The myth of Africa's leadership deficit (Part II)

As promised in my previous piece on Africa's leadership deficit, I will discuss how the great powers of the world as we know them today were built. First off, a quick look at the developed western countries - the United States and Europe.

As promised in my previous piece on Africa’s leadership deficit, I will discuss how the great powers of the world as we know them today were built. First off, a quick look at the developed western countries – the United States and Europe.

Who envisioned the EU? How was America built?

Europe was envisioned by Walter Hallstein, a German lawyer and promoter of the Nuremberg racial laws, who became its “founding father”. Jacques Cœur, whose statue stand tall in Bourges was, a French merchant, one of the founders of the trade between France and Levant. Great Britain was built by the Robber Knight who robbed ships of their cargoes, stealing entire ships and even kidnapping – just like the Piracy off the coast of Somalia.

United States was built by men like the Vanderbilt, the American railroad magnate who built grand mansions on the Fifth Avenue in New York City, the Du Pont family, the Rockefellers, J.P. Morgan, Jay Gould and Andrew Carnegie who used exploitative practices to amass their wealth.

They unfairly destroyed competitors, which allowed them to set prices as they wished, which is why they were known as robber barons (a term derived from the medieval German lords who charged nominally illegal tolls on ships traversing the Rhine).

After making fortunes, the likes of Rockefeller and Carnegie went into philanthropy and built Universities; others built companies, industries, railroads and industries – in other words they invested in their countries. In my part of the world, Africa, it seems the other way round. The continent lost more than 854 billion dollars in capital flight between 1970 and 2008, according to Global Financial Integrity (GFI).

In Rwanda, in particular, the great leaders who founded and expanded beyond the shores of Lake Kivu to reach Ndorwa and Butembo were not saints either. In fact, Rwabugiri, who is considered to have been one of the very greatest of the Abami (Rwandan kings), had a considerable reputation for harshness in dealings with his subjects.

For all their imperfection, these nation builders had vision and a sense of nation. In fact, Rwanda reached the height of its power under Mutara II Rwogera (reigned 1830 to 1853) and Kigeri IV Rwabugiri (1853-95). Unfortunately, these traits have been, and I am afraid, are still a rare occurrence in post-colonial Africa.

As I said in my previous piece, we have been finger-pointing and blaming colonialism and its legacy for Africa’s underdevelopment and all sorts of problems, including recurrent wars and famine, many of them the link to colonialism is invisible. I think we have blamed it on colonialism for too long – but to no avail – and we’ve forgotten how to think. My fear is that we’ve become complacent and settled for the status quo. Africa hasn’t progressed much in the last half century because our leaders, both political and business, have no vision for Africa or have their vision outside Africa.

For me, the main reason for Africa’s underdevelopment is capital flight. According to the Africa Union, around $148 billion are stolen from the continent (and kept in banks in Europe, America and Asia) by its leaders and civil servants every year. These figures are published annually by anti-corruption group based the US and Europe. These banks, in turn, will lend this money to commercial banks in Africa, at incredibly high rates, and most of the profits are invested in industrialised countries.

While everyone is concerned with the stealing of money – as being the cause of underdevelopment in African societies and impoverished millions – (which I don’t condone), it’s important to remember that developed countries were not built by saints. My main worry here is the flow of such huge amount of money from Africa to Swiss and other western banks. Money which, if kept in commercial banks in Africa, would go a long way in bridging the gaps in SME financing on the continent. Access to finance is critical to unlocking Africa’s great growth potential... lack of access to finance is a major obstacle.

Now the question is, why is money not kept in Africa and what do we do about capital flight? Well, I don’t think the solution can be found in cultivating incorruptible leaders nor can anything be done about Western banks that are complicit in capital flight. I reckon that we won’t find any saints.

In my next series, I will discuss what I think Africa should do based on African cultural values.

The writer is a research student at Aberdeen Business School, Scotland (UK).