George Ayittey's July 26
WSJournal Op-Ed

Jude Wanniski
July 30, 1996


Memo To: George Ayittey
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your July 26 WSJournal op-ed

What a marvelous essay!!! George, it made me proud to be a trustee of your Free Africa Foundation. If there is to be any hope for black Africa it can only come from voices like yours. With the exception of Nelson Mandela, I think you are the most important black African alive today. I'm just sorry that your arguments get so little attention in our government, which continues to operate through sheer inertia — whether the administration is Democratic or Republican — when it comes to Africa development policy. I'm afraid no matter who gets elected President in November — with the possible exception of Perot — the big banks and the IMF will remain in control of all establishment policy in Africa. I appreciate your condemnation of Boutros-Ghali, but as long as the forces of darkness remain in control of international financial institutions, it will not matter much who is UN Secretary General.

The July 26 WSJ op-ed follows:

The U.N.'s Shameful Record in Africa By George B.N. Ayittey
The Wall Street Journal (Copyright (c) 1996, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

Dissatisfied with his ineffectual management style and ineptitude at reforming the U.N., the U.S. has vowed to veto a second term for the secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Miffed, the secretary-general has been touring world capitals, lobbying strenuously for support. He has even dropped hints of racism: All former U.N. secretary-generals automatically served two terms but, as an African (Egyptian), he is being denied a second. Early this month, he sought the endorsement of African leaders, meeting in Yaounde, Cameroon, for the 32nd Summit of the Organization of African Unity. They reaffirmed in a communique "the historic importance of the election of an African" to that post.

Notwithstanding and unrelated to the U.S. case against BB-G, many Africans are even more vexed at him. Here are some of their complaints:

Since its inception in 1964, the OAU has achieved the unenviable distinction of being the most useless organization on the African continent. It can't even define "democracy." Only 13 out of 54 of the member states (Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa and Zambia) hold regular elections. Largely a den of unrepentant despots, the OAU is more noted for its glittery annual jamborees — where rabid autocrats clink champagne glasses to celebrate their longevity in office. They use the annual OAU summit to bullwhip and extort aid from the international community, instead of taking the initiative to solve the continent's problems themselves.

This year's summit in cash-strapped Cameroon carried a price tag of $120 million that included a fleet of brand-new Mercedes Benzes to transport the visiting heads of state for three days. "Cameroon cannot afford to hold this summit at this time," fumed Fru Ndi, leader of Cameroon's Social Democratic Front. "Parents cannot send children to school. People are sick and cannot buy medicine."

Even the state-owned daily newspaper, the Cameroon Tribune, could not resist taking a swipe: "At 32, neither the OAU nor most of its members actually behave at that age, in terms of conflict resolution, democratic practices and acceptable governance."

Most Africans suspect the U.N. chief is in hock with African dictators, pandering to their whims. Sub-Saharan Africa has the worst human rights record in the world. Yet Mr. Boutros-Ghali has done little to promote the U.N.'s own 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts: "Freedom of expression is not the product of any political system or ideology. It is a universal human right, defined and guaranteed in international law. . . . Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of boundaries." according to New York-based Freedom House, of Africa's 54 countries, only seven have a free press. Of the 20 countries world-wide where the press is most shackled, nine are in Africa: Algeria, Burundi, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Zaire. Countries in the "not free" category include Cameroon, host of the OAU summit.

Nor has Mr. Boutros-Ghali addressed the issue of continuing Arab enslavement of blacks in Mauritania and Sudan, despite mounting evidence. Last month, two reporters from the Baltimore Sun actually went to Sudan, bought two black slaves and set them free. Inter Press Service correspondent, Nhial Bol filed a July 12 report charging that the regime of Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir has not only been condoning slavery but also selling black children to Arab countries in exchange for weapons. "Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much momentum [at the U.N.] for a campaign to prohibit slave practices, whether in Sudan, Mauritania or Brazil," says Jemera Rone, a researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch/Africa. "In none of these cases has there been any step forward." On the other hand, the U.N. chief did move quickly to impose diplomatic sanctions against Sudan for its alleged role in a plot last year to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Nigerian pro-democracy activists are particularly incensed at Mr. Boutros-Ghali. On March 29, a four-member U.N. mission, led by Togo's former foreign minister, Koffi Amega, arrived in Nigeria at the invitation of Gen. Sani Abacha's military government to investigate the circumstances of last November's execution of opposition leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists, as well as the military's democratization plans. To encourage Nigerians to come forward, the team assured them of confidentiality and protection against reprisals. Those who spoke with the team included Ogoni leaders and Kudirat Abiola, the wife of jailed Chief Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of Nigeria's June 12, 1993, presidential elections. On April 4 she pleaded ominously and in vain with the U.N. team "to help forestall the crisis in the country." Two months later, she was brutally gunned down by unknown assailants.

