Monday, March 13, 2006

Why we remain terminally poor in Africa!!!

I just read this very insightful article by Tim Hartford of the Economist. He dispassionately looked with a clear eye to the structural reasons that make upward mobility of many countries in Africa an almost impossible task. I could not help marvel at how endemic and typical the underlying problems he encountered in Cameroon are to the rest of our chronically poor countries in Africa.

Like many good articles, I found myself seeing how obvious are the root problems he diagnoses, and how the analysis of the baffling behavior of some of our leaders and institutions in Africa can sometimes be made easier when we dispense with the assumption that they are either unrepentant villains or purely incompetent idiots.

In the context of Sudan, and especially our emerging autonomous region of South Sudan, the potential for devastating duplication of what happened in countless African nations is very stark. While we are not a state per se, our government institutions are being tasked with mandates and resources that will certainly dwarf those at the disposal of many other countries. The problems of non-existing institution to regulate the nexus of interaction between and among the citizenry are in my opinion more destructive in the long run than our present day immediate political concerns.

It is prudent to assume that our future viability as a peaceful and stable state with-in or with-out Sudan will depend to a great extent on what happens in terms of cementing a working community of laws and responsibilities in this interim period. While the self determination vote is a precious prize that was acquired with the blood and sweat of many patriots, it should be seen as one achieved objective among many other equally important aspirations. . We should resist the mindset that our long bout of misery and marginalization will sunset with the conclusion of the Self-determination vote. The problem with that singular obsession is that it diverts considerable focus from the equally important task of building institutions and laying a solid foundation for a real society with strong governmental and civil institutions. It is also unhealthy in the current climate because it overstates the importance of whatever machinations are unleashed by the ruling party in Khartoum, and unwisely discounts whatever immediate roles we should be doing in the South and the three areas to chart a different course for our people and their future.

We should be more ambitious in a sense, to not only work to redistribute the country's wealth and power as stipulated in the CPA, but to also concurrently work to lay a stronger foundation for a more functioning state in the future if the vote is conclusively for separation. These are obvious prescriptions, and are only mentioned here for emphasis purposes because both the SPLM and the GOSS government have enumerated them many times in documents and strategy papers.

The fear is that we will be satisfied with a self determination vote coming up, and devote all our precious energies to safeguarding that while we mortgage the task of building the state into the future after the referendum. Other than the critical safeguarding of the agreement, our government is placing deservedly important focus on upgrading the physical infrastructure in the South. However, I would hope that we also place as much emphasis and allocate the relevant resources to the equally important priorities such as the judiciary, local civil administration, gender and social welfare, war widows and orphans etc. I believe we should resist the temptation to devote a disproportionate share of our oil and donated monies to buildings and urban structures in the towns, and neglect the country-side and the less affluent and educated sectors of our society.

We have a unique chance to avoid the class and social cleavages that are plaguing many countries in Africa because we are essentially starting from scratch and can at least strive to get it half right. The problems of tribalism and sectionalism deserve a more systematic approach that will address the underlying social and economical factors underlying them, and a slow disengagement from the usual practice of courting militias and their leaders. While the pragmatic realities clearly argue for the steps taken by the government to integrate all our warring brothers and sisters under one umbrella, we also need to find a more lasting prescription to reconcile all our people.


  1. Wow, great article, thanks for the link.

    "The lesson of the story might appear to be that self-interested and ambitious people in power are often the cause of wastefulness in developing countries. But self-interested and ambitious people are in positions of power, great and small, all over the world. In many places, they are restrained by the law, the press, and democratic opposition. Cameroon’s tragedy is that there is nothing to hold self-interest in check."

    That statement says a lot about what ails Africa.

  2. Hello War Nar, I got to your blog via Hash's link. I laughed when I read your profile because as a very ordinary American I sometimes feel so silly writing and African-centric blog. What the heck do I know? But as strange as it seems blogs are useful for building more responsive institutions.

    My interest is in building bridges. And it seems really important to build connections between ordinary Americans and Africans living here. It's the old saw "think globally, act locally."

    I live near Pittsburgh and within a month's time there were two murders of Africans living here and a serious shooting--All of them seemed to be "the wrong place and the wrong time" sort. Adjustment is huge...I don't know what to do.

    The thing is, many Americans think in terms of what the American government can do in Africa. That's important but far more so for ordinary people is building connections. People outside African can be involved in building and supporting institutions in Africa if they've got some clue; some personal connection.

    It's really hard to do but it'd be great for Africans here in the US and regular Americans to get to know each other and find ways to collaborate. LOL blogs offer one easy way, so your voice and your blog is something I'm happy to discover.

    You probably already know but if not check it out.

  3. Anonymous10:29 PM

    Hi Wau Nar, I must say it has been a nice experience reading your blog.

    I'm posting this message from Venezuela...yeah, another oil country...and well, yeah, another poor country despite its wealth.

    How can I do to get in contact with you in order to know more about these "experiments" in Sudan with oil, basically those carried by White Nile.

    My mail is

    I'm looking for know more about oil deals in Central Africa...and Sudan of course. Thanks.