Who Shall Lead Liberia? An Introduction (1)


Liberia: Democracy or Settler Colony?
October 10, 2017, is a historical date. For the first time since the Second Liberian Civil War ended in 2003, Liberians shall choose a new president.

Since the election of 2005, President and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ruled the country for 12 years, and she is forced to step down. The Constitution clearly states, that a president can maximum be reelected once, and she was in 2011.

So whom will be the next president of Liberia? There are 20 candidates, but the most important ones are:

  1. Current Vice-President and a member of the Kissi, Joseph Boakai.
  2. Former football player, former presidential candidate of 2005 and member of the Kru, George Weah
  3. Former rebel leader and a Nimba, Prince Yormie Johnson (PYJ).
  4. Former director of Coca-Cola, Alexander Cumming.
  5. The only woman in the race and former model, MacDella Cooper
  6. The richest man in Liberia, Benouni Urey
  7. The experienced politician and a member of the powerful Americo-Liberia (Congo-elite), Charles Brumskine

Before I begin to analyze this election, we need a proper historical background to understand the current state of Liberia and the various divisions, that will likely influence the election.

(If in a hurry, skip to part 2, where I analyze the above-mentioned candidates)

Liberia – A Settler Colony
Liberia is known for being one out of only two African countries that were never colonized. The other one being Ethiopia.

While it is true, that Liberia was never colonized by any European power, the freed American slaves coming to what became known as Liberia, acted like its white counter-partners and brought the worst of the racist practices from the USA to what became Liberia.

The first American freed slaves began to arrive in 1822, and on July 26, 1847, Governor J.J. Roberts declared Liberia for independent. At this time, the black settlers consisted of less than 3000 people. The settlers became known as Americo-Liberians or the Congua/Congo population.

The Congos saw themselves as the outpost of Western civilization representing an advanced race compared to the natives who were seen as someones on a more primitive stage of development.

As a tribute to the US and the president who had allowed them to relocate to Africa, they named the capital Monrovia after the American President James Monroe. The flag also reflects the country’s ties to the US.

Segregation and Enslavement of the Native Population
From 1869-1980, the True Whig Party was the only party in power ruled by the Congos, who never constituted more than 1% of the total population. However, today, the Congo population consists of approximately 150,000 people or 3% of the total population.

During the one-party regime, the party enforced strict racial segregation and the believed superior Congo population were prohibited to mingle and worse marry one from any of the ethnic groups belonging to the natives. “The savages” should know their place. A system similar to what became known as Apartheid half a century later in South Africa. Liberia did it first, as argued by the Polish journalist, Ryszard Kapuściński in his book “The Shadow of the Sun“.

Each ethnic group was giving a piece of land, and if one dared to move or speak a language outside of one’s designated ethnic group, the punishment was harsh and quick.

That was needed, for the Congos needed hard labor, and that was done through slave raids. In 1931, this report proved, that not only was the Liberian state involved in the enslavement of the native population, they were actively involved in the slave trade with Spain. Slaves were sold to Spain and transported to the little island of Fernando Po (today’s Bioko part of Equatorial Guinea). The slave trade started in 1928 and remained until 1931.

The American journalist, John Gunther, narrates how:

…boys were hunted almost like animals, herded to the ports and shipped abroad by Spanish or German steamers. (p. 875)

He ends the piece stating that:

…one has to go back to the history of King Leopold in the Congo to match it. (ibid)

The second reason was the use of so-called pawning. The Congos levied people brutally, but the locals earned virtually nothing for the work they did. It forced the people to pawn themselves or their own children in order to pay the regime in Monrovia. At times women were forcefully pawned to attract male pawns. Some people lived in slavery for their entire life because of pawning.

A third and last reason for the need for labor and pawns were the need of labor within Liberia, where the natives worked in local and foreign plantations, such as the American owned Firestone, who owned rubber plantations since 1920. In a matter of fact, Liberia is to be seen as a step child to the US, where the US sponsored the regime, and it can be discussed if Liberia at times more looked like at a US protectorate than an independent country because of the elites dependency on the US.

But to return to Liberia, the natives working as slaves received frequent and cruel treatment by the Congos. We have reports about how people were flogged, tortured, and smoked over an open fire. The Basket was a common technic to punish people. A basket is filled with stones and dirt. Four well-trained soldiers will then lift the basket and place it upon a person’s head, and the person will be forced to walk. Eventually, you will injure your neck because of the massive weight you are carrying, and you will die a painful death shortly afterward.

The Congo Apartheid regime was so perverse, that they did not even have to pretend any election was real. President Charles D. B. King got 143,000 votes in the 1927 election, but only 15,000 people were allowed to vote. In 1940, a man dressed a monkey in a frock coat, and the monkey voted without any problems whatsoever.

The segregation between new comers and the natives is known as the Congo – Country divide or the Settler – Native divide. It was meticulously carried out from day one, and more than 150 years later, it is still in place. We still find members of the Congos – the descendants of the American slavers coming to Liberia from the 1820s – who believe they are the natural rulers and the natives are their subjects. Akin to the American discussion if Barack Obama was fit to serve as President of the USA. A debate marred with direct as indirect racism. Liberia and the USA share several features and hence face similar challenges.

The pawning and selling the natives as slaves, well, that time is over. When Gunther visited Liberia in the 1950s, he argued these practices had stopped. But the poverty and indifference to the natives’ well-being were still ubiquitous, and the corruption rife. He further noted, that in the entire history of Liberia, only two Liberians had ever become doctors, and no health service existed until 1931.

The Regime of Samuel Doe 1980-1990
The Congo-Country divide sounds like that it is the Congo Monrovia elite versus the natives. Samuel Doe proved this false. The natives do not represent a single bloc as emphasized by Professor Elwood Dunn in his essay in the anthology “Civil War in Africa” from 1999. They represent several heterogeneous voices and agendas.

Samuel Doe coup d’état power and killed President William R. Tolbert Jr. in 1980. In doing so, he ended the True Whig Party 111-year-old one party regime and ended the Congo aristocracy.

Samuel Doe belonged to the ethnic group, Krahn, located in inland Liberia, and when he took power, he mirrored the regime of the True Whig Party. He replaced their ethnic group with his own, and the ethnocentric rule of Liberia continued.

During the regime of Doe, the USA strongly backed the Doe administration and provided support to arm and fund Doe’s militarization of Liberia, that again was used by Doe to unleash terror upon the population.

On Sept. 9, 1990, Doe was brutally overthrown, viciously tortured and finally killed by Warlord Prince Y. Johnson and his men. Johnson videotaped how he and his soldiers mutilated Doe, who begged for forgiveness. Johnson is seeing enjoying a beer during the act, where it is observable that Doe is missing an ear.

