Sunday, March 18, 2007

Africa's Time Wasters

During a time when renewed focus has been given to issues surrounding governance in the Developing World it is often a continual source of frustration to see that many African leaders persist in working to the clear detriment of their country’s interests.

In a not-too-serious look, and in no particular order, this article draws attention to and attempts to rate out of 5 some of Africa’s present day worst leaders and highlight their policies, legacies and crimes, all of which add up to their inclusion in this list - the ‘Time Wasters of Development’.

Sudan – President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir

Pity the largely impoverished population of Africa’s largest state, especially if they belong to the half which is Black African. President Al-Bashir was ‘elected’ in 1996 but can trace his time in power back to his days in the Sudanese and Egyptian armies when in 1989 he overthrew a democratically elected government and set about establishing an authoritarian, as well as fundamentalist Islamic, state in Sudan. This gained momentum when in 1991 Sudan introduced the archaic Sharia law, exacerbating the already festering conflict with the largely Christian south of the country. Though an uneasy peace has been signed in relation to the south of the country, unaddressed grievences in the western region of Darfur in have helped renew Al-Bashir's notoriety.

The overt support his Government lends to the racist and genocidal nomadic militia known as the Janjaweed and its pillaging of the Darfur region, driving millions of its inhabitants into a desperate exile in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic, has recently gained the World's attention. The International Community, however, has unfortunately fumbled its response to Al-Bashir, and China, with an eye on Sudanese oil, has even stepped up investment into the country.

Al-Bashir is fully implicated in the genocide occuring in Darfur which at present has claimed over 200,000 lives, yet neither the African Union nor the United Nations has been able to bring him to account. Al-Bashir is able to continue with his ruinous leadership safe in the knowledge that he is unlikely to be directly challenged by anyone, either internally or externally. Meanwhile life in the fractured country of Sudan for the majority of its inhabitants remains very bleak indeed.

Time Wasting Score: (5)

Equatorial Guinea
– President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

For President Obiang, the man who treats the tiny Southern African state of Equatorial Guinea as his personal fiefdom, accusations over poor democratic accountability and corruption are not taken too seriously. Obiang, who deposed his own uncle in a coup in the late 1970s, likes to be known on his patch as El Jefe (the boss). Since the discovery of substantial oil and gas reserves in Equatorial Guinea’s territorial waters the hope has been raised that revenue gained from this can go to assist EG’s 0.5 Million people, most of whom live on less than $1 a day. Unfortunately, with El Jefe in charge, most of the money has found its way into his political allies and family’s personal bank accounts. In what is one of the most breathtaking examples of a leader gaining personally from his countries wealth, Obiang has personally pocketed over £300 Million.

A 2004 attempted coup backed by Spain, the United States and Britain (all of whom were possibly too embarrased by whom they were buying oil from) resulted in failure when the hired mercenaries were caught on flight in Zimbabwe and subsequantly jailed. Apparently Obiang was in anycase tipped off.

Last year the people of Equatorial Guinea may have been forgiven for feeling the need to throw a party with the news that Obiang was actually dying from inoperable Cancer. Those more cautious however would've soon realised that this may not be such good news because Obiang's eldest son would be his likely successor.

'Obiang junior' is by all accounts a nasty piece of work. Described by the country's opposition in exile as a known killer, he seems to spend all his time swanning around Paris and London spending his father's (or more precisely the people of Equatorial Guinea's) money on fast cars, large houses and fine food. He is a truely abhorent individual and any fair minded onlooker can only hope that somehow foreign powers step up their efforts in deposing this disgusting dynasty.
Time Wasting Score: (4)

The Gambia
– President Yahya Jammeh

Another Ex-Military man, President Jammeh’s contempt for Democracy (he has 'won' two elections through a mixture of intimidation and vote rigging) also extends to the contempt he has for his populace’s intelligence. Not content with running Gambia badly, he has recently taken the unbelievable step of claiming that he alone has a cure for HIV/AIDS and that it is made up of a herbal remedy known only to him. In a speech made recently at State House in Gambia’s Capital Banjul, President Jammeh said “I can treat asthma and HIV/Aids and the cure is a day’s treatment. Within three days the person should be tested again and I can tell you that he/she will be negative”. He went to say in a speech faithfully reproduced in the Gambian media that “I am not a witch doctor and in fact you cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor”.

Tragically for ordinary Gambians, their President is wasting their potential for ongoing development and, it would seem, is cleary mad.

