Re(dis)covering the Afrikan Mind [analysis]

In his seminal 1958 book A Man of the People, the world acclaimed novelist, Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, foretold the banality of post-colonial Afrikan politics, when he warned poignantly: ‘The trouble with our new nation … was that none of us have been indoors long enough … we had all been in the rain together until yesterday. Then a handful of us, the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best … had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers had left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves … . And from within they sought to persuade the rest through numerous loudspeakers that the first phase of the struggle had been won and that the next phase – the extension of our house – was even more important – it required that all argument should cease and the whole people speak with one voice and that any more dissent and argument outside the door of the shelter would subvert and bring down the whole house … ‘

Another celebrated Afrikan writer, the Kenyan Ngugi waThiong’o, in his Petals of Blood, wrote: ‘This world … this Kenya … this Africa knows only one law. You eat somebody or you are eaten. You sit on somebody or somebody sits on you. Like you, I have wandered, I don’t know in search of what … ‘ In most post-colonial Afrikan experiences, the story of the scramble for political titles at the expense of the goals of the liberation struggle bespeaks a common experience of how the lucky ones, hardly ever the best, manage to gain political power and they begin to demand that others celebrate them as the only ones who did anything worthwhile and who know the solution, and they guilt-trip the rest of the population for not being them, so much so that even those who were not born before the struggle are made to feel guilty that they were not born yet to have been part of the struggle.

In his 1984 book titled The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe returned to the deficit of leadership in his country and by plausible extension Afrika, and argued forcefully that the real trouble with Afrika is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. To paraphrase his main thesis, Afrika’s curse is a lack of visionary leadership, a leadership that is informed by what is in the best interest of the people at a time when there is no foreign rule to fight. This is the Afrikan story whereas other nations look at people’s merit and capability to contribute to the development of their countries, and this hampers the real development potential of Afrika as those who have nothing to contribute any longer are recycled ad nauseum, not because they can, but because they have been. It is in this context that one of Afrika’s most remembered statesmen, Tanzania’s first President Julius Kambarage Nyerere, alerted: ‘While others reach their life goals as success, for us in Africa survival is success.’

Ali Mazrui explained the Afrikan power sickness further by suggesting that Afrikans have a predisposition that causes them to behave like kings once they taste power, even though they know thay are not royalty. What Mazrui described as a monarchical syndrome helps explain the megalomania Afrika saw with the likes of Ghana’s Kofi Francis Nkrumah who became Kwame Nkrumah, the Osagyefo (the Saviour) Zaire’s Joseph Deacutesireacute Mobutu, who in his power days became Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake) Malawi’s Hastings Banda who became Kamuzu, Mkango wamkulu waMalawi (the Big Lion of Malawi) Malawi’s Brightson Webster Ryson Thom Mutharika who became Bingu waMutharika, Ngwazi (lion) or Mose wa Lero (modern day Moses) Central African Republic’s Jean-Bedel Bokassa, whose coronation ceremony cost his country one third of the national budget and all of France’s aid money for a year and who whose official title was ‘Emperor of Central Africa by the will of the Central African people, united within the national political party, the MESAN’, the current chief buffoon in the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, who branded himself as His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, Colonel (retired), the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of The Gambia, Nasiru Deen, Babili Mansa, (Conqueror of Rivers), after grabbing power through a military coup. Uganda’s Idi Amin topped it all with his official title: ‘His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lover of his People, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular’. Dear Afrika has seen a whole host of these self-bestowed mighty titles, the mildest of which is the Founding This and the Father of That! These are all claims of indispensability and infallibility that are part of the Afrikan tradition of kings and queens who were not subject to any (other) authority beyond themselves and occasionally that of the God of their Clan, and so they ruled for-ever! The poor people in their jurisdictions were not citizens with rights, but subjects with duties, amongst which was to sing praise songs and compose and recite tribal poetry to the rulers. Post-independence Afrikan leaders still want this even today. Hence, the list of nauseating doctoral titles for leaders who did not finish Grade 9 at school, but yet parade as Doctors of Laws!