A reason for Johnson’s harsh treatment was, that he belongs to another native ethnic group, the Nimba consisting of the Gio and Mano.

Even all members of any opposition to Doe and every ethnic group felt Doe’s brutal regime, the Nimba were especially singled out after Thomas Quiwonkpa, a Nimba, led a failed coup against Doe in 1985. The capture of Doe was for Johnson payback for a decade of brute oppression, systematic rape and the burning down of villages initiated by Doe as a response to the failed attempt to overthrow him.

Civil Wars  – the Era of Charles Taylor
The First Liberian Civil War lasted from 1989-1996 and the Second Liberian Civil War from 1999-2003.

Charles McArthur (Ghankay) Taylor entered the scene to fill the vacuum created by Doe’s removal from power. Various factions fought for power, but Taylor turned out to be the victor. His father was Congo and his mother members of the Gola. Making him half Congo and half Country.

The wars were a result of the Congo population aristocracy, who for more than a century systematically had subdued, enslaved, and marginalized the native populations leaving the vast majority of the people in chronic and severe poverty deprived of infrastructure, education, healthcare, and jobs. Doe continued the exclusionary political policies.

Decades of anger exploded and was instrumentalized by Taylor in reaching power.

However, even after he won the election with a landslide in 1997, the war still continued, and accusations of war crimes began to erupt, likewise that he used neighboring Sierra Leone to smuggle diamonds where the earnings of this trade were allocated to his private bank account.

During the Second Liberian War, blood diamonds from Sierra Leone were financing himself and his troops keeping the war going.

During both civil wars, Taylor’s army consisted of child soldiers, who murdered and raped civilians of all ages indiscriminately. Former child soldier from Sierre Leone, Ismael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, tells about his experiences as a child soldier during the Liberian-Sierre Leone civil war.

Somebody being shot in front of you, or you yourself shooting somebody became just like drinking a glass of water.

On June 4, 2003, Ghana hosted the Accra Peace Conference, where president John Kufuor, as the chairman of The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), headed the peace talks in ending the civil war. As President of Liberia, Charles Taylor was also invited, and he had announced he would resign to start the healing process.

He kept it simple:

Mr Chairman, Colleague Heads of States, as a patriot I am willing to make any sacrifice for my beloved Liberia. And therefore I say to you all and the people of Liberia that I resign as President of Liberia if my resignation is what will bring peace to Liberia.

However, prior to this announcement, things had gotten sour. At 10 am the same morning, the Special Court for Sierre Leone had indicted Charles Taylor for war crimes for his role in the Sierre Leone Civil War. The planned meeting among the various Presidents was immediately rescheduled.

Then-Ghanaian ambassador to Sierre Leone Kabral Blay-Amihere briefly states in his memoirs, that:

There is no way Ghana will arrest Taylor. (p 90)

Charles Taylor flew back to Liberia the same day in an aircraft charted by the Ghanaian authorities and later Taylor was granted political asylum in Nigeria. In 2006, Nigeria changed its mind, and Taylor tried to flee Nigeria but was caught and sent to Liberia on a charted plane. Coincidently, this happened hours before the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, was to meet the US President George Bush Jr., who had criticized Nigeria for harboring a war criminal.

May 12, 2012, Taylor was sentenced 50 years in prison on 11 accounts of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in Hague.

After four years of hearings at the UN-backed special court for Sierra Leone in the Hague, the former warlord was convicted on 11 charges including murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations.

The Sirleaf-Boakai Administration 2005-2017
The presidential election in 2005, was the first democratic election since the civil war and it represented an end to the transitional government based on the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2003, the same meeting where Taylor had resigned, and an end to the wars that had plunged Liberia into chaos.

The election was between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, herself a Congo, a former World Bank Employee and former finance minister and her running mate Joseph Boakai. They ran against the former internationally known football player, George Weah, whose runningmate was Rudolph Johnson. Ellen Sirleaf won the election, but first after Weah had won the first round by 28.3% against Sirleaf’s 19.8%. Brumskine got 13.9% and came in third.

During the second presidential round, Sirleaf won by 59.4% of the votes and became Africa’s first female head of state in modern time from Jan 1, 2006.

But soon things went down hill for Sirleaf. In 2006, she established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The goal for the TRC was to promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation after nearly 20 years of war.

During the regime of Samuel Doe, she worked as an International Coordinator for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor.

When interviewed about her role in NPFL, she said that she was fooled by Taylor, and she had no idea about his true intention for the heinous crimes Taylor was accused of, and she tried to make him end the war.

In the end, the TRC put down the names of 50 people, they believed should be barred from holding any public office, because of their affiliation with the Civil Wars and Charles Taylor. Ellen Sirleaf was on that list. She deemed parts of the recommendations of the TRC to be unconstitutional and refused to implement them. If she had done so, she would have had to step down immediately. By refusing to implement the provisions, she allowed herself to stay in power.

Her affiliation to Charles Taylor cast shadows over her Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. In 2011, she was also re-elected by winning the first presidential round by 43.9% and the second round by 90.7%.

The Positive Aspects of Her Administration

  • Kept a country that had been through hell secure and stable.
  • Secured economic growth.
  • Beginning to build the country from virtually nothing.
  • Bravery for daring to talk about women’s rights such as addressing rape, where she herself is a victim of attempted rape and survivor of domestic violence.
  • In 2015, the UN forces finally left Liberia and handed over full control to the government for the first time since 2003. A huge victory for her.
  • In the words of Desmond Tutu: “She’s brought stability to a place that was going to hell.”

