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Africa's New War

By Emily Black


Africa is a covert battleground. When the Clinton administration declared democracy as the successor to containment in U.S. foreign policy, it was defining the most important conflict of the world's postmodern transition, and Africa has yet to choose sides. Because of this, the opportunity for Africans to influence the destiny of the world has never been greater. How the vast continent responds to democracy will be a decisive vote toward a final victory.

In conjunction with this potential, Africa faces major challenges at the dawn of the 21st century. It is seen both internationally and by many of its own people as a hopeless web of problems which, so far, has evaded even the seemingly best-laid international plans for improvement. However, with the capacity to be a major factor in the debate of the next hundred years, the future of Africa should be a much higher priority than it is currently for individuals, tribes, organizations, and nations across the globe. To the Africans themselves, the cause of the continent deserves sustained and determined effort—not only for the lives and happiness of individual Africans, but to ensure that its impact on the future of the world is a positive one. While welcoming disinterested aid from whatever source, Africa's continuing legacy should be an empowered choice by its own people.


In spite of disease, corruption, starvation, failed and failing governments, and ethnic, racial, and religious strife, by far the biggest challenge Africa faces at the dawn of the 21st century is a psychological one. Africans do not know what they want. With a long history of internal and external abuses—by their own people and by those of the world at large—they cannot make up their minds as to whether they want to remember or to forget that past. Many African elites are dissatisfied with the circumstances of their countries and want to move their continent into the 21st century, but the majority of African people who live in extreme poverty (less than U.S. $2 per day) do not have the education to know that they should expect something better, and some have described them as happier than their elite counterparts. Most Africans see tribalism as a way of life and would not dispense with it if they could; but others look at it as a source of never-ending conflict and wish to adopt western nationalism. “Democracy” is seen by Africans and the international community as the panacea for all ills, but Africans are confused as to whose democracy to adopt—and what it would look like when implemented. They want the economic prosperity of the West, but not corporate monopolies. They want international free trade, but not international oversight. They want African independence, yet are reluctant to give up the benefits of being part of the West, and perhaps the westernized east in the near future. Africans want to manage their own affairs and take care of their own people, yet are addicted to international hand-outs; they even justify them based on some theory of retribution for past offenses. Some attempt to look to the past for an ideal Africa to return to, before colonialism perhaps; but Africa has yet to experience its Golden Age.

This confusion leads to a deep sense of hopelessness for most Africans, at home and abroad. International donors and investors are losing patience with the billions of dollars being poured into Africa annually with minimal results. Although there have been a few bright cases of real impact from concentrated, usually non-governmental aid programs, trying to fix Africa has been, as one illustrator depicted it, like pouring money into cracks in the ground. As many of Africa's people settle into apathy, Africa's major problems grow.

The clash between tribalism and nationalism is one of the major reasons for Africa's hopelessness and confusion. This collision is not between third and first world standards of living or between agrarian and industrial economies. Instead, the difference is, in part, a democratic one: “Who do I look to for allegiance?” “What is my identity?” “If asked to fight or use violence, whose call will I respond to first?” Most importantly in democracy, “What is the legitimate government in which I place my trust, one that I am involved in, and one that I will obey?” For most Africans, the answer to these questions is overwhelmingly some form of the tribe, while the majority of the attempts to fix Africa have come from a national mindset. Each blames the other for the problems of the past century. And, each is correct in part of their analysis.

Ongoing violence, the most obvious and pressing of Africa's current problems, could easily be blamed on tribalism. The Rwandan genocide that shocked the world in 1994 and took the lives of an estimated 800,000 people was a result of violence between two ethnic groups, the Hutus and Tutsis. The violence spilled into neighboring Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other areas, showing that the people involved were obviously more committed to their ethnic group than to any national or other boundary. Genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan since 2003 has been the function of tribes, beginning and carried on through “ethnic cleansing” of the Darfur area by armed Arab tribal militias, the “Janjaweed.” Conflict in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Somalia is for the most part run by tribal warlords and their armies, who are often charged with creating the chaos that undermines the rule of law in those areas.

In Nigeria, commitment to governments and to structures other than the national government could be seen as the cause of enormous amounts of corruption and continuing encounters between the state militias and national attempts at regulation. Kidnappings, bombings, and social unrest from terrorists and militias with political demands not only discourage international investors, but undermine the unity of Nigeria itself. The militias, mostly young unemployed males, are obviously more committed to state governors and structures than to the nation, perhaps tempted by a share of oil revenue (disbursed according to the Nigerian constitution from national to state governors), ethnic or religious ties, or merely the chance at influence, safety, and life that is not offered to them by the protection of the national government.

