Africa's bad rule, and what airports and traffic lights have to do with it

The people who attend wedding receptions is always more than those who go to the church or mosque to witness the couple take their vows.

THERE is no doubt that Africa economies are doing well doing.  A recent UN reported that most economies in sub-Saharan Africa jointly grew by 5.6% in 2013, far above the 1.2% growth seen in developed countries. However, because the benefits of that growth are not share better, more Africans are actually in living in poverty.

Equally, many more African countries are outwardly more democratic today and a little better governed today than 20 years ago. However, while the continent is having more elections, fewer and fewer of them are free and fair. And many aspects of public life are still unacceptably wretched.

There is a tendency to blame greedy, incompetent, power-hungry leaders for most of the persisting problems on the continent. Yes, and no. They share only part of the blame. Wider African society also contributes to the malaise, although one could have the chicken and egg argument here: Is it the politicians who corrupt society or are politicians just a mirror of a corrupt society?

The dubious things the people, as opposed to the politicians and officials do, are allover. The list is long, but five will illustrate the point.

1.   Many African cities that have traffic lights also have traffic police directing traffic. This is because most African motorists don’t respect traffic lights. So without cops it becomes a mess.

The only way most traffic lights work is if there is a policeman or woman to impose order. The police, once they get on the scene, exercise discretion. It defeats the whole idea of traffic lights, which at base are supposed to impart values of predictable and impersonal application or rules.

Instead it promotes arbitrariness. If you want to understand Africa, study the behaviour of its motorists.

2.   Apart from a few airports like Oliver Tambo International airport Johannesburg, there are hardly any other airports where you park under a shade when you arrive to catch a departure flight, and only few where you go into a covered parking when you arrive.

So when it is raining you will get wet on arrival or departure.

It might not seem amiss, but it reflects a lack of care and empathy toward the people. However, many companies still do the same thing. The CEO and other directors  (the well paid fellows) will have covered and free parking, and the rest of the staff (who are paid less) will park in the sun—if they have any reserved parking. Often it will be in the street where they pay fees to the city.

3.   There is a building boom in most African cities. New apartment buildings are sprouting everywhere. However, to cut costs, most of them – including those that are more than four storeys, and some as high as 12 floors - don’t have lifts.

For developers, that doesn’t just cut out the cost of the lifts, but installing a lift in cities where power outages are the norm would also bring pressure for them to also put in a generator in the building complex.

In addition, municipal officials will not force them to do so before granting occupation permits, because they have been bribed, or don’t care. Look at apartment blocks in most African cities, then look again. The stories of the societies where they are built are written allover them.

4.   One of the biggest problems African  private firms contend with is that workers don’t turn off lights or computers when they leave office to go home, thus running up energy bills. Workers in government behave exactly the same way. We have a very negligent attitude towards things that are not our personal property…politicians show the same lack of care for the welfare of the people they lead.

5.   The number of people who attend wedding receptions in Africa is almost always several times more than those who go to the part of the ceremony that the couple care most about – to the church, mosque, or civil registry to witness the couple take their vows.

It is not just officials who like to eat more than to cook. We all do.



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