There’s a fallacious feeling about political power in the African continent where a shoeless herder in tattered pants brags that his tribe is in power.
In the minds of the masses, it’s somehow okay to be famished inside shanties – ravaged by jiggers – as long as your ‘man’ has State power, cash and galactic influence.
Power and power is what matters. It explains why in multi-ethnic countries such as Kenya, presidential contests are a do-or-die affair. What I gather is that we have for long had a misguided socio-political indoctrination.
To add salt to injury is the theory that there are two set of people in Africa – the oppressors and the oppressed. The latter are excited about their tribe being in power even if they don’t benefit because they are blind to the society’s realism. We’ve a long way to go. On September 13, we witnessed a peaceful transfer of power at Kasarani. Proud of how democracy has come of age in Kenya, I couldn’t help but wonder why Africans have allowed their governments get away with frivolity and downright wastage of resources.
Perhaps blinded by the all-pervading big man syndrome, political leaders are disconnected from realities of what citizens – the so-called hustlers - truly face in the wake of hard economic realities. African leaders seem to spend public money as though they own it all.
A story is told of how a 3km-long red carpet was recently rolled out for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s motorcade as he visited an underprivileged town east of his country to commission homes for the poor. The carpet cost more than Sh10 million.
President William Ruto’s inauguration gobbled up Sh200 million, a mockery of the country’s dire financial straits with a Sh10 trillion foreign debt, high unemployment and a fraught economy seen in the millions living below the poverty line. The new government has itself claimed it inherited empty coffers. In 2017, former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second inauguration cost Sh300 million.
And the obsession with red-carpets and motorcades is stomach-churning. African leaders have stuck with costly feel-good practices long overtaken by a sweeping modernism.
Who needs a motorcade of 100-plus cars, an aide-de-camp standing still behind them and hundreds of saluting forces in every other event? How do these lavish actions succour the poor and how does one feel when they flounder power yet surrounded by poor masses?
Imagine, we have lost the income equality battle. Africa has 6 of the 10 countries most affected by economic inequalities. But despite these absurdities, our presidents, ministers and legislators have made us to see their grandiose lifestyle as a way of life.
Many were taken aback to see African leaders – looking so forlorn - in a bus to the Buckingham palace for the queen’s funeral.
Some observers claimed the colonial masters had put African leaders where they belong. Others claimed they were treated the way they treat us! At Ruto’s big day in Kasarani, there were murmurs over a mobile toilet reportedly brought in from across the border for one man’s comfort.
In progressive societies, political leaders treat power casually. At 10 Downing Street, the British premier makes solo speeches and without a red carpet or any fanfare. At the Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility in Maryland, the US President carries his own umbrella and a document wallet whenever he goes to board his chopper. He is hardly surrounded by servants and sycophants.
In Africa, the big men have to show their power by heavily spending to get any shade of comfort possible under the sun. Yes, we have the longest serving but less progressive rulers. They have taken a wrecking ball to some of the finest norms of the continent.
They are big headed enemies of democracy who have taken away citizens’ liberties and the right to speak through the ballot. One day, the bitter truth will dawn on them. In this life, philosophers say, time is the ultimate judge.
The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo