The positive side to most African leaders has been as short-lived as a gob of spit; noble at the beginning but awful in a moment. Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye sums it up that there are only two sets of people in Africa − the oppressors and the oppressed.
At a book launch in Nairobi on Monday, Besigye said Africans should stop bad leadership now or forever hold their peace. “Africanleaders have robbed citizens of their right to speak through the ballot,” he shot straight from the hip.
At the same event, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga offered another food for thought. “Each time you see a peasant with jiggers on his feet bragging that his tribe is in power, know that something is deeply wrong.” Dr Besigye and Dr Mutunga’s bold talk left the audience gasping for breath. However much coy we are about things that ail our countries, there’s no doubt an ‘arising Africa’ is pulled back by one thing - inept leadership.
Nelson Mandela, Africa’s foremost pro-democracy icon whose 100th birthday would have been on Thursday, comes into mind. He had a devolution and dream for a better Africa without an equal. Sadly though, years of self-rule are turning into self-ruin right before our very eyes. There’s the all-pervading big man syndrome. Notorious African leaders tout power. To them, what counts is power even if their subjects succumb to hunger, poverty, disease, ethnic animosities, broken down infrastructure and official corruption.
Wars, displacements, coup d’États, election rigging and poverty still shape our destiny in the 21st century. But to your beloved leader, what matters is being the ruler. Their challengers, too, seek power not out of conviction, but due to a weird desire to actualise selfish wishes. When Africa emerged from the colonial ashes, liberty restored hopes for a better tomorrow. But a leadership that prides in extra-judicial killings and media muzzling, over dependence on foreign ideas and unsustainable loans to boot, won’t give way.
Some incumbents like Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda are larger than life. They don’t inspire hope but doom. Only this week, Tanzania’s John Magufuli declared CCM party will be in power “forever, for eternity.” How unfortunate. Africa, where employment growth is now stagnant at the rate of 3 per cent, has the longest serving and oldest rules. Some have taken a wrecking ball to some of the finest African traditions. That’s not how great leaders carry themselves out.
For years, gangs have been fighting for the control of natural resources in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) in a long-drawn conflict that has killed and displaced millions. In Zimbabwe, elections are due and President Emmerson Mnangawa, one of ZANU-PF’s bigwigs who presided over rot under Robert Mugabe, is in the race camouflaged as representing a new order.
President Salva Kiir has been delaying a peace deal that could end ethnic unrest in South Sudan. While they love vacations and treatment in Europe and US, not so many African leaders will pay the price that comes with social, political and economic change. Muzzling of gays rights is their sport yet thieves enjoy a safe haven in their hands.
I am talking about leaders who amend constitutions to favour them. In DRC, Joseph Kabila is sitting pretty, with a remote possibility of elections in December. It has happened and continues to happen. Then there’s the Africa Union whose headquarters was built and furnished by the Chinese. It has quickly become an elite club where wheels of impunity are oiled.
These failed leaders will be gone. They will only be remembered in ignominy. After they are gone, sanity will prevail. Burundi will equally survive strongman Pierre Nkurunziza who recently jailed two football officials for “roughing him” up at a march.
- The writer is an editor at The Standard