Tribalism can also be seen in Africa's more dictatorial governments. Qaddafi, leader of Libya, rules like a benevolent monarch and grounds his authority in the tradition of a tribal chief. Religious “tribalism” has been a source of huge amounts of tension and violence, both at attempted elections, such as Algeria in 1992, and in direct conflict. In more western governments, like South Africa, ethnicity still plays a large part in how Africans see life, shown in the uproar over racial prejudice and South African leaders' failure to redistribute wealth and land to the black population in the aftermath of apartheid. When they are not the source of violence, tribes in Africa are viewed by nationalists as superfluous and as an impediment to the transition of Africans into the world of the 21st century.

In contrast, many of Africa's problems are perceived by Africans themselves as the bungled attempts of a nationalist viewpoint to impose itself on them without their consent. The lack of government in Somalia has been blamed on U.S. support for warlords who promise to eliminate terrorists. Leaders like Qaddafi or Mugabe accuse the West of pushing them into strict regimes by economic sanctions or of attempts to usurp national sovereignty via the World Bank or IMF. The billions of dollars in international aid given to Africa more often fuel conflict over oil, natural resources, or donated food than they ever relieve suffering. Western nationalist governments are seen as extremely inconsistent—championing democracy, but in reality supporting whatever and whomever aid their national and economic interests. The very attempt to impose Western national institutions and firm national governments that oversee all aspects of the citizen's lives—health care, redistribution of wealth, multi-party voting, technological development, subsidized business, international duties and obligations, etc.—has led only to increased conflict and poverty. Most Africans see themselves as members of a tribe, not as members of a nation. Nation-states are an inconvenience invented by the West, and national elections lead more often to violence between tribes than to the rule of law—as in Nigeria, Rwanda, Algeria, and many other countries. The existence of a national government does not ensure a monopoly on force, especially in a continent of tribes.

The legacy of European colonialism, understood by Africa as another form of nationalism, is a major source of many of the problems that Africa faces today. Before colonization, Africans lived in scattered tribes, with a variety of tribal structures from simple hunter-gatherers to fairly complex multi-tribal kingdoms. Little is known about them except that they fought with and enslaved each other. However, in a wholly tribal system, tribes tend to check each other's dramatic excesses; the advent of colonialism disturbed this balance.

Modern colonization of Africa began in the 1600s, followed by what is called the “Scramble for Africa” by many European countries in the 1800s. By 1900, the entire continent had been divided between France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, and others. Current national boundaries are a result of decisions made by the colonizers. The national form was imposed upon, rather than chosen by, the African tribes.

Ironically, one of the biggest effects of colonialism was an increase in tribal prejudice. In Rwanda, for instance, the French gave preferential treatment to the ruling Tutsis as they oppressed the Hutus, and in the process fueled the hatred that led to the genocide of 1994. Before colonization, there was little if any western education, institutions, or ideas in Africa. Therefore, Africa's first exposure to the rule of law (although traditional law sometimes approached it), democracy, the nation-state, and political rights and responsibilities, came under colonial rule. The tradition of class education for the ruling party, seen in Nigeria or South Africa today, was initiated by colonialism.

The collapse of African colonialism, beginning with Ghana's independence in 1957, created even more challenges. The withdrawal of the European presence and formal governance led to power vacuums that were quickly filled by dictatorships or warring tribes. After decades of foreign rule and being treated as a lower class, Africans are uncertain or hopeless about governing themselves.

Since its initial exposure to industrialization and modernity, Africa has been the recipient of international financial aid. Since the fall of colonialism, this addiction to aid has only increased, and most of the foreign and domestic policy of many African nations is based on the aid they receive.

African nations have little experience with anything but a colonial economy, and entered the world of the Industrial and Information Ages with limited technology and expertise. Although Africa is no longer technically colonial, the economic relationship between them and the west has remained nearly the same. Many African nations are being sucked into a neo-colonial imperialism, and the abundant African natural resources are more often used to enrich Western corporations than the African people. Despite international donations, business in Africa is often impossible because of continual wars and shaky government, and few foreign investors risk the trouble and expense of long-term projects in the continent. Unemployment is rampant, reinforcing a culture of apathy that effects the roles of men, women, and children. For the most part, the people of Africa lack the skills necessary to function in a western or national economy, yet they know no other model, resulting in their de facto relegation to the bottom rung in a world order.

