Now that more than 84 million people have viewed Invisible Children's Kony 2012 video, attention has turned once gain to Africa's plight in general. The terrible suffering of that continent presents itself from time to time in the form of disease (AIDS, malaria), starvation (Sudan, Horn of Africa), and bloodshed (Rwandan genocide, inter-tribal slaughter in Kenya). To some extent the disease and famine are climate-related. But stable and public-spirited political leadership would go a long way to remedying these problems. But the consequences of bad politics go beyond this. Political evil accounts for most of the human suffering in Africa.
The form of government in too many African countries may be accurately described as kleptocracy, government by stealing. The state is merely a tool for rulers and their partners in crime (family, party members, the army) to pillage the country. After the transitions to independence in the early 1960s, many of the new African governments were Marxist, justifying concentration of power in a one-party state on moral and philosophic grounds. But it was always just as power grab, followed by grabbing everything else. Tribalism is also a source of much strife, but it is also a tool for governments to exploit, and a temptation for oppression. Rulers prefer their own tribe over others, intensifying the divisions that can burst open in merciless violence, as in Kenya in 2008, or governments can play one tribe against another.
We Americans often think that every problem can be solved and that we can and ought solve it, even within a generation. And we think that we can do this either by spending enough money or by invading the country and booting out the bad people. But William Easterly makes a compelling case in The White Man's Burden that the trillions of dollars we have spent on foreign aid have been largely counter-productive. As for the military option, though we feel good about our benevolent conquests, for some reason the beneficiaries of our good will never seem to recognize their blessings … at least not for long.
But one needn't resign oneself to the inhumanity, saying "This is Africa," as Leonardo DiCaprio's character does in Blood Diamond (2006). But whatever the solution, it must move the governments involved in a way that is permanent and self-enforcing. (Consider Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion , and Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa .) The words preached by Benjamin Colman in a 1730 Boston sermon are aptly noted here:
"God hath set the world upon the governments and rulers, whom He has made the pillars of it. … [T]he peace, tranquility, and flourishing of places are made to depend on the wisdom and fidelity of their rulers, in the good administration of the government. While the utmost misery and confusion befalls those places where the government is ill administered. … The virtue and religion of a people, their riches and trade, their power, honour, and reputation; and the favour of God toward them, with his blessing on them; do greatly depend on the pious, righteous, and faithful government which they are under" (Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, Ellis Sandoz ed., LibertyPress, 1991).