*Poverty reduction is an indecent expression
*No country in the world has developed without state Intervention in the economy
*Africa has no alternative to the Lagos Plan of Action
*If Chris Hani lived, he could have become a much better leader for South Africa than Thabo Mbeki
*The difference between Obasanjo of Nigeria and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa
*Obasanjo said you cannot be a Christian and a Marxist at the same time
When Intervention ran the story of his interaction with students of Political Science at the University of Abuja, (see “Africa is Underdeveloped Not Because Africans are Stupid – Prof Nzongola-Ntalaja”, June 21st, 2017), quite a number of readers reacted by referring to him as second in rank to the late Professor Ali Mazrui. It is a rating he would scoff at, believing as he does that there are greater scholars of African origin than himself. But that is not to say he is not distinguished in many ways.
One, Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja knows Africa very well – from the slums and villages to the well appointed quarters in the capital cities of the continent. So, his claims about the continent are informed by his practical engagement with it. Two, his understanding of Africa is further enhanced by being a speaker of both English and French, meaning access to sources and data that are otherwise not available to other scholars who speak only one of the two. Three, his academic engagement traverses Africa and North America, (US and Mexico), meaning that he is much more melted. Four, he is of the global policy mill, which means he knows beyond the theories in the textbooks. Finally and by the authority of Professor Okello Oculi, his school mate and friend, Nzongola is a Marxist. Since Marxism has retained an analytical fire power uniquely its, Nzongola is worth listening to even by those who might not agree with him.
Prof Nzongola was, therefore, a great attraction for Intervention. It was to the extent that when the first recording failed, something very embarrassing to have happened to a senior journalist, a re-recording was embarked upon. For fifty five minutes, twenty two seconds, he was game. Below is virtually a verbatim reproduction of the encounter with Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, US based Professor of African and Global Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has worked in Nigeria twice, first as an academic at the University of Maiduguri in the 1970s and as UNDP Senior Adviser on Governance to the Federal Government of Nigeria from 2000 to 2002:
You have been discussing Pan-Africanism in most of your engagements here. Throughout, I did not hear you mention two themes. One is the neoliberal context of Pan-Africanism and the other is the China in Africa factor. What explains the silence?
Well, these are not major pre-occupations for me. I think there has been too much noise made about China. China is no different from other countries in the world seeking to improve their economy and they know that Africa is the last place with abundance of natural resources which they can obtain at good prices, some of it through barter – changing Chinese goods and services for African resources as they have done in the Congo. We signed an agreement with them for $9b for them to build roads and bridges, hospitals, universities. However, the IMF intervened to say, No, we can’t do that because that is taking another debt. But this is not another debt as we are just exchanging mineral resources for infrastructural services from China. But then IMF forced the Congolese government to reduce the amount to $6b although some of their economists believe the amount of resources China was going to take will be much, much more or way, way beyond the amount. Again, that is a reflection of the irresponsibility of our rulers as people who do not negotiate rigorously, who do not really pay much attention to details because, most of them, what they want is bribes. You sign anything in the contract once you are going to get a million or so dollars. This is one of the major problems.
So, I am not one of the China bashers. China does good things in Africa. I think the building of infrastructure is good. I can have complaints about the quality but, again, you realise there is problem of quality in China itself. As we saw several years ago in the earthquake that took place which wiped out schools, hundreds of kids died because the schools were poorly built. That’s a problem of control and African governments should be clever enough to put control for quality. If you do not control for quality, it is not China’s fault.
As for neoliberalism, well, it is the dominant economic gospel today, the IMF and the World Bank are using it and our governments have simply surrendered. Because they want money from these institutions, whatever they tell them, they accept it. But the question is, does it really make any difference if it were another economic theory as long as that theory is controlled by the powerful West and the powerful international financial institutions which they control? I would say no. Personally, I don’t support neoliberalism because it is a policy framework that is meant to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor. We have been talking about poverty reduction – even the choice of words is indecent – why talk about poverty reduction because even when you reduce it, it is still poverty. You have got to eradicate poverty. So, when African governments accept this language, it is surrender again to the hegemony of the dominant West and I don’t think that is what we need to do. So, my position is that what we need in Africa is to pursue policies that were championed by our founding fathers. There were policies based on political independence, economic self reliance and Pan-African solidarity. If we follow the path posed by Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, Julius Nyerere and others, we would succeed. But as long as we neglect that path, we may have successes here and there but we would continue being the development lager of the world.
