Friday, March 30, 2012

The Bahamas - a model for African Democracies

One of the common misconceptions about the stagnant development of African countries (and here I'm separating socio-economic and political development from raw economic growth) is that they were set up for failure by colonial powers, be it the United Kingdom, France, Spain or Portugal. The argument is that the systems, institutions and laws/policies put into place have somehow 'handicapped' African countries and prevented them from progressing in 'their own way'. We hear about the 'Nigerian' or 'Ghanaian' or 'Ugandan' way of doing something, as if those countries existed in their present forms before colonization!
Of course, these are merely excuses for poor fiscal management, ridiculously high levels of corruption and lack of infrastructure development, primarily around education, healthcare, transportation networks, security and energy (electrical power, in particular).

Recently I decided to visit the Bahamas, a trip influenced by the fact that my fiancee is from there. She had talked up the Bahamas before our visit, and I knew a lot about the history of the country, including its reputation as the 'Luxembourg' of the Caribbean (assuming the Cayman Islands is the 'Switzerland', and Turks & Caicos the 'Liechtenstein'). My historical knowledge and personal ties to the Bahamas could not prepare me for the level of development (again, not just economic!) that I witnessed. The road networks were fantastic, power was as regular as anywhere else in the developed world, the hospitals and schools looked to be top-notch; and the roads were well maintained. In its makeup, is the Bahamas really that different from any African country?

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Confounding Legacy of an African Freedom Fighter

Nelson Mandela.
Robert Mugabe.
Emeka Ojukwu.

All freedom fighters. Men who are revered by their followers. Men who at their peak were hated but importantly, respected by their enemies. Men who impacted their countries and indeed, the world. What is their legacy?

Nelson Mandela had to be hospitalized last week and was treated to a hero's welcome upon his return home. The eulogies that have poured in for him - even in life - exceed those of several statesmen who have passed on. You can imagine that his death, whenever that is, will be mourned globally. Yet this is a man who at the height of his freedom fighting was plotting to blow up installations and destroy the country's economy in a bid to end apartheid. Today, he is a statesman and global legend almost without compere.

Robert Mugabe was probably regarded as the finest freedom fighter since Che Guevara. A charismatic man who could whip up the fervor of any crowd, he went through several personal deprivations in order to ensure that Zimbabwe was free from the shackles of Ian Smith's Rhodesia and was globally regarded when he accomplished this (except in the UK, perhaps). Yet it didn't take long for him to slip down the slope of extra-judicial killings, corruption and nepotism. Today, Mugabe has lost his entire store of goodwill in the international community. His death, whenever it comes, will likely be greeted with more cheers than tears.

The legacies of these two are pretty clear-cut. The third man on my list - Emeka Ojukwu - confounds and confounds totally.

Emeka Ojukwu was buried in Nnewi, Southeast Nigeria, today. An Oxford-educated, silver-tongued orator and Army officer who led the breakaway Republic of Biafra when it seceded from Nigeria in 1967 until its collapse in 1970, Ojukwu and his legacy is a topic that has provoked many a heated discussion in Nigeria from then till now.