Playing Politics in Africa

Article excerpt

TWO new books on African politics dislodge conventional views of the continent's political landscape.

"Africa Betrayed," by Ghanaian economist George B. N. Ayittey, looks at the ravages of more than two decades of black self-government in Africa. As a black African, Ayittey brings a personal, passionate commitment to his analysis. But he does not simply offer complaints about the status quo. He develops a comprehensive prescription for addressing the continent's lack of representative responsible government.

`High Noon in Southern Africa," by Chester A. Crocker, is an outsider's analysis written in the calm, assured tone of an American career diplomat. Both books show that whites are not always oppressors and blacks are not always victims.

After Ayittey was driven out of Ghana by government harassment, he was amazed to find that in the West, "African leaders, especially those from black Africa, were viewed almost as saints." "Exceedingly tolerant and apologetic Western attitudes that shielded African despots from public scrutiny and criticism have helped perpetuate tyranny in Africa," he writes.

Makaziwe Mandela, Nelson Mandela's daughter from his first marriage, says in the foreword to "Africa Betrayed" that this book is an "inside view" that "many would prefer not to hear.... But only the truth shall set us free."

Ayittey's critique centers on the rudimentary or nonexistent political structures needed to support human rights in Africa.

Rebuilding Africa's indigenous political institutions is still possible, Ayittey says. "There are still chiefs and kings operating in Africa as well as tribal councils ... {who} are not illiterate and politically primitive," he writes. Community involvement and sophisticated checks on political power existed for centuries before colonists set foot on the continent.

Ayittey scolds the world press for being soft on black African tyrants. South Africa's racist regime is the target of countless articles and television reports, he writes. Yet the press rarely reports that in Sudan, Mauritania, and other African states, several million black Africans are still held as slaves.

World opinion condones tyranny "as long as the tyrants are black," Ayittey writes. "This insidious form of racism suggests that white rulers in Africa must be held accountable to a higher moral standard than black leaders face."

At the June 1991 Organization of African Unity summit in Abuja, Nigeria, African leaders demanded trillions of dollars in reparations from the West for the colonial exploitation and ravages of the slave trade. These same leaders, Ayittey says, have pillaged their countries of billions of dollars now stashed in foreign bank accounts.

President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire has $8 billion to $12 billion hidden overseas. He could singlehandedly pay off his country's foreign debt. Wealthy Nigerians have $33 billion in foreign bank accounts, about equal to their country's national debt. Other heads of state have also amassed fortunes: Mali's Moussa Traore has $2 billion; Ivory Coast's Houphouet-Boigny has $11.5 billion; Togo's Gen. Gnassingbe Eyadema made off with $2.8 billion. …