Time Wasting Score: (4)

– President Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has recently spent over a Million Dollars celebrating his 83rd birthday (more than twice the average life expectancy of an average Zimbabwean male) is perhaps finally feeling the heat caused by his 26 years of misrule. Mugabe, increasingly embittered at the continual failure of his Neo-Marxist economic reforms has blamed everyone for his country's decline (his favourite being a Neo-Colonial cabal headed by Tony Blair) and with an increasing ferocity continued to clamp down on his opponents.

Mugabe once boasted that in addition to the several degrees he had gained whilst imprisioned by the British of the then Rhodesia, he also had gained a 'Degree in Violence'. The recent Police beatings of members of the main opposition the Movement for Democratic Change are testiment to that and to Mugabe's stoic determination to hold onto power.

Once seen as one of the more enlightened leaders of one of Africa's more prosperous, educated and liberal countries, the hope has long since faded for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. The country itself is haemorrhaging people, it's economy is in free fall, and is breaking all kinds of records in the process - including the World's highest inflation rate and fastest drop in life expectancy. Zimbabwe now finds itself slumped towards the bottom of a great deal of global development indicators, a terrifying decline for a country which was once seen as being comparitively highly developed.

Mugabe must surely go, yet the only likely challenge to his autocratic rule is from either inside his own Zanu-PF movement or from the Police and Army when the time comes when there simply is no longer the money available to pay them.

Mugabe's neighbour and old ally from the anti-colonial struggles, South Africa, has been shamefully silent on the plight of its northern neighbour despite the repercusions a collapsing Zimbabwe would have upon it. South African President Thabo Mbeki's cowardly and frankly puzzling reluctance to confront Mugabe has only acted in prolonging the suffering still further for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe.

Time Wasting Score: (5)

The scores given obviously aren't to be taken too seriously, those above and many others should probably all receive '5', and in an ideal world removed from power and replaced by more enlightened leaders as soon as humanly possible.

However, there are many more leaders in Africa, other parts of the developing world, and indeed the developed world that should also merit a mention in this article. Corruption, non-adherance to Human Rights and interference in the democratic process are not, sadly, limited to the cases mentioned above or, indeed the Developing World. It must also be stressed that the reasons why certain countries are blighted by such leaders and governments are very complex.

Yet it remains deeply disturbing to many (not least of course those who live in the affected countries) that such corrupt, ignorant, stubborn and frankly evil men remain in positions of unchallenged power in 2007. Whats more, that they act as a bar on the long overdue hopes of peace, fairness and prosperety of their peoples. They and others are, in short, clearly 'Time Wasters' in the way of development.

Links & Resources:

The World's Top 20 Dictators -'s annual look at the World's worst misusers of power. - Website of US based Darfur pressure group

Sudan Watch - Useful Blog resource for independent news from Sudan

This is Zimbabwe - Blog of the Sokwanele - Zvakwana ('Enough is Enough') Civic action group, detailing daily events from within Zimbabwe

Blogging by Dan


jonathan said...

Thanks Dan, ace article.

So what happens now? Do we get to vote one of them off?

Dave said...


Nat said...

Wow that post was very interting. must have taken you ages to write!
Well done


Anonymous said...

A fine blog on the timewasters of development by our very own timewaster of development!

Ethics in Africa said...

Githongo Calls on Wolfowitz to Resign

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Asserting that Western admonitions about corruption to Africa and other developing regions are undermined by the misbehaviour of World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, Kenya’s former permanent secretary for ethics and governance, Dr. John Githongo, has called on Wolfowitz to resign his post.

“Corruption in Western capitals and in international financial institutions can do little but fuel the cynicism of corrupt officials in Africa and elsewhere,” said Githongo in a statement prepared for the news media. “When Paul Wolfowitz uses his influence as a US Government official and as president of the World Bank to fill the purse of his paramour (and, by inference, to line his own pockets as well), one can hear the cackling from state houses and presidential palaces all across Africa.”

Githongo said: “Paul Wolfowitz should resign now, before his poor example and bad judgment are emulated by petty dictators and venal middle managers throughout the developing world.”

He added: “Wolfowitz, of all people, should know better than to use his office for enrichment. He should be ashamed of himself.”

Since being forced into exile by a hostile political climate in his native Kenya, John Githongo has been a fellow at St. Antony’s College at Oxford University. In February, he accepted an appointment at Queen’s University in Ontario as a research fellow at the International Development Research Centre, where he is collaborating on a major research initiative on Ethnicity and Democratic Governance.

For further information, contact John Githongo at