The legendary sociologist scholar, Max Weber defined a successful state as ‘one that could be said to succeed if it maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force’. Another intellectual giant, Robert Bates defined a failed state as the ‘implosion of the state where the state transforms into an instrument of predation.’ The characteristics of a failed state include the failure of some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a Sovereign government. It also includes the loss of control of its territory, the inability to provide public services to the people. The emergence of warlords and rise of terrorism, absence of the rule of law, the emergence of strong men rather than strong institutions and respect for democracy are also the attributes of a failed state.
On March 6, 1957, Ghana formerly known as the Gold Coast became the first nation in West Africa to become independent from Great Britain. Some of the words of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah during his inaugural speech was apt ‘Political Independence is nothing without economic liberty.” A failure of many of the African nationalists who rattled the colonial masters in their bid to wrestle power from them was their cluelessness when it came to standing independently economically. They blindly heeded the saying of Nkrumah when he opined ‘Seek ye first the political kingdom and every other thing shall be added unto you.’ Nkrumah’s economic policies brought nothing but pain to the Ghanaians. The failed attempt to industrialize set the nation aback. The outlawing of trade unions and random imprisonment of political opponents through the preventive detention act and his endorsement of a life presidency for himself and the allowing of only the Convention Peoples Party as the sole party of the country made him a dictator and a failure as a leader. This was the seed sown for the emergence of Ghana as a failed state. The devaluation of the cedi by former Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia escalated the problem leading many of his countrymen to flee the nation on economic exile. Jerry John Rawlings greatest mistake was listening to the International Monetary Fund which turned the economy upside down as basic amenities were greatly lacking.
The years of repression between 1981 and 1992 when he ruled as a civilian dictator can never be forgotten by history. This failure spread throughout the continent. Robert Mugabe spent ten years behind bars when he spearheaded the nationalist struggle in the country once known as Rhodesia. He has been in power since independence in 1980 and has refused all pleas both nationally and internationally to quit. The country once known as the food basket of the nation has seen an escalation of hunger and poverty.
The Zimbabwean dollar is so worthless that a local joke goes thus ‘If you see a basketful of the currency and a loaf of bread, it is better to bolt as quickly as you can with the bread.’ This did not deter Mugabe from purchasing nineteen limousines for his motorcade at a time when a majority of the hapless citizens battle on how to eat a decent meal a day. The Gross Domestic Product has fallen by annually by ten percent while the interest rates have climbed to almost thirty percent. Life expectancy fell from sixty to forty years. Almost 2000 Zimbabweans die of HIV/AIDS every week with inflation rising to 116%. His disastrous policy of seizing the farms owned by the white farmers and redistributing them to his political allies and cronies did nothing but exacerbate the hunger in the land.
The origin of the failed state syndrome in Nigeria – the ‘Giant of Africa’ began during the ill-fated administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida when he introduced the structural adjustment programme in 1986. This economic hara-kiri was a local clone of the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The removal of subsidy in the agricultural sector which led to the elimination of price control and abolishing of the marketing boards made a mockery of the statement credited to the late former transport minister, Umaru Dikko that ‘Nigerians were not hungry because they have not started eating from the dustbins.’ The subsidy on two critical sectors of the economy – healthcare and education were mercilessly yanked off. This surreptitiously led to the mass exodus of the brightest of the brains in the academia and the healthcare sector to the west. The institutionalization of corruption ensured that nothing worked in the country that is unarguably the most populous in the continent. The sinister legacy left behind by ‘Evil Genius’ still lingers till this day making the country wander worse than the Israelites of old did in their forty day sojourn in the wilderness on their way to the promised land.
The evil emergence of the strong man syndrome which saw the rise of Siad Barre of Somalia, Siaka Stevens of Sierra-Leone, Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo formerly known as Zaire, Jean Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic amongst many others led to the worst human conditions one could imagine living in such states and they were taken aback by more than ten decades.
It is a shame that in the twenty-first century, most of the 54 states in the continent have the stigmatized tag of that of a failed state. Somalia has been ranked the most failed state in the world according to the annual ranking by Foreign Policy and the Global Fund for Peace. It is high time we jettisoned the strong man malaise and have our leaders accountable to us and not to a clique or any foreign interest.
The pre-independence era saw the continental wave of decolonization that led to the Caucasians handing over power to us Negroes. This current era should see public-spirited Negroes dismantle the barriers that have sadly led to the emergence of failed states after independence. The ball is in our court.