The Negative Aspects of Her Administration:

  • Blatant corruption, however, she has avoided the corruption to be directly linked to her.
  • The health care system and educational system are still non-functioning. Gunther noted, that in the 1950s, the country only had two native Liberian doctors. Prior to the Ebola epidemic in 2014, the country had 173 home grown doctors, but likely only 50 doctors in the country. The rest had left the country to work abroad. That makes about 1 doctor for every 90.000 persons. The health care system was still abysmal.
  • When Ebola hit Liberia in 2014, the system was not remotely ready for any crises, and only the ones living in Monrovia, where most of the Congos lived (and live) had access to something that can be called a health care system. Out of the three countries severely hit by Ebola (Guinea, Sierre Leone, and Liberia), Libera was hit the hardest with over 5000 deaths, and the number is likely higher, as the World Health Organization notes: “the figures are underestimates, given the difficulty collecting the data.“Hopefully, the Ebola did provide Liberia with new equipment and proper training for the health care staff that will improve the lives of the locals. Ebola could be a blessing in disguise.
  • In 2015, a Danish documentary revealed, what had happened to the country’s former child soldiers. They were traumatized by war, cast aside by their families, and abandoned by their state. They were found by foreign security companies looking for cheap soldiers to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, first and foremost, as mercenaries. They were paid, but virtually nothing and the trade in human bodies and corpses were not much different from that of the slave trade. The documentary was titled the Child Soldier’s New Job and broadcast by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, DR.Liberia cynically tried to get rid of its problem; a high youth unemployment that consisted of angry young men who knew how to handle a gun. By selling its own people as mercenaries for greedy and cynical foreign security, Liberia had found a solution to a growing problem. Angry young men do not cause problems if they are overseas. Publically, Sirleaf referred to the actions of the security companies for illegal and should be stopped immediately, back in 2009, but it continued, and if not she, then high ranked officials and ministers must have known.
  • The France African Historian, Gerard Prunier has also accused the Liberian regime milking the UN system. A reason the UN troops stayed for so long was, that the government got money from having the UN about. When the UN thought about leaving, the state would create some minor disturbance for the UN to stay a little longer. A sign how corrupt the regime is, and that the regime still relies on external funds rather than the people, they are supposed to serve.

Under Sirleaf and Boakai, the country has stabilized and it was brought back from a brink of death and destruction. It was on the road becoming a failed state by more than a century of a perverse ruling elite represented by the Congo aristocracy in Monrovia followed by two civil wars that traumatized several generations.

But not only is corruption still rife, data from Afrobarometer (2016, Jan) shows that things have gone worse the last years. Lived poverty has gone up from 1.24 in 2009 to 1.72 in 2015. This makes Liberia stand out as the second worst performer among the 33 countries measured by Afrobarameter. Only Togo is worse, and here lived poverty has even decreased.

Another report from Afrobarometer (2016, Oct) shows that satisfaction with the democracy has seen a severe drop since 2012. In 2012, 52% of the people were happy or fairly happy with the democracy in Liberia. In 2015, the number had dropped to just 35%.

The Congo-Country Divide and the racist sentiment embedded have still not been addressed properly by the post-war government, and Ebola destroyed years of progress the country is still recovering from. Not to forget, we still have a huge unemployment rate disproportionally affecting the youth, whom for most parts are still traumatized of the wars.

To make matters worse, not only were large parts of the population trained to handle a weapon and kill, a good proportion have been trained to handle a weapon and kill in Western wars in the Middle East in recent times.

The people are struggling to find work and they are starving. 73% of all Liberians have gone hungry to bed at least once in 2015, More than any other country measured by Afrobarometer. The situation makes them vulnerable to be exploited by cynical “big men”, who can be tempted to pay the angry young and unemployed men money or simply food for creating riots harming their opponents in case the election result is viewed as disfavourable to one’s political situation and/or ethnical affiliation.

A concern for an outburst of violence during an election is not new in an African context. But as the world was concerned during the elections in Ghana and Kenya, each election did not plunge these countries into violence, where peace was maintained. But the violence that did erupt in Kenya elucidates the problems with angry young men among the have nots. Every day, they can see how a small elite is driving big cars reminding themselves that they have nothing. It creates tension.

Liberia is no exception, and the history of ruling by the Congo minority exacerbating the Congo-Country divide is still a cause for concern, but I hope, that Liberia will maintain peace and progressive path Sirleaf did begin to embark upon when bringing the state of Liberia back from total destruction.

