etc.
may be necessary).

In exchange for the above guarantees and special programs, minority populations must
accept the inevitable fact that the majority or plurality population and culture will be
predominant at the national/state level. For example, in states where numerous minorities and
languages exist, the selection of a single, official national language will be necessary for the
practical purposes of facilitating national and international communication 13. Despite the
political problems outlined above, most African leaders have opted to work within existing
state structures and fashion a pan-African human rights charter that distributes rights and
duties between citizens, peoples and the state. It is now necessary to explore how the
suggestions listed above could be integrated into the African Charter on Human and Peoples'

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Achieving Human Rights in Africa I 21


Created under the auspices of the OAU, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
entered into force on 21 October 1986 14. With the ratification of this Charter, Africa joined
Europe and the Americas as one of three world regions with its own human rights convention
15. The great majority of African states had previously ratified the United Nations Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Since most
African states had already committed themselves to respect a broad range of human rights, why
was an African Charter deemed necessary? Okoth-Ogendo argues that it is because many
African leaders felt the "need to develop a scheme of human rights norms and principles
founded on the historical traditions and values of African civilizations rather than simply
reproduce and try to administer the norms and principles derived from the historical
experiences of Europe and the Americas" 16.
The African Charter both resembles and departs from the other regional conventions.
Charter articles 3-17 list a fairly typical array of individual rights, including rights to equal
protection of the law, to life and security, to due process, to education, to own property, to work
under equitable and satisfactory conditions, to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and
mental health, and to assemble with others. These articles also promise individuals freedom of
expression, movement, conscience, religion, and political participation.
These individual rights are followed by a catalog of peoples' rights. The Charter grants "all
peoples" the rights to equality (Art. 19), to self-determination, to freely determine their political
status and economic development (Art. 20). In addition, "All peoples shall have the right to
national and international security" (Art. 23) and "the right to a general satisfactory
environment favorable to their development" (Art. 24).
Additionally, the Charter lists obligations that states incur, including the obligation to
eliminate every form of "discrimination against women and also censure the protection of the
rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions"
(Art. 18); the obligation to eliminate all forms of foreign and domestic economic exploitation of
natural resources (Art. 21); the obligation to promote and ensure the Charter (art. 25); the
obligation to guarantee the independence of the courts (Art. 26); and, what is especially African,
the obligation to "assist the family which is the custodian of morals and traditional values
recognized by the community" (Art. 18).
Articles 27 to 29 spell out the duties that an individual incurs "towards his family and
society, the State and other legally recognized communities and the international community"
(Art. 27). More specifically, these include duties to exercise rights and freedoms "with due
regard to the rights of others, collective security, morality and common interest" (Art. 27); to
respect "fellow beings without discrimination" (Art. 28); to respect the family and parents at all
times, and "to maintain [parents] in case of need", to serve the national community, both
physically and intellectually; not to compromise the security of the state; to preserve and
strengthen national solidarity, independence and territorial solidarity; to pay taxes; "to preserve
and strengthen positive African values"; and to promote African unity (Art. 29).
This section spelling out a citizen's duties to the state distinguishes the African Charter
from other regional human rights conventions and has earned it serious criticism. Some critics

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

22 I Magnarella

have warned that politicians might use these duties to the state to trump individual human
rights and freedoms when the two sets of obligations are in conflict. Donnelly, for example,
points out that the former Soviet Union, a totalitarian state, frequently used duties to abrogate
individual rights 17. Although he does not disagree with critics such as Donnelly, Mutua argues
that those duties to the state enshrined in the African Charter "are inspired by the continent's
history of domination and occupation by outside powers... [they] represent an extension of the
principle of self-determination" by demanding citizen loyalty as a shield against foreign
exploitation 18. For example, "the duty to place one's intellectual abilities at the service of the
state is a legitimate state interest, for the 'brain drain' has robbed Africa of massive
intellect....the Charter [also] asks individuals to promote African unity, an especially critical role
given arbitrary balkanization by the colonial powers" 19. The remainder of the Charter is
devoted to the establishment and operation of a human rights commission, an issue to which
we now turn.


In 1987, the OAU created the African Human Rights Commission, in accordance with
Charter Article 30, to promote human rights and to monitor compliance by African States with
their obligations under the charter. The commission is comprised of eleven persons "chosen
from amongst African personalities of the highest reputation, known for their high morality,
integrity, impartiality, and competence in matters of human and peoples' rights; particular
consideration being given to persons having legal experience" (Art. 31). The Assembly of Heads
of States and Governments of the OAU elects members of the commission from a list of persons
nominated by States Parties to the Charter (Art. 33). Commissioners serve for a renewable term
of six years (Art. 36). The commissioners elect a chairman and vice-chairman from among
themselves every two years (Art. 42). Members of the commission are elected to serve in their
individual capacities (Art. 32) and should, therefore, act independently. "In practice, as with
other international institutions and mechanisms, the process of nomination and election to the
Commission minimizes the likelihood of the body being composed of persons who may be
substantially or rigorously impervious to state pressure" 20
Each State Party to the Charter is obligated to cooperate with the commission and to
submit to it a report every two years in which the state explains the measures it has taken and
needs to take to ensure its citizens the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the charter. As of
1998, however, thirty of the fifty-one States Parties to the Charter had failed to submit a single
report, and all other states, except Zimbabwe, were in arrears 21. Odinkalu notes that African
states generally have not given the commission significant co-operation. In addition to failing to
fulfill their reporting obligations, many refuse to respond to the commission's requests for
information. In one case, the commission sent twenty unanswered inquiries to Zaire requesting
a response to allegations contained in complaints of gross violations of human rights 22. There
also have been cases in which State Parties have refused to admit the commission on missions
into their territories to investigate complaints of gross human rights violations 23. Critics charge
that the OAU itself has failed to support the commission with an adequate budget. The
commission has had to rely on grants from West European countries for basic operating

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Achieving Human Rights in Africa I 23

expenses. Given these and other criticisms, Mutua has dismissed the commission as "a facade, a
yoke that African leaders have put around our necks" 24
The charter allows for an interstate complaint procedure whereby one state can charge
another state with human rights violations before the commission. Yet, despite the existence of
widespread and grave violations in many countries, not a single state has ever filed an interstate
complaint. The commission has received petitions only from a limited number of individuals
and NGOs. Once the commission reaches a decision on the merits of a case, it has no effective
mechanism to enforce its judgment. Consequently, some African states have ignored the
commission with impunity.
OAU Secretary General Salim maintains that the absence of adequate institutions to
monitor, promote and protect human rights has tarnished Africa's image, so that many view it
as being a continent without the rule of law. He maintains that Africa's human rights charter
has failed because politicians and strong men have refused to support it 25. Despite or because of
the shortcoming in human rights achievements under the Charter and Commission, African
leaders have decided to begin the process of creating a human rights court, similar to what
exists in Europe and the Americas.


On 8 June 1998, members of the OAU meeting in Burkina Faso voted to initiate the process
for the creation of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. To come into effect, the
protocol for the proposed court requires the ratification of fifteen OAU member States 26. As of
late 1999, only Burkina Faso and Senegal had ratified it. According to the protocol, the court
shall consist of eleven judges elected by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the
OAU from a list of nominees proposed by OAU member States. The assembly shall ensure that
there is adequate regional and gender representation among the selected judges (Art. 14). The
judges, who may serve two six-year terms, are to function independently and shall enjoy the
immunities extended to diplomats in accordance with international law (Art. 17).
The envisioned court will complement the protective mandate of the African Commission
on Human and Peoples' Rights. It will have both advisory and contentious jurisdiction over
human rights matters. As for its sources of law, the court shall apply the provisions of the
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights "and any other relevant human rights
instruments ratified by the States concerned." (Art. 7). This is a very significant provision,
because the great majority of African states have ratified many of the major United Nations
human rights conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women (entry into force in 1981) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (entry
into force in 1990). Consequently, the court will be able to apply a much broader array of
human rights obligations against states than the African Charter alone affords.
African states, the commission, the OAU and African intergovernmental organizations will
be able to submit cases to Court (Art. 5). Individuals and NGOs, however, may not file a
petition with the court against any state that has not explicitly made a declaration under Article
36(6) of the protocol recognizing the competence of the Court to consider such petitions.
Unfortunately, this protocol provision permits States to shield themselves from complaints by

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

24 I Magnarella

their own citizens and NGOs who allege human rights violations. Because governments will be
reluctant to make such declarations, and because no state has ever filed a human rights
complaint against another state before the commission, it is unlikely that the court will see
much business.
The protocol authorizes the court to issue appropriate orders to remedy a human rights
violation, including the payment of fair compensation or reparation to the injured party (Art.
27). States recognizing the court promise to comply with its judgments (Art. 30), and the OAU
Council of Ministers will be charged with monitoring the execution of Court judgments on
behalf of the OAU Assembly (Art. 31). Presumably, the Council of Ministers will pressure a
non-complying country into honoring a court judgment. Historically, however, the OAU has
been extremely reluctant to interfere in the internal matters of member states, even in those that
have engaged in gross human rights violations. The expenses of the court are to be borne by the
OAU (Art. 32). However, given that organization's inadequate support for its own Human
Rights Commission, one must wonder how well it will maintain the court.


Can Africa meet the human rights challenge of the new millennium? There has been no
shortage of rhetoric and ceremonial commitment. In April of 1999 the OAU held its first ever
Ministerial Conference on Human Rights. At that conference, held at Grand Bay, Mauritius,
OAU Secretary-General Salim called for the integration of human rights in school curricula and
the strengthening of institutions responsible for promotion and respect for human rights 27. He
emphasized that Africa "needs to inculcate in its people a culture of peace, tolerance and respect
of human rights, to energetically fight poverty, illiteracy and intolerance, to strive to overcome
the scourge of conflicts and ensure that human rights violations are not only condemned but
also effectively opposed and eliminated" 28
The ministers concluded the conference with a Declaration and Plan of Action that
reaffirmed their commitments to human rights, the rule of law, and democracy 29. They
recognized that human rights are founded on respect for the sanctity of life, human dignity,
tolerance of differences, prosperity and stability. The declaration "urges all African states to
work assiduously towards the elimination of discrimination against women and the abolition of
cultural practices which dehumanize or demean women and children." The declaration also
calls on African states to eradicate genocide on the continent and to ratify the African Charter
on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the Protocol on the Establishment of an African Court
on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Four Geneva Conventions, the UN Statute of the
International Criminal Court, and a number of other major UN human rights conventions.
Furthermore, the declaration recognizes that the promotion and protection of human rights are
primarily state responsibilities. Therefore, it calls on African states to establish and adequately
fund national human rights institutions and to "engage in a process of continuous dialogue with
the African Human Rights Commission."
But will the states act? It took nine years to get fifteen African states to ratify the African
Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child so that it could come into force 3o. After a year
and a half, only two of the OAU's fifty-one members have ratified the protocol to create an

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Achieving Human Rights in Africa I 25

African human rights court. Some African observers have high hopes for the court. They believe
its existence will make African leaders more conscious of their human rights obligations. Others
doubt that the court will do little to improve a grave human rights situation whose causes are
primarily economic, demographic and political.
An Africa suffering from severe economic, demographic, health, and political problems
cannot easily achieve the human rights status its people want. Speakers at the first African
Development Forum emphasized the need for a new paradigm for African development based
on a vibrant domestic private sector, a stable state, effective policy analysis, and good
governance 31. Such a paradigm will also need a marked change in Africa's relations with
international financial institutions and donor states 32
At the forum, OAU Secretary-General Salim stressed the linkage between governance,
economic development and human rights. "Good governance and democracy or the respect for
human rights cannot thrive on empty stomachs," he said. "Democracy must deliver on bread-
and-butter issues, otherwise democratic transitions will be reversed and the continent will slide
back into situations where the politics of poverty gives rise to the poverty of politics" 33. Meeting
the human rights challenge in the new millennium will require Africans to adopt new political
and developmental paradigms that also meet the continent's economic, demographic, and
health challenges. It remains to be seen if this will happen.


1. "Amnesty International 1999 Regional Highlights, Africa." Available at www.AI.org.
2. Zhenqiu, Gu, "More Than 120,000 Child Soldiers Fighting in Africa," Xinhua News
Agency, 24 June 1999.
3. "Amnesty International 1999 Regional Highlights, Africa." Available at www.AI.org.
4. Achieng, Judith "African Governments Urged to Vest More Power in the OAU," Inter
Press Service, 12 April 1999.
5. "Africa Overview," Human Rights Watch 2000 Report, available at www. hrw.org.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. "Human Rights High on OAU Agenda," Xinhua News Agency, 13 July 1999.
9. Magnarella, Paul J. "Preventing Interethnic Conflict and Promoting Human Rights
through More Effective Legal, Political, and Aid Structures: Focus on Africa," Georgia
Journal of International and Comparative Law, vol. 23, pp. 327-45 (1993).
10. Makau wa Mutua, "The Banjul Charter and the African Cultural Fingerprint: An
Evaluation of the Language of Duties," Virginia Journal of International Law, vol. 35, p. 365
11. For a critique of the sovereign territorial state and its relationship to genocide, see Leo
Kuper, "The Sovereign Territorial State: The Right to Genocide," in R.P. Claude and B.H.
Weston (eds.), Human Rights in the World Community. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1989, pp. 56-64.
12. Clay, Jason, "Nation, Tribe and Ethnic Group in Africa," Cultural Survival Quarterly. Vol.
9, no.3, p. 2, 1985.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

26 I Magnarella

13. For a slightly different version of the proposal presented below, see Hurst Hannum,
"The Limits of Sovereignty and Majority Rule: Minorities, Indigenous Peoples, and the
Rights to Autonomy," in E.L. Lutz, et al. eds., New Directions in Human Rights.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989. pp. 18-22.
14. FN OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3/Rev.5.
15. For a comparison of these three regional conventions, see, O.B. "The Protection of
Human Rights in Africa and the African Charter on Peoples' Rights: A Comparative
Analysis with European and American Systems," Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 6, pp. 141-
165, (1984).
16. Okoth-Ogendo, H.W.O., "Human and Peoples' Rights: What Point Is Africa Trying to
Make?" In R. Cohen, G. Hyden, and W. Nagen, eds., Human Rights and Governance in
Africa, Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993, p. 76.
17. Donnelly, Jack, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1989, pp. 55-57.
18. Makau wa Mutua, "The Banjul Charter and the African Cultural Fingerprint: An
Evaluation of the Language of Duties," Virginia Journal of International Law, vol. 35, p. 372
19. Ibid.
20. Odinkalu, Chidi Anselm, "The Individual Complaints Procedures of the African
Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights: A Preliminary Assessment," Transnational
Law and Contemporary Problems, vol. 8, p. 367 (1998).
21. Ibid., p. 401.
22. Ibid., p. 402.
23. Ibid., p. 401.
24. Ibid.
25. "Protection of Human Rights Concerns OAU," African News Service, 15 April 1999.
26. "Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of
an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. Adopted 8 June 1998." Reprinted in
Human Rights Law Journal, vol. 20, no. 4-6, pp. 269-271 (1999).
27. "Dr. Salim Speaks at 1st Ministerial Conference on Human Rights," Africa News 16 April
28. "Protection of Human Rights Concerns OAU," African News Service, 15 April 1999.
29. CONF/HRA/DECL (1), 16 April 1999.
30. Entry into force in Nov. 1999. The ratifying states are Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal,
Seychelles, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe. See, "Governments Urged to Ratify Children's
Charter," Inter Press Service, 29 Nov. 1999.
31. Forum held in Addis Ababa, 14-28 Oct. 1999. See "Africa Needs a New Paradigm for
Development in the Twenty-first Century," M2 Presswire, 26 Oct. 1999.
32. A comprehensive discussion of the recommended ways the World Bank and other
foreign assistance programs should redesign their projects is beyond the scope of this
paper. For an excellent treatment of this matter, see Hellinger, S., D. Hellinger, and F.M.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Achieving Human Rights in Africa I 27

O'Regan, Aid for Just Development: Report on the Future of Foreign Assistance, Boulder:
Lynne-Rienner, 1988.
33. Ibid.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Magnarella, Paul J. "Achieving Human Rights in Africa." 4(2): 2. [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa: The

Challenges and the Prospects


Abstract: Available evidence shows that human conditions in most African countries
have deteriorated significantly in recent years. In fact, since many African countries
began to gain independence in the 1960s, the standard of living for most Africans has
either not improved or has done so only marginally. The general consensus among many
observers--including researchers, aid donors, and even African policymakers--is that
unless appropriate (and drastic) measures are undertaken, economic, social and human
conditions in the continent will continue to worsen. Today, most African countries are
unable to generate the wealth they need to deal fully and effectively with mass poverty
and deprivation, and as result, must depend on the industrial North for food and
development aid. This paper examines impediments to wealth creation in Africa and
argues that continued poverty and deprivation in the continent are made possible by the
institutional arrangements that Africans adopted at independence. In order to prepare
for sustainable development in the new century, Africans must engage in state
reconstruction to provide themselves with governance structures that minimize political
opportunism (e.g., bureaucratic corruption and rent seeking), and resource allocation
systems that enhance indigenous entrepreneurship and promote wealth creation.


Many developing countries have been able to achieve self-sufficiency in foodstuff
production as a result of rapid economic growth during the last four decades. In addition, they
have significantly improved the quality of life for their citizens. Unfortunately, the kind of
strong macroeconomic performance that has allowed many of these countries to successfully
deliver major improvements in the national welfare has not been universal. Although a few
countries have performed relatively well economically, the post-independence period in the
majority of African countries has been characterized primarily by extremely poor economic
performance. In addition to the fact that most African countries suffer from food insecurity, the
majority live in poverty. It appears that unless appropriate institutional reforms are
implemented and the structures that enhance wealth creation are provided, the continent will
continue to deteriorate 1
In 1997, only thirteen African countries had per capital incomes of more than US $1,000 2. In
sub-Saharan Africa, there appears to have been little or no improvement in the quality of life for
the bulk of the people. In fact, today, most people who live in this region are no longer able to
meet their basic needs and must depend on foreign aid--including food aid--for survival.
According to Cornwell, these economies "must grow at least 4-5 percent annually to achieve
food security, provide jobs and register a modest improvement in living standards" 3. Recent

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to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

30 I Mbaku

data on macroeconomic performance in the region, unfortunately, do not indicate that the
region will be able to achieve such growth, given existing incentive structures. According to
World Bank, only Botswana (4.4%), Equatorial Guinea (6.0%), Mauritius (4.4%), Seychelles
(3.7%), Uganda (3.3%), and Egypt (2.5%) had reasonable rates of economic growth-as measured
by changes in the gross national product (GNP) per capita-during the 1987-1997 period. Most
countries in Africa had negative rates of economic growth--Angola (-13.1%); Cameroon (-5.6%);
Cape Verde (-9.7%); Democratic Republic of Congo (-9.5%); Sierra Leone (-4.4%); and Republic
of Congo (-3.5%), just to name a few 4.
Of the thirty poorest countries in the world today, as measured by the UNDP's human
development index (HDI), twenty-five of them (83%) are found in Africa. According to a study
by the Washington, D.C. based Population Crisis Committee, over 90% of the countries with the
highest levels of human suffering in the world can be found in Africa 5. In addition to the fact
that Africa is the poorest region of the world, it is also the only region whose prospects for the
new millennium look relatively bleak 6.
Several studies have revealed that success in moving beyond structural adjustment into
long-term sustainable development will be determined by how well African leaders are able to
provide what the World Bank calls an enabling environment for the productive use of resources
7. Although there does not appear to be agreement on what constitutes an enabling
environment, in this paper we will argue that some of its components include institutional
arrangements that guarantee economic freedoms; minimize corruption, rent seeking and other
forms of opportunism; and enhance indigenous entrepreneurship and, subsequently, wealth
Many scholars have examined the causes of poverty and underdevelopment in Africa and
several variables have been identified as major contributors. Among these are political
opportunism, which includes such behaviors as corruption and rent seeking; excessive
population growth; political violence, including destructive ethnic conflict; racial intolerance;
poorly developed and non-sustainable economic infrastructures; high debt levels; military
intervention in politics and governance; a global economy that places African producers at a
competitive disadvantage; an international financial system that discriminates against African
traders; and the economic policies of the developed market economies 8.
Some researchers have argued that the critical determinant of poor macroeconomic
performance in Africa and, hence, continued poverty and underdevelopment has been policy
mistakes made by incompetent, ill-informed and poorly educated but well-meaning
policymakers. This latter argument has informed the movement to recruit and bring to the
public services more competent, better educated, honest, and well disciplined individuals.
Recent studies by public choice scholars, however, have uncovered evidence that points to
political opportunism as the major determinant of underdevelopment on the continent 9. Many
of the so-called policy mistakes are actually deliberate and purposeful programs promoted by
opportunistic, but not necessarily incompetent, civil servants and politicians seeking ways to
enrich themselves. The institutional arrangements that African countries adopted at
independence endowed the ruling elites with significant regulatory and redistributive powers.
These laws and institutions enhanced the ability of the post-independence leaders to engage in
inefficient income and wealth redistributions in their favor. Although the perverse economic

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 31

policies implemented by these elites imposed significant economic, human and social costs on
the rest of society, they generated enormous benefits for civil servants and politicians.
Poorly designed, weak, and inappropriate institutional arrangements are the critical
determinant of poverty and underdevelopment in the continent. These laws and institutions
promote opportunism (e.g., corruption and rent seeking); restrict economic freedoms, and
subsequently, the ability of individuals to engage freely in exchange; impede entrepreneurial
activities and consequently, wealth creation; and generally endanger sustainable development.
The institutional arrangements that the African countries adopted at independence enhanced
the ability of those who had captured the evacuated structures of colonial hegemony to misuse
the positions entrusted to them. In the process, they stunted the emergence of an indigenous
entrepreneurial class and, subsequently, the creation of the wealth that the post-independence
society needed to deal with massive and pervasive poverty.
The real obstacle to development in Africa, then, is the absence of institutional
arrangements that effectively constrain the state and prevent its agents (civil servants and
politicians) from engaging in opportunism; enhance indigenous entrepreneurship and the
creation of wealth; and improve the ability of all individuals within each country to participate
fully and effectively in national development. In order to prepare each African country for
sustainable development in the new century, citizens must engage in reconstruction of the state
through proper constitution making to provide governance and resource allocation systems that
minimize political opportunism; enhance indigenous entrepreneurship; maximize wealth
creation; promote peaceful coexistence of population groups; and generally increase the
national welfare. In the following sections, we take a more detailed look at parts of this
transition program 10.


During the last forty years most governments in Africa have either been unwilling or
unable to perform their traditional duties-providing public goods and maintaining a framework
of security. In fact, in several regions of the continent, governments have become irrelevant to
the lives of the people, hence the proliferation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
many of which have replaced the government in the provision of services such as health care,
education, and water 11. The "good" or appropriate government enhances the wealth of the
nation; upholds the constitution and maintains law and order; protects and enforces property
rights, including the protection of the individual from domestic and foreign aggression;
promotes both entrepreneurial activities and the creation of wealth; enforces freely negotiated
contracts but does not engage in activities that impede trade or free exchange; effectively and
fully enforces rules against theft, fraud, and other activities that involve the illegal
redistribution of wealth and income; minimizes opportunistic behaviors such as bureaucratic
corruption and rent seeking; and provides public goods and services efficiently and equitably.
Although each society should be allowed to determine its own government through proper
constitution making, the "good" government has certain universal attributes. First, the state
must be limited constitutionally in order to make certain that civil servants or the state's other

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

32 I Mbaku

agents do not engage in political opportunism. Proper constitutional constraints will make
certain that lawmakers, for example, do not enact fiscally discriminatory legislation and that the
state's structures cannot be used by interest groups to plunder the economy for their own
benefit. Such limitations should minimize rent seeking and other forms of opportunism, while
at the same time advancing entrepreneurship and healthy macroeconomic performance.
Second, the political system must not be allowed to degenerate into unlimited majoritarian rule,
which could result in the erosion of individual liberty. The latter, which is the cornerstone of
any effective democratic system, must not be allowed to become a casualty of majoritarianism.
During constitutional deliberations, limitations should be inserted into the constitutional
compact to make certain that the majority does not oppress and marginalize the minority.
Third, the effective governance system is one that is consensual, secured primarily by voluntary
agreement between the relevant stakeholders, and designed to enhance their well-being 12.
Members of society must see the "good" government as a social arrangement put together by
them to protect their "person" and their "property" as defined and elaborated in the constitution.
In most African countries today, most governments pursue and advance primarily the interests
and objectives of a few individuals and groups--mostly those of the ruling elites and their
In recent years, public choice scholars have embarked upon a research agenda whose
primary objective is to provide the framework for developing the appropriate model of
government for each society. Such a framework can be used to develop governance structures
for each African country 13. Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the apartheid
regime in South Africa, Africans, energized by these monumental global events, have been
engaged in efforts to transform their critical domains and prepare for more effective
governance, and economic development in the new century and beyond. Unfortunately, there
has not been much success, as the majority of the polities in the continent are still characterized
by antiquated, anachronistic, and non-viable governance structures, many of which were
inherited from the colonialists. These structures were not designed to enhance the ability of
Africans to govern themselves and generate the wealth to meet their needs, nor were they
expected to advance peaceful coexistence of groups. In fact, during colonialism, peaceful
coexistence was not achieved through cooperative agreements but by force, deceit, co-optation
of traditional rulers, bribery, and other forms of coercion. Instead, the colonial institutional
arrangements were specifically developed to help the Europeans exploit the Africans and their
resources for the benefit of the metropolitan economies.
At independence, the new African leaders were expected by the African peoples, especially
those who had been marginalized by colonialism, to engage all sections of society in a national
debate on state reconstruction and provide more effective governance structures and resource
allocation systems that guaranteed individuals the right to freely engage in exchange and
contract--in other words, resource allocation systems that guaranteed economic freedoms.
Many of these new leaders, however, undertook primarily opportunistic institutional reforms
that significantly increased their political power and enhanced their ability to monopolize the
supply of legislation and the allocation of resources (14). Emerging from these reform efforts
were highly oppressive, exploitative and intrusive states, not unlike those that had existed in
the continent during the colonial period. Throughout most of the post-independence period,

