Power Struggles – The Symptoms of Africa’s Weak Political Infrastructure

Power Struggles – The Symptoms of Africa’s Weak Political Infrastructure

Mansoor Hamayun, CEO and Co-Founder, Bboxx

There’s an old joke that goes like this: 

“In some African countries, the government is like electricity – you never know when it’s going to go off.”  

Personally, I’d argue that the electricity is more reliable. Protests, demonstrations, and rioting have never been more rampant, particularly across West Africa, Central Africa and the Sahel – and widespread government ineffectiveness bears a great deal of the blame.  

In recent years, we’ve witnessed a surge in coup d’états across African nations, with as many as nine having taken place since 2020, notably in Guinea, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, and most recently Niger. These coups are deeper than just political grappling; many are economic coups. Most of them would never have got off the ground without popular support, driven by a deep-seated dissatisfaction with government failures to meet the demand for fundamental infrastructure, such as access to energy, roads, and basic services needed for people to lead secure and prosperous lives. In a world where basic necessities like clean water and electricity are often taken for granted, it is shameful that a significant portion of Africa’s population still grapples with the absence of these fundamental requirements.

While such severe service failures are not typically seen in the Western world, the same forces acting upon government decision making are just as visible in the West. Far easier to invest in short-term projects to win popular support ahead of the next election cycle rather than uphold costly promises of building new infrastructure. Look no further than the UK’s white elephant high-speed rail project, High Speed 2, where constant delays and cancellations of the project have sparked heavy criticism and backlash. Originally intended to connect London to other big cities in the Midlands and the North of England, the project’s failure has deepened the political divide between the wealthy South and the underserviced North (Leeds, for example, is the largest city in Western Europe without a public mass transit system).  

No doubt the recent political instability in the UK – 4 Prime Ministers in the last 5 years – contributed directly to this failure. You simply cannot commit to long-term infrastructure projects when there is such high turnover of leaders, each with their own ambitions – often in direct competition – for the future of the nation. 

And that’s precisely the problem in Africa. High turnover of leaders contributes to a lack of investment in infrastructure, which leads to greater public unrest, which leads to greater political instability, which leads to high turnover of leaders. 

The coups we are seeing appear to be popular among civilians, showing just how tired people are of the lack of delivery from their governments. The stark contrast between the 570 million people living in Africa without access to electricity and political elite living lives of visible luxury surely doesn’t help the situation. 

In addition, the legacy of colonialism continues to cast a long shadow over Africa. Former colonisers exploited African resources and left behind a complex web of socio-political circumstances that have hindered the region’s development. Today’s weak institutions in many African nations – a colonial hangover – mean that people’s disillusionment with their governments often spills into open conflict. 

Also contributing to government failures in providing basic services is sub-Saharan Africa’s lack of fiscal autonomy. Today’s former French colonies use the CFA franc, a currency pegged to the euro since 1945, which of course means that these countries remain largely economically dependent on France. This monetary colonialism is a detriment to Africa’s economic empowerment and progress towards political stability because neither resources nor capital can be properly reinvested into the continent.  

Niger, for example, is the largest producer of uranium, yet this wealth has not translated into an improved quality of life for Nigeriens. The DRC is another example of an incredibly resource rich country, but where do the profits end up? This system is flawed. With so little of Africa’s own resources being invested and enjoyed by its countries, it is not surprising that governments fail time and time again to provide their people with the essential infrastructure needed for peace and prosperity. Instead, we see coups across dissatisfied nations. 

Providing everyone on the continent with running water, electricity, food, and adequate infrastructure might seem like a daunting challenge, but I am confident that it is an attainable goal. We can achieve this through the decentralised provision of such services. Sub-Saharan Africa is witnessing the fastest urbanisation rates on the planet with an equally fast growing population. Climate change is having the biggest impact in countries at risk of drought or flooding, as in Kenya. These increased risk factors, which can deepen instability in the region, makes this an urgent problem to address.  

Businesses like Bboxx are bridging constraints on access to finance, technology, knowledge and information, often collaborating with Governments and cooperating to power sustainable communities. In countries like Rwanda and the DRC, governments are prioritising the development of their nations’ infrastructure. This is part of the reason why we moved our headquarters to Kigali at the start of the year: because I believe in Africa’s future, one full of optimism and innovation – but only if its leaders invest their nations’ resources into their own countries.  

Any leader wishing to avoid being the target of the next coup may want to take note. Until African governments decide to prioritise addressing the deficiencies in essential public services and develop adequate infrastructure for their people, we shouldn’t hold our breath for the day these countries see peace and political stability.