- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

Let not your eyes go MEGA (“my eyes glaze over”) on me as I recite some eye-popping statistics about the continent of Africa. In fact when you read this report you’ll ask: “Why, for heaven’s sake, is Africa South of the Sahara (SSH) the world’s Number One Basket Case?” (Obviously, the African tragedy stops at the border of South Africa, which has a successful economy and the stirrings of a successful democracy.)

Look, here is what is below ground in the African continent: 90 percent of the world’s cobalt; 90 percent of its platinum; 50 percent of its gold; 98 percent of its chromium; 64 percent of its manganese, one-third of its uranium. Africa is rich in diamonds. And get this: Africa has more oil reserves than all of North America.

Great, wonderful. So why is Africa SSH the world’s Number One Basket Case?

It would be a logical fallacy to ascribe a single causal explanation for Africa SSH but there could be a hierarchy of causes. At the top of the list, I would put corruption among African elites as a major reason why Africa SSH has become a latterday Death Valley. One simple corroborative example: Zimbabwe, a one-time land of milk and honey, is now an abyss of tyranny and starvation, except, of course, for dictator Robert Mugabe, his family and friends.

Says Professor George Ayittey, a native of Ghana, an economist at the American University in Washington, D.C.:

“Africa has been totally mismanaged and misruled in the past decade. Nobody wants to talk about that because of political correctness. But Africa’s begging bowl leaks, horribly.”

And how it leaks. The African Union’s own estimate, according to Peter Goodspeed of the Toronto National Post, loses $148 billion a year to corruption. While Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to increase aid to Africa by an extra $25 billion a year, British taxpayers are unaware of the grand larceny being committed by crooked African leaders.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of Nigeria last year said that a series of Nigerian military dictators had squandered — hold your hat — $500 billion, a sum equivalent to all Western aid to Africa in the past four decades. In Kenya, $4 billion disappeared during the presidency of Daniel Arap Moi’s 24 years in power. This is how the National Post describes the Kenya larceny:

“The country’s Central Bank was looted, money was stolen by making fictitious payments on foreign debt, kickbacks were collected on all public contracts and when that didn’t supply enough cash, politicians awarded themselves phony contracts.”

And all this looting was going on in a country with 70 percent unemployment and while nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s population of almost 30 million were living below the poverty line. Said Tunde Obadina, economics editor of Africa Today magazine:

“The failure of democracy and economic development in Africa are due to a large part to the scramble for wealth by predator elites who have dominated African politics since independence…. Africa’s tragedy is not that its nations are poor. That is a condition that is a product of history. The tragedy is that it lacks ruling classes that are committed to overcoming the state of poverty.”

But that’s not all of the problem. Says Jerome Pope, director of Transparency International:

“The international banks, the western businessmen who bribe to get the contract, those who are in cahoots with all the millionaires, they are all up to their eyeballs in what is taking place. When it comes to moral standing, everybody belongs in the gutter together.”

Africa SSH is poor, its people starving, its children malnourished and unschooled — but there’s cash on the barrelhead for guns and bullets, for civil wars, tribal-ethnic wars, territorial wars. Is it possible, as a Nigerian newspaper editor once wrote, that Africa was better off under colonialism?

Someday one hopes Africa will come into its own. But when?

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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