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Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 33

bureaucratic corruption and rent seeking became pervasive as civil servants and politicians
promoted perverse economic policies in an effort to plunder the economy for their own benefit.
Through this process, many Africans, especially vulnerable groups--women, children, rural
inhabitants, and the unemployed and underemployed youth relegated to the urban periphery--
were severely impoverished and marginalized.
Economists generally argue that the appropriate model of government has two main
functions: "to maintain law and order and to provide public goods" 15. As has been argued by
James M. Buchanan, these functions are equivalent to what he terms the protective and
productive state 16. A protective state engages in activities that enhance entrepreneurial
activities and the creation of the wealth that can be used to confront poverty and deprivation,
and advance the national welfare. According to Gwartney and Wagner, such a state
accomplishes this objective by providing a "framework of security and order," which implies
the effective enforcement of laws against illegal activities, including the protection of property
rights 17. During deliberations to design the nation's constitution, members of society may grant
the government the power to monopolize the use of legitimate coercion. The government uses
the latter to protect citizens from internal and external aggression. In other words, the protective
state shields its citizens from harm and provides them with a framework of laws within which
they can freely engage in trade with each other. In addition to enforcing contracts, the state also
enhances free exchange through its activities, implying that the state cannot pass or enact laws
that restrain the individual's ability to trade.
More than a hundred years ago, the American constitutionalist and politician, Thomas
Jefferson, elaborated what he believed were three attributes of the "good" government.
According to him, "good" government must (1) be able to prevent citizens from injuring each
other; (2) engage in as little trade regulation as possible, implying that citizens, acting as private
individuals or business owners, should determine their own economic interests and freely
engage in them; and (3) minimize takings--that is, the government should not impose heavy
taxes on productive activities. Today, we see Jefferson's argument as a description of a
governmental system that effectively protects and guarantees economic freedoms, including the
maintenance of low marginal tax rates, and, as a consequence, enhances wealth creation 18.
During the last forty years, no such government can be said to have existed anywhere in Africa.
While one may argue that governmental structures in Mauritius and Bostwana were quite close,
truly protective and productive governments are yet to be established in the continent.
The post-independence state in Africa not only failed to perform its protective functions
well, but its structures were actually turned into instruments of plunder and exploitation in
order to help the incumbent maintain a monopoly on political power and continue to generate
extra-legal income for the ruling elite. For example, under the apartheid system in South Africa,
whites used the nation's framework of security and order effectively to marginalize the majority
black population, create and sustain artificial privileges for themselves, and generally stunt the
economic, social, and political transformation of Africans 19. Instead of performing its duties and
protecting all citizens and their property, the apartheid state became the primary source of most
of the violence that was directed at the African peoples. Additionally, the South African state at
this time failed to maintain an enabling environment for the development and sustaining of
indigenous capitalism and the effective and full participation of Africans in national

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34 I Mbaku

development. As the evidence now shows, the apartheid state purposefully engaged in
activities that stunted the political and economic development of the African peoples and as a
consequence, failed to enhance the national wealth.
Of course, the apartheid regime in South Africa was not the only political system whose
structures had been converted into instruments of violence against its citizens. In practically all
parts of the continent, ruling coalitions--many of them dominated by specific ethnic and/or
racial groups--had captured governance structures at independence and used them effectively
for the private capital accumulation of the ruling class. In many of these countries, the
institutions that make up the national security framework were either destroyed or made
subservient to the interests of the ruling elite. In many instances, civil servants engaged in
illegal activities to extract income for themselves; judicial officers adjudicated cases based
primarily on the wealth and political status of the defendant; judges often used their positions
to punish their enemies and those of their relatives and supporters; and senior military elites
routinely converted resources destined for their troops into their personal property. In a study
of Zaire in 1989, Gould and Mukendi determined that these activities were pervasive
throughout the country during the reign of Mobutu Sese Seko. In fact, such activities were
common in many other African countries as well 20
In the majority of African countries that were ruled by the military (e.g., Nigeria and Zaire),
the state ceased performing its protective function. State structures were used regularly to
suffocate civil society, impose the will of the military on the people, and to help military elites
continue to monopolize the allocation of resources 21. Military rulers used the regulatory powers
of the state to redistribute income and wealth in their favor, and in the process, severely
impoverished and marginalized the majority of citizens. Despite its enormous earnings from
petroleum, Nigeria is today, one of the poorest countries in the continent. In 1982, Nigeria had a
gross national product (GNP) per capital of US $1,110, but by 1989 it had fallen to US $270.
Thanks to continued military interference in economic and political affairs, the economy
continued to deteriorate, as per capital income reached a new low of US $230 in 1994 before
rising to US $260 in 1997 22. During the period, 1980-1997, per capital income in Nigeria was
falling at an average annual rate of 8.42%. Despite the OPEC oil price increases of the mid-1970s
and Nigeria's enormous windfalls from oil, Nigerians are today among the poorest people in
Africa. Their development potential has been squandered by perverse economic programs
promoted by the military elites who have ruled the country during most of its existence as a
sovereignty 23.
The conversion of the state's framework of law and order into instruments to suffocate civil
society and plunder the economy for the benefit of politically dominant groups has been the
rule not the exception in many African countries. For example, in Cameroon, the country's first
president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, engaged in institutional reforms in the immediate post-
independence period that re-enforced the presidency and concentrated most political power in
the central government 24. From 1960 to 1982, he ruled the country by decree and employed the
country's large security apparatus to exploit, oppress, and marginalize the people for his own
benefit and that of his supporters. Instead of protecting the liberties and property of
Cameroonians, the nation's security institutions were used effectively by the president and
other members of his ruling coalition to torture the people, suffocate civil society, destroy the

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Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 35

independent media, oppress and marginalize popular forces, stunt indigenous
entrepreneurship, subvert justice, and, in the process, totally marginalize the Cameroon people,
in an effort to help Ahidjo continue to monopolize political power and the allocation of
resources 25. In 1982, Ahidjo handed the government to his prime minister, Paul Biya.
Unfortunately for Cameroonians, Biya retained the nation's existing laws and institutions,
forcing the country to remain a de facto one-party political dictatorship 26
In order for the state in Africa to perform its protective functions, it must guarantee the
security of its citizens. At minimum, the protective state must maintain law and order, provide
the wherewithal for popular participation, enhance entrepreneurial activity, and maximize the
national welfare. Included among these institutions are (1) a properly constrained police force;
(2) an independent press; (3) a professional civil service; (4) a professional and politically
neutral military, subordinate to the civilian government; (5) an efficient and representative
legislature; (6) an independent judiciary; and (7) an independent central bank.
The second function of the state is to enhance the national welfare by organizing those
productive activities that cannot be carried out efficiently by the private sector. In its productive
role, the state is expected to produce the goods and services that citizens acting in their
individual and separate capacities cannot undertake efficiently. A theory of public goods has
been developed by economists to explain why the state may be required or called upon to
produce certain goods and services. For example, in the presence of externalities, the state has
the opportunity to significantly enhance the national welfare by organizing the affected
activities. One must caution, however, that states should not become engaged in the production
of goods and services that can be organized efficiently and effectively by the private sector. This
warning is directed especially at governments in the African countries, which during the last
forty years, have dominated virtually all sectors of their economies, engaging in activities that
were supposed to be the exclusive purview of the private sector. In the process, these
governments established and artificially sustained a plethora of unprofitable and poorly
managed public companies, maintained large, bloated and parasitic bureaucracies, and
significantly impoverished their citizens. In order to provide the subsidies that these
unprofitable public enterprises needed so as to continue to operate, and to meet the financial
needs of the large civil services, these governments accumulated relatively high external debts.
In fact, by the mid-1980s, the majority of African governments were no longer able to meet their
financial obligations 27.
Although it is true that a state has the potential to improve national wealth through the
production and distribution of goods and services that cannot be organized efficiently by the
private sector, such a function can only be carried out efficiently if the country's institutional
arrangements adequately and effectively constrain the exercise of government agency, and
subsequently the ability of civil servants and politicians to engage in political opportunism. As
the evidence from post-independence Africa has indicated, governments are able to stray, often
quite significantly, from the path prescribed by the conceptual models. What the government is
expected to do in order to maximize the national welfare, protect the liberty and property of
individuals, enhance wealth creation, and promote peaceful coexistence of groups, is not
necessarily what governments actually do. The state may lack the human capital to perform its
assigned functions efficiently 28.

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36 I Mbaku

In some cases, the government may be unwilling to undertake the activities as required.
The ruling elites may desire different public policy outcomes from the ones desired or
demanded by greater society. There is ample evidence to indicate that the failure of the post-
independence state in Africa to perform its protective and productive functions efficiently has
been due primarily to opportunism on the part of public servants. In other words, the absence
of skilled individuals in the public services of the African countries has not been the major
determinant of poor macroeconomic performance. Political opportunism (e.g., rent seeking and
corruption) on the part of civil servants and politicians has been the primary determinant of
continued economic deterioration 29
The theory of public choice states that the incentive structures within a market determine
the behavior of traders and, as a consequence, explain market outcomes. Thus, one way to
understand post-independence policy outcomes in African countries is to examine incentive
structures in these societies. Market incentive structures are determined by the country's
institutional arrangements. Existing institutional arrangements in the majority of African
countries make political opportunism (especially rent seeking and bureaucratic corruption) the
inevitable outcome to public policy. According to Gwartney and Wagner, "[t]he central point of
departure taken by these scholars [i.e.,public choice scholars] is that the incentives contained
within a particular system of government will determine whether or not government's power to
tax, spend, and regulate is used as envisioned by the normative justifications" 30. In other words,
the incentive system within each society will determine the extent to which the state will
perform its productive and protective functions. Therefore, even if the government has the
capacity and capability to perform these functions effectively, it may still not do so if the
institutional arrangements do not provide the appropriate incentive structures. Thus, the
incentive structures must be considered an important and critical part of state capacity and
As mentioned above, the incentive structures are determined by the country's institutional
arrangements. A country's constitution determines the power of the different political
jurisdictions within the country, provides structures for the peaceful resolution of conflict, and
defines the type of resource allocation system that society will have. In other words, the nation's
constitution determines the kinds of incentive structures to be faced by participants in both
economic and political markets, and provides the foundation for the establishment and
sustaining of the country's institutions. To make certain that the state performs its functions
effectively, citizens of each African country must engage in proper constitution making to
reconstruct the state and provide their societies with what public choice scholars call the
constitutionally limited government, and a resource allocation system that guarantees economic
freedoms 31.


Like many of the new African countries, Ghana believed that it could achieve rapid
economic growth and development by adopting an import substitution industrialization (ISI)
program. The government of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first head of state, expected to anchor
the ISI program on its regulation of the international trade sector. To meet the goals set under

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Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 37

the ISI program, the government introduced a number of policy instruments. These included (1)
protection of domestic producers through tariffs, exchange controls, and import quotas; (2)
subsidies to foreign firms to encourage them to establish and maintain import production
facilities within the country; and (3) the creation of development and investment banks that
were expected to provide subsidized loans to individuals and groups willing to invest in the
government's so-called "priority development sectors."
The government usually determined the priority areas. In addition, the state created a
significant number of public enterprises, which were expected to produce a variety of goods
and services. Specific sectors of the economy were targeted for control by the government.
These included public utilities (which the government considered too critical for national
development to be left under the control of the private sector, especially if non-Ghanaians
dominated the latter); exploitation of the country's natural resources; and the ownership and
operation of airlines, radio, and other forms of communication. Nationalist fervor demanded
that the government create firms to exploit the country's environmental resources and ensure
that certain important areas of the economy were placed under the firm control of the
indigenous people. As a consequence, industries such as mining, air and rail transportation,
electricity and telecommunications, as well as the financial sector, were expected to be
controlled and dominated by the government.
Unfortunately, two important constraints made public policy failure inevitable in Ghana.
First, the institutional arrangements adopted shortly after independence did not adequately
constrain the state, allowing civil servants, whose job it was to implement the ISI program, to
deliberately mismanage it for their own benefit. Second, Ghana did not have non-governmental
agencies that were capable of counterbalancing elite interests and forcing civil servants and
politicians to become accountable to the people. The absence of an effective civil society to serve
as a check on the exercise of government agency and the inability of existing institutional
arrangements to adequately constrain the state resulted in widespread policy failure. The large
number of state enterprises that the government had created to implement the ISI program
were, instead, turned into instruments of patronage and corruption, and regularly employed by
civil servants to extract extra-legal income for themselves, and by politicians to purchase regime
security for the regime.
According to results of research on Nkrumah's ISI program 32, the perverse incentive
structures made possible by the country's institutional arrangements encouraged political and
bureaucratic corruption; destroyed any chances that the ISI may have had for success; and
enhanced the ability of civil servants and politicians to use the government's regulatory powers
to enrich themselves at the expense of greater Ghanaian society. Referring to Ghana's former
trade minister, A. Y. K. Djin, Leith remarks that the system (i.e., regulation of the foreign trade
sector) which the government had designed to "meet the apparent national needs and to
minimize capricious discrimination among importers was frequently set aside in favor of Mr.
Djin and his associates" 33. Djin and other Ghanaian civil servants used the foreign exchange
rationing and import licensing systems--which were designed to enhance the implementation of
ISI--to extort bribes from prospective importers, discriminating against any entrepreneurs who
were either unwilling or unable to pay the required bribes. Thus, the regulatory system set up
by the Nkrumah government at independence in Ghana was easily transformed into an

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38 I Mbaku

instrument for the enrichment of the ruling coalition. The ease with which civil servants and
politicians in Ghana were able to turn governmental structures into instruments of plunder was
due primarily to the existence of institutional arrangements that failed to adequately constrain
the state and subsequently the behavior of its agents and the absence of a strong civil society to
force accountability in government 34
The extent of venality and public malfeasance in Ghana during the government of Kwame
Nkrumah is well documented. Many Ghanaians believe that even though the overthrow of
Nkrumah by the military could be considered opportunistic, the public still welcomed the
action because of the exceptionally high level of corruption that pervaded the government. As
Werlin has stated,
"Many Ghanaians attribute the downfall of Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention People's
Party to their corruption. 'It was lucrative to belong to the Party; nepotism was the rule', notes
T. Peter Omari. During the Nkrumah regime, corruption was not merely practiced by the
politicians alone. Attu Kwaminia adds, 'but by those who held various degrees of power in the
civil service, in commercial concerns, in corporations, in political parties, in traditional
authorities, and so on'" 35
After Nkrumah's regime was overthrown in 1966, several commissions of enquiry were
engaged by the new military government to investigate and determine the extent of corruption
in the public sector. Although the military may have attempted to use these commissions of
enquiry to discredit the Nkrumah government, many scholars have attested to the judiciousness
and fairness of the commissions (36). The more than 40 commissions revealed that during
Kwame Nkrumah's reign, [a] kickback of from 5 to 10 percent was expected in return for
government contracts. The CPP garnered about 90 percent of its income in this way, amounting
to over $5 million between 1958 and 1966, which Nkrumah freely used for his own purposes.
For example, the properties of A. G. Leventis were purchased in 1962 at an inflated price with
the understanding that $2.4 million would be turned over to Nkrumah for his own use 37.
While in power, Nkrumah did respond to his critics and made an effort to deal with
corruption. For example, in 1965, Nkrumah sacked his trade minister for mismanaging the
import-licensing scheme and replaced him with Mr. Kwesi Armah. In addition, the government
published for the first time the foreign-exchange budget. Unfortunately, these reforms were
only superficial and failed to affect the existing incentive structures, including the country's
institutional arrangements. As a consequence, there was no incentive for the new minister to
engage in behavior that was significantly different from that of his predecessor. On the
contrary, shortly after he took office, Mr. Armah became engaged in the same types of
opportunistic behaviors that had characterized Mr. Djin's tenure in office. In fact, instead of
limiting his activities to "profiting" from only a fraction of the licenses issued by his office, Mr.
Armah developed and implemented a system that enhanced his ability to profit from all
licenses issued.
According to one of the commissions,
"He [Mr. Armah] introduced the system whereby all applications for import licenses had to
be addressed to him personally under registered cover and he alone was responsible for
processing the said applications... [T]here was open corruption and malpractices in the matter
of grant of import licenses during this period. Import licenses were issued on the basis of a

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Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 39

commission corruptly demanded and payable by importers on the face value of the import
licenses issued. The commission was fixed at 15%, but was in special cases reduced to 7.5 or 5%"
While he was the Minister of Foreign Trade, Mr. Armah and his subordinates routinely
denied applications for permits to import essential inputs for local industries. On the other
hand, licenses were being granted for the purchase of non-essential commodities (primarily
luxury American and European goods). Since the latter generated significantly more monopoly
profits, prospective importers were willing and quite eager to invest in the bribes that were
demanded by the civil servants at the trade ministries. Corruption in the foreign trade ministry
eventually thwarted the government's development goals as presented to the Ghanaian people
at independence.
Subsequent Ghanaian governments have attempted to deal with pervasive corruption, rent
seeking and other forms of opportunism. Military dictator Jerry Rawlings, who has since
"civilianized" himself and is now the elected Ghanaian head of state, has on several occasions
dealt ruthlessly with those convicted of corruption and other forms of public malfeasance. He
executed three former national rulers for their complicity in corruption and financial
mismanagement and two bank executives who were "judged and found guilty" of corrupt
enrichment and other fraudulent activities in connection with the Ghana Commercial Bank 39
Rawlings' ruthless, brutal and non-constitutional approach to corruption cleanup in Ghana was
condemned, as well as praised. His harsh measures, however, had only a short-term impact on
corruption. Corruption control programs that are most likely to be sustainable and have long-
term positive effects on civil service efficiency require fundamental changes in existing
institutional arrangements and subsequently, the incentive structures faced by market
participants. Unless such changes are undertaken and Ghanaian society provided with more
participatory, transparent and accountable governance structures, corruption will remain a
serious constraint to development.


The most critical need in Africa is wealth that can be used to alleviate poverty. Throughout
the continent, few economies are able to generate the resources needed to confront pervasive
poverty and deprivation. The inability to generate enough wealth to meet even basic needs has
been due primarily to government-imposed restrictions on economic freedoms. Such
restrictions have stunted indigenous entrepreneurship and made wealth creation virtually
impossible, especially in the formal sector. While such restrictions have generally created many
benefits for the ruling elite, they have imposed significant costs on the people, especially the
historically deprived and marginalized. During the last several decades, the African economies
have been so mismanaged that today many Africans have become almost totally dependent on
the industrial North for survival. Due to changes in the global economy during the 1989-1991
period, Africans now have another opportunity to engage in state reconstruction through
proper constitution-making.
As a result of the development model adopted by many African countries after
independence, most economies on the continent are heavily regulated, suffer from high rates of

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40 I Mbaku

corruption and rent seeking, and have bureaucracies that are very hostile to entrepreneurs and
the private sector. Most of the regulations that exist function as major impediments to private
exchange and trade. Research has determined that while competitive exchange minimizes the
incidence of rent seeking and other forms of opportunism, the latter tends to flourish in
monopolized markets 40. Monopolistic (and monopsonistic) markets in the African economies
are usually maintained with the help of government regulations. Such monopolized markets,
whether developed and maintained by domestic or foreign firms, will have a significantly
negative impact on indigenous entrepreneurship and subsequently, efficient wealth creation in
the country. To insure competitive exchange (i.e., to minimize monopolization) and provide the
appropriate environment for capitalist development, the constitution of each country must
guarantee economic freedoms and create structures that protect private markets.
According to Mueller, the ability of political coalitions or interest groups to engage in
opportunism and to restrict the ability of other individuals and groups to participate in
economic markets, can be constrained through constitutional design 41. Appropriate
constitutional provisions can minimize rent seeking and other forms of opportunism, which
have contributed significantly to the inefficient allocation of resources in many African
countries. Thus, to improve macroeconomic performance in the African countries so as to
generate the wealth that the people need to solve their problems, it is necessary that each
country be provided with the institutional arrangements that guarantee economic freedoms,
promote entrepreneurship and enhance the creation of wealth 42.
In a study published in 1996, Gwartney, Lawson and Block identified four components of
economic freedom, which they argue, can be elaborated in the constitution in order to provide
the society with the enabling environment to create wealth. First, the government should
provide traders with a currency that is stable and has a relatively predictable value. In carrying
out this function, the government should make an effort to maintain relatively low rates of
inflation. In addition, citizens should be granted the right to have free access to foreign currency
and also maintain bank accounts in foreign financial institutions. Without stable money,
individuals cannot undertake the complex exchanges that are an important part of a modern
economy, or participate effectively in global markets. Gwartney, Lawson and Block argue that
"the general ingredients of economic freedom in the monetary area include (1) slow monetary
expansion that maintains and protects the value of money, (2) price level (or inflation rate)
stability, and (3) the absence of restrictions limiting the use of alternative currencies" 43
Second, the private sector and not the government should determine the goods and
services to be produced in the economy. During most of the post-independence period, the
government has determined most of what should be produced in the economy, and in many
cases, how these goods and services should be distributed. In the post-Cold War era, central
development planning should be de-emphasized in favor of greater reliance on the market. It is
important that trade be based on mutually beneficial voluntary exchange and state influence
restricted to broad areas consistent with the concept of economic freedom as guaranteed in the
constitution. The state would provide public goods and protect the liberty and property of
individuals. Government-imposed production constraints, such as price control regimes and
interest rate ceilings, interfere with economic freedoms and should be eliminated from each
economy 44

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Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 41

Third, the government should not pass legislation that creates benefits for some individuals
and groups at the expense of others. Economists have identified three public policies that can
generate benefits for some individuals while imposing significant costs on greater society. These
include income transfers and state subsidy programs, high marginal tax rates, and conscription
to secure soldiers for the military. Such public programs directly infringe on the economic
freedoms of many citizens, stunting entrepreneurship and wealth creation.
Finally, restrictions on international trade are an important infringement on the right of
citizens to free exchange. During the post-independence period in Africa, most of the laws
imposed on international trade have come at the request of interest groups seeking enrichment.
Although such restrictions have created many benefits for special interest groups, they have
imposed enormous costs on greater society. In addition to impeding trade, these regulations
have produced reductions in both consumer and producer surpluses. Excessive economic
regulation is widely considered the most important source of bureaucratic corruption in African
economies. For example, civil servants at the central banks regularly extort bribes from
entrepreneurs seeking scarce foreign exchange permits. The outcomes of most international
trade regulation in Africa have been increased corruption and opportunism, as well as
continued deterioration of general economic conditions.
Shortly after independence, many new African leaders told citizens that government
regulation was an important policy tool that could be used to protect domestic industries,
improve macroeconomic performance, and industrialize the economy. Despite their now
obvious negative effects on exchange and wealth creation, many countries have continued to
promote such policies. Of course, regulations generate the resources necessary to provide
regime security and allow the monopolization of political space and allocation of resources.
Controls on agriculture have generated significant resources that have been used to subsidize
the politically volatile urban sector. Such regulatory programs have only further marginalized
and impoverished many rural communities.
To enhance wealth creation in Africa and improve the continent's ability to engage in
sustainable development, each country must create resource allocation systems that guarantee
economic freedoms through proper constitution-making and state reconstruction. In addition,
each country must constrain the power of the government so as to prevent civil servants and
politicians from engaging in opportunism. If these reforms are not enacted, Africans will
continue to suffer from high rates of poverty and deprivation. Destructive ethnic conflict will
remain pervasive.


