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  Witold Kieżun, Africa in the Era of Socioeconomic Globalization: A Personal Perspective. Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing, Vol. 15 (1), pp. 127-132 (2005).  


The socioeconomic situation in Africa, the poorest continent in the world, is described. In an era of
globalization, the progressing economic stratification between North and South Africa and the dictatorships present in a number of African countries cannot be tolerated. New economic solutions for stimulating industrial development in Africa are proposed.


In this paper I discuss some developmental problems of Africa in the period of globalization. In the process of rational global development the most important problem is the elimination of disparity between the poor South and the rich North. One united, human and wealthy world—the old dream of humanity—cannot tolerate the recent situation when every day thousands people die from famine while a small percentage of the population, the political and financial elite, represent the highest level of riches. This is the typical phenomenon in the poorest part of the world, Africa.

In 1975 Africa had a population of 380 million—in 2000 about 800 million—estimates point to around 1 billion in 2025 (World Almanac, 2002). All this time we have been shocked by the dramatic situations in various African countries, coups d’etat, civil wars, genocides, starvation. One of the most tragic occurrences in the past 30 years happened in Ethiopia. In the period between 1972 to 1974 I witnessed personally the famine caused by drought that overtook Ethiopia.

During the massive famine of 1984, when I was working in Africa as the chief technical adviser for the United Nations, Ethiopia celebrated the10th anniversary of the revolution. The cost of the commemoration of the anniversary and the buildings constructed for this occasion, such as the Congress Palace and the arches of triumph, amounted to US $200 million. In March 1985, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the $72 million construction of the U.N. conference center in Addis Abeba. All African countries voted for the project.

This is the reality typical for Africa.1 The military and administrative expenses, as well as the costs of investments to satisfy the elite’s own needs such as huge ministry buildings, congress palaces, luxurious hotels, and airports exceeded funds allocated to the development of agriculture, health, and education. One of the biggest cathedrals in the world was built in Ivory Coast in 1990.The GDNP per capita in this country in 1990 was US $730. These facts are related to the political, economic, and social structure which I will analyze here.


In the last 40 years of postcolonial independence in Africa we saw the creation of the typical structures. Since the end of the ColdWar, there have been some attempts to introduce Western-style parliamentary democracy. Yet, the reorganization of structures that had been created about 40 years ago was not an easy task.

A typical political structure of the postcolonial period to the end of Cold War, is characterized as follows:

  1. A single, unique party or many parties with one ruling party and its satellites;
  2. Unity of political, military, and administrative power;
  3. The lack of social control over administrative power, or a fictitious system of social control;
  4. Changes of the ruling body possible only through a coup d’etat; and
  5. Human rights not observed (to a varying degree).
The typical totalitarian regimes in Africa also could be divided into civil or military. The typical African political form has been a military "partycracy," with an army officer who had military education and military experience as a leader. There were two variants of partycracy: capitalist and socialist. The socialist partycracy one was usually built under Soviet sponsorship and with permanent Russian assistance, mainly in the area of military and social activity such as medical service and education (Kieżun, 1991a).

This totalitarian system bore in many ways similarities to the old traditional system of management from the precolonization era, or the system adopted during colonization or at the time of colonization when the colonizers accepted local, traditional organization. For example, Burundi or Rwanda had the monarchist system where the king was the owner of all property (land, buildings, even women) and was empowered to make all administrative as well as operational decisions.


The process of colonization can be regarded as the process of occidentalization. In African countries, colonizers tried to introduce a new social, economic, political, and geographic order. The English, French, Belgian, Portuguese, and Italian managers in colonies attempted to develop the same management system that existed in their countries. These structures were introduced within the framework of artificial borders established through the process of competition among the colonizers. Every player tried to obtain the richest and the largest territory. Many different tribes sharing the same customs, religion, and habits were divided by the colonial borders of the new states. Some of the borders were simply straight lines drawn on the map in the process of negotiation. As a consequence, the old administrative and cultural structure was destroyed and replaced by the new structures existing in the mother countries of the colonizers.

Wealthy people in the colonies tried to imitate the lifestyle of the colonizers, which was regarded as "superior." They would send their children to study in Europe and would even forget their native language. In the 1960s, the colonial period was over. The new independent states were established on the basis of old colonies and once again represented artificial entities with a mosaic of tribes, usually very hostile to each other.