Poverty exacerbates malnutrition and disease. The world's poorest countries are in Africa. International donations, when they do reach the people, are most often a one-time boost for individuals who will be hungry again tomorrow. The AIDS virus ravages nearly every African country. In Botswana, for instance, nearly 40% of the adult population has AIDS, and in many other countries the average is one in three with the infection, with the highest levels in sub-Saharan Africa. As the adult population succumbs to the disease, millions of children are orphaned. With little guidance or education and the task of supporting themselves and younger orphans, African teenagers seek answers and food, and the cycle of war and poverty continues.

Surrounding and magnifying these problems, illiteracy keeps a large portion of the African people from seeing anything beyond their own day-to-day life, hunger and fear. Those who can see the many and varied causes for Africa's challenges look at the history of the past half-century and conclude that there is no solution. Thus Africa's growth stagnates, poverty continues in the face of billions of dollars of aid, potential investors are scared off by terrorism, genocide, and corruption. Political inequity grows, and many of Africa's best and brightest choose to look the other direction.


For the past few decades, democracy has been urged as the panacea for social and political ills, and many of the elites of Africa, looking to the economic prosperity of democratic nations, are inclined to agree. Nearly every international political initiative to solve Africa's problems has justified itself as a push for democracy, although few suggest that democracy can take more than one form. Currently, the term “democracy” is a trademark of the national worldview. When most international advisors and many African elites say “democracy” today, they mean nationalism. The stable democracy they suggest as a solution to Africa's ills includes multi-party elections for strong national leadership, central rather than tribal oversight of most areas of life, large stable corporations which employ most of the people in secure jobs, low unemployment, international free trade, cooperation with and obedience to the international community, great respect for international and public opinion, and emancipation from whatever held the people to their tribe, such as ethnocentricity, strong family ties, or prejudice. An ideal national democracy also includes large redistribution of wealth (President Mbeki of South Africa has been commended for his partial democratization of the country but severely criticized for failing to redistribute effectively), and government solutions for agriculture and health care (recent discussions of AIDS, for instance, blame African governments for failing to legislate, inform, and provide materials to prevent the spread of AIDS and help those who already have the disease). Although few Africans have attempted to define the word when discussing the future of their continent, this democracy is the ultimate goal of most interested internationals. The following are some ways in which it is to be implemented.

In response to the chaos that has erupted in Africa since the fall of colonialism, many current African analysts suggest that the solution to violence and economic instability in the continent is continued multinational oversight. Most acknowledge that the commonly accepted methods of dealing with African's challenges – such as forcing peace, planning elections, pouring money into the economy or aid and then leaving it to itself, for instance – do not work, and are usually too short-term to be effective. Instead they propose that certain African countries, especially those with failed or failing governments, should be overseen in the long term by a board of international and local players, including representatives from the World Bank, United Nations, European or United States governments, and local leaders. This could extend to a sort of neo-imperialism, where a certain international government is the “trustee” of the African country. Oversight for rogue states could also come from regional or continental governments, such as a stronger African Union. International leaders with experience in national democracy would be instrumental in directing unsure or confused African elites toward this democracy. In addition, international trustees would have the capability to leverage the force of their own government and squelch uprisings and violence in the nations they oversee, thereby contributing to rule of law and an environment that encourages international investment and human rights.

Other analysts see democracy as a natural result of free trade and economic development. The skills of a commercial society are also many of the same skills necessary to function in a free society. Therefore, the solution to Africa's challenges is increased investments and donations to create the kind of economy, and therefore the kind of institutions, that will support democracy. Targetted would be those nations with capacity for the rule of law and in which the central government has a monopoly on force and has shown resistance to corruption. Since foreign aid is a large priority in many African governments, this would incentivize otherwise reluctant dictators and tribal leaders to cooperate with democratic policies. Many of these would be carried out through World Bank or IMF initiative and investment, and regulation through these organizations would be another step in the process of international trusteeship, replacing African sovereignty with the funds to create a national infrastructure and national democracies. Other international donors are more interested in flooding Africa with humanitarian donations or simply more money, convinced that eventually enough cash will pull the continent out of poverty.

A third suggestion for dealing with the Africa problem is selective international pressure or partnerships to encourage good behavior and punish uncooperative states. Trade sanctions are the most common and among the most devastating of international pressures, and have been used in Libya in response to the Lockerbie terrorist attacks, in Zimbabwe in an effort to check Mugabe, and in several other African states. Treaties and economic favors for cooperative nations are also seen as a way of making friends in key areas and encouraging preferred government types, as well as discouraging countries from harboring terrorists hostile to the West. An alliance between the United States and South Africa—sometimes called the most progressive of African countries - would ensure Western democratic interests in neighboring countries and be a powerful ally from which to convert the continent through example and competition. One booming democratic economy in Africa would have the potential and incentive to quickly spread. International accountability is another form of pressure that is designed to prevent future atrocities by holding perpetrators of genocide and corruption accountable for their actions. The International Criminal Court and other organizations would check guilty individuals, and international pressure would discourage or reward national behavior.

