The Big Men

CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images

The Big Men

Why the noblest initiatives to solve Africa’s problems always fail
From the September 2005 Trumpet Print Edition

Margaret Thatcher is rumored to have called them a bunch of mendicants. Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden, in his outstanding account of Africa, simply called them the “Big Men” of Africa. Others have called them tyrants. They are the leaders of African nations who have bled their countries dry of any hope of competing effectively in the global marketplace, let alone being taken seriously in the international political arena.

They met the first week in July in Libya for an African summit. There, wined and dined to their merry hearts’ content, African leaders basked in the plentiful platitudes and repetitive rhetoric which we have all become so used to hearing in nighttime sound bites, broadcast over news networks by hardened hacks to a weary public that just wants to get on with immersing itself in the latest escapist “reality” show.

But Africa is reality! Africa is today’s living definition of ongoing tribal conflict, rampant disease, starvation on massive scales, endemic poverty, deeply embedded international debt—in short, Africa is, today, in far too many cases, representative of utter hopelessness.

The paradox of 21st-century Africa is reflected in the bloated Swiss bank accounts and fleets of Mercedes Benz of far too many of its leaders, contrasted with the below-dirt-poor status of far too many of its peoples.

Look at Ghana. What happened there seemed to cast the mold for much of the rest of old colonial Africa over the past 50 years.

Handed independence in 1957, the former British colony of the Gold Coast, renamed Ghana, was gifted a supreme opportunity. Under British rule, the nation developed into the world’s largest producer of cocoa and possessed some of the most productive gold fields in the world. It also boasted the largest currency reserves in Africa at the time. The British education system, combined with the Brits’ knack for efficient administration, had yielded the most skillful bureaucracy on the continent.

How its new leaders squandered this marvelous collection of blessings is, in a word, unconscionable. Blaine Harden describes it thus: “Ghana’s leaders pooled these advantages, mixed in a large portion of megalomania, naivety, avarice and socialist rhetoric, and engineered a collapse that was to prove a classic model for Africa” (Africa: Dispatches From a Fragile Continent).

Of course, as long as a brain-dead United Nations continues to not only tolerate, but also seemingly encourage by its lack of any condemnatory initiative, the worst of Africa’s leaders in their economic and social plundering, Africa will remain the world’s worst basket case.

The tapestry of tyranny, corruption and economic deprivation that has been woven across the continent since the 1950s is the backdrop to the three headline initiatives at the beginning of July that focused on ways to relieve Africa of its woes: the Live 8 rock concerts, the G-8 summit in Scotland, and the African summit in Libya. It seems all such initiatives are doomed to fail. Why?

A Voice of Reason

Occasionally, the voice of sane reason breaks through the imposed political correctness of the language police to place the shameful acts of African leaders into true perspective. Such a voice is that of George Ayittey.

Visiting associate professor of economics at American University, founder and president of The Free Africa Foundation, Ayittey hails from Ghana, where he has firsthand experience with classic, post-colonial African history. Interviewed by National Public Radio, his solution to the problems of Africa contrasted starkly with the platitudes being peddled at all three of the above-mentioned gatherings.

Ayittey contends that the continual giving of multiple billions of dollars’ worth of aid to African nations is an invitation for the squandering of such funding by Africa’s leaders. “[W]e all know that in the past, giving aid to African government simply didn’t help. … [M]uch of the aid disappeared into the pockets of corrupt African governments, but it is something that’s not politically correct to talk about … because a lot of people don’t want to criticize black African leaders for fear of being labeled as racist, but you just can’t … give aid to Africa using the old approach” (July 6).

In a clear reference to the massive pilfering of aid by Africa’s “Big Men,” Professor Ayittey mused, “Africa’s begging bowl leaks horribly. The old Africa seeks to put more money into this leaky bucket. A new approach will seek to plug the leaks. … [I]n the past, … the Western donors sort of cast a blind eye to this massive corruption …. Africa’s salvation doesn’t lie in begging and begging for more aid, and as an African, I find it very, very humiliating. We’re talking about a continent which is tremendously rich in mineral resources. … [O]ur leaders have mismanaged the resources. Look, the salvation of Africa lies in Africa going back to its roots …. The problem that happened after independence was that our leaders rejected the market system as a Western institution and tried to destroy it …. This is why the continent started its road to ruination.”

Asked what the G-8 and Live 8 could do to help effect positive change for the good in Africa, Ayittey declared, “[T]hey [the G-8] say they must distinguish between African governments or leaders and the African people so that they themselves will instigate reform from within. The solutions to Africa’s problems lie in Africa, not in live aid concerts.”

As an indigenous African, Professor Ayittey has an approach that is quite refreshing. But it does not pose the ultimate solution to the African problem. While he singles out bad government and bad governmental leadership as being root causes of the problem, the professor is not able to pose a once-and-for-all healing for Africa’s woes. That solution, though it does involve elements of that which he proposes, lies quite outside—in fact far above and beyond—his chosen discipline of economics.

The solution is metaphysical. It involves the imposition of yet another, final and ultimate, African dictatorship. Not a tyranny! But a strong government based on a law of love, of genuine, outgoing concern for neighbor—a law bound up in 10 basic precepts (Exodus 20). These precepts are innate, binding, immutable laws—impossible for man to genuinely obey of and by himself. But, under the loving inspiration and guidance of a future governor, Himself immutable and unchangeable (Hebrews 13:8) in His commitment to lovingly govern His subject peoples (Isaiah 9:7), people will be able to keep them. That future government is destined to bring real hope and joy—together with an abundance of many other plentiful blessings—to not only the whole continent of Africa, but, in time, to the whole world!

This inspiring future is spelled out in detail in Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like. A free copy is yours upon request.