One of the few genuine academic experts on African Studies has explained the problems that plague that continent, such as famine and civil war, in great clarity in numerous books and articles, but his message has not been particularly welcome in academia.
Focusing in on the latest crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, Dr. George Ayittey [pictured], an economics professor at American University, recently said that President “Mugabe tried to make Zimbabwe into a Marxist-Leninist state.”
“Marx and Lenin have very little to do with Africa’s economic heritage.”
While capitalism as a concept may be alien to the African experience, its practice can be seen in the trading, buying and selling that goes on in villages, large and small, to this very day. By way of contrast, Mugabe’s policies of nationalization and collectivization have left half of the country’s population at risk of starvation.
Dr. Ayittey has laid out the details exposing the failures of governments such as President Mugabe’s in a series of books that include Africa Betrayed, Africa in Chaos and the recently-released Africa Unchained. Mugabe received military training in Ghana when it was ruled by dictator Kwame Nkrumah, notes Dr. Ayittey. Dr. Ayittey himself is a native of Ghana, which has since, with his advice, moved towards transparent elections and a free market economy.
And how have Dr. Ayittey’s results been received on college campuses where few institutions of higher learning do not have an Africa Studies course or program? “My experience in academia has been rocky,” Dr. Ayittey said at a recent conference at the American Enterprise Institute.
Indeed, he views political correctness as a major obstacle to bringing freedom to the scores of African nations that have only known imported colonialism and/or home-grown dictatorships. “White Americans don’t want to criticize black African leaders,” Dr. Ayittey notes. Conversely, Dr. Ayittey observes, “Blacks won’t criticize black African leaders.”
“If you don’t expose this problem, it does not get solved.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union, one friend told Dr. Ayittey, “George, you are saved because most of the things you predicted came true.” Unfortunately, too few of Dr. Ayittey’s colleagues have acknowledged as much.
Dr. Ayittey’s record of predictions is particularly uncanny in his field of expertise—African economics. The professor recalled a heated exchange over sanctions on South Africa in 1985 that he had with the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
In those days, U. S. political figures debated sanctions on the Dutch-Boer government of South Africa as a means of getting those leaders to allow the majority black population basic constitutional liberties—such as the right to vote. Dr. Ayittey argued that freedom for blacks in South Africa should be coupled with the cause of liberty and human rights for blacks elsewhere on the continent. Rev. Jackson maintained that the other nations where freedom and human rights were at issue should be dealt with separately.
“What happened?,” Dr. Ayittey asks. “We won one [nation] and lost seven.”
The author and scholar does see hope for change in Africa, in Zimbabwe and other countries. He points out that revolutions usually start with surprisingly small numbers of followers. In Uganda, Liberia and Somalia, political opposition formed around a core of, respectively, 27, 100 and 250 supporters.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.