At independence, many Africans--especially the historically marginalized and deprived
groups and communities--believed that the control of governance structures and economic
systems by indigenous elites would provide them with the wherewithal to improve their living
conditions. It was generally believed that shortly after the departure of the Europeans, the
institutions which they had left behind would be dismantled and reconstructed to produce
structures that were more suitable to the maximization of African values. This was never done
and, consequently, Africans have been unable to generate the wealth that they need to confront

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42 I Mbaku

pervasive poverty and deprivation. Today, Africa is one of the poorest regions of the world, and
its prospects for the new century look relatively bleak. The causes of economic deterioration in
Africa have been examined by many researchers 45. In this paper, I have argued that the most
important determinant of poverty is the absence of institutional arrangements to guarantee
economic freedom and adequately constrain the opportunistic activities of civil servants and
Institutional arrangements are a critical determinant of macroeconomic performance. They
determine the incentive structures faced by market participants and, as a consequence,
determine market outcomes. To properly prepare Africa for the new century, it is necessary to
reconstruct the state through proper constitution making, providing an environment for wealth
creation and peaceful coexistence. It is important to caution that the process of designing
constitutional rules must involve enfranchising people (especially the historically marginalized
groups) and providing them with the facilities to participate fully in constitutional
deliberations. If, as was the case during decolonization, the transformation process is controlled
and dominated by urban-based indigenous elites and their foreign benefactors, the outcome
will be institutional arrangements unable to efficiently direct development on the continent. In
this paper, I have examined some of the most important issues facing Africa as it prepares for
the new century. These include determining of the appropriate model of government and
enhancing indigenous entrepreneurship and wealth creation.
Constitutions can significantly constrain the ability of legislators to enact
counterproductive public policies 46. During constitutional deliberations, members of society
can establish a development-oriented constitutional structure. A constitution that minimizes the
erosion of economic freedoms by guaranteeing the right to freely engage in trade and
constraining the activities of the state is critical for sustainable development. Certain
constitutional provisions, including the following, can enhance economic freedom but constrain
the state and its agents:

Monetary provisions: These should provide for an independent central bank, allow
citizens to own bank accounts in non-domestic currencies, and create price-level
Government borrowing: These provisions should make certain that the government
borrows only for specific projects, as a way of enhancing fiscal responsibility.
Income and consumption taxation: Here, the emphasis is on minimizing the possibility
of a double tax on saving. The latter is critical for capital formation.
Procedural limitations on the power of the government to tax: In order to make certain
that the government functions as an engine of economic growth and development, its
power to tax must be limited constitutionally.
Provisions for the approval of the public budget: A process that is transparent and
accountable to the governed must be put in place so that public budgets can be
approved. Ideally, this should involve approval of the budget by the executive and
legislative branches of government. However, it is important to note that the exact
process adopted would be determined by the existing structure of government.
Whatever the process, it must be one that is transparent and accountable to the relevant

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Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 43

stakeholder groups. Thus, a supramajority requirement should be considered since that
implies that there will be more of a consensus on matters relating to the budget.
International trade and the imposition of tariffs: International trade is a very important
way to enhance the wealth of a nation. Thus, interference with the flow of trade is
counterproductive and limits the ability of the economy to create wealth. As discussed
in this paper, restrictions on trade--domestic or international--usually produce benefits
only for special interest groups.
Labor markets: The right to enter into labor contracts that are mutually beneficial to the
employer and employee is critical to wealth creation. Interference with this right can
lead to significant inefficiencies in the allocation of a nation's labor resources.
Price controls: Control of prices usually benefits special interest groups (e.g., urban
dwellers) and impedes wealth creation.
Economic regulation: Government regulation of private exchange can and does enhance
the wealth of a nation if it is not undertaken arbitrarily, capriciously and
opportunistically, as has been the experience of the African countries during the last
forty years.

According to Gwartney and Holcombe 47 regulatory "laws should be structured so that
they are objective and non-arbitrary, and so that they apply uniformly to all members of a
society. In addition, regulations should be instituted only to further the general public interest,
not to further narrow special interests." The primary reasons for elaborating these provisions in
the constitution is to guarantee economic freedoms and to make certain that they cannot be
abrogated through ordinary legislation.


1. UNDP, Human Development Report, 1998. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998;
World Bank, World Development Report, 1997. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997;
World Bank, World Development Indicators, 1997. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank,
1997; Mbaku, J. M. "Patterns and Levels of Life in Sahel West Africa Since the 1960s."
Africa Insight, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1989), pp. 38-47.
2. World Bank, African Development Indicators, 1998/99. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank,
3. Cornwell, R, "War and Decline in Africa." Africa Insight, Vol. 21, No. 2 (1991), p. 74.
4. World Bank, African Development Indicators, 1998/99, p. 6.
5. Hogendorn, J. S., Economic Development. New York: HarperCollins, 1992; UNDP, Human
Development Report, 1998. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
6. Decalo, S, "The Process, Prospects and Constraints of Democratization in Africa." African
Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 362 (1992), pp. 7-35; UNDP, Human Development Report, 1997. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
7. World Bank, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action.
Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1981. Mbaku, J. M., Institutions and Reform in Africa:
The Public Choice Perspective. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997; Mbaku, J. M., "Improving

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

44 I Mbaku

African Participation in the Global Economy: The Role of Economic Freedom." Business
& the Contemporary World, Vol.. 10, No. 2 (1998), pp. 297-338.
8. See, for example, Ergas, Z, "In Search of Development: Some Directions for Further
Investigation." The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (1986), pp. 303-333;
World Bank, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action.
Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1981; and Mbaku, J. M., Institutions and Reform in
Africa: The Public Choice Perspective. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.
9. See, for example, Mbaku, J. M., Corruption and the Crisis of Institutional Reforms in Africa.
Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998; Kimenyi, M. S. and Mbaku, J. M. (eds.),
Institutions and Collective Choice in Developing Countries: Applications of the Theory of Public
Choice. Aldershot, UK and Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1999.
10. Mbaku, J. M., "Improving African Participation in the Global Economy: The Role of
Economic Freedom." Business & the Contemporary World, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1998), pp. 297-
11. Ihonvbere, J. O. "The 'Irrelevant' State, Ethnicity, and the Quest for Nationhood in
Africa." Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1 (1994), pp. 42-60.
12. Wagner, R. E. and Gwartney, J. D., "Public Choice and Constitutional Order." In
Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional Economics.
Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1988, pp. 29-56; Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. "Public
Choice and the Conduct of Representative Government." In Gwartney, J. D. and
Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional Economics, pp. 3-28.
13. Wagner, R. E. and Gwartney, J. D. "Public Choice and Constitutional Order." In
Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional Economics.
Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1988, pp. 29-56; Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. "Public
Choice and the Conduct of Representative Government." In Gwartney, J. D. and
Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional Economics, pp. 3-28; Mbaku, J. M.,
Institutions and Reform in Africa: The Public Choice Perspective. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997;
Buchanan, J. M. and Tullock, G., The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of
Constitutional Democracy. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, 1962.
14. See, for example, LeVine, V. T. "The Fall and Rise of Constitutionalism in West Africa."
The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1997), pp. 181-206 for a review of
such reforms in francophone Africa.
15. Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E., "Public Choice and the Conduct of Representative
Government." In Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional
Economics. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1988, p. 5.
16. Buchanan, J. M., The Limits of Liberty. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975.
17. Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. "Public Choice and the Conduct of Representative
Government." In Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional
Economics. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1988, p. 5.
18. Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. "Public Choice and the Conduct of Representative
Government." In Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional
Economics. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1988, p. 5.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 45

19. Magubane, B. M., The Political Economy of Race and Class in South Africa. New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1979; Mbaku, J. M. "Markets and the Economic Origins of
Apartheid in South Africa." The Indian Journal of Social Science, Vol. 6, No. 2 (1993), pp.
139-158; Doxey, G. V., The Industrial Colour Bar in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford
University Press, 1961; Williams, W. E., South Africa's War Against Capitalism. New York:
Praeger, 1989; Hutt, W. H., The Economics of the Colour Bar. London: Institute for
Economic Affairs, 1964; Fredrickson, G. M., White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in
American and South African History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.
20. See, for example, Kpundeh, S. J. "Limiting Administrative Corruption in Sierra Leone."
The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1994), pp. 139-157; Jua, N.
"Cameroon: Jump-starting an Economic Crisis." Africa Insight, Vol. 21, No. 3 (1991), pp.
162-179; Mbaku, J. M., "Bureaucratic Corruption and the Crisis of Institutional Reforms
in Africa." Business & the Contemporary World, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (1996), pp. 145-170; Mbaku,
J. M. "Bureaucratic Corruption in Africa: The Futility of Cleanups." Cato Journal, Vol. 16,
No. 1 (1996), pp. 99-118.
21. Mbaku, J. M. "Military Coups as Rent-Seeking Behavior." Journal of Political and Military
Sociology, Vol. 22 (Winter 1994), pp. 241-248; Ihonvbere, J. O. "The Military and Political
Engineering Under Structural Adjustment: The Nigerian Experience since 1985." Journal
of Political and Military Sociology, Vol. 20 (1992), pp. 107-131.
22. World Bank, World Tables, 1991. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991,
pp. 2-3; World Bank, World Development Report, 1998/99. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1998, p. 191.
23. UNDP (United Nations Development Program). Human Development Report, 1995. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1995; UNDP, Human Development Report, 1997. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1997; UNDP, Human Development Report, 1998. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
24. LeVine, V. T. "The Fall and Rise of Constitutionalism in West Africa." The Journal of
Modern African Studies, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1997), pp. 181-206.
25. Eyinga, A. "Government by State of Emergency" and "From African Socialism to
Planned Liberalism." In Joseph, R. A. (ed.), Gaulist Africa: Cameroon Under Ahmadu
Ahidjo. Enugu: Fourth Dimension, 1978.
26. Takougang, J., "The Post-Ahidjo Era in Cameroon: Continuity and Change." Journal of
Third World Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1993), pp. 268-302.
27. Mbaku, J. M., Institutions and Reform in Africa: The Public Choice Perspective. Westport, CT:
Praeger, 1997; "Improving African Participation in the Global Economy: The Role of
Economic Freedom." Business & the Contemporary World, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1998), pp. 297-
28. See, for example, World Bank, World Development Report, 1997. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1997.
29. See, for example, Mbaku, J. M., Corruption and the Crisis of Institutional Reforms in Africa.
Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998; Mbaku, J. M., Institutions and Reform in
Africa: The Public Choice Perspective. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

46 I Mbaku

30. Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E., "Public Choice and the Conduct of Representative
Government." In Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional
Economics. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1988, p. 6.
31. Gwartney, J. D. and Wagner, R. E. "Public Choice and the Conduct of Representative
Government" and "Public Choice and Constitutional Order." In Gwartney, J. D. and
Wagner, R. E. (eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional Economics. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press,
1988, pp. 29-56; Mbaku, J. M., Institutions and Reform in Africa: The Public Choice
Perspective. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997; Mbaku, J. M., "Constitutional Engineering and
the Transition to Democracy in Post-Cold War Africa." The Independent Review, Vol. 2,
No. 4 (1998), pp. 501-517.
32. See, e.g., Leith, J. C. (1974), Ghana, National Bureau of Economic Research: New York;
Werlin, H. H. (1972), "The Roots of Corruption-The Ghanaian Enquiry." The Journal of
Modern African Studies, Vol. 10, pp. 247-266; Werlin, H. H. (1973), "The Consequences of
Corruption: The Ghanaian Experience." Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 88, pp. 71-85.
33. Leith (1974), op. cit., p. 25.
34. Ampofo-Tuffuor, E., DeLorme, C. D., Jr. and Kamerschen, D. R. (1991), "The Nature,
Significance, and Cost of Rent Seeking in Ghana." Vol. 44, Fasc. 4, pp. 537-559.
35. Werlin (1972), op. cit., p. 251.
36. See, e.g., Kraus, J. (1970), "Arms and Politics in Africa." In Welch, C. (ed.), Soldier and
State in Africa, Northwestern University Press: Evanston, IL.
37. Werlin (1972), op. cit., p. 252.
38. Leith (1974), op. cit., p. 26.
39. Williams, R. (1987), Political Corruption in Africa, Gower: Brookfield, VT., p. 108.
40. Tullock, G., Rent Seeking. Brookfield, VT: Edward Elgar, 1993.
41. Mueller, D. C. "Choosing a Constitution in East Europe: Lessons from Public Choice."
Journal of Comparative Economics, Vol. 15, No. 2 (1991), pp. 325-348.
42. Gwartney, J. D., Lawson, R. and Block, W. (eds.), Economic Freedom of the World, 1975-
1995. Vancouver, BC: Fraser Institute, 1996.
43. Gwartney, J. D., Lawson, R. and Block, W. (eds.), Economic Freedom of the World, 1975-
1995. Vancouver, BC: Fraser Institute, 1996, p. 18.
44. Gwartney, J. D., Lawson, R. and Block, W. (eds.), Economic Freedom of the World, 1975-
1995. Vancouver, BC: Fraser Institute, 1996, p. 18.
45. See, for example, Ergas, Z. "In Search of Development: Some Directions for Further
Investigation." The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (1986), pp. 303-333;
World Bank, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action.
Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1981; and Mbaku, J. M., Institutions and Reform in
Africa: The Public Choice Perspective. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.
46. Gwartney, J. D. and Holcombe, R. G. (1999), "Economic Freedom, Constitutional
Structure, and Growth in Developing Countries." In Kimenyi, M. S. and Mbaku, J. M.
(eds.), Institutions and Collective Choice in Developing Countries: Applications of the Theory of
Public Choice, Ashgate: Aldershot, UK and Brookfield, VT., p. 39.
47. Gwartney and Holcombe (1999), op. cit., p. 54.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

Governance, Wealth Creation and Development in Africa I 47

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Mbaku, John M. 2000. "Governance, Wealth Creation, and Development in Africa: The
Challenges and the Prospects 4(2): 1. [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v4/v4i2a3.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


Great Ideas for Teaching About Africa. Misty L. Bastian and Jane L. Parpart (eds.). Boulder:
Lynne Rienner, 1999. 243pp. paper: $29.95.

