By Dr. Sam Amadi
On Sunday, December 27, I made a post about the falsity of the new Africa Rising based on a dysfunctional and weakened state, a boisterous but unrooted private sector and fierce implementation of market-based solutions as economic and social policies. I argued that, just like the first ‘Africa Rising’, this too will end as ‘Africa Deluded’.
The post generated comments and Otive Igbuzor asked for solutions. How will Africa attempt to find its way out of this political, social economic incubus? What options are open to Africa and its many enterprising and intelligent leaders in the public and private sectors?
I don’t claim any special inspiration. I don’t claim to have extraordinary insights. I claim real commitment and willingness to go where the logic and evidence compel. In the comments to my post someone observed that the framework of the solutions to the African predicament is evident in the canvass of the problems I painted. I take the view that in almost all things the answer to the puzzle is in the puzzle, as long as we are able to fully understand the puzzle. So working hard to properly understand the problem is half of the work in finding the solution.
The problem I sketched is that Africa’s problem derives from the legacy of statehood. The African nation states are grossly malfunctioning because they have been, and are, grossly defective. We often refer to Africa’s prosperous and stable ancient kingdoms. At that point those kingdoms were fit for purpose and they flourished. Things changed. African states before colonial days were in different states of development. They co-existed with others in different forms. But one thing is sure: they evolved according to the laws of nature and their own authentic experiences. From Berlin Conference things changed. External annexations and deformations took place. One result was illegitimate states that lacked the force of nature or internal dynamics to shape up to the requirements of legitimacy and effectiveness.
Two key problems emerge from this diagnosis: illegitimacy and ineffectiveness. There have been illegitimate states in Africa before European colonialism. The difference with colonialism is that illegitimacy under feudal Africa was still subject to the laws of nature and liable to be easily shaken off. Under colonialism, illegitimacy was reinforced by the brutal power of an external empire. The illegitimacy crisis of the african state persists today in very surreal forms. Ineffectiveness should be seen in two forms: technical and social. An ineffective state is one that struggles to fulfill the basic responsibilities of a state. States are functional entities. They deliver services. Many have observed nostalgically that the colonial states seemed more effective than the post colonial states in Africa. The reason is very obvious. The colonial state froze contention and focused its energies to create enough functionality for successful colonial rule. The civil state was built around maintaining law and order in the most exclusionary manner. It was a brutal and exclusionary state. But it was technically effective. It was not socially effective. It didn’t bother about securing support of the people; it did not focus on social and economic well-being and communal solidarity. It did not build a nation to yoke to the state it had constructed. Herein is Africa’s real problem: states without nationhood, and one or two nations without statehood.
Military rule and pseudo democracy aggravated illegitimacy and ineffectiveness. If African crisis is simply illegitimate and ineffective nation-states, the solution is building legitimate and effective states. But how do we go about it?
First, let’s identify the two previous missteps in history so we can have a better guarantee of success this time. At the end of colonial rule, African leaders dreamt big. Neo-colonialism and imperialism foisted on them a new reality and a false choice. They had to sign up to the Marxist-communist revolution sweeping through Europe or the liberal-capitalist order fighting to survive in Europe. This meant either becoming a new dependence of Soviet Russia or remaining a dependent of capitalist West. Radical African leaders waged war against the civic state in mock Marxist revolution without the revolutionary ferments and ideas of Europe. It ended in personalized rules worse than colonial rule. These misguided dictators overlooked the fact that the states they were revolutionizing were contraptions and made no efforts to create real legitimacy. Those who did not move East became lackeys of the US gun-boat diplomacy. In either case, they reinforced the illegitimate state.
On the economic front, many of these leaders embarked on massive economic development with transforming the incoherent colonial economy. Import-substitution policy was the next big idea. But unlike East Asian country that yoked import-substitution to export-promotion through disciplined interventions in the market to boost efficiency, the African leaders used the policy to engender neo-patrimony and left behind a poor, predatory and corrupt economy. So the ineffectiveness of the African state also derived largely from its illegitimacy. Unaccountable and unconstrained leaders used economic policies to further delegitmize and weaken the autonomy of the state. Economic policy did not even create a real market because real market require even formal ethical egalitarianism.
