Chapter 11 - Africa, Overcoming personal rule
Nigeria saw the first oil boom in 1970’s gaining the status of a major oil exporter. As oil revenues tripled,
government spent enormously on building hoping to develop and move from military rule to democracy.
A country in economic and political fever brought with it a distortion of values. Massive corruption
consisting of enormous bribery, theft of public resources and mysterious shortages of gasoline existed.
The gap widened between the rich and the poor.
After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, violence & corruption prevailed. The First Republic was
overthrown by a military coup in January 1966, and the southeastern provinces attempted to secede,
triggering the Biafran civil war of 1967-70. By 1974, Nigeria’s ruler, General Yakubu Gowon, who
united the country after the war, was growing remote from the public. He indefinitely postponed his
promise about a transition back to democracy & the govt & civil society became outspoken against the
govt’s corruption, waste & auth rule.
Uni students in particular were demanding accountability and freedom. Military officers outside well paid
positions felt that Gowon was dragging the armed forces into disrepute. On July 29, 1975, they overthrew
him in a bloodless coup, the country’s third in nine years. The new military regime of General Murtala
Muhammad launched investigations, expelled numerous civil servants announcing a precise time table for
the restoration of democracy. The regime delivered on it, despite General Muhammad’s assassination in
an abortive coup just six months after he assumed power.
Nigeria’s Second Republic on Oct 1, 1979, was the high-water mark for freedom, prosperity and
developmental promise in the country. Despite controversial presidential election, ethnic tensions, and
charges of electoral fraud there was an exceptional sense of hope. After an extended constitutional debate,
involving both public and political scientists, Nigeria adopted an innovative presidential-style system,
modeled on U.S w/ checks & balances to contain abuses of power, an ind electoral commission, a counter
corruption bureau, a supreme court & a delicately engineered federal system to manage ethnic conflict
and disperse power and resources. 5 diff parties each controlled at least 2 of the 19 govs & federal ruling
party represented the most ethnically diverse party in Nigeria’s history. Economically, Nigeria was
booming again as global oil prices surged after the 1979 Iranian revolution. “Federal revenues totaled $12
billion in 1980,”and Nigeria’s international reserves quickly swelled to more than $ 10 billion.
In 1981 the Second Republic was settling into waste and plunder on a breathtaking scale. The federal and
state govts spent with abandon. Construction projects were passed with huge “mobilization fees” only to
be later abandoned as they benefitted the officials awarding the contract. Irrespective of the surge in oil
revenues, state govts borrowed from abroad whatever the banks would give them. Big corruption scandals
surfaced leading to public disgust in 1983 when one of the Lagos’ tallest buildings, the headquarters of a
government telecommunications company, was destroyed by a fire considered to be “a calculated act,
…….. to cover up corruption and embezzlement in the company”.
As the politicians were getting richer the people got visibly deprived. Symptoms of scarcity amid the
booming wealth were glaringly seen in years 1982-83. Even the failure of the 1st Republic, the reckless
greed of those 2nd Republic came as a shock as they failed to provide even necessities as clean drinking
water. The consequences of theft and squandering were devastatingly felt after the second oil boom bust
in 1983 when revenue declined from a peak of $24 billion in 1980 to $ 10 billion. Widespread shortages
Page 1 of 9 and layoffs led to skyrocketing prices. Hoarding and profiteering, especially of rice, by politicians and
their business cronies aggravated the scarcities. Many services were shut down by strikes and the
economy seemed on the edge of collapse. People became desperate for political change.
Politicians failed to play by the rules of democracy as they lied, bribed, embezzled, smuggled and
misused power to accumulate an illicit fortune, they resorted to illegal ways to gain or hold on to power.
Even before 1983 violent clashes proliferated, killing scores of people making student protestors to call
for the return of military rule.
Nigeria’s politicians didn't heed these warning signs & proceeded to poison the elections w/ gross
incompetence, fraud & administrative bias. Electoral malpractices grew more breathtaking. Pres Shehu
Shagari was re-elected decisively. The ruling party nearly doubled its control of state governorships to a
commanding majority, claiming states it could not have won lawfully, and finally captured two-thirds of
the National Assembly seats. Electoral theft reached greater heights. The top generals were well “taken
care of” by the civilian regime-meaning they had been amply bought off. As the political counselor
remarked the president was upgrading the cabinet and policies, with calm returning to the country. But it
was apparent that elections were a farce, and the legitimacy of the Second Republic was spent. As
peaceful change was not possible people resorted to force and on December 31, 1983 the Nigerian
military overthrew the govt to widespread celebrations around the country.