For part two, the election 2017, click here


QUIZ – 25 Questions on Africa and Homosexuality 


  1. During the era of Colonialism, it was a wide spread myth among Europeans, that Africans were children who had no knowledge or experience with same-sex behavior. One of the more vocal voices on this idea was Edward Gibbon. In 1885, a supporter of Gibbon wrote in “The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night” that: “the negro race is mostly untainted by sodomy and tribadism”. Who was the author?
    a) Trick question, still Edward Gibbon
    b) Frederick Trump
    c) Sir Richard Burton
    d) Morton Stanley
  2. In 1970, this famous British anthropologist debunked the myth that homosexuality was alien to Africa when he published his article titled “Sexual Inversion Among the Azande”. In his article, he revealed same-sex activities among members of the Azande were common. What was the name of this British anthropologist?
    a) Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
    b) Edward Burnett Tylor
    c) Jack Goody
    d) Clive S. Gamble
  3. In 1998, this famous anthology edited by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe shred light on the presence of same-sex behavior across the African continent prior to colonialism. The book provides the final nail in the coffin to the myth that homosexuality is alien to Africa. What is the name of this anthology?
    a) Sexual Diversity in Africa
    b) Queer African Reader
    c) Heterosexual Africa?
    d) Boy-Wives and Female Husbands
  4. In 2011, the Ghanaian professor and director of the Institute of African Studies at the Ghana University in relation to homosexuality was cited saying that “there is ample evidence to show that homosexuality, like other practices or sins, is not uncommon in Africa historically.” What is the name of the Ghanaian professor?
    a) Akosua Adomako Ampofo
    b) Edward Kissi
    c) Serena Dankwa
    d) Dzodzi Tsikata
  5. This Ugandan scholar has repeatedly scolded Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for his stance, that homosexuality should be un-African. The scholar notes that a cave in Guruve in Zimbabwe depicts two men engaged in some form of ritual sexual activity. Who is the name of this Ugandan scholar?
    a) Stella Nyanzi
    b) Frank Mugisha
    c) Nicholas Opiyo
    d) Sylvia Tamale
  6. In 2012, this president said that “Homosexuals in small numbers have always existed in our part of black Africa (…) They were never prosecuted. They were never discriminated.” Who once said this?
    a) Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
    b) Yoweri Museveni, Uganda
    c) Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria
    d) John Atta Mills, Ghana
  7. In how many of the 54 African states are same-sex acts not illegal?
    a) 0
    b) 50
    c) 21
    d) 30
  8. Ten African countries have signed the Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) where they promise to uphold the human rights of sexual minorities. The African countries that have signed this declaration are: 1) South Africa, 2) Rwanda, 3) Central African Republic, 4) Gabon, 5) Guinea-Bissau, 6) Mauritius, 7) Cabo Verde, 8) Sao Tome and Principe, 9) Seychelles and…
    a) Ghana
    b) Botswana
    c) Lesotho
    d) Sierra Leone
  9. In the majority of African countries, where same-sex sexual activities are totally or partly prohibited, the prohibition originates from?
    a) Indigenous traditions predating colonialism
    b) The French criminal code
    c) The British Common Law
    d) The origin is unknown
  10. This former African president is a vocal supporter of decriminalization of homosexuality in not only his own country but across the African continent. What is his name?
    a) Festus Mogae, Botswana
    b) Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria
    c) Mwai Kibaki, Kenya
    d) Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal
  11. In 2016, the independent African think tank, Afrobarometer, asked people in 33 African countries if they would tolerate homosexuality. How many percentages of the people answered yes in relation to accepting homosexuality in Namibia?
    a) 8 %
    b) 55 %
    c) 90 %
    d) 42 %
  12. According to Afrobarometer, how many percentages of the people would accept homosexuality in Senegal?
    a) 85 %
    b) 3 %
    c) 7 %
    d) 59 %
  13. In what year did Cabo Verde legalize same sex activities?
    a) 2004
    b) 1999
    c) 2008
    d) 2012
  14. In 2014, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights passed a resolution demanding every member state of the African Union to protect and uphold the human rights of all of its citizens regardless of real or alleged sexual orientation, and for “States to end all acts of violence and abuse”. In what African capital was the resolution signed?
    a) Harare, capital of Zimbabwe
    b) Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia
    c) Luanda, capital of Angola
    d) Libreville, capital of Gabon
  15. Gay pride parades are held in Mauritius, South Africa, and Uganda. What year did the first gay pride parade in Uganda take place?
    a) 2011
    b) 2012
    c) 2015
    d) 2016
  1. A common critique of African scholars is, that if they support legalization of homosexuality, then they must have been brainwashed by unknown Western agents. Ugandan scholar and human rights activist, Stella Nyanzi, narrates in one of her many articles, how and where she learned about homosexuality and hence developed her revulsion against homophobia. In what country did she encounter her first meeting with homosexuality?
    a) During her fieldwork in the Gambia
    b) When she met a pastor from Nigeria
    c) On a trip to Kenya
    d) In Uganda during her years in an all girls’ boarding school
  2. Most former British African colonies adopted the British Common Law after they gained independence. The Common Law prohibits unnatural carnal knowledge, a relic from the British Victorian Era when sex was purely for procreation. Ordinary natural carnal knowledge is when the penis of a man penetrates the vagina of the woman. Unnatural carnal knowledge is when the penis of a man penetrates anything else, such as it happens during anal intercourse and fellatio. Can women be punished for possessing unnatural carnal knowledge?
    a) Yes
    b) No, since women cannot penetrate one another, and hence they are excluded from the article
    c) It is a trick question. Most African countries clearly ban homosexuality by name and not through such a vague term as “unnatural carnal knowledge” rendering this question useless
    d) Can you repeat the question? You are telling me that blowjobs might be illegal?
  3. During the Apartheid regime in South Africa, was it illegal for two men to engage in penetrative sexual acts?
    a) It was perfectly legal. Whites want to protect homosexuals and to spread the practice
    b) The Apartheid regime was silent on such relationships, but it was discouraged
    c) It was strictly illegal. The Apartheid regime adopted the British Common Law that directly outlawed such practices. Several cases of abuse are recorded, as well as attempted cures all proving negative during the Apartheid era
    d) Even the law was silent, the regime actively promoted it
  4. In 2011, the Ghanaian Attorney General said this in relation to if it was illegal for two consenting adults of the same gender to have sex in their bedroom: “Your house is your castle; your room is your castle, what you do there is nobody’s business.” What was this person’s name?
    a) Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong
    b) Nana Akufo-Addo
    c) Betty Mould-Iddrisu
    d) Martin Amidu
  5. In 2014, the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed the Nigerian anti-gay bill. What famous Nigerian musician spoke out against the bill by saying that “Today I am writing this not as a fight for “gay rights”, I am fighting for all rights. People should be allowed to express themselves freely and this includes their sexuality”?
    a) Wizkid
    b) Seun Kuti
    c) Olamide
    d) Victor Uwaifo
  6. In 2016, the artist group “Art Attack” made a remix of Macklemore’s ‘Same Love” to talk about same-sex rights, LGBT struggles, gender equality, gay struggles and civil liberties for all sexual orientations. From which country is “Art Attack” from? 
    a) Kenya
    b) Zimbabwe
    c) Cameroon
    d) Ethiopia
  7. South Africa has laws protecting its citizens against hate crimes. Even so, South Africa has been extremely slow in dealing with abuse and rape of alleged and real homosexuals. Especially cases of so-called corrective rape have soared since the year 2000. Corrective rape is the myth that a woman will become straight if she is raped. In South African, how many women have reportedly been killed due to corrective rape since the year 2000?
    a) 9
    b) 14
    c) 29
    d) 37
  8. Who published the article “I am a homosexual, mum” in 2014?
    a) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    b) Ayi Kwei Armah
    c) Binyanvanga Wainaina
    d) Wole Soyinka
  9. In a report from 2016, the US Department of Human Rights describes this African country like this: “The LGBTI community was rarely identified or discussed, which observers attributed to the severity of the stigma and legal penalties attached to such labels. No cases of abuses based on sexual orientation were reported during the year.”
    Which African country does this report talk about?

    a) Mauritania
    b) Guinea-Bissau
    c) The Republic of the Congo
    d) Burundi
  10. Recently, the Kenyan High Court voted in favor of groups belonging to sexual minorities are allowed to register their organization by citing the Kenyan Constitution article 36 “Every person has the right to freedom of association, which includes the right to form, join or participate in the activities of an association of any kind.” In what year did the Kenyan High Court pass this decision?
    a) 2014
    b) 2015
    c) 2016
    d) 2017
1c, 2a, 3d, 4a, 5d, 6b, 7c, 8d, 9c, 10a, 11b, 12b, 13a, 14c, 15b, 16d, 17b, 18c, 19d, 20b, 21a, 22d, 23c, 24a, 25b

Nej, Matadors mor ramte slet ikke plet hvad Afrika angår

Det giver ikke mening at skrive, hvor mange børn den gennemsnitlige afrikanske kvinde får. Denne kvinde findes ikke.

28. JUL. 2017 KL. 15.58
Cand.mag. i afrikastudier, Politiken

I et indlæg 17.07 i Politiken skriver Flemming Ytzen, at Lise Nørgaard jo har en pointe om Afrika.

Ytzen beretter om, at Afrika har en højere fertilitetsrate, hvor den gennemsnitlige afrikanske kvinde får næsten dobbelt så mange børn som resten af verden. Han giver delvis de dårlige afrikanske ledere skylden, han refererer til som tropiske gangstere. Nej, Matadors mor ramte ikke uhyggeligt præcist, hvad angår Afrika.

Først og fremmest giver det ikke mening at skrive, hvor mange børn den gennemsnitlige afrikanske kvinde får. Denne kvinde findes ikke, og hun har aldrig fandtes. At fokusere på denne fiktive kvinde gør, at vi overser, hvor stor variation af fertilitetsraten, vi finder på dette gigantiske kontinent, og vi overser forskellene mellem land og by. Blot i et land som Kenya er spændet massivt.

I landdistriktet Wajir får en typisk kvinde 7,8 børn. I storbyerne har fertilitetsraten været helt nede på 1,5 børn pr. kvinde. Det er lavere, end hvad vi finder i Danmark. Hvis disse forskelle findes inden for samme land, tænk så på, hvor store forskellene er i de 54 afrikanske lande imellem. Vi skal alle stoppe med at behandle Afrika som ét land.

Afrikanske ledere skal kritiseres, men der er i lige så høj grad behov for selvkritik

En årsag til, at kvinderne typisk får flere børn i landdistrikterne, er, at børnedødeligheden er større, og børnene hjælper til på gården. Kondomer vil ikke ændre på denne situation, da det er at overse, hvorfor kvinderne får flere børn til at begynde med.

Det glemmes også, at en af årsagerne til, at kondomer mangler i landdistrikterne, er den dårlige infrastruktur, der gør det vanskeligt at distribuere kondomer. Vi kan sende tons af kondomer af sted, men hvis de ikke kan transporteres til landområderne, er det lige meget. Vi skal ej heller glemme, at der i flere afrikanske lande allerede er kondomer og fokus på familieplanlægning. En årsag til, at fødselsraten er markant lavere i byerne.

Flemming Ytzen bruger udtrykket tropiske gangstere i sit indlæg. Udtrykket stammer fra Robert Klitgaards bog af samme navn udgivet i 1991. Klitgaard gennemgår sine oplevelser under sit ophold i Ækvatorialguinea, hvor han beskriver, hvem de tropiske gangstere er:

»De rigtige tropiske gangstere er kapitalisterne, lokale og udenlandske, og hjælpeorganisation, der fremmer dem«.

Læs også: Lise Nørgaard har jo en pointe om Afrika

Tropiske gangstere er et begreb, der omslutter alle aktørerne. Ikke kun de afrikanske ledere. Flere afrikanske lande har set deres andel af dårlige ledere, hvor Frankrig har været med til at gøre ondt værre gennem en gennemgående uvidenhed om kontinentet, der blandt andet kom til syne under deres redningsaktion af hutu-militærledere under folkedrabet i Rwanda i 1994.

Hvor meget magt Frankrig har i sine tidligere franske kolonier i dag, er stadig til diskussion. I 1998 lukkede Frankrig sit ministerium for samarbejde og integration også kendt under navnet Françafrique. Under ministeriets levetid blev dette ministerium brugt som et nykolonialistisk værktøj til at give fransksponsorerede ledere positiv særbehandling. Dette ministerium ophørte med at eksistere, da blev underlagt Udenrigsministeriet.

Frankrig er dog stadig dybt involveret i Afrika, hvilket sås under konflikten i Elfenbenskysten under fredsprocessen, da præsident Nicolas Sarkozy inviterede afrikanske ledere og diktatorer fra udvalgte tidligere franske og belgiske kolonier i Afrika til middag i Paris.

Læs også: Orker vi snart flere historier om nødlidende børn, sultkatastrofer og civile, der bliver bombet i stykker langt væk fra Danmark?

Eller i 2014, da Burkina Fasos præsident Blaise Compaoré måtte flygte med halen mellem benene, var det Frankrig, der faciliterede flugten til Elfenbenskysten, der ledes af præsident Alassane Ouattara, der igen nyder støtte fra Frankrig.

Nedlæggelsen af ministeriet, der faciliterede Françafrique, har medført, at flere afrikanske lande nyder større frihed end tidligere, og åbner igen op for, at lokale ledere kan kritiseres endnu mere, da de i stigende grad opererer på egen hånd.

Men det hele skal ses i den historiske kontekst. Frankrig styrer ikke så meget som tidligere, men Frankrig er stadig i rummet. Françafrique er ikke død. CFA’er er ikke død. Der er en grund til, at nogle afrikanske ledere er yderst glade for Frankrigs støtte, såsom lederen af Gabon, Ali Bongo.

Afrikanske ledere skal kritiseres, men der er i lige så høj grad behov for selvkritik. Som Klitgaard sagde, vi er alle en del af de tropiske gangstere. Det er for let at kritisere afrikanske ledere for at være tropiske gangstere uden at nævne, at vi er den del af denne konstellation.

Quiz – 25 Questions on Africa

Fun Quiz About Africa


For nerds, know-it-alls, for you who are curious, and for you who just came by

This quiz will include recent questions about the 54 African countries. They will relate to the present and to the past.

The answers are located at the bottom.

