I have myself perusing a commemorative album on Freidrich von Hayek, published by the Adam Smith institute. What a treasure trove it is turning out to be. It invokes my thinking, it challenges contemporary governance structures and systems in Africa. It challenges us; us who consider ourselves repositories of knowledge and ideas to bring ourselves to the fray.
As I skim through the commemorative album, I can clearly see what is wrong in African society, like a doctor I have been able to identify the malady that ails us; “Africa has no space for thought.” At its founding Africa was guided through the independence by men who read books, men like Kwameh Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere , Patrice Lumumba and others who could be identified with a distinct ideas, ideologies (all the above were ardent socialists) or others like Houphouët-Boigny and Jomo Kenyatta who had were cautiously capitalistic. Over the ensuing period of time Africa became a crucible of examining the strengths of either capitalism or socialism.
Countries such as Kenya and Ivory Coast had favorable economic growth owing in part to high commodity prices but also due to the founding ideologies of the nations while others like Tanzania regressed economically while Ghana choked under massive debts.
Successive generations of African leaders did not have a guiding light in terms of what ideology would guide national development in their countries. For example Kenya’s Sessional NO.10 which laid out Kenya’s development path was anchored in an amorphous ideology called ‘Democratic Socialism’ (it was a not so evident ploy of cronies and corrupt officials to extract rent form the state.) The subsequent decades of Independence have seen African leaders guiding their countries without distinct ideologies. Kibaki is an accomplished economist, or so they say, but from what school of thought does he read from? Voodoo economics may be. Bingu wa Mutharika was an accomplished scholar who delivered nothing but misery to his people.
African countries have taken to scrapping through the times, with no ideologies, no guiding light just fumbling through to get by. Von Hayek making reference to his long time ideological arch-nemesis; John Maynard Keynes once said, “I do not find myself often agreeing with the late Lord Keynes, but he has never said a truer thing than when he wrote; ‘the ideas of economists and political philosophers, when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from academic scribblers of a few years back, so or later it is ideas and not vested which are dangerous for good and for evil.” Well it seems Africa runs short of ideas, and thought. The so called academic scribblers are busy juggling between jobs in a public university, a consultancy and a private institution. The leaders in African university lead their nations like sheep into gullies of oblivion, it must be remembered that these same leaders are the same ones who satiate their thirst with morning dew during the extended months of drought, while the rest of us sheep die along the way. Africa’s problems lie in paucity of ideas, without ideas, trade-offs between choices is impossible.
Alex Ndungu Njeru is a columnist on the AfricanLiberty.org Voice of Liberty Project