By Kenneth Kwama
Kenya: Two decades ago today, former Zambian leader Kenneth Kaunda broke down and wept in front of an audience of artists in Nairobi, citing the political turmoil in most African states as the cause of his anguish.
Kaunda, who used the traditional white handkerchief he is known to carry to every function, later recited a poem he wrote in which he attributed Africa’s problems to poor leadership. He also identified greed, oppression and corruption as major causes of conflicts and other crises afflicting the continent.
Details of the proceedings were published on page four of The Standard on June 25, 1993 under the headline: Cry the beloved continent. A graphic photo of a weeping Kaunda struggling to control his emotions as he wiped away tears accompanied the story.
Kaunda who ruled Zambia for 27 years became the first African Head of State in 1991 to concede defeat in multi-party elections in which he lost to Frederick Chiluba in Zambia’s first competitive polls.
Poem for Africa
The paper quoted Kaunda saying he wrote a poem, which he still recounted at meetings about problems facing most African countries while at the Maasai Mara, where he stayed on a visit to Kenya soon after his election loss.
“In between sobs, which caught most members of his audience by surprise, an emotional Kaunda decried Africa’s numerous woes. Kaunda was speaking during a keynote address at the Union of Radio and Television Network of Africa’s (Urtna) 30th anniversary in Nairobi yesterday,” reported The Standard.
Not much has changed in terms of leadership in the continent since Kaunda’s lamentations two decades ago, although there are indications that some African countries and leaders are striding towards better governance.
Recent examples of revolutions in countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have ushered in new leadership, although the countries are yet to show any substantive changes in governance, probably because they are still in transition.
Unlike during Kaunda’s tenure in office when democratic elections were rare, countries like South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia have conducted elections that in many ways could be said to be reflective of the people’s will in the past decade.
Although there has been discontentment in some cases like during the 2007 and 2013 elections in Kenya, which resulted in post election violence and an election petition challenging the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as President, respectively, the general trend is pointing to positive change for the continent.
But this doesn’t mean the going has been smooth all through because there are still glaring examples of bad leadership.
Last year, Forbes magazine stated that while African leaders were becoming increasingly democratic, showing more respect for human rights and recording significant progress in liberalising the political environment, the bad eggs still linger.
It listed the top five worst leaders in the continent starting with Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who having ruled for 34 years is Africa’s longest ruler whose first son spends millions of taxpayers’ money to feed a lavish lifestyle, which includes luxurious apartments in Malibu, a gulfstream jet and a car collection that ‘could easily make billionaires go green with envy.’
Others in the list include Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, King Mswati III of Swaziland and Omar Al-Bashir.
While greed and personal aggrandisement has been mentioned as possible reason for the selfish leadership in some African countries, in 2011, News Day gave a new twist to the script when it published a story quoting leaked US cable, which stated that Mugabe was so obsessed with eclipsing Kaunda’s 27-year stay in power that he rejected advice from aides and his personal doctor to leave office in 2007.
Mugabe’s policy of seizing white settler farms in poorly thought out ‘Africanisation project’ has been condemned as the epitome of poor judgment in leadership in many newspaper editorials.
It led to fallout between Zimbabwe and Western donor countries, triggering an economic nightmare that analysts say has set back Zimbabwe by more than a decade. Generally, the lesson from Zimbabwe and other African countries with bad leadership is that the direction in terms of economic and democratic progress such countries take depend on the political leader.
A good illustration of this is the rise of the South African economy as well as the increasingly sense of inclusiveness in the 1990s, which was attributed to the now ailing Nelson Mandela. His replacement with Thabo Mbeki could not sustain the momentum and the country started to relapse.
Mr Mbeki refused to accept the “link between HIV and Aids”, which caused millions of deaths. Current President Jacob Zuma, who took over the presidency in 2009, has been criticised for not putting enough effort in solving the issue of corruption.
Although South Africa still stands out as an icon of good governance in the continent, the uncertain political and democratic development in South Africa still mirrors that of several other countries in the continent.