18 August, 2013

The Failing African State in Context

by Hussein Solomon

In recent years, far from seeing viewed as the “hopeless continent”, Africa is being characterized as “hopeful” by publications such as The Economist. There seems to be some empirical evidence to support such an optimistic view. After all, half a dozen African economies have been growing at more than 6 percent per year for the past six years and two out of every three African countries hold elections. However such optimism is seriously misplaced. Whilst economic growth is taking place, such growth is occurring from a low base – reflected in the fact that Africa accounts for a dismal 2.5 percent of world output at purchasing power-parity despite accounting for a sixth of the world’s population. Moreover such economic growth is hardly sustainable given the income disparities on the continent – a sure recipe for further socio-political unrest. Consider here the following statistics from the African Development Bank:
- 60 percent of Africans are engaged in low-paid, unpredictable and informal jobs
- Half of Africa’s population of one billion subsists on less than US 1.25 – the international poverty threshold
- Only half of Africa’s youth is economically active

Afro-optimism in the air

On the political front, whilst more elections have been taking place on the continent, these have not necessarily led to liberal democracy. This is reflected in the fact that only 11 African countries have been classified as “Free” by Freedom House, whilst 23 have been classified as “Partly Free” and 22 “Not Free”. In attempting to explain the discrepancy between holding elections whilst perpetuating authoritarian rule, Fareed Zakaria coined the phrase “illiberal democracy”. He defined this as “... the troubling phenomenon of elected governments systematically abusing individual rights and depriving people of liberty”. This has been aptly demonstrated in Zimbabwe’s recent fraudulent elections which saw the ruling party extend its hold on power.

This volatile mix of economic disparities and the democratic deficit has provided the ideal recipe for sustained conflict within African polities laying the seeds of state failure or state collapse. Indeed, in the latest Failed State Index, the top five positions are all occupied by African states: Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan and Chad. Moreover, no fewer than 32 African states are represented in the top fifty of the Failed State Index. Worryingly, these include Africa’s biggest and most influential states such as Nigeria at number 16, Kenya at number 17, Ethiopia at 19 and Egypt at 34.

The African State has lurched from crisis to crisis since achieving independence. Post-colonial Africa has experienced 85 coups d’état and this figure passes 100 if one takes into consideration the various bloody failed attempts at regime change by the men in military. Since 1945 there have been 95 conflicts on the continent with over 45 being civil wars. To compound matters further, Africa has hosted some of the longest running conflicts in recent times. Consider here the fratricidal conflicts in Chad and Sudan lasting four decades and more or the almost three-decade long civil war in Angola. Of course, certain regions seem to be more conflict-prone than others. The sixteen West African states, for instance, have experienced 82 forms of political conflict including 44 military coups. (See this article by Ademola Araoye)

These critical reflections on the character of the African state is crucial in understanding the situation in the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s recent stolen elections (once again) with the both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) accepting the fraudulent capture of power once again by ZANU-PF. Both these structures are state-based and the dynamics at the state-level impact on the sub-regional and regional levels. How can President Eduardo dos Santos in Angola possibly criticize Robert Mugabe refusing to relinquish his hold on the reins of power when Dos Santos himself has been in power longer than that of Mugabe? How can President Jacob Zuma not congratulate Mugabe given South Africa’s own growing democratic deficit?

1 comment:

  1. Virgil Hawkins18 August, 2013 12:40

    The emergence of the 'rise of Africa' narrative has been met by some skepticism - perhaps most notably from Rick Rowden's article calling Africa's rise a 'myth', considering in particular the low levels of manufacturing on the continent (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/01/04/the_myth_of_africa_s_rise). The conclusions of this article have since been challenged in another article by Adam Robert Green in ThinkAfricaPress (http://thinkafricapress.com/development/africa-rising-myth-bring-authoritarian-capitalism-instead).

    Both articles are worth a read. I would simply add on that Africa is a big place, and generalizations at a continental level need to be backed up by some serious in-depth studies on a much smaller scale.