By Jones N. Williams
The African continent does not exist in outer space; it is part of the universe. Like the rest of other continents in our universe, human beings inhabit Africa. African countries and communities have systems, laws, and leaders. Africa is also a continent with numerous unresolved problems, issues, and setbacks, which are blamed on colonialism, imperialism, foreign exploitation, and every other thing foreign. We can all take solace and comfort in the blame game – especially when it comes to blaming and shaming the inexcusable acts of colonialism, imperialism, and exploitation by foreign powers. Colonialism, imperialism, and exploitation were wrong then and they are dead wrong even today. However, it would be fool-heartedly for anyone to think and still believe that the single largest problem inhibiting good governance, development, and progress in Africa can be reduced to the continent’s past and what Africa unconsciously accepts in the present. Therefore, Africa’s single largest problem is not its history or present condition, but the moral courage deficiency that plagues its leaders.
The fact is many African leaders have dangerous courage – the courage to steal public funds, prosecute and persecute perceived opposition, back-roll democratic processes through unquestionable and unconstitutional means, transgress the rule of law, facilitate hegemony as well as political and social divisions, embrace and facilitate wealth gaps on the continent by enabling and being susceptible to corruption and sanctioning all things counter-productive to progress, good governance, and collective economic growth and social advancement. This sort of courage though terrible and sickening is relative but common. What is short in supply among leaders and their enablers in Africa is moral courage.
Several pieces of literature define or classify moral courage as the ability to stand up for and practice that which one considers ethical, a moral behavior when faced with a dilemma, even if it means going against countervailing pressure to do otherwise. It is the courage to act for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences.
For example, let us look at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Forget about Russia’s historical support to many African nations in the past and now, President Vladimir Putin’s unwarranted and unchecked actions in Ukraine are not only wrong; they are also unethical in every conceivable manner. Yet, the African Union (AU) does not have the moral courage to disavow Russia’s action. Virtually, not a single African leader has come forth to categorically call out President Putin and Russia to stop. The leadership and the composition of the African Union lack moral courage. Moral courage is the willingness to take a potentially costly moral action simply because it is one’s duty to do so, or “the right thing to do.” It is acting despite the personal or collective consequences.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an assault on and threat to global security, economic stability, and international order including the fact that Russia is a “superpower” nation and because Ukraine offers the world products that Africa remains one of the prime beneficiaries of. Secondly, the world is now a global village with intertwined economies and social structures empowered by advancements in information technology. Africa’s conspicuous silence, Russia’s relentless dangerous actions, and Putin’s poor judgment negatively impact the entire world, especially the African continent with the largest share of extreme poverty rates globally, which has twenty-three of the world’s poorest twenty-eight countries at extreme poverty rates above 30%. One would perfectly understand President Putin’s vision and anxiety about NATO. Also, NATO’s exclusion of Russia as a member and its suspicious expansion is only plain provocative and somehow wrong. Everyone morally conscious gets that. But that in no way justifies Russia’s belligerence in such a way and fashion as it is unfolding in Ukraine today and the adverse economic downturn it causes the global economy and imposes on international stability.
Africa must take a neutral but just stance. Using the poverty line of US$1.90 a day, Africa with a 2022 extreme poverty rate of about 50 percent among its rural population, compared to 10 percent in urban areas remains complacent about the Russian war on Ukraine. According to combined statistics provided by a few global institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, United Nations, and several relief international organizations, it is stated that together with poverty, malnutrition is also widespread in Africa. Limited access to food is leading to low health conditions and increasing poverty risk.
Whether Russia is right or not, forget about the benign justification for a moment and consider why President Putin’s continuous action must be frowned upon by all nations including countries in Africa and the African Union. There are numerous reasons why Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must draw the fullest attention of Africa and morally courageous African leaders. Firstly, it is costly in terms of human casualties. Secondly, it threatens international order and world peace. Thirdly, it imposes artificial and manufactured fragility on the global economy because of one man’s ego and narrow perspective. Selectively, and according to World Bank, UN, and IMF sources, economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa alone is set to decelerate from 4.1% in 2021 to 3.3% in 2022, because of what economists and policymakers termed a “slowdown” in global growth, rising inflation exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, adverse weather conditions, a tightening in global financial conditions, and the rising risk of debt distress.
The lack of moral courage is also endangering good governance throughout the African continent. It stalls economic growth and development as well as ingenuity, commitment, and efforts in the fight against poverty, corruption, and crime. The lack of moral courage makes many African leaders, and their enablers ignore the causes — lack of shelter, limited access to clean water resources, food insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, government corruption, poor infrastructure, limited or dwindling natural resources, etc. — of extreme poverty on the continent. The lack of moral courage, despite a wealth of natural resources, makes African nations typically fall at the bottom of all lists that measure small-size economic activity, such as income per capita or GDP per capita. The lack of moral courage also makes the African Union highly fragmented with too many focus areas, a complicated structure, limited managerial capacity, inefficient and unaccountable, financially dependent, and non-sustaining with gravely poor coordination between its main body and several regional economic communities on the continent. The lack of moral courage among African leaders and their enablers is massively precipitating the fast resurgence of military takeovers (coups d’état), revolts, and disenchantment throughout the continent, especially when some African leaders are bankrolling democratic gains and progress by prolonging their time in office after their constitutionally mandated tenures expire. The lack of moral courage makes it harder for most African leaders to lead an open government and empower the private sector and civil society.
Unless African leaders muster moral courage as leaders, the urge for Africa to have equal access to and real membership in the UN Security Council and authority on the global stage will not be materialized. Unless African countries and leaders take a firm stance and position on global issues by standing with “right” when it is right and despising “wrong” when it is wrong, the African continent will have no place on the global stage. Unless African leaders stand up to do the right things, moral courage deficiency will continue to be the single largest problem in Africa’s governance and progress.
About the Author:
Jones N. Williams is a Catholic-educated contemporary public philosopher and global public and domestic policy professional. He is an expert in the areas of institutional development and governance, social change, and knowledge-based economic transformation.