While many Africans accept these suggestions for international cooperation and national democracy as the solution to African problems, others, as mentioned before, see international meddling as the source of the problems, and seek to create a new Africa by and for Africans. This solution is usually met by displeasure and sanctions by the international community, but many Africans on the continent and scattered through the globe see African dictators such as Robert Mugabe as the saviors of Africa, and cheer them on for resisting western imperialism. Mugabe's rule may not be their first choice, but they would rather have his type of rule, as long as it is African, than continued foreign blunders.

Although each of these solutions is appealing in some ways to Africans, many may realize that trusteeship is only another form of the colonialism that created many of the problems of the past. True democracy was never achieved under a colonial structure. More donations or investment in countries without freedom or self-determination only compound the problem. World Bank and IMF regulations focus on the nation state, which has shown itself incapable of solutions on its own. The ICC and other such organizations have failed to make a large difference in the past. In Rwanda, for instance, little has changed because of its intervention. The ICC was unlikely to put half the country in jail for genocide or war crimes, although the number of those who could be described as responsible for the 1994 genocide from both Hutus and Tutsis is astronomical. It is improbable that these organizations will make any large difference in the future, especially because they address individuals instead of underlying causes for crimes, including the legacy of colonial prejudice. International pressure and sanctions most often spring from a national paradigm and are therefore unable to address the concerns of African tribes. And, dictators like Mugabe may prevent international interference in their country, but they do little or nothing to improve the situation of the African people.

In spite of these inconsistencies, the biggest flaw with the currently proposed solutions to Africa's challenges is not in the method—whether sanctions or investment or oversight—but the objective. Nation-focused solutions fail to see the reality of the African situation, especially when applied to democracy. National democracy, as outlined above, is unlikely to appear anytime soon on the continent. Globalism's purpose in replacing containment, as described by the Clinton administration, is to promote “democracy” worldwide—the democracy of the West, or national democracy. Africans are tempted yet revolted by this democracy precisely because they have seen both sides of it—economic prosperity with the potential to alleviate Africa's suffering, and the resulting violence, combined with insatiable greed for greater prosperity at any cost—including the exploitation of other countries or continents like Africa. National democracy is globalism's vehicle to an economic world order. The reason that Africa as a continent is a consistently low priority on the world agenda is that it appears it will prove remarkably resistant to national-democratic economics in the near future, plays its role of supplying raw materials and natural resources to industrialized nations well enough in its current state, and is not strong or united enough to be a challenge to the agenda of globalism.

National democracy involves central control of most aspects of life, either through government or large corporations, both of which work together to create the national-democratic mindset. Elections provide the moral foundation for this control, since what the majority votes for or buys into (media campaigns to sell a new product or a new law are remarkably similar) is seen as the right answer for all. However, when this is mixed with a tribal point of view, the result is “prebendal politics,” where the majority tribe takes central control through elections and then uses this power to funnel benefits such as education, employment, or redistribution of wealth to their own people. They use the power of the nation to benefit their tribe or religion at the expense of the others. Because the ability to decide law becomes a contest of tribes, central control in Africa results in violence. Where there is a strong ruling party or dictatorship, the national democratic central control of the majority is used as moral justification for oppression, hence the recent rigged elections in Nigeria, and the tendencies of most dictatorships to have just enough voting to justify their control in the eyes of the international community. The goal of universal employeeship, as valued by national democracies, only catalyzes the discontent of those who are not currently employed and cannot see any other options, and who therefore accept the offer of the first bidder, often a warlord. The problems with pushing the national-democratic ideal on current African tribalism can be seen in almost every aspect of that ideal.


Democracy is the answer to Africa's challenges. However, the African definition of democracy will not be the same as the current Western definition. Once Africans clearly understand the difference between these forms of democracy and the benefits of each, they will also understand why trying to implement full national democracy on their continent has only created greater chaos, and why so many plans for the improvement of Africa have failed and left them hopeless.

Africa's democracy will be different than either its current chaotic tribalism or the national democracy it is trying unsuccessfully to adopt. Democracy, essentially, means equal laws for everyone, freedom, and ownership. To achieve this, African democracy will involve both the tribe and the nation state in ways that are mutually beneficial.

The Role of the Tribe

The first thing that Africans and the international community will have to realize when attempting to build the continent is that tribalism in Africa is not only not going to end in the near future, (colonialism and the turbulent years since have shown this) but that it is the key to permanently solving Africa's problems in both the short and long term. Tribes, while they are the source of much of the violence and chaos Africa faces currently, are Africa's best hope for the future. The way the continent responds to tribalism and tribal government will determine the impact it has on the 21st century.

