Africa has been called upon to throw up more representative and visionary voices to champion its interest in the world.


This formed part of the submissions of eminent scholar and political scientist, Professor Richard Joseph while fielding questions from the panel and audience of the Toyin Falola interview series. Richard Joseph is a professor emeritus at Northwestern University. He was formerly a nonresident senior fellow with the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings.


According to Professor Joseph, “I think that the high spirituality in Africa and among African peoples is very genuine. I think that the fact that of the various institutions that are able to function, take Nigeria, unfortunately you find pastors who do not use this in the best interest of their people, but the fact that you are able to create those systems really is unusual. I was in Lagos attending a service and I saw how they were doing the collections. This is a resource that can be used for good. But it can also be misused.


“The work we are supposed to do through these various platforms, like those created by Professor Falola is to find critical issues and mobilize, in very serious ways, find some vision around it and amplify these voices. As far as I am concerned, there are no critical voices from Africa. We may have from South Africa, Kenya, but no united voices. We have the back stories but we must put it together.”


In response to one of the questions of Professor Toyin Falola, the chief panelist, on development, prebendalism and state capture, Professor Joseph argued that: “A lot of these terms refer to the same phenomenon, but they call attention to different perspectives after. So, let us begin with state capture. The state is an instrument of society whose fundamental purpose is to attend to the security and welfare of the people who fall within its boundaries. That’s what a state is. A state capture refers to the fact that certain groups of persons in getting control of government offices proceed to serve themselves rather than the collectivity. That’s a general concept and in fact I’d say, there’s a tendency that’s built in to human nature and especially those who seek political life to try and accomplish that and not to be restrained.


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“The notion of prebendelism which comes from the word ‘prebend’ is an office. I won’t go into the historical roots and concepts, but that’s basically it. What prebendelism refers to the offices of the state. State is made up of varieties of offices. So, my calling attention by using the term prebendelism , rather than patrimonialism and the others is to call attention to this mechanism of getting control of the piece of the state, and the state is constantly creating institutions with offices. This means that if you have any problem, and you know this in Nigeria, you create any agency and the agency has a purpose: health, water, electricity, you name it. But if the drive of individuals coming into that office, of that entity, is to control it, and during the period that they are to use it, to suck whatever they can from it, to share it until the time comes to go. By the end of the day, you begin to say “look at our roads, why is it so bad?” The fact is as long as that is the drive, you are not going to get those public goods and that is understood.


“So, when you call it state capture, in the case of South Africa and you talk about it in terms of tenderocracy, the government issues tenders to do jobs and how it’s used and then the South Africans say prebendelism is the same thing.”


Reacting to the trend of gerontocracy in Africa, Joseph insisted that something urgent must be done to stop this. For him, “We are dealing with the stress and we are dealing with a lot of these distressing consequences in our governments and institutions. The stress of our people didn’t just happen because of our people. Our distress emerges because those who get power, not only what they do (certain words go together, gerontocracy, autocracy, kleptocracy). In international organisations, you will realise there are so many highly talented Cameroonians. Cameroonians, in their 60s, 50s, 40s, are highly qualified. Most of them might have started in French or English but they are certainly extremely bilingual or multilingual in European languages. Then you say to yourself, why is this? Why are so many highly talented Cameroonians working abroad in these international organisations? Why are they not at home? Why has there not been transition in their leadership? We have no idea what Cameroon is, we get glimpses of it when you see the Cameroon football soccer players on the field and when you see Cameroonians dancing at the night club and if you see artworks on behalf of Cameroon. You say to yourself, why is this country remarkably endowed in so many ways? What does it stand for?


“I mean look at Museveni in Uganda, man with so much hope but what is going on there. We’ve seen them coming, like Robert Mugabe, a whole generation of them and not only have they kept out rivals among their peers but they also keep out the next generation and sometimes the generation after that. In fact, some of them spend most of their time not even in their countries. We have to do something about it.”


He further cautioned that democracy must be allowed to flourish in Africa if the needed progress is to be accomplished. The interaction featured eminent contributors from across Africa such as Professor Celestin Monga, Abena P.A. Busia, Professor Nuhu Yaqub, Adam Mayer, Michael Vickers, Femi Owoseni, Uzoma Osuala, Elias Bongmba, among many others.