There have been suggestions that Europe must go back into Africa to put the continent back on track. Despite independence Europe never left Africa. It’s like governors went on indefinite vacation leaving behind Africans acting as Officers-in-Charge (oic). Through these oics, Europe has continued to exert tremendous influence (perhaps more than if Europeans were in direct control) in many ways that have contributed to the many political economy challenges Africa faces.
For some African countries, their relationship with Europe after so-called independence can be compared to relations between a department chief who before going on mission or vacation instructs his/her designated officer-in- charge (oic) to implement the chief’s decisions, and have the chief clear all outgoing correspondence before they go out under the signature of the oic. There are many instances when correspondence is drafted by the chief and signed by the oic. Many are deceived that the oic is in full control of the department and acts independently in the absence of the chief. Similarly in some African countries policies come from Europe or the international institutions they control although they bear the signature of the African head of state or head of department concerned. This has been particularly the case since the 1980s when stabilization and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) or the Washington Consensus were launched.
A variety of mechanisms has been applied to ensure African compliance. Let us use Uganda as a case study. British governments have influenced the nomination and election of who has become head of state or government since independence in 1962, beginning with Obote as prime minister. When Obote shifted from a capitalist to a socialist path of development Britain saw to it that Obote’s government was removed and replaced with Amin’s that the British trusted. Museveni’s ascent to power also had the backing of Britain and other powers and since the 1980s, there are stories that the minister of the powerful ministry of finance has been appointed with concurrence of major donors influenced by Britain.
When Obote and his Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) government came to power in 1980 its development agenda attached highest priority on industrialization. However, the government needed $800 million for reconstruction of a shattered economy. IMF would extend a helping hand and open the door for other western donors on condition that priority was placed on increased and diversified export of agricultural raw materials, among other requirements. The government had no choice but to comply.
When Museveni came to power in 1986, he had a well articulated development ten-point program which had been prepared in consultation with all classes of Ugandans and was truly an outcome of a participatory process. However, like Obote before him, Museveni inherited an economy in shambles and an empty treasury. IMF was again willing to assist provided the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government accepted the standard conditionality for providing assistance. Consequently, the ten-point program was dropped in favor of shock therapy structural adjustment. The social and ecological costs have been very high especially on poor and vulnerable households.
Structural adjustment introduced by western powers and the institutions they dominate is associated with an increase in foreign experts and advisers who have designed and supervised the implementation of macroeconomic and sectoral policies in Uganda. The adverse outcomes of these imposed programs are there for all to see. The government of Uganda cannot and should not bear full responsibility.
Corruption in Uganda has been recognized as a defining feature of the NRM government. Donor funds which constitute a significant share of recurrent and even more of capital expenditure are being stolen in broad daylight. Donors that are well represented in Uganda have done virtually nothing to stop it. Instead they continue to pump more money into the country which will be stolen by the same officers whose corruption record is very well known.
What is the alternative? Europe should desist from handpicking and/or keeping in power leaders who support Europe’s interest in Africa at the expense of African peoples. Europe should instead encourage utilization of Africans with proven expertise and experience at home and encourage and facilitate the return home of Africans in Europe, North America and elsewhere to participate in the reconstruction of the continent. Africans should be facilitated to exercise their political right to elect their representatives who should be held accountable for their actions.