#Article (Archive)

Good Governance is the Best Policy

Jul 27, 2009, 7:57 AM

The defiance of Niger's leader Mamadou Tandja in going ahead with a referendum on his third-term plan, despite international pressure against it, is yet another sign that Africa remains plagued by the strongman syndrome. Apart from few examples, presidential succession in Africa is fraught with crisis or violence that leads to untold loss of life and perennial political instability. Both Kenya and Zimbabwe are still reeling from the aftermath of presidential succession; and South Africa barely averted a succession crisis. It all boils down to the question of bad governance. The African strongmen are so intoxicated by power that fear being impotent without it.

Some of the tactics of the strongmen are bizarre: constitutions are tempered with to enable an incumbent leader to rule without any term limit; the legislature is packed with stooges and bootlickers who bend themselves over backwards to legitimize damnable ambitions of an incumbent. In countries such as Togo and Gabon, the presidency is now a family corporate business where sons succeed fathers without regard to the values of a republican state. It is for this reason that much of Africa, from the point of view of democracy, is regarded as a sight for sore eyes.

There is much that is wrong with leadership on the continent. When state resources are plundered with reckless abandon by the very people who are entrusted with their management, a country sinks: infrastructure decays and social and economic obligations are left unattended to. As a result, poverty takes centre stage. When leaders are richer than their countries, that is no good governance; it is executive daylight robbery. In such a situation, the people are left to fight over the crumbs that fall off a leader's table. This has given rise to sycophancy as a survival strategy in many an African country.

The antidote, as we see it, is that good governance remains the best policy for the continent. In this context, leaders have to be faithful to their electoral promises and keep faith with the people from whom they derive their mandate. They have to govern transparently without recourse to brute force when they are called upon to give account of their stewardship. They have to manage state resources for the benefit of everyone, without enriching themselves and their allies at the expense of the masses. It is only in Africa that people take a public office as a springboard to sudden and unexpected opulence. In other parts of the world, a public position is seen as an opportunity for service to the community.

Despite the gloom that has enveloped much of the continent, we are ever so optimistic that the African people will transcend this sad phase of their development.

"Good government could never be a substitute for government by the people themselves".

Sir Bannerman Campbell