"This progress may lack the drama of 20th century liberation struggles, but make no mistake: It will ultimately be more significant. For just as it is important to emerge from the control of other nations, it is even more important to build one's own nation...This is a new moment of great promise. Only this time, we've learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa's future. Instead, it will be you — the men and women in Ghana's parliament — the people you represent."Obama's speech to the Ghanaian parliament was clearly designed to counter the growing influence of Chinese investment in Africa via defining America's leadership role in the continent as a mentor for its allied countries around the concept of "good governance". There are several issues surrounding the use of the ambiguous term "good governance", as often thrown around by western governments and NGO's (Tanzanian scholar Issa G. Shivji gives one of the most damaging critiques of the paternalism lying underneath the phrase here) but the elusive definition of the phrase is not the focus of this post.
President Obama's insistence on "good governance" and persistent criticisms of "strongmen" in Africa was sadly misplaced. The reality is sustainable economic growth in the continent is actually stymied by weak leadership, not the inverse. Historical weaknesses of African leadership (and institutions) is one of the lasting legacies of European colonialism in the continent. As discussed in a paper sponsored by the World Bank Commission on Growth and Development, it is the lack of effective, consistent, and visionary leadership in Africa that prevents it from moving beyond its current state in the political economy. Author Benjamin Mkapa laments the political and economic reality that African leaders have often lacked preparation, and financial resources to bring their visions to life, leaving governments weak and incapable of responding to crises.
"I believe that Africa’s trajectory of development would have been very differentMkapa also lists 10 issues he believes are essential for leadership in Africa "if the continent is to make greater headway in growth, development, and poverty reduction". There are even some lessons that can be learned from some of Africa's emergent post-colonial leaders like Julius Nyere of Tanzania.
and much more positive had the departing colonial powers behaved differently,
including treating Africans with greater respect; helping them to train and build
capacity of independence leaders and administrators; helping to build strong
institutions to deal with the challenges that the new countries faced rather than
trying to perpetuate institutions intended to promote, sustain, and defend
Western economic and political interests; and giving the new governments space
and the wherewithal to realize the vision and dreams they had for their newly
President Obama was quite dismissive of the fact that the colonial legacy in Africa is in fact enduring, as newly independent countries like Ghana inherited the political and economic institutions of their former colonizers. For all of their faults, former leaders like Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyere can not be blamed for Africa's lack of growth and poverty reduction today--nor for that matter even corrupt autocrats in 2009.
As in any other continent, democracy is an important goal for every African government to ascribe. However, the rhetoric about democratic governance in Africa overlooks the fact that many of the most authoritarian regimes around the world today post the highest growth- rates and have been more effective in eradicating poverty than so called democratic ones i.e. China. Maybe objective observers should be less concerned about whether they are "good" in some abstract normative sense, so much as they are effective. If the Obama administration's foreign policy resembles anything close to the lecture he gave the government of Ghana you can expect to see more of this.