The continent's current response to tribes is demonstrated by the problems it is facing. Currently, many elites react to tribes as either an inconvenience to be avoided or to be destroyed in the face of nationalism, or, as a method for tribal leaders and warlords to control or oppress other tribes. The hope of tribalism is found in the way that the African people themselves view and implement their identities as members of a tribe, especially in the following ways:

  1. The most basic characteristic of the tribe is family. In the 21st century, the nature of the citizens in a country and the impact of the country on the world will be determined by the nature of its families. Families can and do teach hatred and prejudice, but they are also the only unit which can unteach it. Right now, African families face significant challenges due to adult deaths from AIDS, but functioning family relationships are the best hope for controlling its spread in the future. With the aid of philanthropists and other partners, families are the best hope for ending Africa's illiteracy. When the family is functional, there is less likelihood of persons joining radical armies or warlords. If Africans want to see long-term hope for their future they must increase, not decrease, the interest of their people in families as the strongest motivation for creating stable and free structures that have the potential to last for generations; the alternative is to merely accept the status quo of war and insecurity. Strong families` would encourage work, education, ownership, and freedom. The familial base in African tribes is already in place, and by legitimizing the African's identities within the tribe and nation it will prove the most powerful influence in Africa's future.
  2. Local governance in the tribe has the potential to alleviate the problems of national democracy while promoting its benefits. As shown above, one of the primary problems with national democracy is the attempt at centralized control, adopted by tribes in some African countries as a method of dominating other tribes or giving preferential treatment to their own. It is true that occasionally tribal governance has fueled violence, but this is most strongly the case when the warring tribes are connected to those seeking for dominance on a national level, as in Nigeria or Sudan. With strong local self-government, many of the problems facing Africa, such as contests or violence for the national government, the threat of Islamic or other one-religion states, dependence on foreign aid, and especially African hopelessness in their inability to determine their own destiny, would dramatically decrease, while rule of law and commerce would almost certainly increase. Quarrels over the national redistribution of wealth and government favors such as education would be causeless if these issues were dealt with locally. Local tribal government systems are already in place in Africa, although they have lost much of their history and have in some instances become mere artifacts. By legitimizing local self-government within African nations, Africans would encourage the best from both tribalism and nationalism, while decreasing motivation for militant tribes to use violence because they feel their future is threatened.
  3. Both family ties and local government would do much to encourage business and entrepreneurship. There is no doubt that one of Africa's major problems is a lack of ownership. Currently, Africans and foreign investors are unwilling or incapable of starting businesses in Africa because of violence. With strong tribal local governments, it is much more likely that Africans will start businesses because their local tribe will protect them in the case of danger. Local governments are much more likely to support local businesses. Foreign aid given to local tribal chiefs is much more likely to be used beneficially for the people than aid given to the national head. This may seem counterintuitive from a national perspective, but national governments are not, in general, as interested in helping the African people as they are in advancing their own interests.
  4. Education and welfare are much better accomplished within the tribe. The last thing Africans want, besides their current state of chaos, is to be made an incarnation of the West. Western national democracies tell Africans that they need national-level job training to support corporations and national advancement. But to solve their problems, Africans need more than job training. Africans need an education in leadership to enable them to choose their own path. Africans need to be empowered take responsibility for educating their own citizens. In the near future, this is most likely to happen successfully within tribes, rather than by solely national or international projects. Tribes are less likely to discriminate within their own peoples, and given the chance, experience has shown that Africans will choose to educate themselves. The first step to changing Africa is tribally-based education.

Instead of removing or degrading tribalism, Africans need to see it for its benefits. Not all ancient or tribal structures in Africa are worth keeping, but the idea of local and familial interests as the center of Africa's future is what will begin the change for the better in the continent. When checked by a national structure, tribalism in Africa will be its greatest strength.


The Role of the Nation

Empowering Africa's tribes does not mean doing away with the nation-state. Before colonialism, Africa's tribes fought with and enslaved each other, and given the circumstances of the last few decades, immediate empowerment of certain African tribes almost certainly would result in more violence. Instead, the nation is needed to check the tribes. The national structure in Africa would be the most beneficial if it avoided administering privileges and instead limited itself to external protection and preventing violence. A national government in which the different tribes were represented by those elected within the tribe would work better than the common method of “winner takes all” elections in many African countries, and if national governments had less power to control the day-to-day lives of the people or hand out favors, the selection of a central leader, such as a president or prime minister, would be much less liable to corruption or violence. Of course, national governments should have the ability to defend the nation, make treaties, oversee trade and natural resources, and tax to fund these things.

