Africa: Side by Side...But in Starkly Different Worlds
Op-Ed, Los Angeles Times
July 4, 2004
Author: Robert Rotberg, Director, Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Intrastate Conflict Program
Light and dark sit side by side in Africa.
Zimbabwe, home of Africa's worst tyranny, and Botswana, the continent's most advanced and persistent democracy, share a border. The two countries have overlapping ethnic groups, equal levels of linguistic and communal homogeneity and similar traditional and colonial cultures. Yet they have taken starkly different turns. What explains such contrasting outcomes?
Zimbabwe, once blessed with a strong economy, natural resources and a tolerant society, is now desperately poor and bitterly divided, brought to ruin by greed.
Botswana, originally impoverished and weak, is now one of Africa's wealthiest countries, moved ahead by wise leaders. Zimbabwe is atrociously governed. Botswana is a paragon of good governance.
Within Africa there are many badly run countries, although none is so abused by its leader as Zimbabwe. There are fewer Botswanas— everyone's model of a well and honestly administered African nation-state. It is not natural resources or human capital that differentiates the two societies. It's leadership.
President Robert Mugabe, a Jesuit-trained teacher with many academic degrees to his name, became prime minister of Zimbabwe in 1980 and has ruled his landlocked state ever since. During his first years, he showed promise, expanding educational opportunity for Zimbabweans and stimulating the local economy.
By 1998, Zimbabwe boasted more university-trained Africans per capita than any other country on the continent. With commercial crops of tobacco, sugar and maize, its agricultural sector contributed substantially to the prosperity of the nation. Gold, chrome, nickel, iron and coal also boosted Zimbabwe's wealth.
Today, 80% of Zimbabweans are unemployed. Two million of the country's residents have fled to Botswana and South Africa. Inflation rates, which fluctuate wildly, average out to more than 500% a year, and the Zimbabwean dollar has depreciated against the U.S. dollar from 38 to 1 in 1999 to more than 5,000 to 1 today. Hunger and starvation are widespread, and consumer shortages abound. Since 1998, Zimbabwe's per capita gross domestic product has slid from about $700 to about $200. Death rates have skyrocketed, and school attendance has plummeted.
And the situation cannot be quickly remedied. Commercial farming, which once supplied nearly 70% of the nation's total GDP, is a shambles. Since 2000, thugs employed by Mugabe have chased nearly 4,000 white and black families off their farms. Their land and equipment were not given to landless peasants but rather to Mugabe's political cronies and other politically connected black entrepreneurs. Some 400,000 workers lost their livelihoods in the land grab. And the farms, without the people who know how to work them, are not being tilled, contributing to the growing problem of starvation.
How did things go so awry? Mugabe's lust -- for both power and money -- betrayed his country. He has lined his pockets with his nation's wealth, building mansions at home and purchasing estates overseas. His pilfering from Zimbabwe's foreign exchange coffers has led directly to the shortages that his people face today.
And Mugabe's hunger for power has proven just as strong as his desire for wealth. Since the 2000 elections, when his party was challenged for the first time, Mugabe hasn't hesitated to rig elections and do whatever necessary to retain power.
The contrast with neighboring, gentle Botswana could not be more complete. Since its independence in 1966, Botswana -- alone of all mainland African countries -- has been unswervingly and continuously democratic. The rule of law is firm, and freedom is honored. Tolerance of diversity and of opposing political views is standard. Elections are bitterly contested but fairly and honestly conducted. There is no better place in Africa to experience the democratic process more completely and positively. Good leadership, not luck, made the difference.
As a British protectorate, Botswana was neglected. Zimbabwe's white settler government provided a good infrastructure and a platform for prosperity and education, however discriminatory.
Meanwhile, Botswana literally had nothing but miles and miles of desert and a fledgling beef industry. Botswana began poor and did not begin to reap dividends from the 1967 discovery of the world's richest source of gem diamonds until 1975, when the country became the world's fastest-growing economy. Since then, in contrast with the oil exporters of West Africa and copper-producing Zambia on its northern border, Botswana has used its new wealth for the benefit of the nation, not for a select few, and certainly not to enrich the ruling class.
Seretse Khama, the founder of Botswana's first political party, the architect of the country's independence movement and the country's first president, had the ethnic and social standing, as a hereditary paramount chief of the Bamangwato tribe, to become an autocrat as well as a president. He could have behaved like Mugabe or like his contemporaries in Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghanaand Nigeria. Instead, he decided to rule for the people rather than over them.
Khama was an unusually gifted man, and much of the explanation for Botswana's success can be traced to the personal assets he brought to the presidency. They included a profound appreciation of what chiefs like himself owed to their constituents.
He and his forefathers -- possibly influenced by the Bamangwato struggle first against Zulus and later against white invaders in the 19th century, and by the presence of British missionaries such as David Livingstone -- eschewed the "big man" notion of omnipotence and regarded themselves as servants of their followers, not rulers.
Khama's education at FortHare, which is South Africa's premier university for blacks, at Oxford and in London studying law reinforced the chiefly obligations that he had assimilated. His exposure to higher education and to Europe also added to a broad worldview that Mugabe, despite comparable opportunities, never developed.
For Khama, in contrast with other presidents and prime ministers in Africa then and since, there was an ethic of performance and good governance to which he adhered and to which he ensured his country adhered. He was conscious daily that he could perform better than the leaders of next-door South Africa, where whites oppressed the majority and deprived most inhabitants of their human rights and civil liberties.
Almost surrounded by South African apartheid, Khama radiated humanity, hope and fairness. He felt very strongly that Botswana had to be exemplary in its governance so as to show up the iniquities in the South African system. Thus Khama refused to take or rationalize the democratic shortcuts promoted by many of his contemporaries -- Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzaniaand Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.
Without Khama's foundation, and the equally sterling leadership of Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae, his two successors, Botswana would not be the success story that it is. At a time when much of the rest of Africa is plagued with too many Mugabes -- recent kleptocratic despots such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo, Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya and Siad Barre of Somalia are examples -- the challenge of how to find and nurture responsible leaders seems daunting. But the example of Botswana shows that it can be done, and that individual leaders do matter.
To this end, a group of Africa's best present and former senior leaders -- men in the mold of Khama -- recently decided to take action. Led by Masire, the second president of Botswana, they agreed to confront Africa's pathology of poor stewardship by deeds as well as words. They established an African Leadership Council, promulgated a Code of African Leadership (dubbed "the 23 commandments of leadership") and proposed courses to train their successors in the arts of good leadership and government.
The African Leadership Council and its code and training program are attempts to reinvigorate African leadership capacity almost from scratch. The council intends its initiative to be more transformative than the much-publicized plans for peer review of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, and to goad faltering leaders to attend to the needs of the people and not themselves.
This is a tall order for contemporary Africa, but these uncommonly bold leaders have the prestige and esteem to make a major difference. Good leadership has transformed Botswana and Mauritius and is beginning to do so in Ghana, Senegal and South Africa. Now the leadership council's challenge is to spread the lessons of Botswanathroughout the rest of Africa.
For more information about this publication please contact the ICP Program Coordinator at 617-496-9812.
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