Three words come to mind when people try to explain the failure of Africa’s first generation after independence: leadership, tribalism and resources. They are not bad starting points, but they do not fully explain why Africa, free at last, endowed with enormous potential wealth and peopled with bright, optimistic men and women, failed….
The new presidents inherited total power from the colonial rulers, but the states they ruled were made up of old Africa societies, once self-governing and still held together by their own networks of power and influence. Trying to use the tools of a Western-style state to control these rooted societies was like trying to herd cats with a dog-training manual.
In Africa – as anywhere else – ethnicity and culture are important. Imagine if, after two world wars that have slaughtered some 90 million people, America and the Soviet Union, exasperated by tribal warfare in Europe, create a single country called Europe. They impose it from above, creating provinces by drawing lines on maps with no regard for the identity of the people living there. Today a Slovene President is trying to broken a border dispute between the provinces of France and Germany. Under France is a vast pool of oil, but some of it is also under Germany – the Germans are all Muslims by the way. Meanwhile the ancient tribal hatreds still cause frequent massacres among Greeks and Turks, Basques and Spanish, and in parts of north London where rival football tribes called Arsenal and Tottenham are clashing in the streets. Tribalism is not an exclusively African disease.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.