As if this was not enough, the international Magazine, Economist of May 13, 2000, carried a column on the plight of Afrika under the rubric, ‘The Hopeless Continent’ describing, as it were, the state of affairs of Afrikan development compared to other continents. The columnist spared no breath in depicting Afrika as a continent without much hope, due to all kinds of calamities, most of which are the result of bad and greedy leadership, mismanagement, poor planning and misaligned implementation of good plans, and a chronic lack of feeling for the people. The story lamented the behaviour of Afrikan leaders who wallow in the culture of showing off how powerful they are by the sizes of their official motorcades, so much so that Afrikan ‘First Ladies’ travel in motorcades that are longer than the travel modes of elected Members of Parliament! This article appeared at exactly the time when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was being transformed into the new African Union (AU) with all types of promises, and exactly the time when Afrikan leaders, under the able and conscientious leadership of South African President Thabo Mbeki, were trotting the globe spreading the gospel of the African Renaissance under the rubric of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the so-called African Peer Review Mechanism – all of which came to virtual naught, mainly due to the inability of Afrikan leaders to dream big on behalf of their people.

In 2004 Robert Guest published his book: The Shackled Continent, wherein he chronicles the myriad of maladies impeding Afrika’s move towards its highest potential. Amongst these is the culture of backwardness, corruption in government structures, despotic political leaderships, misaligned functions versus priorities, misuse of foreign donor monies an inability to deal with diseases such as HIVAids, and a lack of honest ethics in the law enforcement and government tender administrations. There are many other books decrying Afrikan leaders’ failure to lift up Afrika. One of the last in these series is Elly Twineyo-Kamugisha of Uganda who hits the nail on the head when he concludes that Afrika’s failure to move forward is due to Afrikans’ greed, poor policies and a lack of leadership.

For some reason, Namibia has escaped a good deal of this Afrikan malaise of official maladministration and mismanagement of scarce resources. In its 25 years of self-governance, Namibia has acquitted itself in manners very different from the prototype Afrikan narrative of skewed planning, heartlessness and mindlessness and sheer unchecked official corruption and abuse of political power by the political elites. Perhaps the biggest factor to account for this blessing is the end of the Cold War, which happened just as Namibia was entering nationhood, unlike other Afrikan states that were pulled apart by the infamous Cold War. Be that as it may, credit still must go to the Namibian leaders of all parties who steered the very difficult period of transition from war to peace. It certainly was not easy!

Having come this far and with so much to be grateful for, it is important that we relook and re-examine the way we use political power in the context of the needs and aspirations of our people today – not yesterday, not yesteryear! The struggle for independence is over. We are in the times of a new struggle – for peace and equality to be, to participate, to contribute and to be accountable for what we do in accord with the social contract that is the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia. No one owes anybody an apology, and no one is better than the other except in what we bring to make this country, this continent a better place for all. We also need to bring our post-independence thinking into harmony with the nation’s development objectives as articulated in the National Development Plans, and our Grand Vision of 2030.

It becomes important to unravel the incompatibilities between the noble goals of political freedom and the pursuits of development on the one hand, and the quest for political survival and the reproduction of the existing forms of domination on the other.

It is common knowledge that at the moment the political space is taken up by those who are not leaders, but political entrepreneurs who use influence and obsequious opportunism to gain power andor wealth at the expense of the Bonus Commune, the good for all. Their interests are primarily their survival in the politics of the belly with no regard to the wellbeing of the general population, or rather, the people in whose name power is exercised!

The most unfortunate reality of our politics is that colonialism on the one hand, and the politics of struggle, both ill-prepared us to be one nation with a single loyalty to the Namibian state. We cannot afford to duplicate the Afrikan story that we are all too aware of. We in Namibia stand a very good chance to build a more pleasant and more positive story in Afrika for all of Afrika. While we are still a small population, with no desire for war, we can build a common place with an illustrious life that Afrika has never seen before. This New Afrika that President Geingob so eloquently spoke about in his first State of the Nation Address is ours to build.

Source : New Era