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Opinions of Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Columnist: Asare-Donkoh, Frankie

Goerge Ayittey makes Africa proud.

The 2009 list of the best 100 global thinkers include two Ghanaians. One is Kofi Annan. We all know the feat Annan has achieved by being described by American diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, as “the best Secretary-General in the history of the UN”. For this reason, I won’t say any more about him now.

The other Ghanaian is Prof. George Ayittey. He is a distinguished economist in residence at American University, Washington DC, and president of the Free Africa Foundation. He is also an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The institute is a think tank that brings insights of scholarship to impact on development policies on US national interests.

In his native Ghana, Ayittey was one of the leading critics of the PNDC Government of Jerry John Rawlings, which was formed after Rawlings overthrew an elected government of the Limann Government. For this reason, he was, like a number of Ghanaians critical of that government, hounded by the PNDC and the later NDC government of President Rawlings.

Under President John Agyekum Kufuor’s government which followed the NDC, Ayittey was offered a ministerial position, but he declined. I’m yet to know to what extend the Kufuor government used any of his views and advice. Ayittey’s long-held campaign on Africa is based on his belief that "Africa is poor because she is not free", and that Africa’s poverty is caused primarily by “modern oppressive native autocrats” and less on the oppression and mismanagement by colonial powers. Unlike many who merely criticise without making any suggestions, Ayittey comes out with specific ideas and ways to right the wrongs of the past, by hammering specifically on the need for democratic governments on the continent, debt re-examination, modernised infrastructure, free market economics, and free trade, as sure means of promoting Africa’s development.

In short, Ayittey considers Africa’s future as a battle between Hippos and Cheetahs – hippos being the complacent greedy bureaucrats wallowing in the muck, and cheetahs being fast-moving entrepreneurial leaders and citizens who will rebuild the African continent.

Before American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited seven African countries last August which took her to Cape Verde Islands, Liberia, Nigeria, Congo DR, Kenya, South Africa and Angola, she held a dinner at which the State Department invited 13 experts to seek alternative views on the African continent apart from what the department’s officials and ambassadors had provided her. Out of the 13 experts there were only five blacks including Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, but Ayittey was the only African - a Ghanaian. He was invited because former President Clinton’s policy planner, Brian Phipps had read his fascinating book Africa Unchained two years ago and according to him (Phipps), the book has had “a profound influence” on his thinking about Africa. Ayittey took two copies of the book with him to the dinner and gave one to Hilary and one to President Obama.

Ayittey coined the slogan, African solutions for African problems in 1991 when Somalia imploded. He also believes that “the generic term “Africans” is misleading and it is always important to distinguish between African leaders and the African people. The leadership has been the problems, not the people”. At the dinner with Secretary of State Clinton, he didn’t mince his words. In his four interventions, he told the group that “there was no need to re-invent the wheel and that the West should deal with Africa the way it dealt with the former Soviet Union. There it didn't form partnerships with communist regimes and hand over money to them on promises of reform. It helped solidarity movements and established Radio Free Europe. Why not Radio Free Africa?” He also told the group that African problems cannot be micro-managed from Washington and it would be best for the U.S. to support initiatives Africans themselves make to solve their problems.

Ayittey believes in the capability of independent state institutions in the transformation of societies. For this reason he stressed this at the dinner, and named the six most critical ones as an independent media, an independent central bank, an independent judiciary, an independent electoral commission, an efficient civil service, and a professional armed forces. For instance, he asked how corruption could be fought in Africa when only eight out of the 54 African countries have independent and free media, and cited Ethiopia with 83 million people and only one state-owned radio and television station. But I even dare to ask how free is this one state-owned radio and television station in Ethiopia, considering the level of reportage of events in that country in recent times? Doesn’t George Ayittey express the concern of many of us who hold the view that Africa needs concrete support for democratic and civil society institutions and not the so-called aid?

And why does anybody think this Ghanaian academic was the sole African invited to the State Department dinner when Hilary Clinton was preparing to tour Africa? Simple! He has consistently put forward his ideas about how Africa can be really free and independent. I should add that there have been a sizeable number of other Africans who have over the years come out with some ideas, but it seems Ayittey has been very consistent with his position. One of the biggest problems of Africans is that instead of bringing out divergent ideas, we rather condemn what others say or write, without coming out with a single convincing proposition. In advanced and open societies it is the cross-trading of divergent ideas that fuels their democratic and socio-economic development.

Is there any wonder that of the 100 best global thinkers Ayittey ranks 76th? For me, the man has made Africa very proud by constantly sharing his views. It has been hard for Ghana, his own native country, to see the usefulness of this man, but I say, before the Ghanaian authorities see his worth, others like the Americans would have long grabbed him to the disadvantage of Ghana and Africa. One lesson for our African leaders is the example set by Secretary Clinton who sought alternative views. How many African presidents, prime ministers and ministers would seek alternative views from other people in their countries when they themselves were present when God created the world, and therefore know everything from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe?

Why won’t Africa continue to be poor when her intellectuals and experts are disregarded merely on senseless political expediencies of African leaders?

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