Enjoy 😀

  1. What is the name of the current longest serving president?
    a) President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe
    b) President of Cameroon, Paul Biya
    c) President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
    d) President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos
  2. Which one of these countries is deemed less corrupt than Spain?
    (According to the latest Corruption Perception Index by Transparency Intl.)
    a) Ghana
    b) Rwanda
    c) Lesotho
    d) Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)
  3. The famous explorer, John Rowlands, is best known under a different name, which one?
    a) Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di Brazza
    b) Henry Morton Stanley
    c) Charles George Gordon
    d) Alexander Murdoch Mackay
  4. The largest African country by land mass is Algeria. What is the second largest country?
    a) Burundi
    b) the Democratic Republic of the Congo
    c) Egypt
    d) Sudan
  5. In 1971, the President of Congo (-Leopoldville), Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, changed the country’s name to Zaire. From where did the name Zaire derive?
    a) The name of an ancient African empire
    b) The nickname of a great warrior, who fought against Belgium
    c) When Portuguese sailors arrived a long time ago, they asked the inhabitants what the name of the local waterbody was. The people answered “Nzadi”, but the sailors misspelled it “Zaire”. Mobutu read this old book and thought the word “Zaire”  referred to the name of the land. Zaire is a misspelling of Nzadi meaning “River”
    d) A late evening President Mobutu went for a walk. The moon was shining and not a cloud was in sight. An angel appeared out of nowhere with a message from God. The angel told him to change the name from Congo to Zaire to honour Mobutu and God, since Zaire means “the conqueror”
  6. In 2016, the Ghanaian media reported, that the reign of the Johns was officially over. What did they refer to?
    a) Since 1992, every winner of the presidential election first name has been John. In 2016, the winner of the Presidential election was not named John
    b) John refers to the male gender in general. Since 1957, every leader of the police force has been a man. In 2016, the police force selected a female leader for the first time
    c) John refers to the last member of a notorious gang. In 2016, he passed away 78 years old
    d) John is the name of a local insect named after the British discover John Gendrick back in 1932. The insect is best known for killing cocoa trees. A swarm of these insects is locally known as “Johns”. In 2016, The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) finally declared that the “Johns” have been eradicated
  7. What is the capital of Gabon?
    a) Brazzaville
    b) Bamako
    c) Libreville
    d) Malabo
  8. The Democratic Republic of the Congo shares borders with nine other countries. Which ones?
  9. Which African country has ski resorts?
    a) Kenya
    b) Lesotho
    c) Mali
    d) the Central African Republic
  10. In 2008, the UN dubbed this country, the world’s first narco state
    a) The Gambia
    b) Libya
    c) Niger
    d) Guinea-Bissau
  11. Only one of these countries has experienced a coup. Which one?
    a) Senegal
    b) Botswana
    c) Eritrea
    d) Ghana
  12. On July 1, 2015, this country decriminalized homosexuality
    a) Mozambique
    b) Namibia
    c) Kenya
    d) Ghana
  13. Kwame Nkrumah is generally viewed as the founder of Pan-Africanism. What country was he from?
    a) Nigeria
    b) Egypt
    c) Ghana (Gold Coast)
    d) Guinea
  14. In 1502, Vasco da Gama visited an African city. This city has later been cited as being more refined than Portugal itself. What city?
    a) Kilwa, modern day Tanzania
    b) Mombasa, modern day Kenya
    c) Cape Coast, modern day Ghana
    d) Cape the Good Hope, modern day South Africa
  15. The banana and Africa are often associated to one another, but the banana is not indigenous to Africa. The first traces of the banana in Africa are from the first century CE. From where did the banana originate?
    a) Europe
    b) Asia
    c) Middle East
    d) We do not know
  16. Journalist Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe aka Zik was a leading figure in advocating for independence from Britain during the 1950s. What country was he from?
    a) Sierra Leone
    b) Kenya
    c) Zimbabwe (South Rhodesia)
    d) Nigeria
  17. Several leaders have been awarded the Mo Ibrahim Prize for good leadership. Which one of these former presidents has not received this prize?
    a) Hifikepunye Pohamba, Namibia
    b) Festus Mogae, Botswana
    c) John Kufuor, Ghana
    d) Pedro Pires, Cabo Verde
  18. Rwanda has a population density of about 500 people per km2. What is the population density of Namibia?
    a) 367 people
    b) 3 people
    c) 18 people
    d) 136 people
  19. What is the capital of Equatorial Guinea
    a) Malabo
    b) Free Town
    c) Maseru
    d) Asmara
  20. Oct. 30, 1974, Kinshasa, Zaire, hosted the famous boxing match named the Rumble in the Jungle. The boxing match was between George Foreman and whom?
    a) Larry Holmes
    b) Ken Norton
    c) Muhamed Ali
    d) Roberto Durán
  21. In 2013, American artist Akon featured on a remixed version of the song “Chop my money” by the famous group P-Square. What country is P-Square from?
    a) Nigeria
    b) Kenya
    c) Ghana
    d) the Gambia
  22. This Kenyan writer is most famous for his books “One Day I Will Write About This Place” and “How to Write About Africa”. In 2014 he came forth saying he was homosexual
    a) Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
    b) John Samuel Mbeti
    c) Binyavanga Wainaina
    d) Meja Mwangi
  23. This Ghanaian female singer is best known for singing, that when she becomes 16 years, she will tell her poppy-o if you touch her thing-o
    a) Efya
    b) Mzbel
    c) Becca
    d) Kaakie
  24. Africa is divided into various regional African communities. The EAC stands for the East African Community. Which countries are members of the EAC?
  25. Which African country is still an absolute monarchy?
    a) Morocco,
    b) Malawi
    c) Lesotho
    d) Swaziland


1c, 2d, 3b, 4b, 5c, 6a, 7c, 8) Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Rep. of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, 9b, 10d, 11d, 12a, 13c, 14a, 15b, 16d, 17c, 18b, 19a, 20c, 21a, 22c, 23b, 24 Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan,Tanzania, Uganda, 25d

Enøjede danske medier fremstiller afrikanere som statister

Pressens fremstilling af Afrika og afrikanerne ødelægger vores forståelse af kontinentets udfordringer.

17. JUL. 2017 KL. 19.33, Politiken

Cand.mag. i afrikastudier

Den danske dækning af flygtningekrisen og Afrika er simpelthen for navlebeskuende. Ligegyldigt om vi taler regeringens nye strategiplan eller DR’s seneste nyhedsdækning af Senegal, så er Afrikas rolle at være statist i vores egen selvfortælling.

Afrika eksisterer ikke i sin egen ret, men kun i kraft af, hvordan denne statist påvirker hovedrolleindehaveren, os selv.

De lokale stemmer udelades eller opsøges slet ikke, og det ødelægger forståelsen af udfordringerne i de vidt forskellige afrikanske lande.

I den seneste tid er det kammet fuldstændigt over. Narrativet er nu, at det at lade børn og voksne drukne skal forestille at være fornuftigt. Personerne er kun statister, og derfor tæller deres liv mindre end vores. Vi er trods alt de vigtigste i vores fortælling.

Læs også: EU’s satsning tvinger migranter til farligere ruter

Tendensen er ikke ny. De seneste 200 år har kontinentet Afrikas vigtigste rolle været at bekræfte vores egen selvforståelse som verdens midtpunkt og styrke vores eget selvbillede.

Under kolonialismen blev kolonierne vores tjenere. Deres eksistensberettigelse var dels at forsyne os med de råstoffer, Europa havde behov for, og dels at bekræfte den hvide europæer som det menneske, alle ønskede at blive.

Vores krige er ingen undtagelse. Under begge verdenskrige deltog afrikanske soldater, men hvor ofte husker vi deres bedrifter? Aldrig.

Det fortsatte under den kolde krig, og selv i dag bruges afrikanske lejesoldater til at udkæmpe vores krige. Tidligere børnesoldater fra de to vestafrikanske lande Sierra Leone og Liberia deltog som lejesoldater i henholdsvis krigene i Afghanistan og Irak. Deres navne er ikkeeksisterende.

Afrikas job er at stå til rådighed for vores behov, og der sættes sjældent spørgsmålstegn ved dette stærkt eurocentriske udgangspunkt. Det gør os blinde for de lokale dynamikker, og hvordan vores indgreb og politik påvirker lokalsamfundene i Afrika. Dermed afholder vi afrikanerne fra at blive ligeværdige aktører.

Denne egoistiske dynamik går igen, når samtalen falder på migrant- og flygtningestrømmen over Middelhavet. Det påvirker løsningsmodellerne og den måde, medierne dækker historien på.

Når flygtningekrisen fremstilles i danske medier, virker det, som om alle flygtninge er på vej mod os – Mathias Søgaard

Regeringens strategiudspil fra juni i år taler stort set kun om, hvordan flygtningenes hjemlande skal tvinges til at tage imod egne statsborgere, og hvordan afrikanske lande kan gøre mere for at forhindre, at flygtninge når Middelhavet. Vi vil have afrikanske stater til at servicere os, men har kun minimalt fokus på de lokale behov.

Derfor ser vi gennem fingre med, at diktatorer belønnes for massive menneskerettighedskrænkelser. Politiken fortalte for nylig, hvordan militsen bag folkemordet i Darfur nu modtager penge fra EU i håbet om, at den kan bremse flygtningestrømmen. Samme fremgangsmåde bruges i Libyen, hvor både FN og Amnesty International beretter om grufuld behandling af personer i detentionscentrene.

Læs også: Mysteriet om de (muligvis) kinesiske gummibåde i Middelhavet

Når flygtningekrisen fremstilles i danske medier, virker det, som om alle flygtninge er på vej mod os. Alle kort, der bringes, viser flygtningeruter fra Vest- og Østafrika mod Europa. Ruteangivelserne er korrekte, men de mange ruter internt i Afrika udelades; ruter fra Sydsudan til Uganda, fra Burundi til Tanzania eller fra Den Centralafrikanske Republik til Cameroun. Uganda alene huser over 1 million flygtninge. Når alle piler peger mod os, glemmer vi de lokale indsatser, og vi overser, at Europa faktuelt modtager en yderst begrænset del af flygtningene. Langt hovedparten af afrikanske flygtninge bliver i Afrika.

Et eksempel på denne glemsomhed ses i DR’s seneste rapport fra Senegal om, hvordan lokale ønsker at tage rejsen mod Europa.

Artiklens synes alene at bekræfte vores opfattelse: Europa er bedst, og alle ønsker derfor at komme hertil. Der sættes aldrig spørgsmålstegn ved hvorfor. Svaret er jo selvindlysende.

Medierne må til at give Afrika og afrikanere en ret i sig selv og ikke kun som statister i vores navlebeskuende verdenssyn – Mathias Søgaard

Der spørges ikke ind til, hvorfor fiskerne ikke kan tjene penge. Så havde man kunnet fortælle, at der inden for de senere år er skudt fiskemelsfabrikker op i landet, så fisk, der skulle være endt på senegalesiske spiseborde, i stedet sendes til udlandet, deriblandt EU, som billigt dyrefoder.

Yderligere fører tilstedeværelsen af udenlandske trawlere til, at fiskebestanden er under pres. Det medfører færre fisk i havet, højere markedspriser og færre jobs til de lokale fiskere.

Medierne må til at give Afrika og afrikanere en ret i sig selv og ikke kun som statister i vores navlebeskuende verdenssyn. Først da kan vi løse de problemer, der får et menneske til at forlade sin familie for at sætte sig op i utæt gummibåd.øjede-danske-medier-fremstiller-afrikanere-som-statister

Why Is Africa Poor? 2/5

Several scientists, scholars, researchers, economists, anthropologists, and many, many, more have tried to figure out why the continent of Africa is poor.

The various explanations can be divided into different schools of thoughts. I have divided them into four schools.

The four schools are

  1. History Matters
  2. Institutions Matter
  3. Resources Matter
  4. People Matter

I will go through each school and mention the pros and cons of each one. The schools have severe flaws, which are often overlooked when discussing the predicament of African countries. Each school will be published independently to avoid this piece getting too long.

5. I will end the series with an overall conclusion, where I’ll discuss William Arthur Lewis’ take on Africa.

And if Africa is poor? All these schools try to explain why Africa is poor, but what if that point of departure is not correct?

The second article in the ongoing series:

2. Institutions Matter

This piece will dwell on predominantly three aspects of this theory.

  1. Democracy and Institutions
  2. If leaders are the problem, why do people elect bad leaders?
  3. Bad policies


A) Democracy and Institutions
The main argument is a matter of causality.

We can observe, that countries with strong institutions also tend to have a strong democracy.

But is it a strong democracy that generates strong institutions, or is it strong institutions that are vital for a strong democracy to take hold?

Europe has for a long period of time supported the thesis that democracy is necessary for strong institutions to emerge.

After the end of the Cold War, good governance became one of the conditions before aid was given. After civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and DR Congo, the first measures were to hold democratic elections.

A strength focusing on elections is that it is visible. Donors can prove to the people back at home that progress is made. Your tax dollars are making a positive difference, and everybody can pat themselves on the shoulder reaffirmed that they are the good guys.

The problem is, at times it is the less visible that is the most crucial. The focus in holding elections have led to some African leaders stealing elections. Winning an election provides the leader with the needed authority. But it is the election ritual that provides the authority to the leader not how it was conducted, it appears. Holding an election is not difficult. North Korea is having elections.

Elections in some countries are a standing joke, like this clip from the movie “The Dictator” illustrates.

A reason we witness elections in countries such as Angola, Rwanda, Togo and the Republic of Congo, even it is merely a play. Everyone knows their lines and the result is known before a single ballot has been cast. If there is doubt about, the authorities shut down social media, as it happened during the latest presidential election in Uganda in 2016, and the  Republic of the Congo shortly afterward. Each president won. Surprise? Not really.

An election ends becoming a facade to a basically undemocratic and oppressive regime. It is an expensive facade.

Consequently, democracy might not automatically lead to strong institutions, and the money that could have been spent on strengthening the institutions were spent on a big theatre.

Perhaps it is time to focus more on improving existing institutions, that prevents leaders from stealing elections that allow said leaders to hold scam, yet expensive, elections.

If we accept there is a causality between having a democracy and having strong institution, we then accept A -> B

Though, instead of viewing democracy aka elections as A, what if elections are a consequence rather than a cause.

Instead to strive for elections as soon as possible, look behind the curtain and examine the institutions. If institutions are strong they will likely lead to a stronger democracy and credible elections.



B) If leaders are the problem, why do people elect bad leaders?
Elections are won by people who then become leaders regardless whether an election is credible or not.

The argument is that the fault for Africa’s predicament is the bad leaders. However, if the leaders are blameable, then why do people elect bad leaders?

