luttwak and ayittey on africa

Link here to Event Let Failing Africa Collapse.

Edward Luttwak and George Ayittey (my favorite theorist on Africa) is this fascinating debate on the question of foreign aid to Africa.

Luttwak is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (bio here). Luttwak always makes me think, even when I think he’s totally off base–as in slightly the case in this talk. He is a very radical thinker.

Luttwak in this talk at Cato describes the basic pattern of most human existence as “familism” (family-ism or familialism), which is to say protection and providing for one’s family. And the notion of family here is fluid enough to include clans, tribes, even a people.

The modern nation-state, built out of the Western mindset, however, is predicated–particularly in the European context which is central here given they were the colonizers of Africa–is an attempt to shift primary allegiance from the family to the state. (And the family would include the family religion).

Now what occurred in Africa (and elsewhere but Africa for this talk) is that Europeans brought the state and the machinery of the state and imposed it on the tribal-familial way, undermining much of the native imperial configurations (though by no means all).

And for Luttwak, a point I totally agree with but have never heard argued so clearly before, the worst sin of all of the Europeans in colonizing was leaving the state when they departed.

The state then which was “de-coupled” (in Alvin Toffler’s terminology) to the culture and mindset of the peoples themselves created the problem of sub-Saharan Africa post-de colonialization. Namely that the familial mindset when connected to the state (as opposed to the mindset of a state) ends up with tribes using the state to enrich themselves, their families, their tribes–i.e. the warlords of Africa of the last five decades. Policeman and soldiers are not there to be police or soldiers in our conception of that role (or teachers or civil servants generally) because the mindset of what a state and nation-state country is not there–nor should it be. It was imposed by external dictatorial power. It was not chosen by the people themselves. So rather than be such servants in the way we Westerners would think, many are simply out to gain material for their families. In the West this is called “corruption”, but more correctly it would simply be referred to as properly taking care of one’s family/clan.

So for Luttwak if you extract this imposed state machinery and let it runs it natural course of death, the native governance of Africans would take over–i.e they can run their own affairs. For Luttwak, the only reason these states continue to exist is that they are propped up by the West through foreign aid. Eliminate the aid to the states, the states will dry up and die, and then the people will rule their own affairs.

And just so it’s clear, the guy is completely consistent given that he called for the exact same thing in the Middle East. Foreign aid here replaced by oil and weapons sales. Including specifically Iraq.

Now Ayittey will not go this far and brings up an obvious rejoinder. If the West lets those states fall apart, the destruction would be enormous. It would be not be the Edenic picture laid out by Luttwak. Think Rwanda, think Congo, think Sudan (Darfur), Sierra Leone, on and on.

He calls for a program outlined in his book Africa Unchained (any of his books are worth the read, they are brilliant). Ayittey agrees fundamentally with Luttwak’s assessment of the imposed relic of the colonial Euro nation-state in Africa as the obstacle to all development. Ayittey calls the state in Africa, the “Vampire State”, which is a graphic description of the reality: sucking the life from its people. Because again remember from the view of a Vampire, the “citizens” are not citizens but rather potential sources of blood and life. Those who rule these states do not think of themselves as governors, civil servants, but rather as a means to increase their family/clan standing. Those outside of family-clan-tribe are non-existents/objects who can be treated in any manner.

Ayittey conversely to Luttwak, argues for foreign aid targeted not to the state but to civil society–Luttwak’s tribal elders and already existing native polity and social maintenance system. Ayittey calls for independent media, judiciary, etc.

The obvious question that arises from that analysis is how is the Vampire State circumvented?

But one thing that is clear that they both agree on the current system of foreign aid (World Bank, IMF, Western European donors to African Heads of State) is a continuation of colonialism. The so-called “liberals” in this case, with their post-colonial theory no doubt, are in fact the continued colonizers. And throw in secular revival/missionary efforts to “save” Africa (by white people no less) and you have a double shot of 21st century colonial thought alive and well.


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