In the case of neoliberalism, it is not just the surrender you talked about but the partial way African leaders take it. African governments do not accept the pastoral or big government that neoliberalism implies in the panoptical management of the population. They only say, oh government has no business in business. So, there is something different in the way they go about it when compared to neoliberalism in the West where pastoral tasks are still at the centre of power.
Like I told you the other day, you are talking about classical neoliberalism. That is not the neoliberalism we are seeing in the United States and in Europe today, especially in Britain. What we are seeing in those places is neoliberalism that is championing reducing social services. We have seen in eh, the United Kingdom today, Mrs May trying to do her best to reduce government involvement in social services while the labour leader, Jeremy, is attempting to go back to the fundamental policy of social involvement by the state. He is even advocating re-nationalising in order for the government to give people jobs, taking over a number of social services, make sure that poor people were receiving education, health care, housing and other such services people deserve. So, I think we in Africa shouldn’t get lost into all these arguments, these details. What is important is, does the state have a role to play in the economy? Absolutely yes. The state has a role. No state in the world, no country in the world has developed without state involvement. Let me give you an example.
In 1963, Seymour Martin Lipset, an American Political Sociologist, came with this little book. I don’t know if Okello, (referring to Professor Okello Oculi who sat in the interview) read this book called The First New Nation: The United States in Historical and Comparative Perspective. What is Lipset’s argument in that book? He said that more people are encouraging developing countries to look at Moscow and the Soviet Union because they have accomplished rapid industrialisation as a result of state intervention in the economy. But I want to show in his book that if the United States developed, it was because of state intervention in the economy. Who built the most important power plants? Tennessee Valley and the likes? The state, Federal Government. Who made it possible for Agriculture to develop in different counties? The county and state governments. In the United States, almost every state has two types of universities: The University of North Carolina/Carolina State University; University of Montana/Montana State University; University of California/California State University and so on. The university system was to emphasise the humanities and sciences, real learning while the state system emphasise practical knowledge – engineering, agriculture, public works, train people who are going to develop the new seeds, the new techniques and would give that to the counties. And in a county, it was the county’s land reclamation officer, the county agricultural officers who were the development officers.
No farmer would have succeeded without the input of state power, without government organised or funded research and how to improve agriculture – the state extension services which goes to teach them how to use the new seeds, new techniques and new technology and how to improve farming. So, all of that came from the state. So, the very people who have used the state to develop now turn around to tell us, no, you can’t use the state to develop. There should be no government intervention. That is where I said No, we have to make the state an agent of development. And that means throwing out all neoliberalism.
What is important from the European experience is Social Democracy as we are seeing it in Scandinavian countries. I went to hospital for surgery of haemorrhoid and the bill was like $35. Laughs! In the United States, it would be in the thousands for an operation that took 5 – 10 minutes. So, health care is basically free. As a foreigner, I had to pay a little more than the nationals but the bill was practically nothing. Health care is basically free. Education is basically free.
I was talking to young man in Lagos the other day and he was telling me he is now studying German at Goethe Institute in Lagos. He is planning to go through a Masters programme in Germany. I said, how are you going to make it there? He said, oh, education there is $500. My parents only have to pay for me to travel there, then my housing and food. University education itself costs practically nothing. Why can’t we do the same thing here? We have all the resources in Nigeria, Congo and other countries in Africa. We can do the same thing if we do have the leadership that is really committed to providing these things for the people and using the resources to do that.