Considering Africa's history and the increase in racism as a result of colonialism, preventing violence between tribes while still allowing for tribalism and freedom will be a big enough challenge for most African national governments. National governments need to be formed by the consensus of the local government and tribes, and tribal leaders need to have vested interests in supporting it. In Nigeria, for instance, tribal leadership would have to establish and support state leadership. Tribal involvement with Nigeria's state governors would prevent much of the current corruption, and a tribally supported national government would, as last resort, have the power to overthrow state governors; in contrast, the current national government is too weak to even prevent most of the state militias from seizing government funds and terrorizing international businesses seeking to invest in the area. Nigerians are simply confused about what is in their own best interest, and most go to whatever has the power to give them benefits, which currently is the state governors. Local government, business, and education would not only remove the incentive of many young Nigerians to join the state militias out of poverty or desperation, but would also actually serve to strengthen a national government, if formed with the consensus of the tribes.

South Africa provides a powerful case study of the possibility of forming a new national government from differing tribes without violence. Nelson Mandela and other leaders provided the example and motivation for a non-violent approach to the country's first democratic elections, which were carried out successfully. In any transition, Africa's leadership will be vitally important. Mandela made sure that there were representatives from each ethnic group, so that no one group could claim the right to oppress the others, and no other group would take up arms because the government was not representing their interests. The 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa provides for traditional or tribal leaders to participate in government on the national, provincial, and local levels; and the White Paper on Traditional Leadership and Governance of 2003 further clarifies the roles, accountability, and structure of traditional leaders. Both documents reinforce the fact that the people of

South Africa see traditional and tribal leaders as an essential part of their lives. Including these leaders in the government, however, is only one part of creating a truly African democracy. The current inequitable class system in the country would be less likely to continue if the national government avoided handing out favors—in this case, to create a new black elite class—and instead provided structure and incentive for local governance. In the 21st century, tribalism means more than tradition; it means people who are prepared to govern themselves.

National governments in Africa will continue to work with the international community through treaties and example. However, with stronger local government, they will be much less dependent on foreign trade and aid, and will be better able to protect against foreign intrusion on their sovereignty.


An essential part of creating the ideal African democracy is to understand the difference between national and tribal views toward the economy. The purpose of national democracy in the age of globalization is to create strong national economies where everyone is employed. In national democracies, this implies that most of the people work for the benefit of huge corporations. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, globalization has evaluated the power or influence of a country based on its economic strength. The United States, for instance, is often cited as being the most powerful nation in the world, because it has the biggest GDP. This push for national influence tempts many to think that the solution to Africa is to import large multi-national corporations in order to increase the wealth of the continent and enable it to pull itself out of its problems. On the other hand, tribalism is less interested in creating national wealth, especially when that wealth generally goes toward the benefit of a few. The Hutus and Tutsis would not really care about the economy of Rwanda, only about their respective tribes.

An ideal African economy, on the other hand, would emphasize individual freedom and self- determination. Instead of focusing on universal employment, financial policies in Africa should work for ownership and entrepreneurship—in the first place because these, combined with the benefits of tribalism, are the only things that can pull Africa out of its stagnant economic spiral. Until local governments and supporting businesses are stronger, Africa is unlikely to receive substantial new investments. Africans must create their own. Like family, ownership will positively affect the apathy and hopelessness of African culture. African democracy should include ownership and freedom, not market imperialism.


Democracy is only revered by the people of all nations because democracy, to them, means freedom. Democracy means to allow everyone, from every tribe, ethnic group, and socio-economic class the same opportunities before the law, so they may choose the quality of their own well-being. In a true democracy, people are free not only to work and to consume, (which are overemphasized in a national democracy) but also to produce new products and ideas to sell, and just as importantly, to fail. In a true democracy, anyone can rise to any level in the community or government that he or she chooses. This kind of freedom, however, is historically scarce unless there are smaller, local governments that handle most of the day to day issues, as well as larger governments that prevent foreign invasion and keep the tribes from fighting each other. Freedom is not possible without self-government. National democracy moves decision-making far from the people, replaces ownership with employeeship, weakens or removes family relationships in exchange for corporate relationships, and then condescends to the people's desire for freedom by giving them a vote once in a while. It encourages cynicism by redistribution of wealth, and creates a people incapable of governing themselves because they do not know what it is to govern. To be free, the people of Africa need to choose another path.

The following table summarizes the present state of Africa (current tribalism), the national democratic ideal that many Africans and internationals have used without success to solve Africa's problems, and the proposed ideal African democracy.     

Current Tribalism

National Democracy

Ideal African Democracy







Illiteracy or class education

Universal employee education

Leadership education

War, genocide

Centralized control

Local administration supported by the potential for centralized intervention

Family, tribe as the central unit

Corporation as the central unit

Family/tribe as central unit checked by government

Prebendal politics

National level redistribution of wealth

Tribal level institutions provide welfare

A weak central government is unable to prevent violence

Party politics control the nation and most aspects of the citizen's lives

Tribes empower most aspects of the citizens lives, while a national government encourages unity and non-violence



Africans must choose their own democracy over national democracy in the 21st century, if only because efforts to implement national democracy in their continent will only continue to make things worse. Africans will find that they do know what they want only when they recognize that full national democracy goes against the nature of the African people. Africans wish to throw off the vestiges of colonialism, and show the world that they have become men and women capable of governing themselves. Africans do not want to be a continent of people who work their whole lives for someone else, only to retire and die. That may be better than a life of privation and poverty, but they had enough of partially-educated and institutionalized slavery under colonialism and apartheid. They may want the benefit of booming corporations, but not at the expense of freedom. Africans value public sovereignty, consumer's rights, and the forces of the market—and in a national democracy they are the same thing—but they have had enough of being manipulated by those who see themselves as superior and therefore claim the right to tell them how to live. To reach their potential, Africans must resist a government that promises to take care of them financially, physically, and emotionally in exchange for the right to choose their destiny. There are other ways to prevent poverty and violence, especially considering that these societal ills may also be found to be increasing among countries that are nationally democratic.

The people of Africa must be completely honest with themselves. When they deal with the continent at all, the rest of the world wishes to remake it in its own image. Foreign solutions to Africa's problems will almost always tend to make Africa in debt to foreigners. Africans see the inconsistencies of western promises and are filled with frustration at western policies, yet they continue to look toward the west because it provides examples of a way of life that is, in many respects, vastly preferable to their own. However, were even the most enamored of the African nations to adopt national democracy completely, they would find themselves disappointed at the result. It would not be pan-Africa independence, it would be an induction of Africa into a vast “global village” that is interested in controlling larger amounts of people and creating a global class structure, based not on ethnicity but on wealth rather than in enabling the African people to live in freedom and happiness. The past half-century has shown that World Bank and IMF regulations and foreign governmental aid serve only to acclimatize Africans to their state of dependence. National democracy promotes government over larger and larger groups of people; but before jumping under the global umbrella, Africans should consider what self-government over smaller groups of people can do, and see if the tribal mindset with African nationalism can do as well or better than the peaceful servitude offered by much of globalism.


Strong local self-government will be the first beneficiary and best aid of African education. This is not something that needs to be created in Africa, it merely needs to be given a new direction. The constitution of South Africa is a good starting point in dividing government into local, provincial, and national government areas, as well as giving traditional leadership a place in all three. In implementing African democracy, the constitution could be even more beneficial if the roles of the different levels of government were more clearly defined; specifically, limiting the national government so that it could not create policies that benefited some economic classes at the expense of the others, for example, by either redistribution of wealth or subsidies and monopolies of certain classes or businesses. Doing so would create more incentive for vigorous local government, education, and entrepreneurship essential to African democracy, and prevent its absorption into national democracy and globalism.

Tribal federalism within nations could be facilitated by regional governance without. In the same way that a national government helps prevent violence within and between tribes, regional governments might provide the framework for more progressive African nations to encourage rule of law in their neighbors. This would work well if coupled with local governance and nationally defined powers. As a general rule, the larger the government, the more defined and limited its powers should be. Regional governments would help discourage economic or military competition between neighboring African countries. Africans could also reconsider current national boundaries. This may prove challenging in some cases, but current boundaries are merely the arbitrary remainders of the colonial “Scramble for Africa,” and Africans are not bound to maintain them if other arrangements would be more beneficial. Of course, care must be taken to ensure that any rearrangement would not be the source of new conflicts.

Self-determination and local business should be high priorities for Africans. International business should also be encouraged as long as it does not interfere with African self-government. African democracy must resist neo-imperialism in all its forms. In addition, the revenue from natural resources and other forms of income should, as much as possible, be reinvested in national economies. One of the reasons that Africa currently proves so difficult to build economically is that nearly all funds are either immediately consumed by corruption and the immediate needs of the African people, or are sent off to foreign governments and businesses where they can avoid both of these. Instead of this, African funds should be spent in teaching the people how to provide for themselves, providing infrastructure that benefits the lives of all Africans, and continually building African businesses. African governments should make information about budgets and expenditures available to the public. Financial education should be a high priority among all African people.

