by Hannes Wessels
I know Mr. Johnson has his hands full dealing with problems closer to home. He must work quickly to disengage the UK from the European Union on the best possible terms and having transformed his country’s political landscape he has promised to activate a grand plan that will include improving infrastructure, providing better communications and addressing the neglect in parts of the country where constituents feel betrayed by the Labour Party they have traditionally supported.
A man, in my humble estimation, of huge intellect, charisma and courage, he appears happy to lead from the front and is unafraid of breaking with convention, which is why many of us here in Africa look to him in the hope he will find time to ponder anew how his country can better use its considerable human, financial and material resources to address some of the pressing problems driving much of the continent into ever deeper distress.
Early signs are discouraging. British diplomats are currently in Harare delivering more British dosh despite the fact opposition elements are cowed in the face of ongoing police brutality and the farm invasions continue. Property rights barely exist in the country and the nation’s wealth continues to be plundered by a small political cabal.
It’s over 60 years since Ghana became independent from Britain. The world celebrated as the sun began to set on the imperial era. ‘African Nationalism’, in the form of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah entered the stage and the world celebrated the breaking of a golden dawn bringing bright light to the ‘Dark Continent’ as the colonial shackles were broken, and ‘liberation’ belatedly arrived.
Since then, some 200 coups or attempted coups have taken place, 25 heads of state have been assassinated and roughly 50 wars have been fought. Despite multiple interventions Africa remains the most corrupt continent by far. Transparency International reports that illicit transfers out of Africa far exceed the total value of all foreign aid to the continent (currently estimated at over 50 billion a year). With Britain being one of the most generous providers, over one Trillion Dollars in aid has been pumped into the most resource-rich continent on the planet but it remains by far the poorest. Sadly, it’s getting messier because of rank bad governance and the virtual absence of the rule of law, leaving human and property rights open to routine violation.
Against this bleak backdrop, if Mr. Johnson sincerely wishes to ring some real changes the first item on his personal agenda should be to puff out his chest, remind himself that as PM he has a unique and potentially powerful political position within the Commonwealth, and make it clear to all the members that, notwithstanding an imperial history, he’s a proud Englishman, believing his country has done immeasurable good for Africa and the world and, unlike his predecessors, he will not be wasting any time offering apologies for his country’s past.
This is an important first step, because, it is a misplaced sense of guilt that has been at the core of British-Africa policy that has revolved around throwing massive amounts of public money down a gigantic black hole. The annual foreign aid budget, pegged as a fixed percentage of UK’s GDP, is currently in the region of £15 billion p.a. He needs to look at this carefully and look for more effective ways of making it work for the intended beneficiaries.
Changing the message for the PM will not be easy because the ‘guilt narrative’ has been very effectively drummed into the national psyche by the master propagandists of the Far-Left, with the BBC leading and reinforcing a false narrative about British history. Encouragingly, Mr. Johnson seems to have noticed the corporation often promotes agendas inimical to the national interest and may move to address this institutionalised bias; we can only hope he can get some honest journalists there to start telling the British people the truth about the real issues bedevilling Africa and the real villains so real solutions can be found.
Possibly the biggest misconception about Africans, also very effectively peddled by the mendacious BBC and some of the print-media, is that Africans remain angry and anti-British because they were once colonised. This is rubbish; most love the British, adore The Queen and respect the flag. And this sentiment has only grown recently, fuelled by the Chinese who have arrived in force and number. Unlike the British, past and present, the new colonialists are not squeamish about such trivia as human rights and they are contemptuous of the locals they exploit. This attitude has angered and alienated millions; but it works well for a tiny political elite that prospers mightily at the expense of the majority. This grossly unfair dispensation suits the new oriental overlords in their bid to reign supreme in the countries they target for plunder, but which they do not consider to be home.
The stark fact is hundreds of millions of African living in wretched poverty desperately want to see more of the British and a more robust British presence but, unsurprisingly, their leaders are less enthusiastic. The politicos should not be blamed; they have become very used to generous dollops of mostly unconditional, Western ‘aid’ which is then siphoned off to enrich themselves, their cronies and pay the bloated bureaucracies and security services that buttress their positions of power.
Mr. Johnson can also expect trouble from the NGO’s and the mandarins of the ‘aid business’ who certainly won’t like any messing with the status quo because they too have created big, sinecure-ridden, bureaucracies that provide opulent life styles for a legion of ‘do-gooders’ who are generally unaccountable to anyone of any consequence.
However, armed with the sure knowledge that stronger British intervention will be welcomed by the masses, the Johnson administration needs to bust the old mould, hold the Union Jack high and tell the autocrats presently despoiling the continent that the days of unconditional largesse fuelled by misplaced guilt are over.
He must explain to his African colleagues it is they who have made a monumental mess of governing the place, despite being given huge opportunities and vast cash donations to succeed, and the only way to recovery is to acknowledge this and position competent people in both the public and private sectors. The short answer to the next despot who arrives in London looking for some financial assistance is to tell him the gravy-train has hit a wall and from now on help will arrive on two legs and it may have a white skin.
He also needs to remind them and the world that it was the British people and their excellent systems of governance that laid the platforms for some of the most successful polities in history which include: the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and (up to a point) South Africa. It was the colonial experience that set these countries on the road to a richness that somehow missed Africa when the colonials departed.
Indeed, current events unfolding in Hong-Kong provide stark proof of this premise. If colonisation was so bad why are the people of the former territory out in the streets risking their lives to retain and protect the systems bequeathed them by Britain and so abhorred by African leaders? I suggest the answer lies in the fact that most citizens, and especially the industrious working class, have experienced a sense of fair governance and they know that that fairness is enshrined in the systems the colonials left behind.
He should be blunt in telling them that what Africa desperately needs is not money but good governance and a radical reduction in size of bureaucracies that consume most of the national wealth while providing little in return. To achieve this, they must acknowledge and accept they need skilled British people in important positions in the public and private sector. Instead of donating huge sums of money, policy should be aimed at funding carefully selected civil servants and business people to go abroad and help re-establish good governance and a more conducive business environment.
It was Liberia’s President Johnson-Sirleaf who said, “Africa is not poor, it is poorly managed”. Nobody is better skilled and placed to address this critically fundamental problem than the British.
Equally important is the urgent need to stimulate economic growth. In Africa it is really only the mammoth multi-nationals that can afford to buy the needed political patronage to break through the rigorous red-tape and graft that goes with doing business in Africa and manage to function. But in return for mining and other concessions much of the revenue is often externalised bringing marginal benefit to the country.
The ‘little guy’, the small-time entrepreneur who wants to start a business in Africa usually finds himself in the suffocating clutches of corrupt bureaucrats who present a regulatory minefield that sucks the zeal out of the endeavour. The potential investor loses, the country loses and so do the people who may have gained employment. Britain is awash with skilled people who could contribute and prosper in Africa, in all areas of commercial enterprise if given the chance and it is they who hold the key to unlocking so much of the continent’s potential. Money currently being dished out as aid would be far better channelled into their hands. The Foreign Office must be instructed to press their Commonwealth counterparts to open their countries to these people, offer favourable investment incentives, give them a level playing field and protect their property rights.
None of this will be easy, old habits die hard, so the prime minister will have to be both bold and firm but the rewards could be staggering. The tragedy of Africa is so much local talent and energy combined with a deep desire to have a chance to work is wasted almost entirely because of poor governance and dishonesty and this has to stop.
Boris needs to be blunt and explain to Africans that they can’t all come to Britain but some of Britain can come to them. Africans everywhere will rejoice and a true golden dawn will unfold.