The leaders of the new independent countries were members of the old rich stratum. They were educated in the European universities and tried to improve their living standards, sometimes by resorting to illegal methods. The level of corruption in some African countries has been extremely high. According to French sources, in the course of 30 years; around US $500 billion have been deposited in private African accounts in the richest countries (primarily in Switzerland). According to the same sources, about US $150 billion belong to African leaders, chairmen of the public and the para-public sector.

Some African leaders are among the richest men in the world. The late president of Zaire (now Congo), Marechal Mobutu Sese Seko, was among the 10 richest men in the world and his assets were estimated at around US $10 billion. The new social structure that emerged under these conditions represented bureaucrats, businessmen, liberal professionals, masses of peasants and workers. There are two prevailing classes in this social structure—a very small class representing a very high living standard, similar to the upper and the upper-middle class in developed countries and the other class comprising the poor, who are constantly menaced by famine or are suffering from famine at present.


Africa is a very rich continent from the point of view of raw materials (petroleum, antimony, copper, nickel, gas, diamonds, uranium, manganese, bauxite, gold, wolfram, salt, phosphate, beryl, iron, coal, bauxite, cobalt, lead), but the GDNP of African countries is very low. It should be noted that the majority of African countries adapted the policy of increasing their military potential. The main exporters of weapons to Africa are the USA, France, and Germany. Before 1990 they competed against the Soviet Union, which was the leading exporter of weapons to Africa in 1989.

In French-speaking African countries the military expenditures globally exceeded the spending on education, agriculture, and health. For example, according to official sources, Burundi, a Central African country, devotes around 18% of its GDNP to armaments. An analysis carried out by UN experts in the 1990s has shown, however, that the real costs of maintaining the army reached 40% of the GDNP. This situation is typical of many independent republics in Africa. The political uncertainty of African countries is a common phenomenon. In the last 40 years there have been some 60 coups d’ etat and various, very cruel rebellions.

Other sources of waste are related to the megalomania of the new elite, a group of political "nouveaux riches" who want to imitate the lifestyle of rich countries and to increase the prestige of their country by nonproductive projects. The diplomatic corps of African countries are also highly developed. Official ceremonies are very popular, for example, the 20th anniversary of Burundi’s independence was celebrated with six working days off.

Another important element decreasing the DGNP is a steep drop in the prices of basic resources exported by many African countries, namely: coffee, cocoa, cotton, and tea. In the same period of the last decade of the 20th century, the prices of industrial goods imported from the North increased from 40 to 100%. In this situation we have a growing negative balance of payments and debt towards developed countries, which is partially covered by various forms of financial assistance. It is possible to say that African countries have theoretically received political independence, but in practice they are economically dependent on the former colonial countries and continue to be exploited in a manner similar to that of the colonial period.


The facts presented above as well as some other documented facts not quoted here lead to the following general conclusions. Africa is suffering from an economic crisis and the gross domestic national product per capita is growing very modestly or is growing inversely to the demographic progress.
  • Africa is receiving an economic assistance from developed countries in the form of
    donations and credits but frequently does not use those resources in accordance with
    the instructions of the donors.
  • The typical political model of an African country before the decline of the Soviet Union
    was partycracy with a capitalist or a socialist variant.
  • Tribal dissonances have led to cruel conflicts, resulting in some 6 million victims in the
    last 40 years.
  • Numerous countries suffer from famine caused by natural disasters, but mismanagement
    and the lack of reasonable predictions are only one of the major causes of famine.
  • The structure of public expenditure is irrationally oriented towards armament and
    nonproductive investments. The phenomenon of corruption created new customs and
  • The level of social injustice in the division of the national income exceeds well known
    examples of the wild 19th century capitalism.

Generally, four pathological elements can be identified in the management of Africa, which I named many years ago in the "Four Riders of Administrative Apocalypse":

  1. Giganto-mania—the tendency to develop huge administrative structures inside and
    outside (diplomatic corps) the country and the construction of gigantic buildings (for
    example: Cathedral in Yamousoukro in Ivory Coast; airports in Nairobi, Kigali, and
    Bujumbura; presidential palaces; ministry buildings; hotels for deputies).
  2. Luxury-mania—the most expensive official cars (obligatory black Mercedes), official
    receptions, state ceremonies, different forms of official rituals, etc.
  3. Corruption—which can be treated as a cancer of the African administration.
  4. Power arrogance—in everyday administrative procedure, in the distance between
    the people and the rulers, in the lifestyle of the rulers.


