The problem with Africa, according to American University
economics Prof. George Ayittey and his colleagues, is that the
wrong groups are determining its fate.

Julie Pannuto
Political science Prof. Jennifer Widner speaks yesterday in the Michigan League during a conference on “The Current State of Africa.” (CHRISTINE STAFFORD/Daily)

“Has anyone bothered to ask the Africans what they
want?” he asked.

Ayittey said he blamed the monopolization of power by a small
group of elites as the leading cause of Africa’s problems and
said that he speaks from the African perspective.

A native of Ghana, Ayittey was the keynote speaker yesterday at
the Michigan League for an event titled “The Current State of
Africa,” a part of the Jack L. Walker Conference on Political

The event was co-sponsored by the Undergraduate Political
Science Association and included four other panelists who presented
research on Africa in their respective areas of expertise.

Ayittey, who is president of the Free Africa Foundation, said
out of the continent’s 54 countries only 16 are democracies.
He emphasized the need to give the power back to the African people
and said the end of white colonial rule in many African countries
had lead to even worse African leaders.

“(In Africa), we traded one set of masters for another set
of masters,” Ayittey said, referring to the new African
leaders. He added that he blamed the leaders because they had
betrayed their people. Ayittey’s main solution to these problems
was to return Africa to its citizens, but he also offered a few
specific suggestions to improve the condition of the continent.

He called for an implementation of an independent central bank,
judiciary and electoral commission, with a neutral and professional
security force. He also talked about the need for independent
media, which he said only exists in eight African countries.

While Ayittey was able to present an African viewpoint to these
problems, other panelists who were not native Africans presented
research or work they had done in the continent.

Political science Prof. Jennifer Widner focused her talk on the
constitutions of African countries and presented patterns and
correlations that had been found in studying constitutional writing
processes. She also spoke on how the findings from these studies
could be implemented in Iraq.

“People are more likely to lay down arms if they feel they
are being represented,” Widner said, citing representation as
a key provision in a successful constitution. Changing quickly from
a political look at Africa to a health-related one, Afroamerican
and African Studies and anthropology Prof. Elisha Renne talked
briefly about the World Health Organization’s efforts to stop
the spread of polio in Nigeria.

Renne took a similar approach to Ayittey by saying that WHO
could have been more effective in achieving its goal – to
eradicate polio by 2000 — if they had educated the African
people on the polio immunization before implementing programs to
battle the disease.

Visiting Afroamerican and African Studies and public health
Prof. Howard Stein contributed to the event with an economic
viewpoint. Stein talked about the “stabilization,
liberalization and privatization” of the African economy and
summarized some of its weaknesses. Even a slow change to the
African economy would be beneficial due to its current rut, he

Afroamerican and African Studies Prof. and women’s studies
lecturer Nesha Hanif spoke about her work with the Pedagogy of
Action Program in South Africa.

Through the program, she instructed both literate and illiterate
South African citizens on how to teach others about health issues,
focusing on AIDS prevention and dealing with the stigma of
contracting the disease.

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