The Fragility of African State Institutions

The Fragility of African State Institutions

By: Reuben Dlamini*

The African continent continues to suffer from a victim mentality to avoid taking full responsibility of the corruption, manipulation and unequal treatment of its citizens. Those in power have devised a complex network structure to reward bourgeois opportunists and their cronies for patronage. African institutions have developed a classic division between those who own capital and those with nothing but labor power. The African institutions have given birth to a group of individuals with an independent economic base. This group has both political and economic power, yet according to Chomsky (1999) a democratic society “should be based on the principle of consent of the governed” (p. 43). In most cases, we end up electing these people to lead our countries so they do not obtain the political power by force, but through persuasion of the electorates. Therefore, once they are in power, they constrain social transformation because the long-term social impact of their actions (driven by arrogance, corruption, factionalism and greed) is mismatched to the needs of the people.

The lack of a conceptual framework to create functioning social systems could be the reason that economic ills like corruption are left unchecked, resulting in the creation of huge inequalities and undermining the very foundations of a democratic society (Shelton-Colby, 2001). The normalization and legitimization of corruption through social practices has become a normal modus operandi and a way of life in the institutions of our rich continent. I do not want to over-simplify the challenges we are facing on the continent, as if they were only affecting Africa: they are an accepted social fabric around the globe.

The general populations have become spectators in the economic arena and have accepted what has been termed as “consent without consent” (Chomsky, 1999, p. 46). Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, a firm believer of African renaissance, on a few occasions during his presidency said Africa lacks adequate leadership. A statement from such an honourable statesman confirmed that Africa lacks leadership with unquestionable integrity in order to transform and then be taken seriously by the international community. We need open and inclusive institutions in order to have optimal management of resources, value added services and sharing of information with the public. Instead of being misguided by the few, we ought to be heard as we voice our displeasure on the institutions created to control the public mind. By now, Africans should be enjoying more political and economic power to get pleasure from our independent existence instead of continuing on pure labour tracks.

Lack of transparent and accountable operations within our institutions has handicapped African people; it has “depressed their earnings, denied them skills, and put a premium of instability” (Magubane, 1979, p. 86). It is unfortunate that Magubane’s assertion in 1979 still rings true to our current state of affairs. While African institutions are being kept in the state of social and economic dependence, we saw the birth of tyrannies across the continent. Lee (1955) describes tyrannies as:

Men of his kind behave in the same sort of way in private life, before they have gained power. Their companions are parasites in every way subservient to them, and they are themselves always prepared to give way and put on the most extravagant act of friendship if it suits their purpose, though once that purpose is achieved their tune changes (p. 313).

Unless those tyrannical tendencies are tamed, Africa will continue to suffer from a dichotomous structure. The dichotomous structure subscribe to the advancement of a certain class to continue to enjoy power and economic prosperity. Therefore, the domination of organized minority does not add any value to our governance system, as the unorganized majority continue to be exploited and in most cases remunerated as though they have no families to support. Such immoral tendencies call for governance reform: to stop the tyrannies’ inflated egos which validates their injustice principles. There are contextual challenges to good governance which do not match well with institutional practices: good governance demands ‘activities and fluid boundaries’, a definite mismatch for certain cultural or institutional context. Paul (2007) highlighted elements of good governance as “transparency, accountability, participation, social integration, public financial management reform and development” (p. 176). The intricate interplay between society, citizens, policy and governance needs to be well-cultivated because it shakes the core of embedded institutionalized practices. There is still a gap and ideological conflict between citizen needs and what (majority) of African leaders see through their position lenses.

These African leaders tend to apply a centralist administrative style that is rigid and based on personalized power structures. As such, the continent continues—and without intervention will continue—to suffer from weak and undeveloped administrative institutions, which breed underdevelopment, corruption and poverty. We need, as citizens, institutions that foster social cohesion and economic prosperity. Therefore, the need for leaders with strong moral principles to enforce standard processes and procedures are needed now.

As young people, I think we have a great opportunity to construct new institutions driven by citizenry so that we move away from those boxed institutions created through immoral principles. First, we need to see these poor leaders of ours as tyrants in order to be open to Plato’s idea that tyrants are the most unhappy people (Lee, 1955). This affords us to see their state of unhappiness as a source for creating complex network structures, which should be simplified if we are to have positive change in Africa that benefits the citizens not just the few in the elite circles.

*Reuben Dlamini is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum / BLF Contributor. Read his short biography and previous articles here.


Chomsky, N. (1999). Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order. Seven Stories Press: New York.

Lee, D. (1955). Plato: The Republic. Penguin Group: London, England.

Paul, S. (2007). A case study of e-governance initiatives in India. The International Information and Library Review, 39(3-4), 176-184.

Shelton-Colby, S. (2001). Anti-corruption and ICT for Good Governance. Presented at Seoul Anti-corruption Symposium 2001: The Role of Online Procedures in Promoting Good Governance, Seoul, Korea.

Magubane, B. M. (1979). The Political Economy of Race and Class in South Africa. Monthly Review Press: New York and London.

Reuben Dlamini

Reuben Dlamini is an Academic Technology Consultant at the Information Technology & Services Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA.

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