To change Africa, save it from wayward leadership

Small-scale miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Africa’s political, religious, traditional, social and economic life must come under microscopic scrutiny, and the continent’s leaders, both spiritual and secular, will need to recognise the exact ailment, avoid shifting blame and work out a strategy for wholesome resolution. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

The words spoken by Milton Obote in 1980 after he was given a second chance to rule Uganda bear repeating: “Never again shall we allow an individual to suppress the will of the country and to destroy our democratic institutions.”

Since these words could very well have been spoken by many leaders who take over from corrupt governments, the question we should ask ourselves is why these very leaders become the individuals who suppress and destroy.

Obote’s sentiments remain mere words until that evil, destructive part of the African is addressed and dealt with. Human nature is such that evil desires can remain dormant for a time, but are soon marshalled to the surface when trying times come. If at that time immense power is available to the leader, then the destruction is catastrophic.

Fredrick Chiluba rose to power singing Hallelujah, and even declared Zambia a Christian nation. At the time, the articulate, charismatic preacher of the gospel looked—in every form—saintly.

For once, people thought an African nation would be guided by godly principles; there would be justice in the land; there would be no corruption.

But alas, this was not to be.

Almost as if guided by a mysterious hand, Chiluba appeared to fall under some kind of a spell. His charisma receded, ushering in the revival of state-sanctioned corruption. They let him drift.

What went wrong? Why would a leader who so greatly impressed the world fall so low? Why did those around him, his family and friends (including Bible-thumping preachers), let him drift?

Jomo Kenyatta came into power promising to forgive those who had mistreated him. Well, he did very well in that score, surprising even those who had run out of the country because they expected bloodshed.

Yet Kenyatta, despite his skills as a statesman, presided over a government that gradually became intolerant. What went wrong? Was it too much power in the hands of an individual?

Vicious cycle

Obviously, something in the leadership of Africa needs to be addressed. Until we dig deep, expose and deal with insecurity, bitterness, anger, hatred and some inordinate behaviour buried deep within those of us who would be leaders, we will continue to repeat the same vicious cycle.

Any leader who has not personally dealt with the animal nature in himself is but a time bomb waiting to explode.

A wise leader is one who surrounds himself with people who can confront and challenge his morals, leadership style and actions.

Daniel arap Moi enjoyed a peaceful transition into power after the death of Kenyatta. But Moi, coming from a hitherto undeveloped—almost neglected—community, seemed to have an agenda: develop his area in terms of infrastructure, hospitals, schools and even universities.

National resources could be spread elsewhere, but certainly not in the areas where political leaders had a different opinion from that of the status quo.

Moi wanted everyone to “toe the line” and those who did not suffered for it—along with their entire communities.

Moi also presided over one of the most corrupt systems in recent times. Chai and kitu kidogo (team and something small) are practices that entangled themselves into the economic bloodstream of Kenya, and the Goldenberg scandal exemplified the lows to which his regime had sunk.

Daniel arap Moi, a charismatic, church-going leader and a preacher, said all the right things, but in due course, it became difficult to reconcile the man Moi and the atrocities that took place during his watch.

Mwai Kibaki swept into power riding a mighty wave of a well-planned and orchestrated coalition, which had two rallying points: change the Constitution so that “never again should one man have in his hands immense power”, and “there must be zero tolerance for corruption”.

“Democracy demands that there is tolerance among Kenyans and a readiness to listen to the opinions of each other,” Kibaki promised. “Having a different opinion does not mean disloyalty to the President or the government.”

Different signals

But before long, his government began to show different signals. It was as if they were saying: “Power is not that bad if it is in our hands!” His government has not come clean on corruption scandals, including the infamous Anglo-Leasing.

What went wrong? What changed these people?

To answer that, we need to listen to Mr Kiraitu Murugaru, the first minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in the Kibaki government.

