The military coups in West Africa where the army intervened to oust the civilian regime from power in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger, and Gabon do not auger well for democracy in the region. Why has democracy failed the West African Francophone countries? The virus, it appears, was planted before independence was granted by the imperial power.
The African Union (AU) ambassador to the US recalls the strings attached prior to granting the 14 Francophone countries independence: overtly they would be independent but covertly they would remain attached to the European imperial power through a pact they were compelled to sign with France. Accordingly, the African executive head of state would have his umbilical cord attached to Paris where major international decisions would be taken.
The ‘independent’ country’s foreign currencies would be managed by France where 85% of their reserves would have to be deposited. Francophone Africans need to have a single currency, the CFA Franc, which would be minted and printed in France alone. There would be a French standing army garrisoned in the country (to protect the puppet head of state), connected to the presidential palace via an underground tunnel. All existing and potential mineral resources of the country would be exploited by French companies.
With so many strings attached, the African President was simply a French vassal whose survival was determined by Paris. The obedient and subservient African would be lauded, protected and his re-election guaranteed whereas he who earned the ire of Paris could be ousted through an army coup or would lose the next elections. Unsurprising, some Africans reigned for decades whilst others were thrown out in disgrace.
Such an incestuous relationship developed into a win-win situation for both the Africans and French. Mineral exploitation led to the creation of an African black chest which both French politicians and Gabon President Omar Bongo and later his son Ali freely used for private and political purposes. Through this mechanism, African leaders looted their people and pillaged their countries to buy properties in France, Britain, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and USA whilst their people struggled to eke out a living. It was this pre-independence complicity of an ex-imperial power in tolerating and protecting corrupt African rulers and the failure of the African electors to rid their corrupt rulers that eventually forced the army to intervene.
Things became complicated for Africa when its own continental and regional associations, like African Union, ECOWAS and SADC, allowed the situation to deteriorate by not raising the red flag. In the same manner, local institutions like the Electoral Commissions and the various anti-corruption bodies failed to do the job they were paid for. SADC even endorsed flagrantly corrupt elections, like those held in Zimbabwe under Mugabe and elsewhere in the region.
In the face of institutional impotence, the disciplined armies swooped in to rid the country of corrupt and autocratic rulers. However, the problem with military men is that once they get a taste of political power, it is not easy to get rid of them either, and they may turn out to be worse than those they replaced.
The anti-French feeling in West Africa is also fuelled by the Sino-Russia policy in their attempt divert attention from the Ukraine war to Africa where they are stirring the political pot against France for her open assistance to Ukraine. Yevgeny Prigozhine’s Wagner group intervened in the region on behalf of Russia and saw a fertile terrain with Islamist groups helping. Any military intervention by France in any of the five affected countries has already been vetoed by Russia at the UN. Nor has ECOWAS’s threat of military intervention been effective.
The military cancer risks spreading in the region and elsewhere in Africa unless drastic measures are taken by the AU and the regional bodies together with other global players to restore democracy in countries with weak institutions that have already been captured by the state and allowed the military to stay in the garrison for the maintenance of law and order.
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A Myopic Approach to Income Distribution?
In an interview to Week-End (July 23rd), economist Eric Ng Ping Chuen goes back to a theme that the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh developed during a series of discourses in Bombay years ago. It relates to the creation and distribution of wealth and income: wealth has to be created first before it can be distributed, otherwise the consequences will be catastrophic.
The state has never been a producer of wealth. To generate more wealth, it must create the right environment conducive to economic growth. It is only when the economy grows sustainably over a period of time that the fruits of growth can be made to trickle down to society. The state intervenes to redistribute the wealth so generated from the haves to the have-nots.
For Rajneesh, nowhere has the state succeeded in making the poor richer by making the rich poorer. This would be a suicidal approach often advocated by bigots. Economic and social history is replete with examples of disaster: Idi Amin in Uganda and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe showed how both crippled and ruined their economies, bringing in mass poverty until the very people who initially benefited from the regimes’ largesse were the same people who chased the rulers from power.
Amin grabbed power through a military coup. As he had no popular base in the country (he came from a minority tribe), he tried to win support by ousting the principal producers of wealth. He confiscated the assets and properties of the Indians, chased them out of the country and distributed their properties (factories, shops, and farms) among his people. Within six months, the economy was on its knees as the shops were empty, factories stopped running and farm output dropped. The ensuing food shortage and galloping inflation forced Amin to flee the country. It took years to put the economy back on track. Campaigns to call back the Indians, with financial incentives, failed as the cat once burnt dreads fire.
Mugabe turned out to be worse than Amin. He gerrymandered electoral constituencies with the Electoral Commission’s complicity to ensure that his party held on to power. He chased foreign origin farmers, including some Mauritians, grabbed for himself and his young wife Grace the most profitable ones and distributed the rest among his cronies. The consequece of that policy was an immediate shortage of staple food and three-digit inflation. The rate of exchange between the Zimbabwe Dollar and US$ dropped so much that Zimbabweans refused to be paid in their currency and opted for the US$.
With a collapsed economy resulting in massive unemployment, malnutrition, hunger, there was little Mugabe could do. His attempt to pave the way for his young wife Grace to step in his shoes was the last straw that broke the camel’s back: Mugabe was compelled to go peacefully or face arrest by the army. His successor is struggling to redress the situation. Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) was no different in Africa’s resource-rich country: he too had to flee the country after looting and leaving behind mass poverty.
Eric Ng rightly warns Mauritians of the potential dangers of reckless social policies to earn short-term political gains but long-term social pain which impacts negatively on balance of payments, inflation, and increased consumption without increased production. Such a myopic policy cannot last forever.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 15 September 2023
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