As the title promises, this book is full of great ideas for teaching about Africa. The nearly
two dozen contributors (and, presumably, the target audience) constitute a fairly narrow group-
-those faculty teaching courses about Africa at North American universities--and yet they
provide a broad range of approaches to teaching about Africa. As the editors acknowledge at
the outset, the book focuses on practical, rather than philosophical, issues confronting teachers
of African studies. As the editors also note, the book comes at a time when area studies are
increasingly under attack, with more localized or more global programs preferred. What the
book reveals, however, is that the current state of African studies teaching is alive and well, and
that African studies methodologies--in particular--interdisciplinary and innovative--are at the
academic forefront.
The book covers a wide range of disciplines, including anthropology, art, history, political
science, religious studies, foreign languages, and geography. It devotes several chapters to
using the arts--film, literature, music--as resources for teaching, and several more to broaching
controversial subjects and current issues in the classroom--the African slave trade, ethnicity,
HIV/AIDS, female circumcision, gender and development, making and keeping peace in Africa.
Appropriately, the book devotes an entire section to the use of new technology in the
classroom--describing an array of inventive ways of teaching Africa through technology. These
include creating a web-based African art exhibit, assigning web quests to learn the map of
Africa or disentangle the details of the crisis in the Great Lakes, linking technology and theory
by using the internet for the very latest country specific information.
Great Ideas for Teaching About Africa raises a series of compelling issues for North American
teachers of Africa. The book reinforces the need to introduce students to primary documents as
historical sources and reminds of the importance of embedding into their historical and cultural
contexts such controversial issues as female circumcision or even ethnicity. It recommends
putting students at the center of their learning: for example, through the use of student-
designed development projects that address gender inequity in an African country or role-
playing exercises around HIV/AIDS or real life legal battles. The book emphasizes the
imperative of exposing American students to African voices--those of musicians, filmmakers,
artists, novelists, historians, religious leaders, intellectuals and more.
The speed with which information technology is developing dates some of the specific
references in this 1999 book. Indeed, the outstanding websites for general information on Africa
now number in the dozens and include the following:

http: //www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v4/v4i2reviews.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448


African Human Rights Resource Center:
African Index: http://www.africaindex.africainfo.no/
Africa News Now: http://www.africanewsnow.com/
Africa Policy Information Center: http://www.africapolicy.org/index.shtml
Africa South of the Sahara: http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/ssrg/africa/guide.html
African Political Resources: http://www.agora.stm.it/politic/africa.htm
Columbia University African Studies:
History) Africa: http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/-africa/
University of Pennsylvania African Studies:
http://www.sas.upenn.edu/African Studies/AS.html.

This is to say nothing of the country specific or subject specific sites which number in the
hundreds. In addition, there are now literally dozens of African daily and weekly newspapers
online. Similarly, many international organizations, non-governmental organizations, African
governments, political parties and social movements, regional organizations, and research
institutions and universities have impressive and informative websites. These provide students
(and researchers and scholars, of course) with immediate, invaluable resources once only
available at well endowed libraries or in country. They give us all an access to Africa once
available to far fewer people.
The many contributors to this volume repeatedly invoke the same challenge when teaching
about Africa at their universities: "The teaching of Africa is simultaneously a struggle to
overcome centuries of 'filling in the gaps' and a struggle to tear down distortions and
misinformation in order to rebuild knowledge" (p. 204). Great Ideas for Teaching About Africa
provides a wealth of ideas for tackling this and related challenges.

Gretchen Bauer
Department of Political Science
University of Delaware

Comprehending and Mastering African Conflicts: The Searchfor Sustainable Peace And Good
Governance. Adebayo Adedeji (Ed.). New York: Zed Books, 1999. 377pp. Paper: $20.00.

Over the last four decades, Africa has experienced some of the most violent civil wars and
other sorts of systemic violence. These conflicts have earned Africa the unique and unenviable
image of a continent in retreat and perpetually at war with itself. Military insurgencies have
caused regional destabilization and dramatically increased the number of failed states in Africa.
In addition to jeopardizing development efforts, this raises doubts as to the nature and viability
of post-colonial African state 1. Several normative issues have emerged from the study of these
internecine conflicts. First, they have raised anew the importance of state legitimacy 2. Second,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


they have brought forward disturbing questions about the concepts of territorial sovereignty
and statehood, given the fact that the juridical statehood attained with decolonization has
proven inadequate3.
In Comprehending and Mastering African Conflicts, teams of African scholars (based in those
countries principally affected by these conflicts) examine the multidimensional causes with the
eyes of observer-analysts. This volume combines the proactive policy research efforts of the
African Centre for Development and Strategic Studies with the products of an international
conference on African conflicts. It includes the critical assessments of country research teams in
five of the conflict areas and a selection of papers, allowing for closer comparison of the many
difficult situations on the continent.
Conflicts in Africa are more striking for their causal similarities than differences. While
most conflicts in Africa share a number of underlying causes, the researchers identify political
leadership at the root of all African conflicts. This does not exculpate some "externally initiated
and funded development strategies such as structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) [that]
have been a major contributing factor in the emergence of conflicts and/or in their exacerbation"
(p. 12). In fact, economic conditions of most of these African countries account for the success of
African elites and politicians, since in Africa "it is generally believed that political power means
success and prosperity, not only for the man who holds it but for his family, his birthplace and
even his whole region of origin" (p. 44).
This book is a proactive, policy-oriented search for the root causes of African conflicts.
While highlighting some common obstacles to redressing African conflicts, it posits that "until
the root causes of conflicts have been fully comprehended and addressed, they cannot be
mastered and that the mastery of conflicts is imperative to achieve lasting peace and good
governance in any country" (p. 7). Strategies for the way forward are discussed in Chapter
Seventeen. Among other recommendations, the contributors propose a moratorium on the
importation of arms, governmental decentralization, and democratization through
constitutional arrangements. The various chapters also emphasize the importance of thorough
and in-depth knowledge of these conflicts amongst the international community. As the editor
points out, the "superficial understanding of both the uniqueness and complexity of African
conflicts and of the tendency on the part of the donors to view Africa's problems through the
lenses of western countries and societies accounts for their inappropriate policy prescriptions
about peace" (p.17).
The book's qualitative research base makes it invaluable to international policy makers and
students of policy development, as well as scholars in political science, history, anthropology
and other disciplines concerned with solving Africa's seemingly intractable conflicts. I also
highly recommend it to African public office holders and politicians who have turned Africa
into a continent where forward and backward movements frequently equal zero.

Shedrack Chukwuemeka Agbakwa
Dalhousie University Law School
Halifax, Nova Scotia

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000



1. See Makau wa Mutua, "Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again: The Dilemmas
of the Post-Colonial African State" (1995) 21 Brooklyn Journal of International Law 505.
2. See generally, E.K. Quashigah & O.C. Okafor (eds.), Legitimate Governance in Africa
(Netherlands: Kluwer, 1999).
3. See Makau wa Mutua, "Why Redraw the Map of Africa: A Moral and Legal Inquiry"
(1995) 16 Michigan Journal of International Law 1113 at 1114.

Imposing Wilderness: Struggles Over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa. Roderick
P. Neumann. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California, 1998. pp.271. cloth: $35.00.

With his recent book Imposing Wilderness, Roderick Neumann joins a growing number of
political ecology scholars in exploring the causes of dislocation of Africans and conflict between
nature preservation and traditional land use patterns. His central argument is that we need to
locate the origins of these conflicts in fundamentally contradictory notions of the "natural"
African landscape and the appropriate role of humans in that landscape. Neumann argues that
Europeans--the British and Germans in particular--conceptualized "nature" as being free from
people and human-caused change. By removing people from the landscape, it becomes natural
(and worthy of viewing by white tourists). Humans belong in the landscape only in so far as
they are conceptualized as primitive-hunters and gatherers, not agriculturists or herders. These
ideas led European conservationists to promote the dislocation of Africans--in Neumann's case,
the Meru of Tanzania--for game preserves and later national parks. In making his post-
structuralist argument, he uses historical documents and interviews with local residents.
Imposing Wilderness is a brief and clearly written account of the rise of protected areas from the
early colonial period through the post-independence period.
For the colonial period, at least, his argument is convincing. But if we apply Neumann's
logic to post-independence Tanzania, we might expect a return to a more African conception of
land use. In fact, only after independence does the Tanzanian state turn the Mt. Meru area into a
national park. Clearly, first world influence did not disappear with independence and,
arguably, pressures from the World Wildlife Fund and others played an important role.
Neumann suggests, moreover, that the creation of national parks in the post-colonial period
might have been promoted by linking notions of what it meant to be a modern nation-state and
wilderness preservation. As he presents it, this argument feels a bit ad hoc and remains
This book follows many of the themes that Neumann developed in an outstanding series of
articles that have contributed to the development of the political ecology school. Some of these
articles have been the mainstay of graduate courses in political ecology for nearly a decade. In
part because of these articles, however, this book covers relatively little new ground. The book's
main interest lies in a set of theoretical ideas and empirical points rather than a coherent whole.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


One particularly interesting assertion he makes is that, during the colonial era, arguments
over game preserves and national parks were primarily disagreements between
conservationists in the metropole-in London-and colonial administrators living in Tanzania.
Conservationists saw the landscape as wild and primitive and worthy of preservation while
colonial officials worried that moving more Africans off the landscape would only create unrest
and destabilize British control over the territory. Absent from these discussions were Africans.
Ultimately, conservationists won, suggesting that ideas at the metropole were more important
than colonial administrative needs.
Neumann makes an interesting empirical observation as well when he notices that Meru
property rights slowly eroded rather than being taken explicitly in one fell swoop. The state and
local residents constantly negotiated and renegotiated property rights. Some of the local
residents' rights disappeared at the hands of capital city decision makers as land protection was
beefed up repeatedly several times during the twentieth century. But much of the negotiation
went on at the local level, between park administrators and guards, often independently and in
contradiction to legislation and high-level administrative rules. For example, the legislation that
created Arusha National Park explicitly maintained a right-of-way for local residents through
the park, yet in recent years local park officials have closed the path to residents.
Although this continual negotiation is clearly important for the maintenance of any Meru
access rights, defacto or de jure, the logic of particular administrative developments and the
erosion of local rights seem to have more to do with economic or administrative incentives of
the state than with European notions of nature. Similarly, local claims to the national park lands
and resources and protection from marauding animals that destroy crops seem to have clear
economic foundations. Neumann frequently reaches for political economic or state building
explanations, yet he leaves these explanations undeveloped both empirically and theoretically.
Political economy is clearly central to his story, even perhaps undermining premises, but we
don't really learn about the linkages between the political economy and conflicting notions of
nature and land use. Still, Neumann covers vast territory and this book is a pleasant read, but
one is left with a desire for more theoretical development and empirical detail.

Cassandra Moseley
Department of Political Science
University of Florida

"We Women Worked So Hard": Gender, Urbanization and Social Reproduction in Colonial
Harare, Zimbabwe, 1930-1956. Teresa A. Barnes. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1999. 256pp. paper
$24.95; cloth $59.95.

