To: Kofi Annan, General Secretary, United Nations
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: George Ayittey
Professor Ayittey – who I believe you know as a fellow Ghanaian -- has just returned from a six-week trip to Africa and has sent me this report by e-mail. George is president of the Free Africa Foundation in Washington, D.C., and I am on his board of advisors. He mentions you in the report and I know you will like to see what he found.
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Jude, I am back from Africa safe and sound. It was some trip -- phew!
I left the U.S. on June 23rd and returned on August 1, spending a little over 5 weeks in Africa. I visited Ghana, which was hailed recently by the World Bank as an “economic star,” and Nigeria but was unable to travel to the Ivory Coast, another World Bank “success story” due to the security situation in that country.
An attempted coup on July 4 had led to the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the Ivory Coast. I spent most of my time in Ghana, as I was attached to the Institute of Economic Affairs to do an assessment of World Bank programs in Ghana and Africa generally. At the personal level, the trip was highly successful. I gave two public lectures: “Why Africa Is Poor,” and “Why Structural Adjustment Failed in Ghana.” For both events, the conference hall was jam-packed to capacity and many were turned away because additional seating was unavailable. The second lecture was attended by senior government officials, including the Deputy Minister of Finance -- apparently on orders to come and rebut my arguments. But he made a mess of himself and was booed by the audience. I also gave a press conference about the importance of free, fair, and transparent elections in December.
For 10 days (July 20 to August 1), my observations were heavily covered by the print and electronic media, except television. Virtually all the private newspapers and one state-owned paper covered my lectures and the press conference. The Spectator, a government-owned weekly, even splashed my picture on the front page of its July 22-28 edition, designating me as its “Personality of the Week.” I was invited to all the important radio programs, including the state-owned broadcasting corporation.
Will send press clippings separately. I received a tremendous boost for my viewpoint when, at the OAU Summit in Lome, Togo, U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, blasted African leaders for the mess on the continent. In fact, The Daily Graphic -- a Ghana government-owned newspaper -- carried most of his remarks:
“At the recent OAU Summit in Lome on July 10, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan told African leaders that they are to blame for most of the continent’s problems. 'Instead of being exploited for the benefit of the people, Africa’s mineral resources have been so mismanaged and plundered that they are now the source of our misery'” (Daily Graphic, July 12, 2000; page 5). Without being presumptuous or arrogant, I can comfortably say that I enjoy much respect and support among the African people -- if only American politicians and black Americans would listen to the African people, instead of their failed leaders and governments.
THE GHANAIAN SITUATION
The economy was in shambles when I arrived in Ghana. Unemployment was pervasive, the currency, the cedi, had virtually collapsed, exchanging at 6,000 to the dollar at the FOREX, although one could obtain 6,400 cedis to the dollar at the Zongo lane (black market). A year and half ago, the rate was 2,500 cedis to the dollar. The government introduced panic measures to halt the slide in the cedi: registration of foreign exchange dealers and the completion of forms by anyone who wanted to purchase more than $2,000 in one transaction. There was an immediate outcry against this; even the IMF and the World Bank were outraged.
Economic hardships were evident on the faces of Ghanaians. Poverty had increased dramatically. When Jerry Rawlings took over power in 1981, Ghana’s income per capita was $410; today, it is $360 and people were feeling it. Prices kept changing by the day. Unable to curb its voracious appetite for revenue, the government was taxing anything that moved. At my press conference, I urged Ghanaians to vote for candidates who will roll back taxes and abolish the “vampire tax” (VAT). The people were simply OVER-TAXED!
In fact, just before I arrived, traders had embarked on a one-day strike to protest against proposed increase in VAT and tariffs. I was there when the Trade Union Congress (TUC), traditionally an ally of the government, went on a demonstration to denounce the failure of the regime’s policies. The government claimed the demonstrations were politically motivated. Hot water canons and tear gas were unleashed on some of the demonstrators -- typical response of a desperate and barbarous regime.
Politically, the country is sitting on a time bomb. The political temperature had been raised considerably. The primaries and selection of parliamentary candidates were getting increasingly violent and confrontational. Knives had been drawn and shots fired. One ruling NDC MP barely escaped an assassination attempt. Threats of civil war were being made if this or that party loses the December elections. It was these that prompted me to call a press conference about the December elections.
The bottom line, the way I saw it, is this: After 19 years of arrant misrule, the people are FED UP with the Rawlings regime. It has become the most incompetent, the most brutal, the most tyrannical, the most corrupt, the most vicious, the most ruthless and the most savage in Ghana’s history. Everywhere I went -- in taxis, private homes and bars -- it was the same lament: “We are suffering,” “Rawlings has failed us.” I encountered no one in public who was willing to go on a limb and DEFEND the regime -- except government officials. Of course, as for them, that’s their job: To defend the indefensible. Even some NDC party members I encountered were willing to admit that their party had become a looting brigade. And when the big men plunder the treasury, they quietly vanish from the scene to go and enjoy their booty.
Ghanaians want a change but the Rawlingses are not even mentally or psychologically prepared to leave the scene -- a typical African affliction. It is a combination of greed, ambition and FEAR. Twenty years is not enough for them. The First Lady wants to be president too. And since they have too many skeletons in their closet, they fear that if they leave the scene, all their gory misdeeds will be exposed. It is precisely here that the DANGER lies. Country after country after country has imploded in Africa because of the adamant refusal of its leader to leave when his people are fed up with him. These are indeed DANGEROUS TIMES for Ghana. The country is sitting on a powder keg.
Nigeria was even more depressing. So much promise, so many opportunities, yet all squandered. At the time of my visit, Nigeria was rocked by a nation-wide strike by public servants over a national minimum wage. The Delta region was aflame with occasional sabotage of oil pipeline and the illegal scooping up of gasoline by local communities. Scores of people had died from the explosions. The north was wracked by religious riots after the imposition of the sharia by Katsina and Kaduna states. The country seemed ungovernable. Poor President Obasanjo. His administration was muddling through -- directionless.
President Obasanjo had earned high marks by going after Abacha’s loot. But his own Senate has been rocked by corruption scandals. Legal action had been taken against Senate chairman Okadigbo over corruption and fraud scandals. He was refusing to resign. He may be impeached. Worse, the part of the Abacha’s loot that had been recovered, was itself being LOOTED. Lord Have Mercy. The Post Express (July 10, 2000) wrote this:
“The late Abacha is believed to have siphoned more than $8 billion of Nigeria’s foreign exchange into fictitious accounts in Europe, Asia, America, Caribbean and Arab countries. The Swiss government has already frozen $670 million lined to Abacha . . . But, in the face of these efforts, the Nigerian public became too worried over the manner and ways the government has handled the monies said to have been recovered. This apprehension came with the disclosure by the Senate Public Accounts Committee that only $6.8 million and 2.8 million pounds sterling were found in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) out of about $709 million and another 144 million pounds sterling recovered from the Abachas and other top officials of the Abacha regime . . . If the discrepancy in the recovered loot declared to the public and the money found in the coffers of CBN is not explained, Obasanjo’s regime will be suffering a grave problem of credibility crisis” (page 26).
You can sum up the causes of Africa’s problems in three words: government, government, and government. This institution has completely been perverted in Africa. It has been turned into a criminal enterprise -- does not serve its purpose and it is completely out of touch with the people. “Government” has now become an instrument of oppression and exploitation of the people by the ruling gangster elites. And they will continue their looting until the government collapses or they are kicked out or killed by a military coup or rebel leader. But, like Africans would say, the next bunch of rats will come and “do the same thing.”
The rot in Africa will continue and more countries will implode until the purpose of “government” is understood and that institution is reformed. But ruling vampire elites aren’t interested in reform, thinking that if the country blows up they will be able to escape to the West to go and enjoy their booty.
Hope your summer was productive.