It’s midnight Saturday 15th of March 2014, some families stayed awake with grief stricken faces. Close to twenty of their young graduates who left them that morning for the National Immigration Service recruitment examination had not returned home. They will never return home, they were gone; dead in the stampede, trampled to death by over six million fellow Job seekers vying for four thousand opening in Nigeria’s immigration service. There is no better indication to confirm that a third liberation is becoming long overdue for most African country.
Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst’s ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ has been by my bed side in the past week. Coincidentally, I have read this book alongside ‘the Incorruptible Judge’ by D. Olu Olagoke which I reviewed here. Representing different genres of literature and published in different era, I had no challenge finding their linkages. This two books are my best bet at conceptualizing linkages between unemployment and corruption as projected in Africa and perhaps world over.
As children, we took pride in acting good plays. We were our own cast, our own stage and costume managers and producer. Our stage was the pure red earth beneath Africa’s moonlight. Yes, for us it was not just the sun that rises, the moon sets and rises too, giving light to our immature performances. The Incorruptible Judge was a favorite play with its good story line. It taught us the the words ‘bribery’, ‘corruption’ and ‘unemployment’. Of the three, unemployment was a word we didn’t clearly understand until we grew into graduates and job seekers. Perhaps the incidences mentioned above now gives more meaning to unemployment.
Written in 1962, almost three decades before we encountered it, D. Olu Olagoke presents a story that different generation can relate to. As captured in the review, ‘ The Incorruptible Judge and the Incorrigible Liar’, it tells of a time when in the face of crime, whistle blowers like Ajala the job seeker were commended and given justice by the legal system. It was a time when the values of the society reflected in the education we received and the expectations we had, there was in practice, no conflict. Our understanding of good and bad was in no way blurred. Consequently we knew bribery was bad and that it only births corruption. Apart from warning on the evil of bribery and corruption, D. Olu Olagoke with his play might have tried to excite our imaginations and prepare us for a season of joblessness.
‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ reflects back on the journey of African countries from about seven decades ago, to 2011. Seven decades
ago to the present time creates a wide space for reflections and deductions. Though Olu Adegoke writes at almost the same time, Greg and Jeffrey did a more extended and indepth work. They conceptualized the sub-Saharan African Journey of liberation in this era (1960’s and above) into three. Africa’s first liberation meant freedom from the colonist’s racial government. The second one was (or still is) freedom from Africa’s liberators. The long overdue third liberation addressed in this book focuses on Africa’s economic growth through reassessing their present political economy characterized by corruption, capitalism, elitism and social inequality.
If D.Olu Adegoke envisaged a failed state weakened by corruption then, he is prophetically correct. Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst’s reflection on sub-Saharan Africa’s development experiences and their reality today, projects a continent with rich resources littered within the boundaries of its fragile states. The widespread unemployment, a veneer of justice, pervasive impunity all climaxes in weak leadership which is a continental malady. Relatively, while the Incorruptible Judge espouses glimpse into the future where power is abused and public trust is betrayed by leaders using public power for private gain, ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ gives a roadmap out of it.
Sharing a strong theme of pervasive unemployment as seen in the experiences of Ajala the young school leaver in ‘The Incorruptible Judge’, Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst likewise expressed that for all Africa’s progress, jobs for young people remains an extra-ordinary challenge especially for sub-Saharan Africa where formal sector employment is endemically low and falling. The demographic dividends of yesterday’s children being todays’ workers are being lost with all its exciting development opportunities. This lack of jobs for young people fosters slow growth of Africa’s middle class. This is imperative for any country’s development.
Corruption, which is the common thread that runs through the poor development of the continent, cannot be ignored as responsible for endemic unemployment. While Justice Faderin sought to deter this in the fictional society he represented, Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst projects it better in Malawi, an African country which remains one of the world’s poorest. It can’t be exclusively said that corruption is solely responsible for this level of poverty, but it also cannot be excused as reason why three-quarters of their population lives below US$1 a day. Greg and Jeffrey explored the trajectories of Malawi presidents from the time of late President Hastings Banda (who declared his self, president for life ruling from 1964 to 1994) to the time of President Bakili Muluzi, through to the time of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
The clear difference in their tenure was notably the nature of venality, escalating corruption from being very centralised, to being widespread, open and consequently, more sophisticated with a carefully developed chain. Everything trickles down, whether good or bad. This is the case with the Malawi government’s Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP). This reform helped build food sufficiency and improve lives for a while in an internationally acknowledged way; but it also gave scope and further created a ring for massive corruption among bottom ladder farmers on-selling the fertilizers and the elites managing the corrupt processes. Hence Malawi lost more years of growth to venality.
Despite the author’s comparison of sub-Saharan Africa to Central America’s country like Guatamela (the murder city of the world) where corruption is the way of life, African countries have in different ways proven they can grow. Holding 60% of the world’s most arable land and other resources, yes Africa can upswing their destiny away from poverty and endemic unemployment.
As the authors project, venal Malawi, poster boy Nigeria, war-land Congo among other countries alike, need to exercise the will to challenge vested interested which is the root of corruption. Otherwise the states will remain weak, festered with social inequality and infested with joblessness which may trigger radicalization of politics and criminality. We are reminded that citizens empowered by technology and power are no longer tolerant like before as can be seen in the Arab spring.
The authors of Africa’s Third Liberation recommends a clear departure from the trend of leadership conflicting with interest and encourages African leaders to take full responsibility for their country’s economic destiny, as steps for upswing economic growth. However my addition will be an essential factor which they and most of us seem to ignore.
In my understanding, fragile states have undermined laws, indeed the quickest way to weaken a state is to weaken the legal system and make its constitutions a paper tiger. Hence, strengthening the legal system remains a strong indicator for progressive growth in this region. Legal systems are important for institutionalizing and securing reforms that can create jobs and promote any proposed development models. A strong legal system encourages rule of law, providing mechanisms for accountability, transparency and political stability. This creates space for implementing forward-leaning policies and most of all good leadership. As Justice Faderin, the incorruptible judge puts it, ‘if the citadel of justice is corrupt, what will happen to the body politics? It will be completely rotten and collapse’.
There is a linkage between graft and unemployment as they are interconnected. Reducing unemployment or corruption is impossible without a refashioned process of law that enables a fair and functional state. Imposition of the rule of law will be the bedrock of development in African states; it will ensure supremacy of the law over all citizens, no matter how powerful they are. Africa needs the return of the incorruptible judges to strengthen the law and create a corruption free state, perhaps this will clearly differentiate Africa’s second liberation from the proposed third liberation.
– Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye.