‘You can fool some people sometime, but you can’t fool all the people all the time’ –Bob Marley, Get up, stand up!
In the early 1950s, following the wave of independence in Africa and South America, former colonial powers wanted to ensure that their multinationals would continue exploiting independent Africa and South America’s natural resources and keep the monopoly on supplying our markets with their products.
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank then introduced the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs).
In a nutshell, the SAPs worked like this: Governments were forced to privatize all state-owned companies and deregulate their economies to enable the private sector to compete freely. In return, the World Bank, the IMF and international community would avail open-ended credit-lines for complying countries.
The problem? South American private sector was fledgling and African Private Sector non-existent. The few ‘locals’ who ventured into manufacturing were outcompeted by western products which flooded the unregulated markets.
Strategic sectors of the economy such as banking, mining, water and electricity supply were owned by western multinationals, while governments continued to be supplied with fresh IMF/World Bank (loaned) cash to burn on western finished products.
African and South American manufacturing sectors were collapsing, education and healthcare sectors underfunded.
The SAPs significantly diminished the ability of post-independence governments to organize and regulate their economies internally in order to deliver on the promises of the independence struggles.
Poverty and misery prevailed among the population, which fueled public anger and instability from a disenfranchised people that rose up against yesteryear liberation heroes.
New governments struggled to pay the colossal loans contracted by their predecessors and had to borrow more to keeps the state afloat, but couldn’t turnaround the economies.
These also didn’t last unless they became ruthless authoritarians.
This kept our countries in a perpetual state of fragility. Leaders who rejected the SAPs were branded communists, isolated from the global markets or overthrown.
Forty years later in the early 90s, Bretton Woods Institutions (WB and IMF) finally admitted that SAPs were a bad idea for fragile states and accepted to cancel all debt on the condition that the fragile states accepted to usher in democracy.
In Rwanda, my country, ‘democratisation’ at the time meant multi-partism, and the advent of virulent opposition politics, extremist groups formed and scapegoating on minorities intensified, all leading to the Genocide of Tutsi in 1994.
While the Genocide happened, the world refrained from intervening because they regarded mass killing of the minority by the majority and private ‘media of hate’ as attributes of democracy.
In this month of April, we remember the victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi for the twenty-fourth year.
Last week, I read a report proclaiming that the wave of democratisation of fragile states was coming to an end.
The report is titled ‘Escaping the Fragility Trap’ and it was published by the so-called Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development, which is under Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government and the London School of Economics of the University of London, and will be chaired by David Cameron and Donald Kaberuka. I will get to the latter later.
‘Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia focused heavily upon actions that delivered a common purpose. In all three, the common purpose was rapid and broad-based economic growth and each has delivered remarkably effectively on it’ – the reports partly reads.
I felt so bitter reading the report. I felt bitter because I lost one million on my relatives twenty four years ago. I felt bitter because Africa and South America have lost many more in the name of Democratization. But I mostly felt bitter because my people have spent 24 years fighting with the Human Rights Watch, Reporters-Without-Borders, LSE, Oxford, David Cameron and other such global experts; messiahs of Democratization.
After our throats are literally sore and our breath out, telling them the exact same things as the ‘findings’ in their ‘new’ report, they come up, as though hit by the stroke of enlightenment, and say: ‘Oh! We have discovered a new solution for Africans!’ - Once again usurping our doctrines without acknowledging the source.
The article on Bloomberg promoting the report on Fragile States was titled: ‘Western countries think they know how to make fragile states work better. They mostly get it wrong!’ Why does the title sound so familiar?
Oh! Perhaps, it sounds familiar because it was phrased exactly like the editorial in the Guardian, the Economist, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and any other global newspaper during the just concluded elections in Rwanda: They all read: ‘Developing states think Kagame's Rwanda is the model.
We think they are wrong!' Here is the Economist, here is the NYT , Here is the Guardian, Here is the Washington Post . All published last year during our ‘undemocratic’ presidential election - and the only ones in the world to end in mass celebrations! We felt so baffled with those stories that we published: "Liberal democracy' vs the Rwandan people, who won?"
The above mentioned newspapers have not taken stock of the ‘Fragile States’ report, but it won’t be taking long. In business language you call that ‘cannibalization’.
I watched in awe, as David Cameron explained with typical eloquence, in a discussion at the Washington-Based Center for Global Development (CGD), how donor-imposed democratization and human rights fundamentalism have yielded little or no results in fragile states, and that their new research has found that the most effective approach in dealing with fragile states is to support ‘home grown initiatives’.
Dr. Kaberuka is former Rwandan minister of Finance, former President of the African Development Bank and currently the Special Envoy of the African Union Peace Fund. As someone who was there during the Urugwiro discussions, where, following the genocide, Rwandans adopted consensual politics, Dr. Kaberuka must have repeated himself a thousand times in the last 24 years to the likes of David Cameron, Oxford and LSE, explaining that ‘democratization’ is not what our continent, and especially our country needs right now, and now listening to David Cameron, he must have been wondering if David Cameron and his friends fell on their heads. What happened in the last one year that made them change so much to the point of drowning ‘Democracy’ their own baby?
Alas, I have no intention of throwing the baby with the bath water. It is all for the best that donors and the international community are finally coming to their senses, and that nations under the crushing clout of international watchdogs, global development centers and university commissions of all sorts will finally be left alone to charter their path organically.
Mine then is not a wanton jab at the international community, but an invitation to all of us to observe a minute of silence and remember innocent lives that were lost in post-electoral violence across our continent. Elections that were imposed, funded and observed by the international community in very ‘fragile states’.
Let’s take another minute to commemorate countries that faced embargoes, invaded and bombed in the name of democratisation.
A friend explained to me that when a prescriptive and normative imperialist fix such as this democracy discourse, has endured, its proponents often turn a blind eye to empirical evidence. But as they run out of alternatives, it is only a matter of time.
I just wish in the co-chairmanship, they would let Dr. Kaberuka do the thinking and David Cameron the fundraising, after all, while western democracies have no solutions for us, they bear responsibility in the suffering that our people have endured in the name of structural adjustments and democratization
In conclusion, the Fragile States Report declares, concerning Rwanda and Ethiopia: ‘None of them have yet evolved to conventional Western multi-party electoral democracy, and the true test of their escape from the fragility trap will be the peaceful transfer of power from the ruling party’ – whether genuine or aiming to save face the report couldn’t be far from the truth.
At least speaking for Rwandans, I guarantee that we do not have plans to ‘evolve’ into ‘western anything’ – especially in light of their recent democratic outcomes. And that really should be the moral of the story for the so-called ‘fragile states’.