Thoughts from Sierra Leone

“Many Westerners I met in West Africa took it as an article of faith that all of the region’s woes were the result of outside malfeasance – someone else’s fault, going back to colonialism and the slave trade. After two years in Freetown I not only cannot agree, but I think such views – promulgating as they do an abdication of responsibility – are bad for Africa. The Western world undoubtedly committed atrocities to the continent. But today it is up to Africans to carve out a brighter future for themselves.”

That is Simon Akam in a piece reviewing his time in Sierra Leone that has sort of gone viral.

It is the kind of thinking that I wish informed all of the West’s engagement with Africa. Most of Africa’s problems are African. Period.

Africa does not need Oxfam to tell the world to forget about its wars and famines and instead focus on its natural beauty or whatever else that is more positive. It is not the responsibility of Oxfam to feed Africans but that of the kleptocratic African ruling elite. The Oxfams of this world only serve to let Africa’s Mobutus off the hook.

When an African head of state appoints his son as defense minister and then cannot beat back a ragtag rebel alliance armed with AKs on jeeps we should not send troops to help him. He should be left to stew in his own soup.

For far too long the predominantly humanitarian approach in dealing with Africa has allowed the absolute triumph of absolute mediocrity in much of the continent. This must change if Africa is to consolidate the political and economic gains made over the last two decades.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts from Sierra Leone

  1. Ken,

    Internal bravery, Copy, Strategize and execute is what most of Africa`s political and business leadership is lacking. Similar to beloved Africa, S.E Asia was also colonized; by the US, UK and their own Japanese. But , apart from some score-seeking politicians, the business class immediately acknowledged the prowesess of the foreigners and set to learn and defeat it. Same cycle in Japan, S.Korea and now China.

    why cant Africa simply forget “dark” colonialism and accept they were beaten by a worthy opponent; and work on hitting back. Reminds me of KTN news lamenting Harambee Stars got beat by Burundi and now we face Nigeria. How many times have we been beaten by the same team, similar strategy without waking out of that “accepted nightmare”?

    With our proximity to EU, it beats me how we let the ball roll so far…..

    John (Tokyo)


  2. Ken –

    I couldn’t help but think of your previous post on state-building while reading the above. Specifically, “Wars of conquest (which probably would have resulted in Rwanda, Angola and Uganda carving up the DRC) are no longer kosher.” Looking back on the history of the West, nation-states that were able to most efficiently harass their respective natural resources and populations established the largest and most dominant polities. By freezing essentially what could be recognized as market forces (vis a vis the allocation of land and resources to those able to most efficiently exploit them), it seems you are only preserving the status quo of inefficient polities. Certainly we don’t want to return to a more Hobbsian state of play between states (and the loss of human life that would entail), but as a theoretical game, wouldn’t it make quite a bit of sense for the political map to be re-drawn according to what states might be best suited for the long term well-being of individual citizens?


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