The situation in Africa is very worrying, dramatic, a fact than cannot be tolerated in the era of globalization. It is impossible to turn a blind eye on the discrimination of the South in a situation where the system of "One Global World" involves every country, and where international, global economic and cultural relations necessitate permanent feedback among all the countries in the World.

The irresponsible management by the corrupted elite in Africa has created a situation that requires an urgent solution. It is a very difficult task if we want to preserve the state of sovereignty in these countries. There is no doubt that any transformation process requires an in-depth change in the habits, typical attitudes, and general opinions of the people and that the changes cannot be put into effect immediately, but that the work these processes require has to be appropriately spread out over time.

Every year 100,000 people die of famine in Africa, and every year we witness cruel domestic wars. I believe that the developed countries cannot remain indifferent. The sociotechnical proposals developed by international organizations such as the U.N. and O.A.U. (Organization of African Unity) and the coordinated actions of the seven most developed countries together with Russia suggest different forms of stimulation. It is necessary to introduce a rational system of financial assistance by means of credits allotted to support concrete objectives and controlled by the banks to avoid the corruption of the local managers. Donations must be limited to emergency situations such as famine, or natural disasters, and to promote education, transportation networks, and health services.

The process of democratization should be introduced along with a well-developed educational program that would apply to both the government and the society as a whole. It is necessary to instill a sense of tolerance in the minds of the local population and to develop a method of solving conflicts through negotiation and the awareness of the importance of social solidarity in the development process. This education should be combined with strong pacifist indoctrination ("education for peace") comprising full condemnation of all acts of violence, including military actions. These educational efforts should be organized by the United Nations in the form of numerous and varied training projects.


There is no doubt that the greatest threat to the development of mankind is the destruction and the degeneration of man’s natural environment and the escalation of various forms of mass murder. The problem of environmental protection, raised many years ago by the Roman Club, has already become the subject of international agreements and internal plans of particular states.

Similarly, certain progress can be observed in the attempts to stop the escalation of various forms of mass killing. It seems, however, that there is a need for a global demilitarization plan applied on a much larger scale than we have seen so far. This plan would lead to the elimination of national armies while maintaining the United Nations International Police Force potential. The end of the Cold War certainly favors any action oriented towards this goal, but one can also see intensive lobbying on behalf of the war industry (arms manufacturers) particularly of the USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia.

A need for a new in-depth pacifist offensive focused on the eradication of the "philosophy of death" is deeply felt. The role of the intellectual milieu cannot be overestimated here: universities should sensitize the general population to this problem, and next to the idea of complete physical disarmament; they should also propagate the philosophy of education for peace. In terms of this action, any production of military-type toys should be shown to be wrong and eventually stopped; also, the myth of all "armed deeds," victorious battles and wars should undergo gradual annulations.

* * *


1There is a popular belief in the USA, that the adjective "black" has pejorative connotations. (The devil is black; everything evil is black.) From the point of view of political correctness, the term African American is used, but in Africa there are two groups of countries: the White Arabic population in the North and Whites in the Republic of South Africa, whereas in other countries, the majority of population are black people. For many Africans the term Africais not pejorative. They are proud of this name, believing that the Biblical "paradise" was situated in Africa, and that the oldest culture was born in Africa. For them the adjective "white" has a pejorative character. In Burundi, I met small children who were afraid of white people. Their parents explained to me that "white,"—"muzungu" in the local language Kirundi—is a synonym for evil, and that children believe that "muzungu" (white) eats black kids. Therefore, I have chosen to use the adjective "black," but I try to avoid the adjective "white," so as not to offend Europeans and white Americans whose skin color is a synonym of "evil."


  1. Kieżun, W. (1991a). Management in Socialist countries: USSR and Central Europe. New York: Walter de Gruyter.
  2. Kieżun,W. (1991b). La vision du developpement organisationnelle de l’administration publique. In Administration-Politique. [A vision for organizational development of public administration. In Politics-administration]. Athenes: Editions Ant. N. Sakkoulas.
  3. Kieżun, W. (1994). Successful thought short lived sociotechnics: The case of Burundi. Quebec: Universite du Quebec a Montreal. Kieżun, W. (1998). Prakseologiczna próba transformacji makro-organizacyjnej [Praxeological attempts to transform a macro-organization]. Prakseologia, 138–145.
  4. Lenkiewicz, M. (1994, March). Sprzedawać śmierć [Selling death]. New York: Nowy Dziennik.
  5. World Almanac and Book of Facts. (2002). Mahwah, NJ: World Almanac Books.