Will he, after all he has achieved, throw it all away? As they used to say of Mr Moi in Kenya: "If you are the only one on the teat, it does not matter how thin the cow gets."Yet these hard-boiled calculations do not enter the soft world of Live Aid concerts and the campaigns for debt relief and more aid. Yet none of them are free from problems of regional or ethnic discontent; Botswana with the San Bushmen, Tanzania with Zanzibar and Senegal and Ghana with minorities that feel excluded.Others have looked as if they were coming right but then seem to have fallen back into old problems. Uganda under Yoweri Museveni has been the darling of the aid-giving governments for years with more than half its budget coming from aid. But now he seems determined to change the constitution to extend his rule. A report commissioned by the World Bank found that it has turned into a corrupt one-party state and recommends that direct budget support to Uganda be stopped.Kenya where the corrupt old regime of Daniel arap Moi was replaced in a stunning election victory for an opposition alliance, has become even more corrupt than before. Then there are the big holes on the map: Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan - ruled in great parts by local barons and warlords and where there is no democracy despite, in Nigeria's case, having had elections.Given this, the prospect of turning Africa around with aid and debt relief seems at best doubtful, at worst a pipedream.Uganda presents a terrible dilemma. There seems to be little connection or even shared values between rulers and ruled.Despite Africa's dysfunctional political culture, some countries have worked Botswana has been coup-free and relatively corruption-free.
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The presidency has passed through three safe pairs of hands.Tanzania remains virtually a one-party state but the recent election of a new presidential candidate by the ruling party was as democratic as it gets.Ghana and Senegal have both changed governments through elections. And when you have power, you bring your own people into government, and - even more importantly - into the army. The state treasury increasingly becomes a private bank account and when you run for election the entire state structure and all its officials are at your disposal. If anyone inside the continent says anything, you accuse them of interfering in internal affairs. If anyone outside Africa criticises, you accuse them of racism and neo-colonialism.
It's a simple formula that has worked brilliantly for Robert Mugabe and many others.Those new to Africa are often struck by a paradox. And where - if anyone mentions putting their own people first or forming an alliance with another ethnic group - they are accused of being tribalist and endangering the future of the state.With a few exceptions African states have no common understanding or experience of nationhood. Firstly how individualistic and cynical African politicians are Secondly how communal and hopeful most Africans are. Their flags, their national anthems, their identities were created by outsiders. Patriotism in the good sense is in short supply.If you want power, you play the ethnic card or rubbish your religious rivals. A Europe in which the French are Muslim, the Germans Catholic, the British Protestant and there is only one source of income, oil, and it is under the Germans.