In Troubled States, New Governments With the Same Old Problems.

 Catherine Samba-Panza, the new interim president of the Central African Republic,— Getty Images

The recent near-death experiences of a number of African states should have, in theory, concentrated the minds of leaders who inherited their shaky remains.

Bad government — corrupt, nepotistic and ineffectual — led directly to collapse in the Central African Republic, Mali and Ivory Coast over the last four years. Now new leaders are attempting to build on what is left in the countries, which were forced to turn to outside intervention — i.e., France — to forestall blood baths.
But already there are disturbing signs that the countries have not learned from old mistakes. Government by patronage appears to be a habit not even violent upheaval can shake.


Before, in all three countries, former top officials and their entourages were implicated in profiting from the state. Ministries were stuffed with patronage appointees and relatives of leaders. Institutions that were already weak disintegrated further under the strain of government misuse, popular anger boiled over, and thousands died in the subsequent coups, civil wars and rebel takeovers.
All three of these trouble spots show signs of falling into the same trap again. Perhaps the most striking example is in the sickliest of them, the Central African Republic, a country gripped by violent interethnic and sectarian clashes where a fifth of the population has been uprooted by rebel incursion and a subsequent undeclared civil war.


The new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, has appointed a plethora of ministers, minister-counselors, friends and hangers-on — well over 20, by most counts. Her daughter is the director of her cabinet; a number of former aides of the deposed and discredited Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader who had ruled the country, have been recycled as top advisers; and many in the new government are from the president’s home region.
Meanwhile, every day brings a new harvest of killings. Last Thursday night, 11 more were killed, including several children, when a grenade was tossed into a crowd of Christian mourners in Bangui. More were killed over the weekend in clashes between African peacekeepers and Christian militias. Elsewhere in the country the remnants of once-flourishing Muslim minorities are cowering under the protection of international troops, besieged by the militias.


Mrs. Samba-Panza was appointed in extremis in late January by a temporary Parliament amid outside hopes that she could at least begin to clean up the mess. But she is still having great difficulty paying civil servants without dollars from outside. On the streets of Bangui, disillusion has already set in with a government in name only that seems incapable of controlling anything except its own disbursement of favors.
The Central African Republic’s current troubles have nearly erased memories of similar internecine strife, already three years distant, in Ivory Coast. Early warning signs of bad government are nonetheless popping up there, despite a surging growth rate hovering around 9 percent, lifted by the country’s position as the world’s leading cocoa producer along with substantial public investment in roads, bridges and other infrastructure. But in a recent report, the International Monetary Fund primly took note of what has become a source of scandalized commentary in Abidjan, the economic capital: a proliferation of no-bid, single-source public contracts.

The I.M.F. only registered a promise by “the authorities” to “reduce the share of noncompetitive public sector contracts.” The authoritative French newsletter La Lettre du Continent, on the other hand, wrote recently that a number of these contracts have benefited those in the close orbit of president Alassane Ouattara — himself a former high-ranking I.M.F. official. The report has not been denied by the Ivorian government. The odor of influence-peddling boosts a virulent opposition still smarting over its defeat in the country’s brief civil war of three years ago.


In Mali, a government of self-enriching cronies in the 2000s helped hollow out the army, leaving it incapable of confronting jihadists who took over half the country in 2012. The new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, elected after French troops chased the Islamists out, reassured international donors pledging billions by promising reforms from top to bottom. But already a complaisant National Assembly — the country’s Parliament — has chosen his son Karim to lead one of its most important committees, on national defense; Karim’s father-in-law, meanwhile, has been chosen as the Parliament’s new president.

Is the cycle of internal rot among some African governments, and subsequent debacle, inevitable? Perhaps not. Stopping it, however, requires more vigilant attention to good-government practices from the donors on whom many of these countries depend.

The New York Times

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