The social order they created was the exact opposite. It was neo-feudal and neo patrimonial. Robert Bates and others have used the tools of public choice to show how African economies were deliberately impoverished by African bureaucrats. Mahmood Mamdani has used the tools of Anthropology to underline the decentralization of dictatorship in the African state. Ann and Bob Seidman use legislative methodology to show how African well-meaning leaders allowed colonial institutions instead of using new legislations to restore legitimacy and effectiveness to the African states.
Solving Africa’s problem requires redesigning the African state. There are two paths towards Africa’s new states. First is the democratic path; deepening democracy. This means that African states where they exist will need to salvage themselves through democratic citizenship. This means becoming truly democratic states where citizens and citizenship become the only mode of allocation and participation in the civic space. This requires a lot of liberalization.
We need to then create in a widespread mode ethical egalitarianism such that state is defined and focused on promoting citizenship rights. The reason here is such a state will recover legitimacy by mobilizing citizenship to common identity and interests. A truly democratic state will also be effective in that it will be able to invest in human capital and neutral market relations that will efficiently produce and effectively distribute goods and services. The problem is that the virulent identity politics has made it difficult to stabilize a fully democratic state towards common identity and interests. What Supra-identity will be compatible with democratic citizenship? Can we accept the multiple ways citizens could define themselves today, ways that could be mutually incompatible in a moral sense? Deep democracy will help to resolve the illegitimacy and ineffectiveness problem as long as the democratic state can at any internal and external enemies of democracy.
In the case of countries like Nigeria, there are enough legal and normative frameworks for such deep democracy. The civil and political rights and social and economic rights postulations in the country can be animated, expounded and expanded to create a New Democratic state that organizes itself not around ethnic and religious identities but around civic rights and economic well-being of all those civically (not religiously or ethnically) related to state. This means building civic nation-states in Africa in manners that make religious and ethnic differences not the basis of allocation. If these deep democracies in Africa also succeed to create mutual prosperity though pragmatic economic policy making of either the Scandinavian or Asian model, then its stability is further guaranteed.
The second option is to unbundle the contracted African states through peaceful and negotiated means and recreate them through negotiation into entities that are close to legitimacy and authenticity as much as possible. This is not an easy work. But in many ways it is an important work. It can come through sovereign constitutional conference or radical restructuring. The idea is not to decentralize power or reduce the powers of a dysfunctional state as liberalists would urge. Rather, it it to create a state that is capable of generating and retaining legitimacy for itself and sourcing common values for a deliberative polity. The African state has to be stable for the right reason before it can become developmental. Restructuring the African state might be the Apian way towards legitimacy and effectiveness.
How do we get to restructuring? We need to build a civic coalition around the idea of new nation-states in Africa. This is what civil society activism in Africa should be primarily about. It should not be able building an entrepreneurial complex on top of a dystopian state; a state that is both murderous and incompetent.
African civil society movement should focus on either creating a deep democratic state where that option is still feasible or championing breakup of African states into viable and authentic nation-states. The realism of this solution is that we have to have real states- defined as states that have legitimacy and effectiveness before we can have true African rising. I will like to know of other continents where grossly illegitimate (in deep moral sense) and roundly ineffective states have been sidelined and still build sustained economic and social development. To the best of my knowledge the first order of business in all the successful economies, whether the Indo-European world or the newly developed East Asian economies, has always been reforming the state. Africa’s own state crisis is chronic. I have laid down two options. The process, mechanisms and implications are too many than I can sketch here. May be subsequently I will consider those.
….Dr. Sam Amadi, Law Lecturer, former Chairman of NERC and former governorship aspirant (2019), writes from Abuja.