African governance issues are often seen as intractable. Where does the blame lie for Africa's slow progress in comparison to fast-developing states in Asia? Is it due to the artificiality of African states and the depth of colonial domination? Or is it simply a question of the dysfunctional relationship between leaders and followers?
Countries are in the end, people --the ideas they conceive about themselves and the way they organise themselves and those ideas. A resource-poor country like Singapore can deliver significant progress purely through the way it trains, organises and deploys its human capacity. It imagined, created and took advantage of opportunities it Identified. In Singapore this has been a top-down affair, a case of driven leaders with a plan, with disciplined followers, who were in turn given what was promised them.
In Africa the top-down approach generally hasn't worked. Plans abound but mostly with minimal delivery. On my recent visit to Nigeria, people repeated the same litany of complaints about the greed, lack of delivery, and sheer wickedness of their leaders at all levels.
For instance, one governor, running for re-election next year, mounted a major campaign celebrating his achievements. Posters showed off his infrastructure successes--sparkling new roads, stretching into the distance. One of these new roads looked as impressive in real life as the posters--until a quarter of mile in, after going around a corner, the new road literally stopped, returning once more to a pothole-filled dirt track.
Such cynical tactics by Nigerian leaders produce a debilitating helplessness about how to respond to such brazen callousness.
In the case of 'the disappearing road' governor, he wasn't a remote figure, manipulating people from a distance. He was a well-known local son--people knew his village and were largely aware that he wasn't driven by their welfare, but mostly saw his governorship as a get-rich scheme, having already sent his family abroad, where he would one day join them. He would, In the social media joke, only return to be buried, treating the country as a cemetery.
Despite their localisation, attempts to confront such anti-productive leaders directly are frequently met with reaction from hired thugs or the state-security apparatus. Then there is also active collusion with such leadership by far too many of those suffering...