The counter arguments is that blaming leaders does not provide a satisfactory answer since leaders do not exist on their own merit.

There are countless examples of bad leadership among African leaders, a reason we also witness tension between the people and a leader. In Burkina Faso, the tension led to former President Blaise Compaoré fleeing the country, an escape facilitated by France.

Critique of African leaders is not new. The Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, in the book “Anthills of the Savannahargues that Africans want to be oppressed in style. If you have power, then you must display your wealth for others to know, that you are a big man.

Several authors, such as Frederick Cooper, Gerard Prunier, Patrick Chabal, Daniel Jordan Smith, and more, have argued the problems with clientelism facilitated and kept alive by the big men.

Jordan Smith also reminds the readers in his the book “A Culture of Corruption“, that the people support the system of clientelism. When a person gains access to resources, he or she instantly becomes a patron. As a patron, you are believed to benefit your network aka be corrupt. Even when a person wants to act according to the law, the networks demand special treatment. Jordan Smith compares it to how Nigerians react when in a traffic jam. The passengers in the bus complain when other vehicles break the traffic regulations, but they criticise their own driver when he tries to obey the same regulations. In this manner, the people become victims and facilitators of corruption. A similar conclusion to that of Achebe.

But it is still not a good explanation. Africans are no different than everybody else, hence we must assume they are as rational and irrational as the rest of us. They favouring bad leaders do not logically add up.

Furthermore, this explanation or rather an accusation has one more major flaw, it is an easy excuse for donors to free themselves from any misconduct or wrongdoings. Donors and the Bretton Woods Institutions (The IMF and the World Bank) can brush off bad outcomes of various programmes, African countries have to implement in order to receive aid.

If a programme fails, it is easier to blame it on the African president than to admit you were wrong.

This conveniently leads to the third and last point.


C) Bad policies
Through the past decades, donors have told African leaders what to do in order to develop.

It started on January 20, 1949, when the American President, Harry S. Truman. In his speech, he divides the world into two realms: the developed world and the underdeveloped world.

America and Europe were part of the developed world, and as so their job was to guide the underdeveloped parts of the world to become developed. An echo of the racial colonial ladder and the white man’s burden are hard to look past.

The Westerner remained the center of the world, and Africa remained in the periphery. Europe and the USA looked at each other and concluded, they were at the top of the ladder, therefore, they knew best.

Several development models were proposed. The more famous one was the Rostow Five Stages of Growth. Ironically, the path to Capitalism looks remarkably similar to Karl Marx’ stages toward Communism, even that one consisted of six stages.

Both theories see the world as operating in stages, both are strictly deterministic and teleological, and both theories operating on a global and universal scale, where one size fits all.

Rostow was wrong, and the project failed.

Neoliberalism made a terrible situation worse. During the reign of the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the American President Ronald Regan in the 1980s, They paved the way for the so-called SAP reforms. Structural Adjustment Programmes demanded through the IMF. The main hypothesis was that the state was a force for harm due to bad leadership and the market was a force for good. The reason for this was the infamous Berg Report made for the World Bank (empirical data contradicted the Berg Report, but that data were neglected, overlooked, or denied).

The demands were to make the African states as small as possible.

The consequences were horrifying. The imposed demands on African countries were detrimental to their growth and to the well-being of the citizens. Ghana lost 50 per cent of their doctors, Senegal experienced their numbers of nurses fell sixfold. At least 13,000 doctors left Zimbabwe to find work in Europe or South Africa. It led to a collapse in the health care and the education sector in numerous African countries.

In 1991, an employee of the World Bank, Robert Klitgaard, wrote the book “Tropical Gangsters ”, where the gangsters-part refers to the ruling elite, but also to somebody else:

The real tropical gangsters are the capitalists, both domestic and foreign, and the aid agencies who promote them. Perhaps even the expatriate so-called experts qualify- such as you. (p. 11)

The bad leader-argument forgets that part.

Yes, some African countries do have bad leaders, but that in itself does not explain why a country does not perform. It decimates the influence of the people, it overlooks terrible imposed policies imposed by donors and the Bretton Woods Institutions, and the argumentation makes it easy for Western countries to wash their hands since they can use African leaders as scapegoats for their inept forced demands.

Other articles in this series
1) History matters
3) Resources Matter
4) People Matter
5) Is Africa Poor?

Prez. Macron, Africa, and Arthur Lewis


lewis.jpgPresident Emmanuel Macron is criticized for racist remarks on Africa.
Before I will even begin to comment on Macron, I will like to travel back in time.

In the 1950s, the field of development economics was born.

Economist William Arthur Lewis was pondering how his country, Saint Lucia, could transform from a primary agriculture dominated society to an industrialized one.

He came up with a revolutionary idea. How about we try to look at the underdeveloped countries on their own merits.

Meaning instead of comparing e.g. Saint Lucia to a mythological ideal archetype, translating: what is Saint Lucia missing to fulfil this unrealistic mythological ideal. Instead, how about we dig into what the country has to offer.

Revolutionary yet so simple. Instead, to look for what a country is missing, let’s see what is present.

How to marshal the human and natural resources into driving industrialization.

In 1979, William Arthur Lewis was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic. The only black person to ever get this one.

Somehow, down the road, Lewis’ idea was cast aside by a field dominated by white economists. Their focus continued to be on what is missing. The academic term for this is “the subtraction approach”.

Basically saying, why is country X not like country Y.

Why is Mali not like Sweden. What is Mali missing to become like Sweden?
The simple answer is because Mali is not Sweden.

The consequences of the subtraction approach are that mostly white economists look for what Africa is not (while Europe and we represent what is present). Africa became stuck in a negative tale. African countries either have the wrong leaders, wrong institutions, wrong people, wrong location, or wrong policies.

President Macron just represents this ancient approach in how to understand Africa and the problems on the ground. The continent of the missing. Africa is the mythological opposite to Europe.

The focus on what is missing blinds us all for what is present. When you only decide to look at weaknesses, it is easy to overlook the strengths. The subtraction approach also led to horrible history writing. Suddenly it appears, Africa has always been “backwards”. That led to theories why Africa was trapped in history.

We overlook that African countries, also post-colonialism, have experienced growth. Economists remember the downs but forget the ups. When the correction was done, it clearly proved that not a single African country was trapped.

Perhaps it is time to bring back the past; to bring back William Arthur Lewis and his revolutionary ideas that did earn him a Nobel Prize in economic.

1) Examine a country on its own merit, not to a mythological archetype.

If you were constantly compared to Einstein, you will always appear inadequate on every level

2) Look at what is present

3) Use that to marshal the present human and natural resources for the better of the country