The military rule lasted a decade and a half under three different dictators, each one more repressive and
corrupt than the last. Ibrahim Babangida ruled for 8 years, being the wiliest(clever) dictator promised and
choreographed an elaborate staged transition to democracy under constant pressure from an impressively
organized and courageous civil society. He kept shuffling, reshuffling and rescheduling the process,
banning parties and candidates while the shadowy “Association for a better Nigeria” emerged to demand
that he remain in power. Despite his efforts presidential elections took place and Moshood K.O. Abiola
was voted into office but Babangida annulled the elections before the results could be officially
announced. It resulted in violent protests in Abiola’s home region in the Yoruba southwest and Babangida
was forced to resign. But military rule persisted under his top deputy, General Sani Abacha.
Abacha proved even more plundering, cynical and ruthless. Civil society protested anew, repression
mounted, and the country piled on foreign debt of $30 billion. Finally in June 1998, top officials arranged
for Abacha’s “heart attack” organizing a hurried transition to democracy. The elections held in early
1999, brought to office the implementer of the first military transition to civilian rule, General Olusegun
Over subsequent 8 years, another ruinous cycle of promise and despair played out. The 2003 elections
were rigged in a grotesque parody that returned Obasanjo and his People’s Democratic Party to power
with commanding majorities. Governing like a general he labored obsessively to remove the
constitutional ban on a third presidential term. The 2007 election fueled by another oil boom resulted in a
more ludicrously improbable landslide for the ruling party-were worse than those of 2003, leaving some
200 hundred dead and prompting the normally mild-mannered European Union to issue the most damning
report it had ever delivered from an election observation mission. Nigeria thus got trapped between its
Page 2 of 9 fight against prolonged authoritarian rule on one side while on the other the politicians would not allow
The Developmental Trap
Nigeria’s size & oil wealth make it distinctive within Africa. Estimates suggest that nearly a fifth of
the entire 700 million population of sub-Saharan Africa is Nigerian. Almost all African countries
have much smaller publics to support(under 30 million). Only six others depend, like Nigeria, on oil
for most of their government revenue (and like Nigeria, those six are all authoritarian regimes).
Despite Nigeria’s enormous natural wealth, it holds an average place with regard to life expectancy,
per capita income, and the Human development index. But the overall developmental plight of sub-
Saharan Africa remains abysmal. The 23 poorest countries in the world in terms of human
development are all in Africa. Only 2 out of 48 African countries have managed to escape falling in
the bottom third of the UN Developmental Program’s human development ratings, and both are small
island states (Mauritius and Cape Verde). Life expectancy has plunged to 46 years compared to next
worst region, South Asia at 64 years. In under-five child mortality, no other region does even half as
badly as Africa.Given the grim survival figures, Africa also has the world’s highest birth rate, since
families expect many of their children will die.
In terms of democracy and rule of law Africa is a desert, remaining one of the most corrupt and badly
governed regions of the world. Africa does poorly on all measures of assessment of a country’s
quality of governance developed by Daniel Kaufmann and his colleagues at the World Bank Institute.
It fares a little better on the political measures of accountability and stability, but slightly worse on the
measures of rule of law, corruption control, regulatory quality and government effectiveness.
Based on such World Bank indexes, Africa and former Soviet Union are the most badly governed
regions of the world. 5 of Africa’s 7 biggest countries have worse governance than the continent as a
whole, and 3 of them dismally so. Adding to this is the tragedy of violent conflict in Africa. Roughly
two thirds of the countries to which the UN has sent peacekeeping operations b/w 1998 and 2007
were in Africa. By the end of 2005, Africa which has only about a tenth of the world’s population,
had about 30% of the world’s refugees-an estm 2.5 million people.