There was the situation in 1999 when we thought we were heading in that direction of leadership because all the two power houses in Africa had strong leaders – Thabo Mbeki in South Africa and Obasanjo in Nigeria. The two had personal rapport and were bonding very well on the key issues. What do you think made them go for the kind of NEPAD they produced, if we just take an example?
Well, because Thabo Mbeki has always been very conservative economically. He single handedly changed the policy of the ANC. When they came to power in 1994, Reconstruction and Development (RDP) was the public policy framework. From the RDP which had very clear guidelines and set targets in terms of public housing, in terms of the amount of electricity for poor people, safe drinking water, employment and all that, Mbeki influenced a change to GEAR. Nelson Mandela had made Mbeki the Deputy President and put him in charge of the economy. In 1996, Thabo Mbeki dropped RDP and adopted GEAR, (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) which was a typically Structural Adjustment Programme but self-imposed by the South Africans on themselves. I remember in 2011 at the conference in Rabat, I had criticised Mbeki and the Deputy South African Minister of Administration was there and she said, ah, Professor Nzongola is wrong. We did not drop RDP, we just spread it all over the government. Instead of one Ministry for RDP, we have RDP in every ministry. I said well, Madam, that is very nice. This is what we do in the UN when we talk about mainstreaming gender. So, you found a nice way to destroy RDP by making every department to have an RDP office.
Mr Mbeki, as you know, he was very close to Mr Al Gore, the US Vice-President then, they got along very, very well. So, he saw himself as trying to develop South Africa and Africa along neoliberal grounds but certainly, a country such as South Africa, with the level of inequality there did not require that. It required a much more revolutionary vision. This is why we regret tremendously that Chris Hani was assassinated because if Chris Hani lived, he could have become a much better leader for South Africa than Thabo Mbeki. Well, we know that Thabo Mbeki wasn’t Mandela’s first choice. His first choice was Chris Hani. His second choice was the current Vice-President, Cyril Ramaphosa who has now become a multimillionaire.
I don’t accept the position of Obasanjo either. I was here in Nigeria, I worked on NEPAD. In fact, I was the author of the document on governance. There was this Yoruba man, I can’t remember his name immediately. He was the Commissioner at the National Planning Commission, he was in charge of NEPAD. He used to wear his cap very nicely, very well dressed everyday!
Yes, Olokun! That’s him. Olokun told me I had to write the Nigerian paper on governance. But I said, Mr Commissioner, I am not a Nigerian. He said but you are our employee. UNDP said you are our adviser on governance. I said okay, I would write. But we had to fight the South Africans about which paper the position on governance would come from, mine or theirs. This is because the South Africans came in with ten papers when they were supposed to come with two to the meeting Nigeria had to host in Abuja to discuss the major planks. That is a meeting of the 5 countries that were the origin of MAP, I think Millennium Africa Plan or something like that. These were South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal. Then they kind of convinced Algeria and Egypt to become members. So, each country was given two papers to prepare so that we had ten papers for discussion in Abuja. It was like they were suggesting that other Africans can’t do anything right. We came to compromise. Certain parts of mine went in and certain parts of theirs too.
So, NEPAD was totally against the kind of policy we should wish because I have maintained till today that the most appropriate development policy is still the Lagos Plan of Action. That is the Alpha and Omega of development framework for Africa. As long as you don’t implement Lagos Plan of Action, you cannot go anywhere. So NEPAD is no improvement at all. It is going backwards. So, we should implement the Lagos Plan of Action. This is a plan that was well backed up by the ECA, (Economic Commission for Africa); the Secretariat of OAU, supported by the African Development Bank, (ADB). Why did they drop it? The World Bank, well but for the African Union and the ECA to support NEPAD against the Lagos Plan of Action makes no sense.
I I singled out Mbeki and Obasanjo because agency in African politics is almost always tied to wrong persons at the right places. In 1999, these two were exceptions. Having gone to Sussex, Mbeki is intellectually exposed. As an ANC cadre, he is ideologically educated, organisationally groomed in all the realms of statecraft – from propaganda to intelligence to diplomacy and so on. Obasanjo had been a Head of State before, he did well. He had just come out of an extraordinary experience. He could have been shot. He wasn’t shot. Instead, he became president. So, it was said that with these two men in the most strategic African states, there was going to be a new start. But Africa experienced what you just called surrender, both in the respective countries of the two leaders and at continental level. From hindsight, what happened?