In February 2002, before the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC), Kiraitu cautioned Kenyans against bestowing a lot of power. “The enormous powers vested in the presidency have transformed the Kenyan president into an authoritarian, imperial monarch exercising feudal powers,” he warned.

“The President is both the Head of State and Head of Government... the presidency has more powers than those enjoyed by the Governor at the height of colonialism.”

The crux of the matter is that, in this age, it behoves us to find a way in which the new African, the emerging leaders for the changing continent, will not dance to the tune of the ancestral spirits of their fathers.

If they will be nationalists, they will need to transcend the village, clan and tribal spirits.

The African leaders will need to be reformers, who will not only reform their cultures and traditions, but also their nations. They will need to set a new standard rather than follow the preceding one.

Such reformers will need to have experienced reformation within themselves. They will then be able to do for the nation what they have done to themselves.

The way we view and treat others, our trust or mistrust, our fears and pains, could very well spring from the unsolved issues of our past. The problem with Africa is not the past colonialists, and not even the neo-colonialists. The problem with Africa is not the black skin; it is not even the harsh weather. The problem with Africa is not poverty. Yes, Africa is not even cursed!

The problem with Africa is the African himself. Our problem is not out there, but here. It is with us. It is us. Let us face it squarely, deal with it and set ourselves free, so that we can free others and free our continent, once and for all.

Untamed animal instincts

It is a sad commentary that religion, even Christianity, has been in this continent for over a century yet it seems that it has not changed us. Most Africans who have ascended to power in the last several years claimed either to be Christian or some other religion, and so we expected that their religious or Christian principles would guide them.

What we saw was quite contrary to what any religion would teach. Their actions could only be viewed as those driven by untamed animal instincts.

When you look at the magnitude of greed, corruption, ritual murders, sexual orgies, and wanton destruction that is carried out with the express knowledge and sanction of our leaders, you really cannot put blame outside of Africa. The problem is with us.

The problem is us. Let’s face it. Let’s deal with it. Africa’s political, religious, traditional, social and economic life must come under microscopic scrutiny, and the continent’s leaders, both spiritual and secular, will need to recognise the exact ailment, avoid shifting blame and work out a strategy for wholesome resolution.

Leadership presupposes that there are people to be led. In Africa, the masses will also need to be liberated. They will have to shed off the desire, even the craving, for dictatorial, oppressive leadership.

We have the kind of leaders we deserve. We ask for them because we are looking for one that is superhuman—some kind of a demigod that is driven by some mysterious spirits.

Yes, even the African must recognise that we have a problem and find some deliverance. Our attitudes, our aspirations and our expectations must change with the times.

Independent Africa must realise that freedom is neither a right nor a self-achievement. It is a mutual process. As long as African rulers, present and future, demonstrate a form of leadership which resembles that of a local chief or clan leader, then self rule or independence cannot be achieved.

Human dignity

True independence is like childbirth. It is painful. Its product is a new man. This new man, having experienced the labour pains of independence, has shaken off the complex of being oppressed and the temptation to be a new tyrant.

He is a man in the process of achieving freedom for himself, the former detractors and the present subjects. He is a leader and a servant at the same time; he does not lord over his subjects, but rather is quick to take a “towel and wash their feet”.

The constitutions of many African countries include a chapter on protection of the individual, protection of right to life, personal liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and protection from discrimination—in short, protection of human dignity.

But are these rights actually being protected? Promoted?

A person can survive without power and pleasure. But when persons lose their dignity, they lose their humanity.

The poor African feels alienated because of his lack of success in obtaining important life goals. The attitudes in turn become barriers to effective self-help, independence and self-respect.

They demonstrate aimlessness and lack of motivation. In order to experience real change in Africa, the new regenerate breed of African leaders must put in place a mechanism that allows for the restoration of African dignity.

They must no longer take their followers for granted. They are not just objects to help rulers achieve their goals. The populace is made up of individuals who have names, feelings that can get hurt and have been hurt, aspirations that must be nurtured and destinies that should be respected and achieved.

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