The Pathology of Personal Rule:
Africa remains half a century after the onset of decolonization, mired in poverty, stagnation misery,
violence and disruption. Some of Africa’s richest countries in natural resources- Nigeria, Angola, the
Congo stand among its most dysfunctional developmental failures. Oil and aid function in a similar
fashion, both providing external rents that ruling elites can easily capture for themselves, families and
friends. Oil and aid both enable economic irrationality and waste. Both fund the state apparatus of
repression and patronage that sustains venal, unpopular govts. Both sever bonds of accountability
between rulers and ruled. Finally both feed the African monster of politics-corrupt, lawless personal
Page 3 of 9 Post colonial African states have been neopatrimonial. It means a type of rule, drawing on the
German sociologist Max Weber’s notion that in small, traditional systems, highly personal and
arbitrary rule converted ordinary people into clients of the ruler rather than citizens with rights.
African states thus combine the formal architecture of a modern bureaucratic state w/ the informal
reality of personalized, unaccountable power & pervasive patron-client ties. These ties radiate down
from the biggest “big man”-the autocratic president –to his lieutenants and allies, who in turn serve as
patrons to lower level power brokers & down to the fragmented mass of ordinary citizens. These
ordinary citizens are trapped in relations of dependence on & support for their local political patrons.
In such systems, informal norms always trump formal rules and restraints. An office does not hold the
right to rule but an individual person. Subordinates pay loyalty to their personal patrons, to laws and
institutions. State offices at every level become permits to loot. The head of Nigeria’s Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission estimated in 2006 that the country’s civilian and military officials stole
or wasted some $380 billion of the country’s oil wealth during its first four decades of independence.
The pol scientist Richard Joseph , calls such entrenched corruption prebendalism,-building on
Weber’s work. For Weber, the prebend was an office of a feudal state, acquired through service to a
lord or outright purchase and then used to generate income for its holder. Thus corruption,
clientelism & personal rule thus seep into the culture, making the system more tenacious. In Africa,
contending patron-client networks organize along ethnic or sub-ethnic lines & the pres judges his
ethnic kin as the most reliable loyalists in struggles over power. This makes the system unstable, as
identity, power and resource conflicts mix in a volatile brew, prone to explosion.
The fund purpose of neopatrimonial, prebendal govts is not to produce public goods but to produce
private goods for those who hold or have access to pol power, as could be readily seen throughout
Nigeria’s troubled history. Contracts are given based on the quality of deliverance but who can pay
the biggest bribe. Budgets are steered to projects that can readily generate bribes.
Consider Uganda. The Clinton administration singled out President Yoweri Museveni as a leader
among a “new generation” of African leaders who had turned their countries from socialism and war
to democracy and the free market. The foreign aid showered on it by both the Clinton and Bush
administration b/w 1987 & 2006, a total of $15 billion seemed to pay off. But diff quesns lie under
Uganda’s apparent miracle. From 2003 there was a steep downtrend in its average annual growth rate
in agriculture on which most of its population depended. Fiscal deficits widened, driving up interest
rates. Despite its brisk pace of economic growth, 92% of Ugandans did not have access to electricity,
nearly 60% lacked access to decent sanitation and 40% to clean water and life expectancy dropped
below fifty years.
Museveni assumed the presidency in 1986, when his insurgent National Resistance Army (NRA)
forced out a repressive & ethnically divisive gov & has held power ever since. Although he agreed to
allow multi-party electoral competition for the 1st time in 2006, it was only after he had secured a
change to the constitution to allow unlimited terms & once again, the election was rigged. W/
meaningful pol accountability absent, rot has increasingly invaded the country’s governance. State
Page 4 of 9 funds poured into “project monitoring units”- theoretically to ensure implementation of donor
projects, in reality a means to maintain bureaucratic loyalty to Museveni.
Compared to the plunder of in the most predatory states-Nigeria, Angola and the Democratic
Republic of Congo(Zaire)- Uganda’s corruption seems run-of-the-mill. At least in Uganda, some
services have been delivered. In Nigeria, the theft has been nearly total.
Still Uganda’s adequate experience is instructive for considering the possibilities for development and
democracy in Africa. Uganda’s tendency to devolve into political decay is characteristic of the cycle
of neopatrimonial, personal rule, which is vulnerable to the mounting costs of maintaining support
networks, co-opting and repressing opponents, and rewarding loyalty over com