Basildon Peta: Pop concerts won't solve our problems

African elites have made war on their own people and pilfered the continent
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The Independent Online

Every bead of sweat spent by those in rich countries seeking to lift Africa out of perpetual squalor is worth something. Every note that's hit by the great and good on stage at the upcoming Live8 Concert in London, which aims to highlight the need for real reform in the way the richest eight countries deal with Africa, is worth hearing. But those currently falling over each other to help Africa should be ready for the next sequel.

Every bead of sweat spent by those in rich countries seeking to lift Africa out of perpetual squalor is worth something. Every note that's hit by the great and good on stage at the upcoming Live8 Concert in London, which aims to highlight the need for real reform in the way the richest eight countries deal with Africa, is worth hearing. But those currently falling over each other to help Africa should be ready for the next sequel.

Many decades down the line, there will be more sons of Live Aid, more Tony Blair Commissions, more G8 summits on this poor continent, and many more Bonos, Bob Geldofs et al. Yet all their cries for billions to be spent on aid are still unlikely to make smallest dent in the deprivation.

You don't have to look hard to see why. All the populist initiatives to help Africa still lack one critical ingredient - a strategy to deal with the criminal incompetence of Africa's post-colonial black élites. The people who call themselves presidents, prime ministers, ministers and in some instances kings and princes of the 53 countries of the continent are the reason it is rightly called a stain on the world's conscience.

When cynics like South African President Thabo Mbeki's young brother Moeletsi argue that the first port of call for any Westerner wanting to help Africans fight poverty is to first empower them to achieve "regime change", they are neither exaggerating nor wide of the mark.

Virtually all fair-minded African scholars agree that for Africa to be lifted out of its wretched state, there must be an industrial revolution on the scale now being witnessed in China. Or better still, the economic miracle accomplished by Asian countries like Japan and South Korea.

It is worth remembering that as recently as 1962, South Korea was far poorer than African counterparts such as Ghana and Senegal. Now, 43 years later, Seoul is the capital of a leading industrial power, 40 times richer than Senegal and Ghana combined, in both total GDP and per capita income.

While several factors can be put forward to explain the Korean experience, key to all of them was major investment in education. That spending enabled the Korean people to become real and productive entrepreneurs, able to create new technologies and new management methods.

Granted, successive early South Korean regimes were repressive. But they realised the importance of producing indigenous wealth creators and educating their human resources to become capable of both producing and adding value to raw materials.

But African élites, instead of focusing on developing their people to meet the challenges of the new world and empower them to pull themselves out of poverty, have waged war on their own people. Ordinary people have only been valuable in so much as they can be coerced or manipulated into keeping their leaders in the power and comfort to which they quickly became accustomed. The people became a means to achieve permanent political tenure while they pilfered the continent's wealth to ever-bulging bank accounts in Switzerland.

For many years, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who will be one of Tony Blair's guests in Scotland next month, was held up as a beacon for Africans yearning for real change. But after 20 years in office, Museveni has been accused of re-directing a huge chunk of his impoverished country's donor aid to buying patronage across Uganda to ensure he remains in power when his legal term of office expires next year. The resources Mr Museveni could devote to fighting Aids, educating his people, and providing better health services are instead spent on ensuring the loyalty of those who will keep him in power.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe is waging a vicious war against his people. At least 20,000 street traders have been jailed for the simple crime of trying to show innovation in the midst of a debilitating economic crisis. His official reason for destroying these businesses is to keep the cities clean. In fact he is waging a war of vengeance against the urban voters for refusing to back his party in last month's parliamentary elections.

By destroying the only source of income for the tens of thousands of informal traders to serve narrow political interests, he is depriving hundreds of thousands of children of their sources of school fees. Uneducated and helpless, they will join the queues of the unemployed and turn to crime.

While they indulge in all these excesses at the expense of their poor, African leaders don't relent in cosying up to each other. They don't caution each other nor feel any sense of shame at these unacceptable excesses. They don't take responsibility for the chronic problems blighting their continent. They wait for Tony Blair and the G8 to do so. Cry, the beloved continent.

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