Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Paul Collier and the U.S. President's remarks on Africa

In his latest commentary, Paul Collier analyzes U.S. President Obama's remarks on African leadership. Collier says that besides more aid, perhaps what Africa needs is more accountants. We found Collier's commentary in the Guardian.

The most explosive was that Africa's core problem is its own misgovernance: Africa's persistent poverty has been largely self-inflicted. Obama is the first western leader to have the political space to deliver this tough but necessary message. He does not need a photo-op with smiling Africans to signal to voters back home that he is a compassionate sort of guy. Nor does he risk being denounced. His protection is in part that it is not possible to imagine Obama in a pith helmet; but beyond that, nobody can seriously question Obama's sincere concern to help his father's continent. His statement cannot be interpreted as being the preliminaries to neglect.

Second, the solution to misgovernance will come from within Africa: the key struggle is internal. By choosing to visit Ghana – which recently hosted an honest election, with the governing party narrowly losing – Obama flagged up that leadership depends critically on the integrity of the political process.

Obama has made a clarion call for change, but more importantly, he is the change. Africans see Obama as a fellow African, but unlike most of Africa's own leaders he personifies the leadership values that he preaches. Poor leadership is not intrinsic to African leadership; it is intrinsic only to the people who have jostled their way into presidencies.

Why has the selection of African leadership been so disastrous? The problem lies not with Africans but with the structure of the polities in which they live. Around the world the chance of a stolen election soars if the society is poor, small, and resource-rich. Even then it is not inevitable: Botswana started with just these features yet it is a functioning democracy. But such countries need strong checks and balances such as a free press and what political scientists call "veto points" – independent bases of power that can block presidential decisions. The democratisation that swept across Africa after the fall of the Soviet Union in most cases amounted to little more than elections.

Which takes us to Obama's final message: America will help, where it can, to tilt the balance towards brave people struggling for change. American money will be conditional upon decent governance. Where public money can be looted, the political class – no matter what its original composition – will end up peopled by crooks. In Africa aid is such a major component of public money that the scope for capture matters enormously.

No comments: