Who say Africa is independent?

Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Position:Cover Story

The optimism flowing from the 2nd African Union Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, suggests a new dawn of African independence. But in reality, what kind of independence are we talking about in Africa? A mere flag-and-anthem independence? Or an independence that gives us the right of choice, decision and action over national affairs? New African went all the way to Blantyre, Malawi, to seek the views of President Bakili Muluzi. His answers were quite revealing.

Independence, according to the Collins English Dictionary, is "the state or quality of being independent". Five words down the same page, the dictionary lists 11 meanings of "independent". The first four are as follows: "1. Free from control in action, judgement etc, autonomous. 2. Not dependent on anything else for function, validity, etc, separate. 3. Not reliant on the support; especially financial support, of others. 4. Capable of acting for oneself or on one's own."

On all four definitions, Africa is, sadly, deficient, according to President Bakili Muluzi who has been president of Malawi for nine years and has been in politics since he was 25. He is now 60, born on 17 March 1943. So, surely, he must know what he is talking about.

Before Muluzi came to power in 1994, 40% of Malawi's budget was reliant on foreign aid, and it still is. But over the last two years, this 40% has been suspended because Muluzi dared (or as he told New African, his cabinet, ruling party and opposition wanted him) to run for a third term even though Malawi's Constitution limits the presidential term to only two five-year stints.

Interestingly, apart from the USA whose Constitution puts a limit on the presidential term (two terms and no more), all the other donors to Malawi who campaigned stridently against Muluzi's third term bid and withdrew their aid as a result, do not have any constitutional limitations on how many terms a president or prime minister can serve in their own countries.

So, then, why is it different in Africa? If an unlimited presidential or prime ministerial term is good for Europe and even the Arab world, why is it bad for Africa? (Here, we are inviting the views of our readers, which will be published in a later issue).

There may be many answers to this, but the most impressive yet has come from Oswaldo de Rivero, the former Peruvian diplomat and ambassador to the United Nations (a man whose views have been shaped by 20 years of profound knowledge of the international scene). In his book, The Myth of Development, published in 2001, he proffers an explanation:

"In the majority of the industrialised states," he says, "national identity preceded the crysrallisation of the state authority. In other words, the nation, reflected in a common culture, and above all in the emergence of a middle class and a national market, existed before the modern state was formed.

"In contrast, the majority of the quasi nation-states of Latin America, Asia and Africa, despite their historical and cultural differences, experienced this sequence in reverse. The political authority, that is to say, the state, emerged from the independence process before the nation, before the national cultural identity and before the development of a true middle class and a unifying national market. As a consequence of this, in many of these countries the political elite, the state bureaucracy and the military are still trying to achieve a national project, through the use of symbols and pursuing myths that serve them as sustenance.

He continues: "The idea that the European model of the nation-state could be reproduced [in these states, has] proved to be not only false but dangerous for the stability of the region and of the world... In many [of these] nation-states, political life itself is...

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