Africa should by no means become isolationist. It needs the benefits of nationalism perhaps as much as nationalism needs African tribalism. Africans should encourage international philanthropists and investors, but not in exchange for sovereignty and self-determination. International and local investment in the following areas would be among the most beneficial:

  1. Micro-loans, especially in the context of the tribe. One of the reasons that these loans rarely work well in current Africa is that in a nation ruled by warlords, any amount of money is unlikely to stay long enough with the people to be truly beneficial. If the loans were given to strong, self-governing tribes, they would be much more likely to change lives, especially when coupled with education.
  2. International investment in all types of education is especially needed. Programs that would provide for talented Africans' higher education at home or abroad in exchange for running local schools for a number of years would increase both leadership and literacy. Loans for starting schools, donations of supplies, etc. would be very helpful. 
  3. Humanitarian aid in the context of the tribe, awarded first to those who work with the nation-state. Again, this would help prevent aid disappearing before it can help those who really need it. Although education and good financial policies are the preferred long term methods of helping extremely poor Africans, there is an immediate and desperate want of food, clothing, clean water, medical supplies, shelter, and other basic necessities. This kind of donation is the best hope in relieving that need. 
  4. International “X-prize” model for agricultural and health research and development in Africa would provide incentive for experts from around the world to participate in solutions for malnutrition and disease. When presented with them, Africans have shown themselves open to new methods of farming and more nutritious varieties of food. More productive and better working solutions in these areas would provide Africans with desperately needed food and a higher quality of life that would help all other solutions. 

Africans should gradually disentangle themselves from long-term commitments to foreign governments and international governmental organizations. However, foreign involvement is currently a major part of the African way of life. Therefore, Africans should encourage international government to do the following:

  1. Base relations with African consistently on whether nations are free or not free. In the past, other interests have led many international governments to support dictatorial or autocratic states and give money to warlords for fighting terrorism, while censuring or ostracizing more free states for insignificant policies. Consistent international censure of dictatorial states and good relationships with free states would do much to help Africa's rule of law and democratic future. 
  2. Focus anti-terrorism efforts on good international relationships (not based on donations) and facilitating non-governmental organizations that seek to help the African people help themselves. Working African democracy will be the world's strongest anti-terrorism support in Africa. 
  3. Gradually limit direct intervention to military aid to stop genocide. As the African people become stronger through governing themselves, they will have less need of international military rule of law. 

All of these policies will need strong and dedicated African leadership. Africans now living successfully in the West or East are desperately needed in their home continent. They will have opportunity for greater impact there than perhaps anywhere else. Africa needs Africans who are willing to educate themselves and build the African people and forms—not only for this generation but for their children and grandchildren. African institutions should provide incentives to entice these talented young Africans home. Even more, they should make the choice themselves. Africa deserves attention. No African wishes to see their continent continue the way it has gone. The single most important catalyst to any change is leadership. If true Africans refuse to lead, the leaders Africa looks to may be the ones who wish to exploit, rather than achieve, the African potential. Once they understand why it is that they are unsure about their future, Africans will wish to remember their past, not to dwell on local or international mistakes, but as an incentive to act. Everything Africa needs is available to it. As they see clearly what it is they want, Africans will find what they have been missing: hope.

Africa's history is fraught with war. Its people have suffered indescribable injustice at the hands of each other and the world, and African blood spilled in silence and oppression can be traced with its diaspora to every continent. Its battles have been fought at home and abroad, against slavery and racism, hunger and privation, colonists and Africans. Africa's new war extends far beyond this.

The Cold War was a conflict between two ideas; two ways of life. Its replacement in the 21st century, as described by the Clinton administration, is the battle for democracy. The question is less about how to overthrow despotic dictators than about whose democracy will shape the next hundred years. Make no mistake, the model of democracy chosen will make all the difference between Africa's happiness and its continued enslavement. Either way, the repercussions will probably extend not only for generations, but also across the globe.

In the midst of its current conflicts, few realize that Africa's relation to the east and west has changed. The world needs the African example even more than the other way around. National democracies will not save themselves by exporting their way of life to Africa, any more than Africa will save itself by adopting national democracy. By choosing to create their own democracy and resist imperialism in all its forms, Africans will not only rewrite their own history, but may prove the catalyst that will turn the war. An African Golden Age will not be easy. It will not be the work of a year or even a decade. But through strong African leadership combined with African democracy and hope, it is possible.
Africa's hour has come

Ms. Black is an senior at George Wythe University studying Statesmanship.