It is simply that they believe in what they are doing. It is simply the question of how you accept the teachings of your teachers. Mbeki went to Sussex or Leeds University?
He did the University of Sussex Masters programme in Development Studies
So, he absorbed what the Sussex professors told him. When Mbeki became president, he invited us to Pretoria. I don’t know how the selection was made but I was there. The late Momoh, (Prof Abubakar) was there, his good friend who is now working for ECA in Zambia
Professor Said Adejumobi
Yes, Said, he was there also. So, we went to this townhall meeting of Mbeki at a hotel in Pretoria to talk about African development. I think it was Said or Momoh who raised the question. He asked him: why are you devaluing the role of the state in the economy when the state is the only institution we have that can do something about our situation? Mbeki was so mad! He was so mad we couldn’t believe it. So, why invite us for dialogue when you don’t want to dialogue?
And when I went to the tenth anniversary of the ANC victory in 2004, the Institute of South Africa organised a meeting in Pretoria. The government came up with all sorts of power point presentations showing progress made and so on. So, I raised a question. I don’t recall what it was now. Mbeki is very good at ad hominine. He said that is the statement of the Congolese. He said, this Congolese, why would you raise a question like that? Obasanjo is rather different. He asked us to establish an Independent Policy Group, what came to be called the IPG. My boss, a professor and another Congolese, was then in Lagos because, that time, UNDP was still in Lagos and I was here in the UNDP Liason Office in Abuja. But I said that is something that a Nigerian has to do. He said, ah, you have to do it. So, we got a million USD from George Soros, $500, 000 from Ford Foundation. UNDP put in its own. I wrote the concept paper in which you are supposed to show in the Project document the risk of the project. I said that the risk was that the IPG was going to turn out an avenue to give jobs to cronies.
So, we went to see him at Aso Rock but he never made reference to it. Mbeki would have reacted. And then I asked him a question. I said Mister President, I have read in the papers that you have 40 advisers, why do you need another team of advisers? He said, eh, young man! He still called me young man. He said, go and ask them how often I see them. I don’t see them because anytime I see them, they want to tell me what they think I want to hear. I have them because of politics. We are supposed to have them. It is part of the system. That is why I want my own so that we can brainstorm and he is good at brainstorming. His only fault is he knows everything. The only person who challenged him was the late Bade Onimode, which is not surprising because, when we sat in a meeting in 2001 to choose the people who would make the IPG, I had made a list of 40 well known Nigerians from all over the country. I spent a lot of time on telephone talking to a lot of people and so on. So, I had a list of 40 people and a shortlist of nine. Do you know how many of my nine people were taken? One! Just one person and it was Bade Onimode.
And that was by Obasanjo?
Yes. We sat in a meeting, Obasanjo, donors, this guy from Ghana whose wife was also on the list. When Obasanjo came to her name, he said but I don’t even know her. I said, Mister President, there is somebody in the room who knows her very well. Akwasi Aidoo, that is the Ghanaian. He said yes, she is my wife but I had no idea she is on the list. I said yes, I called her and she was disposed. When Obasanjo came to Onimode, he said, ah, that one I know him but he is a Marxist. I said, Mister President, that is true but, like you, he is a born again Christian. He said, nonsense, you can’t be a Christian and a Marxist at the same time.
Then he said, anyway, I would take him. Not only he took him, he made him the Chair of the group. At the beginning, they didn’t have someone on Governance. So, they made me an Honorary Nigerian. So, I participated in the meetings. It doesn’t matter what subject we were discussing – infrastructure, the exchange rate of the Naira, the petroleum price, Obasanjo would dominate the discussion all the time. When Onimode challenged him, he would say, you can say this, you are a Marxist. But Onimode kind of served a good role for him.