To its credit, the 24-page U.N. report criticized the law under which the nine Ogoni activists were hanged. But opposition groups slammed its endorsement of Abacha's transitional program to hand over power in 1998. The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, a Lagos-based group, expressed shock at the U.N. team's conclusion that Gen. Abacha is "sincere" in his commitment to move to democratic rule.

In recent years, the U.N. has blundered through and exacerbated one African crisis after the other. It claims Mozambique as a "success" — but only because it avoided repeating its own embarrassing missteps in Angola. It has pulled out of Western Sahara after failing to organize a referendum there. The 1993 Somalia mission was a monumental disaster, costing a staggering $3.5 billion and the lives of 18 American Marines. The Liberian mission has been a miserable fiasco. In Burundi, where ethnic tensions exploded into a military coup yesterday, the U.N. has sat on its hands —just as it did earlier in nearby Rwanda, with horrifying results.

At the OAU Summit, Rwanda's president, Pasteur Bizimungu, berated Mr. Boutros-Ghali for abandoning the Rwandan people during the 1994 genocide that claimed at least 500,000 lives. "He has not delivered," said the Rwandan president. "Some people have said we should support his candidacy because of African solidarity, but African solidarity also means accountability. After the genocide started, there were more than 2,000 U.N. troops in Rwanda. Instead of using them . . . they withdrew. We don't know why. He has betrayed those people who were massacred and the African people," he added.

Africa's economic performance has lagged persistently behind that of other Third World regions, despite receiving more than $300 billion in foreign aid since 1960. Crumbling infrastructure, senseless civil wars, political instability, high taxes, rampant inflation, runaway government expenditures, unstable currencies and high-level corruption have all conspired to stunt Africa's economic growth and render the continent unattractive to foreign investors. According to the World Bank, in 1995 a record $231 billion in foreign investment flowed into the Third World. But Africa's share was a paltry $2 billion or 1%. Even Africa's own kleptocrats avoid the continent. The U.N. itself estimated that $200 billion — or 90% of Sub-Saharan Africa's GDP — was shipped to foreign banks in 1991 alone.

The secrets of economic growth are known: rule of law, private property rights, pro-market and pro-trade policies, investment in human capital and creating an entrepreneurial environment. But Africa's problem is the predatory state itself— government hijacked by gangsters and con artists, who have turned the state sector, instead of the market, into the arena for private wealth accumulation. The underlying ethic is self-aggrandizement and self-perpetuation in power. The richest people in Africa are heads of state and their ministers. Helping the poor, promoting competitive economic growth and reforming the state are anathema to the ruling elite. If pressured, they adopt temporary, cosmetic "reforms" that ensure a continued flow of Western aid. But most Africans understand this reform posturing as the "Babangida boogie": one step forward, three steps back, a sidekick and a flip to land on a fat Swiss bank account.

Only a U.N. leader who has the guts to expose this charade for what it is could begin to apply the proper incentives for genuine development of competitive markets. But incredibly, Mr. Boutros-Ghali intends to deal with these corrupt African states by administering more of the same failed medicine.

On March 15, the U.N. launched a $25 billion Initiative on Africa to revive development, using the same defective state apparatus. The plan was hatched in consultation with African leaders at a meeting in Burkina Faso last January. During the launch, Mr. Boutros-Ghali warned that Africa is at risk of becoming the "lost continent." But the New York-based African Observer dismissed the harangue as "a charade and ... a pretext for U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to run for re-election this fall as a supporter of African development." A more scathing editorial came from Ghana's crusading newspaper, Free Press, describing it as "U.N. Largess to African Dictators": "We are dismayed that hitherto the U.N., and the nations that influence it most, have refused to appreciate that Africa is a continent dominated by dictators, and that the tragedy which blights the continent today is the doing of these notorious dictators."

Give Africa a U.N. chief who can stand up to the tyrants of the Third World, who can enforce the U.N.'s own rules and Charter of Human Rights. But please, not Mr. Boutros-Ghali again.

Mr. Ayittey, a native of Ghana, is associate professor of economics at American University and president of the Washington-based Free Africa Foundation.