Teresa Barnes' work is one of several recent studies on colonial Africa that places women at
the center of history as initiators and actors who carved out opportunities, jobs, and dwelling
places in urban areas rather than simply reacting to the impositions and limitations colonial
officials and African patriarchs imposed on them (Tripp 1989, Geiger 1997, Bozzoli 1991, White

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


1990). Where she breaks new ground is in locating African women's urban strategies within a
larger framework of social reproduction and nationalist activities. In colonial Zimbabwean
society, white settlers sought to reduce Africans to farm and mine laborers, social reproduction
often became a political act. She argues that African women in colonial Harare were part of a
long-term political movement that had "elements and initiatives in common with political
nationalism" but was different enough to warrant separate consideration (p. xviii). In the desire
for social reproduction, or "to transmit something African into the future," both African men
and women played a role. African women figured prominently, though, by trying to create an
environment in which they could live with their families and take advantage of some of the
independence urban living had to offer (p. xix). While African men often desired to live with
their families, they were much more ambivalent about the increase in women's freedom that
often accompanied urban residence.
Drawing on colonial documents and what she terms "substantial excerpts" from oral
interviews conducted in 1988-89 with Ms. Everjoice Win, Barnes traces the shifting relations of
power during two and a half decades (1930-1956) of women's residence and work in colonial
Zimbabwe. She argues that these years are particularly important because by the beginning of
the period, colonial officials had clearly demonstrated a desire to restrict Africans' options as
wage earners in the urban economy. Over the ensuing decades, however, African women found
a way to carry their identities and families into the future within this context.
Barnes' work makes several important contributions to the wider body of literature on the
African colonial experience. The first is in defining and describing how some women in colonial
Harare differentiated themselves from others. Arguing that Western notions of class do not
apply to the area under study, she presents the categories that her interviewees described for
her. Those at the top of the social hierarchy lived "properly" or were "well-known" and
succeeded within colonial urban society. These women had "material assets that others lacked: a
husband, a house, perhaps education" and enjoyed, as a result, "elevated social status" and
relative safety and security (p. 23). Access to land and housing in order to engage in a business
and raise a family were the most critical element here and by far the hardest to secure. Only a
few managed to circumvent laws and gain independent access to land. Usually such access
devolved from marriage to a man. In this situation, some women sought to proclaim the
validity of lobola (dowry or bride price) and patriarchal control of the family to ensure the
health and well-being of their family.
Being officially married, Barnes argues, was the essential ingredient for achieving status
and respectability in colonial Harare. The majority of women, though, were not married
"properly" and had mapoto (temporary marriages) relationships in which they provided
domestic and sexual services to a man in return for accommodation, food, and domestic goods.
These liaisons were formed without consent of the families and within them women
accumulated their own property and some of the men's as well, challenging African notions of
social reproduction. Others opted for independence but paid a price in terms of social
marginalization. These women often engaged in activities like prostitution and beer-brewing.
At the bottom of the social ladder, prostitutes by the 1950s had lost their own names and used
those of famous prostitutes from the 1920s and 1930s; they were anything but "well-known." In
Barnes' work, the two activities of beer brewing and prostitution, so salient in other works on

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


urban women (White 1990, Akyeampong 1997, Bujra, 1975, 1977) do not appear front and
center, because she is more concerned about the kinds of work that African women viewed as
promoting the healthy reproduction of African society
Second, in contrast to Schmidt's work in early colonial Zimbabwean history, the author
argues that African and European men were not in alliance against African women during the
period under examination. She contends that in the 1930s there was no complicity between the
colonial state and African men to control women's movements. There were several reasons for
this. Urban African men often benefited from women's residence in town, though rural men
complained about the corrupting influence of urban women. Despite rural complaints, colonial
officials in the 1930s suspected that very few women were in town without permission of their
parents or guardians. Rural parents rarely came to urban centers to claim their daughters
because often they shared in their earnings. Older generations of Africans were less concerned
about urban residence than they were about controlling wages of the younger generation. In
addition, the state was not committed to removing women from urban locations. For example,
the colonial government did try to locate and return some urban women in the 1930s, mostly
young, recent arrivals. Yet, they ignored many urban women, including prostitutes, who had
resided in town for longer periods of time and women who had come from great distances.
Settlers feared African resistance to large-scale removal and they feared that, in the absence of
African women, African men would turn to white women for their sexual satisfaction.
Finally, placing social reproduction at the center of African political concerns gives the
nationalist movement in Zimbabwe greater historical depth and breadth. One of the examples
of interest here is the response to the Rhodesian government's enforcement of the 1946 Native
(Urban Areas) Accommodation and Registration Act, which disqualified many men and
women from urban residence. When the state began removing respectable urban women
(wives, widows, and mothers), the Reformed Industrial Commercial Workers' Union took up
the cause of men's marital rights and women's township residence rights for the next five years.
As a result of the protest, the government ceased night raids and began allowing some men and
women to register for residence. In another example of African concern for social reproduction,
the 1956 bus boycott turned violent one night as men attacked and raped independent female
hostel residents, some of whom had flouted the boycott, saying they had enough money to pay
the fare. For many Harare men, independent control of wages was threatening to the African
social order.
Barnes' work succeeds in illustrating that long before the armed struggle, African women
(and men) were dissatisfied with their lot in Southern Rhodesia and sought ways to change it.
The chief omission (due in part, at least, to the original intent of the oral history interviews) is a
lack of attention to families (p. xxv). In order for her arguments about social reproduction to be
carried to a logical conclusion, stories of colonial Harare's residents' relationships with their
rural families, and with the lives of their urban children, need to be told. These additions would
enable the reader to see more clearly the rural-urban linkages so vital to women and their
families during this period as well as the efficacy of their strategies to recreate viable African
families in a new context. This book will be of interest to social historians, women's historians,
and urban historians of Africa. The concept of social reproduction is an important avenue for
the exploration of African initiatives under colonial rule.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


Kathleen R. Smythe
Department of History
Xavier University


White, Luise. The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1990.

Bozzoli, Belinda, with the assistance of Mmantho Nkotsoe. Women of Phokeng: Consciousness, Life
Strategy, and Migrancy in South Africa,
1900-1983. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1991.

Tripp, Aili Mari. "Women and the Changing Urban Household Economy in Tanzania," Journal of
Modern African Studies 27/4 (1989): 601-623.

Geiger, Susan. TANU Women: Gender and Culture in the Making of Tanganyikan Nationalism, 1955-
1965. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1997.

Akyeampong, Emmanuel. "Sexuality and Prostitution Among the Akan of the Gold Coast
c.1650-1950," Past and Present 156 (1997): 144-173.

Western Education and Political Domination in Africa: A Study in Critical and Dialogical
Pedagogy. Magnus O. Bassey. Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1999. 123pp. Cloth $59.95.

Three premises, though not new to most Africanists and Africans, are the basis for Magnus
O. Bassey's most recent work: 1) Current African educational systems have colonial and
missionary roots; 2) education in Africa leads to elite status; 3) elites tend to protect the current
system. The author presents this book as "a critical analysis of the behavior of African educated
elites and argues that educated elites in Africa have used their education and the schools to
perpetuate their dominance over their less fortunate countrymen and women" (p. 11). In
addition, Bassey proposes the adoption of a critical dialogical pedagogy to address these
current imbalances.
With these goals set out in Chapter One, most readers, especially those with an interest in
African education, would expect a detailed study of primary historical and current documents.
However, a careful reading of this work reveals no such analysis. While there are glimpses of
specific events and regions, "Africa" and "Africans" tend to be the underlying analytic categories
of this nine-chapter work. With such a wide scope, perhaps it is no surprise to find a lack of
depth and very little continuity across chapters. Most chapters appear to stand alone. Chapter
Two begins with a focus upon general principles of "Traditional African Education." Bassey
utilizes secondary philosophy and general education sources to posit that African systems of

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


education were egalitarian, complete and "relevant to the needs of the individual and his or her
society" (p. 24).
The next three chapters document the general influence of Christian Missions and colonial
education policies. But there is little discussion of how missionary systems interacted with the
previously discussed forms of African education, except to say that they undermined traditional
authority. The author outlines French, British, Portuguese, Belgian, and German colonial
educational policies in seven pages. All colonial policies are then referred to as having certain
features, including domination, elite status, and inequity. Throughout these chapters, Bassey
makes reference to the "African neobourgeoisie [that have] prolonged the life of colonialism
inadvertently by talking so much of educational changes and achieving very little in this
direction and by sustaining imperialism through neocolonialism" (p. 49). This section makes
very clear the central weakness in this work: Lack of scope and contextualization lead to
problematic overgeneralizations. There are marked contextual differences between Nigeria,
Tanzania, Ghana, and Zimbabwe that must be recognized. When such differences are not taken
into account, generalizations across regions become much less tenable.
Chapters Six and Seven explore the concept of power, inequality and their general
manifestations in African educational systems. Chapter Six discusses the general atmosphere of
African dictatorships that employ coercive violence. Chapter Seven returns to the school setting
to discuss the issues of disempowerment, sexism, domination, and hegemony. A majority of
this chapter discusses the gender gaps in contemporary African education and the attitudes
contributing to their continuation. Throughout the chapter, disempowered teachers and
students are portrayed as helplessly reproducing the structures of hegemony. In addition to a
review of the Frierian concept of "banking education," and Bernstein's "codes of control," the
author includes an overview of Bourdieu to show how cultural capital leads towards
maintenance of the status quo. Further development of these frameworks with specific African
examples would greatly assist reader in this chapter. An in-depth treatment of Bourdieu's
conceptual framework might lead to a discussion of how powerful market forces influence all
members of a society, not only elites.
Chapter Eight is a brief (five-page) general summary of the apartheid educational system in
South Africa. This chapter appears to be disconnected from the rest of the work. No attempt is
made to integrate the South African example into previously discussed chapters. The
concluding Chapter Nine is a call for critical dialogical pedagogy to address current inequities
in African educational systems. Drawing upon Giroux, Friere, and Dewey, Bassey concludes,
"My answer is that we must use our schools for psychic conversion of Africans in favor of
economic investment, wealth creation, entrepreneurial spirit, self-help and for creating wealth
for the nation" (p. 111). In order to do this, he states, formal education must be reconceptualized
to overcome its colonial heritage. How this would be done in a specific context is not
mentioned. To recognize these important differences would probably contradict an underlying
central premise of this work: that one can actually speak of an "African elite" and "African
educational experience." Much more detailed scholarship recognizing the complexity of African
experience will be necessary in order to achieve his laudable goal.
This work appears to be largely inductive and aimed at a non-specialist audience. What
Bassey generally reiterates in this work is already painfully clear to African specialists and

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


citizens of African countries. Perhaps most novel in Bassey's work is his stated intention to
isolate and assign blame to African elites for the current state of affairs. But this alone is
insufficient. A more thorough analysis would examine local needs and levels of participation in
one region's educational systems. Connections could then be made to both historical roots and
current political trends. Only then could specific solutions be formulated. Indeed, the goal of
"harnessing the language of critique with the language of economic empowerment" (p.113) is
something to which most educational policy planners worldwide would aspire. If Bassey's
ultimate goal is to reorient the elite focus of African educational systems, it remains unachieved.

Adam Meyer
Department of English
Ball State University

Dramafor a New South Africa: Seven Plays. David Graver (Ed.). Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1999. 228 pp. cloth $39.95; paper: $16.95.

In the opening paragraph of this volume of South African plays, David Graver states that
his goal is to keep American attention on South African theatre "now that apartheid has passed"
because of its "universal lessons and appeal." Theatre enthusiasts should recognize a wealth in
South Africa of "hybrid dramatic forms" combining "African and European" (also named as
"industrialized and developing)" aesthetic values, which are "rich in vivid language, forceful
performance styles and incisive social function" (p. 1).
I can only imagine that this glossing over of these complicated and controversial ideas may
have been forced upon this otherwise respected scholar by his publisher for marketing
purposes. In rescuing what he perceives to be America's flagging interest in South African
theatre, however, Graver does make a point worth considering. This is the idea that it was not
artists who faced a crisis of imagination after apartheid (a debate which flourished in South
African intellectual circles), but audiences, particularly overseas audiences. He does not use this
point, however, to catalyze any substantial discussion on transnational processes in South
African theatre.
Reading through the introduction, one wonders why Graver professes interest in bringing
South African plays to the attention of the West, since he notes that certain plays, while
important in a South African context, lack an emotional impact that would make them seem
"crude and schematic" by "European standards of dramaturgy" (p. 15). While his introduction
discusses theatre of "social function", such as township community theatre and workers' theatre,
he pronounces it lacking in "significant autonomous aesthetic appeal" (p.14) for an anthology.
Graver acknowledges a literary bias in this collection, bowing out from including more
community-oriented plays, or a community-oriented analysis. Such perspectives, however,
remain a vital part of the landscape of South African theatre for the very reason that they
address issues of marginalization, gender equality, education, poverty, crime, and cultural
identity, all pressing issues in the wake of apartheid. Given this, it is surprising and unfortunate

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


that Graver would choose such glib phrasing as "wife abuse has become a popular topic lately
in South Africa" (p.14).
Although Graver's introduction covers far more ground than just the scripts he has selected
for the anthology, it is impossible in a twenty-page introduction to do justice to the history and
range of South African theatre. It might have been more important, therefore, to focus on the
historical moment called "post-apartheid" and how the problematic of this term are reflected in
the plays he has selected. The historical category, "post-apartheid," is a vexed one as the legal
changes that have been implemented have not significantly improved the material lives of the
majority of South Africans. By including plays that were written during the height of resistance
to apartheid, the implication is that Graver views post-apartheid as an imaginative category
rather than one that corresponds to reality. However, he does not follow through on this point.
Instead he focuses on a "rainbow nation" definition of "post-apartheid" by insuring a
representative "sampling" of plays, from "Afrikaner, Anglo, African, and Indian communities"
(p.19). Moreover, the limited analysis he gives revolves around the rather reductive themes he
names as belonging to this era of "post-apartheid theatre," namely: "the recovery of the past;
abiding social injustices; and hybrid theatrical forms" (p. 7). Such broad, general categories
could be applied to any number of South African theatre works, from those created in
opposition to apartheid to those created during its crumbling and aftermath, no less than to the
theatre of several other nations.
The collection itself opens with the seemingly obligatory and marketable "Sophiatown"
(1986), one of the most famous South African plays. This play as well as Zakes Mda's "And the
Girls in Their Sunday Dresses" (1988) and Paul Slabolevsky's "Mooi Street Moves" (1992) have
all previously appeared in print in other places, although granted they were published in South
Africa and not the US. We can be thankful, however, for the remaining offerings which have not
yet to my knowledge appeared in print: Ismail Mohomed's "Purdah" (1993), Reza de Wet's
"Crossing" (1994), Nicholas Ellenbogan's "Horn of Sorrow" (1988), and Brett Bailey's "Ipi
Zombi?" (1998). These last two choices were particularly bold but welcome, since their
performance styles are so distinctive that it might have seemed counterintuitive to attempt to
represent them in print form.
However, it might have been even more suitable to the goals of a volume of plays from the
"new" South Africa to include more recent examples of "post-election theatre" that are at least
historically congruent with what is really new, namely the adoption of a democratic
constitution. It would also have been gratifying to see more plays given first-time publication,
works that have not already had much academic discourse surrounding them. Examples of
such plays might include, Mike van Graan's "Dinner Talk" (1996), which could be considered as
a formal opening of the discussion on "post-apartheid" issues; Craig Coetzee's tour-de-force,
"White Men With Weapons" (1996), or the memorable community work, "Gomorrah" (1997).
Alternatively, with Graver's insistence on emphasizing the combined European-ness and
African-ness of South African theatre, and his concern with appealing to the American
audience, it might have been interesting, for example, to include a play like "Good Woman of
Sharkeville" (1996), Janet Suzman and Gcina Mhlophe's restaging of Brecht's similarly titled

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


Despite his literary propensities, Graver does acknowledge the inability of a play's script to
give an impression of its performance. To his credit, he supplements the texts with information
on the staging and performance techniques, and has preserved the multilingual qualities of the
scripts by including translations and a glossary of terms. Each of the plays is accompanied by a
short biographical account of the playwright, a performance history and, in most instances, a
brief account of political implications or context. Thus, while this anthology may fall short of
expectations of scholars of South Africa, it does certainly make a range of compelling scripts
from South Africa easily accessible to an American audience.

Stephanie Marlin-Curiel
Department of Performance Studies
New York University

Music, Modernity, and the Global Imagination: South Africa and the West. Veit Erlmann. New
York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 312 pp. Cloth $65.00.

In this dense volume, Veit Erlmann focuses on the musical tour as a site that gives
expression to "the interdependence of Western constructions of Africa and of African
representations of the West" (p. 214). The core of this book is devoted to the African Choir's tour
of the United States and the Zulu Choir's tour of London in the 1890s, and Paul Simon's
Graceland tour of South Africa in the 1980s.
Loren Kruger (1999) makes a similar argument about African claims to modern subjectivity
within colonial constructs in her analysis of "tribal sketches" and historical pageants in early
20th century South Africa. The weight of Erlmann's argument, however, resides at the level of
"the individual" or the "bourgeois subject" (p. 36) as a site for the construction of a range of
personal and social identities as a mode of "self-fashioning" in the face of societal, national and
global pressures.
Erlmann's analysis also departs from the industrial, economic, and other invisible and
disembodied global processes that produce various racially or nationally encoded music under
the neutralizing term of "hybrid." Rather, the author mobilizes a Victorian-inspired notion of the
physical traveler as a remedy for a set of ontological and epistemological crises produced by the
onset of modernity. These examples of musicians traveling between South Africa and the West
at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries are not only motivated by, and generative of, fictions
about the Other, but reveal specific longings and biographical fictions of self. Suspending a
concern for post-colonial relations of power, Erlmann works with a more closely postmodern
idea of a "global imagination." The global imagination evokes a world made from images that
are inscribed, projected, worn, mimicked and contradicted in a mutual economy of cultural
The book opens in the 19th century where the totalizing epistemology of spectacle
produced such forms as the panorama, world fairs, Parisian shopping arcades and the
panopticon to which the author adds the scopic orientation of 19th century autobiography and

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


travel writing. In his analysis of autobiographical texts of the African choir members published
in the London papers, Erlmann argues that these writings manifest mutually produced and
intertwined fictions of the self as articulated through an association with African nationhood as
much as through an association with Victorian values of education, Christianity, heroism.
Erlmann claims that late-19th- and late-20th-century worldviews reach across the hundred-
year gap that separates them by virtue of their common embeddedness in "societies of the
spectacle" (p. 5). In so doing he intends to disrupt disciplinary boundaries that consider culture
as situated in time and place and to "offer a picture of cultures in constant state of movement
and displacement" (p. 8).
Another unifying theme is his extension of Benedict Anderson's (1983) conceptualization of
the nation as an "imagined community" by recognizing nationalistic trajectories inscribed in
religious narratives of redemption and education. The first half of the book historically grounds
this phenomenon in the history of the missions and black independent churches in South
Africa, and the civilizing values in Victorian Christianity perceived by both blacks and whites
as embodied in the hymn, and in American Negro spirituals. In the second half of the book this
theme of redemption plays out as a means of locating personal development within a global
sense of historical change, rather than in a societal search for epistemological truths.
For example, Erlmann analyzes Paul Simon's motives in the Graceland tour as
exemplifying Simon's "own search for identity," which is "emblematic of the attempts of
significant sectors of the middle class to refashion themselves as cultural intermediaries to reach
some state of grace and redemption" (p. 181). Ladysmith Black Mambazo's songs mirror this
gesture with their own longing for "home" as a locus of identity, "redemption," and wholeness"
(p. 200), provoked by and made possible through an engagement with "the modern world" (p.
Nowhere is the complex relationship between national identity, biography, and religious
redemption more apparent than in Chapter 13, which addresses another Ladysmith Black
Mambazo collaboration, this time with South African born Tug Yourgrau in "The Song of Jacob
Zulu." Here the dramatized biography of Andrew Zondo becomes a site for the
autobiographical projections of the collaborators. These projections are infused with tropes of
nostalgia, innocence, and ritual religious conversion that simultaneously symbolize personal
and national redemption. Despite this potentially interesting layering of biographies, this
chapter diverts and disappoints by invoking the over-determining discourse of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission as emblematic of South Africa's forging of a post-apartheid national
identity. Consequently, Erlmann leaves terms such as "politics of memory" (p. 235),
"reconciliation" (p. 244), and "postapartheid identity" (p. 235) undeconstructed and unaffected
by the mill of global and mediated distortions as if to signify some axiomatic irreducible
essential of present-day South Africa. One finds evidence for this in Erlmann's reading of the
sequel, Nomathemba, a story of a woman who leaves her rural home and wifely duties to make
an independent life for herself in the city. Falling short of his earlier imperative that aesthetic
expression be considered as a "medium for the construction of meanings" rather than an "agent"
of a fixed relationship between signifier and signified (p. 187), Erlmann reads Nomathemba
simply as a "metaphor for the people of 'New South Africa's' continued search for hope and
renewal in their country" [my emphasis] (p. 244).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


Although Erlmann does draw parallels between 20th century film and cyberspace and 19th
century panorama (p. 5, 176) as mediums by which societies are governed by images (p. 176),
the author never does address music performed in any of these mediums directly. He excuses
himself by contrasting his arguments on global culture with Appadurai's, which are based in
the rise of electronic media (p. 177). Instead, he is more interested in Zygmunt Bauman and
Richard Rorty's notion of an aesthetic community characterized by what Erlmann calls
"triumph of the symbolic" (p. 177) and in the "utopian power" of Michel Maffesoli's notions of
style and figure (p. 177). These ideas are taken up relatively briefly in Erlmann's last two
chapters devoted to two more Ladysmith Black Mambazo collaborations with Spike Lee in Do It
A Capella, and with Michael Jackson in the music video Moonwalker.
This rich, multidisciplinary work is destined to interest a broad range of scholars.
Ethnomusicologists will find their home in the occasional but detailed musical analyses.
Historians will find a depth of historical information. Cultural theorists will find a reliable
survey as well as a significant contribution to the literature on trans-nationalism, modernization
and globalization. In addition, the book's perspectives speak to the current academic discussion
in South Africa on biography and autobiography as genres mediating national narratives of
political transition.

Stephanie Marlin-Curiel
Department of Performance Studies
New York University


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.
London and New York: Verso, 1983.

Kruger, Loren. The Drama of South Africa: Plays, Pageants and Publics Since 1910. London and
New York: Routledge, 1999.

A Daughter of Isis: The Autobiography of Nawal El Saadawi. Translated By Sherif Hetata.
New York: St. Martins Press, 1999. 294pp. Cloth $55.00; Paper $19.95.

Autobiography has long been the site of scholarly discussion especially as more personal
modes of narrative have taken on historical and political importance. Recent controversies over
the autobiographical writings of Rigoberta Menchu and Edward W. Said challenge the veracity
of their stories and mark this genre as a site of struggle over social and political authority.
Nawal el Saadawi has already been attacked and imprisoned in an attempt to quell her
authoritative voice. Her autobiography, A Daughter of Isis, may provoke similar responses. She
has challenged Egyptian neo colonial policy, self-serving gender norms, and conservative
interpretations of Islam. She writes, "The written word for me became an act of rebellion against
injustice exercised in the name of religion, or morals, or love" (p.292). Her presence on a

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


fundamentalist death list forced her to leave Egypt for the United States, where the majority of
this book was written.
In a spiraling style reminiscent of much of her fiction, el Saadawi depicts the sights,
sounds, and smells of her early life. Mixing her contemporary experiences with those of her
Egyptian youth, A Daughter of Isis recalls the formative life of one of Egypt's foremost writers. El
Saadawi is well known as a physician, novelist, and writer of essays. The candor with which she
has approached health, economic, and social problems has landed her in jail and driven her into
exile. She writes, "My crime has been to think, to feel. But writing for me is like breathing in the
air of life, it cannot stop" (p. 34). Although many of her other works have addressed parts of her
personal life, this is her first real foray into the genre of autobiography. She writes "Perhaps in
some ways autobiography is more real, more true than fiction, more creative, and more steeped
in art. Autobiography seeks to reveal the self, what is hidden inside, just as it tries to see the
other" (p. 293).
Much of el Saadawi's writing reveals incidents in her personal life and there has been
considerable speculation about the extent to which her novel, Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, is
autobiographical. Like Huda Shaarawi's memoir, Harem Years, el Saadawi speaks in ways that
lead up to but fall short of many direct personal revelations. What is very beautiful about her
fictional style can occasionally be frustrating in this autobiography. She alludes to early sexual
experience, but never comes back to it. Perhaps the answer is implicit in the beginning of the
book where she remarks that: "Memory is never complete. There are always parts of it that time
has amputated. Writing is a way of retrieving them, of bringing the missing parts back to it. Of
making it more holistic. Reality is something that changes all the time, something I cannot pin
down or express in words on paper" (p. 9). Both the works are wonderfully suggestive, but
sometimes do not achieve the candor we find in other works.
Her early life is told beautifully and is peopled with characters interesting for their moral
courage and unusual views of life. El Saadawi's academic excellence saved her from suitors, and
a life of domestic drudgery. As Sittil Hajja says, ".... the miserable life of a peasant does not
change. Education is the sweetest of all things. It opens the door to a job in the government and
helps a man to become full in his clothes" (p. 72). When her father faltered in his support for her
studies, her mother, Zaynab, helped by saying she didn't need her assistance in domestic tasks.
Her father and mother come to respect her achievements as a thinker and doctor. In turn the
young el Saadawi is very aware that her mother's sacrifices, love, and support allow her to
continue at school. Her father's view that "politics is a game without principals" reflects the
many difficulties of the colonial situation. His integrity as a man opposed to corruption, one
who refuses to be a party man, gives the young el Saadawi a model of thinking independently.
But she is well aware of how her gender forms her place in society even as she transcends its
most common expectations.
In A Daughter of Isis, reflections of el Saadawi's early life in Egypt are framed by her exile in
Carolina. As is the case with much of her fiction, this is a particularly engaging style. It keeps
bringing the reader full circle in her life and creates an anticipation regarding the things which
will drive her from her homeland. The book foreshadows her coming traumas but, except in a
brief afterword, it does not deliver the stories of those later times. Although the book contains
pictures of her as a rural doctor, at the first meeting of the Egyptian Women Writer's

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000


Association, with her children and current husband, these people and events are only
mentioned. The events of the actual account stop with her still in Al-Mashraha School of
Medicine. She leaves us at a point where she is not very formed as a person, where her desires
to be a good woman, law abiding, and a good Muslim, clash with her desire for closer
involvement with the revolutionary forces driving out the vestiges of colonial power. The very
interesting ways in which she eventually integrates her personal, intellectual life and her
politics are missing from this volume, since she stops her story prior to the synthesis. For those
of us who respect her mature positions, it is disappointing not to hear more of their origins. She
reflects on the choice to focus on her earliest life in the afterword, "the years I had written about
where very important in the direction that my later life took" (p. 290). Still it is a very wonderful
life story, and especially in the beginning, beautifully written. The English translation contains
explanatory references to historical material, words, and concepts with which the European
reader might not be familiar.

Kathleen J. Wininger
Department of Philosophy
University of Southern Maine

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 4, Issue 2 I Summer 2000

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