Home The Washington Diplomat May 2019 Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

Re: “African Staying Power: Continent’s Longest-Serving Leaders Stay Put While Lining Their Pockets”

April 2019 Issue of The Washington Diplomat

diplomat.cover.moldova.digitalThe article on long-standing corrupt African dictators was fabulous — well researched, written and courageous. “Courageous” because the article touched on a multiplicity of issues regarded as taboo subjects in diplomatic cycles — longevity in office, corruption, flagrant human rights violations, rigged elections, among others. For example, “government,” as you and I know it, does not exist in many African countries. What exists is a criminal enterprise or what I call a vampire state. Government has been turned into a vehicle for self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement.

For the past 30 years, it has been a taboo to describe a government in Africa as such. I can testify to this because of my own frustration in pushing this narrative. Few editors would touch this subject because it is not politically correct; nor does one want to portray Africa in a negative light.

I am writing this, not because I am delighted to have been quoted, but for the more fundamental reason that the truth about Africa is ugly but you cannot solve the problems in Africa without talking honestly about them.

The ugly truth is that true freedom never came to much of Africa after independence in the 1960s. All we did was to trade one set of masters (white colonialists) for another set of masters (black neocolonialists) and the exploitation and repression of the African people continued unabated. Sixty years after independence, only 17 of the 54 African countries are democratic and fewer than 10 may be classified as economic success stories. Africa is poor because she is not free.

Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has been toppled. Incongruously, he was a Western ally in the war against terrorism. The Arab Spring caught the West flat-footed. Let’s hope the West has learned some hard lessons. Toppling a dictator is only the first step in establishing a free society. The second step is dismantling the dictatorship itself. In many countries, the second step was botched, which led to the revolution being reversed (as in Egypt, with the military back in charge) or hijacked by a crocodile liberator far worse than the ousted dictator (Liberia in 1991, Ethiopia in 1991, the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996).

Once again, kudos for the article. I hope it encourages others to do so too.

— George B.N. Ayittey, Ph.D.
Washington, D.C.