When one hears the words human rights, political and civil rights immediately come to mind, however there other less emphasized but equally important social welfare rights. Social welfare rights are those rights that are not justiciable yet are fundamental for basic human existence, such as the right to an adequate standard of living, through provision of clean water, health, adequate food and amenities. Social welfare rights can also be regarded as duty of the state to its citizenry. As Africans we are quick to bristle and take offence when our country is called out for not upholding political and civil rights however we are non-reactive when our governments deprive us of the basic services for which it is elected to carry out. For whatever reason we think it’s ok to have electric power only 5 hours a day, to drive on a road full of potholes, spend the night at registrar’s office to get a birth certificate, the list is endless.
While there has been a general increase in the quality of life in some countries, there has been a marked deterioration in the quality of life for a majority of Africans particularly in the last 10 years. Given that most countries have gained their independence from colonial rulers, reasonable expectation is that life should generally be better because the violence of war is down; access to health, education and economic opportunities has gone up. Unfortunately, the opposite is true; governments have totally failed to provide an adequate standard of living and sense of security to its citizens.
Government use the people’s money for the benefit of individual officials is regarded as a right. We are all familiar with stories of some African cities where infrastructure is so run down that water only comes out of the faucet (tape) once every 2 weeks yet governments spent millions on vanity projects or lines their own offshore accounts. A well-documented example is that of Joseph Mobutu the former Zairean leader who in the 70s paid Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier $5million EACH for the famous “Rumble in the Jungle”. Imagine what $10 million could have done for DRC’s hospitals and roads. This is a classic case of governments failing its own people; unfortunately this is a disease affecting most governments on the African continent.
It’s not all gloom and doom, some countries are trying to keep it under control by enacting AND enforcing rules that curtail the arbitrary use of government funds for personal use. In South Africa effective this December, first class travel for government officials is scrapped; ministers will only be allowed 2 assistants on foreign trips and those issues with government cars will no longer have the option to choose luxury vehicles.
With poor governance often comes hand in glove with corruption and greed. We are quick to point out how colonialists used African natural resources to fuel their own economies at Africa’s expense, yet now that colonialists have departed our own governments have essentially become de facto colonizers and its déjà vu. Our governments create policies on a global level that facilitate land grabbing and deprive people of their land. Though Zimbabwe is currently the continents poster child for problems associated with land redistribution it’s hardly the exception. Forced evictions due to newly discovered minerals, fossil fuels are prevalent across the continent. Even Botswana, a so called best governed country has faced challenges. Its attempt to “persuade” the San (commonly referred to as Bushmen) people to abandon their hunting and gathering way of life and integrate into “modern” way of living despite the San assurance they are happy to continue surviving the way their ancestors survived has created outcry. How different are these forced removals and settlements from the Bantustans or tribal trust lands of the colonial era?
The land rights issue not only affects the cultural way of living but also deprive people of their food resources. Why are food rights important one might ask, because they are an indication of the level of economic marginalization and of political powerlessness of the people? If one is unable to feed ones family, its highly probable he or she is more concerned about bread and butter issues rather than participation in the political arena, essentially robbing one of right to make decisions.
A necessary shift in thought and action of those in governing positions is in order. President Zuma was this week under fire for saying we need to stop thinking like Africans, when applied in this context, his statement has merit. Unless we there is change in the leaders thought process, Africa will not progress much and will always fail in safeguarding its citizen’s social welfare rights. How does change come about? Change comes by making demands and holding leaders accountable.
Demand servant leadership; inform the politicians put the needs of your needs before their own. Cases where government officials send their kids to schools in other countries and travel overseas to for health checkups are well documented. If your own health system is not good enough for you, it is definitely not good enough for the people. It’s an indictment on you as a leader, take action!
Secondly, ensure issues/ needs are addressed soon rather than waiting until a crisis; in my travels across Africa; a recurring observation is the absences of maintenance. Infrastructure that was built during the colonial times has continually been in use without proper maintenance. How a railway system does build in the 1950s and has not been serviced since 5years after independence be expected to still be function in 2013? Maintain what you have and build on it don’t wait till it’s beyond repair. The cost of starting afresh is way much more.
Government should not stifle the private sector instead it should be open to private sector project delivery and financing. Private public partnerships are great ways to finance and deliver projects. Leverage private sector efficiency and get projects completed sooner
Lastly government should get out of the way and allow private sector to invest in its own networks. While indigenization and nationalization are very patriotic and make excellent campaign trail sound bites, they do not serve a purpose in capitalistic world we now live in. Governments need to stay away from over regulating and creating policies that hinder the growth of the private sector. A country‘s economy is only as strong as its private sector.
It may seem like an over simplification of a complex problems but the people have to take a stand and force things to change, force their elected officials to action on the peoples demands. There is no reason why Africa, a continent as rich in minerals and other resources should have millions starving and poor infrastructure. Where is our pride as Africans? How many immigrants have to lose their lives on their way to Europe, how long will we complain of harsh visa rules, xenophobia etc. Effort is spent on finding work around to problem rather than fixing the problem. Bottom line is we need to put our house in order and that can only happen when we begin to hold our leaders accountable.