The argument gets tiring. The conversation very predictable. So much so that every now and then, my mind takes an unauthorized leave of absence and checks into some fancy resort on some fancy deserted tropical island — just to get a reprieve from the constant barrage of heartaches that come from pondering Africa’s numerous problems. And, of course, this is why the conversation gets very polemic, as virtually every citizen on the continent has an opinion of which solution(s) befits what problems and yet, year in year out, we rehash the same ole dialogues. Little improve, so the conversation becomes hackneyed and cumbersome. But since conversations are important in any society, we persist in our dialogues – it is good therapy for the soul I suppose.
Of course, I am not without fault in this; after all, I am a bona fide son of the land. This is why the 2011 Failed States Index, as recently published by Foreign Press magazine in partnership with the Fund for Peace, once again offers a sobering point of contemplation.
In 2009, 11 African states accounted for 20 of the top failing or failed states on the Index; in 2010, they were 12; in 2011, an agonizing 14 now grace the top-tier of the list.
I need not spew out elaborate statistics to convince your mind of what your eyes sees where Africa is concerned. For outsiders, the pictures daily rewrite a shameful story, for insiders i.e. those living on the continent, the shameful story is only but their daily lives.
The story is shameful not because the people are shameful and are a pathetic bunch (Africans are the most persevering and hardest working people anywhere on earth); but it is primarily so because for decades now, a people have been bound and gagged by a shameful leadership which hitherto has dictated the narrative of their lives.
Africa has never been without her problems, that’s a point of agreement; but never in modern times did she seem so hapless in producing a credible counterweight to her problems.
Africa’s shame has two perpetrators, with a thousand and one co-conspirators. The first is the African leadership and the second – Western intervention on the continent, both past and present. The latter will be addressed in a later space, but the primal cause needs our foremost attention.
It is hard to envision Africa being where she is today without the leaders that got her there. It is hard to believe Chaka Zulu, Haile Selassie I, Nelson Mandela and others once highlighted the bravest and brightest of a continent. Looking at the land today, it seems love of country and countrymen is a relic that belongs in some nondescript crypt. Thus, it is readily easy to suppose African states fared better when they had a common foe – European colonialism. And such a supposition, alas, seemingly true, is highly regrettable.
Let there not be any confusion, present day Africa is not without her martyrs; she’s not without those select few like Kizza Besigye of Uganda and Morgan Tsanvigirai of Zimbabwe who in limited pockets of resistance still seek better nation states and a dignified continent.
The monstrosity of the African leadership is no where made stark than in the impasse that has embroiled North African states in the past few months: more pointedly, the imbroglio presently taking place in Libya.
There is a club on the continent by the name AU (African Union). It’s supposedly a regional institution that boasts the membership of virtually all the states on the continent save Morocco. But it is more so a country club that caters to the needs of the Heads of State who represent their different countries. Up until January 2010, Muammar Gaddafi was its chairman, albeit for a year. When Gaddafi started slaughtering citizens who dared seek reform in the towns and cities across Libya, not a whisper of condemnation could be heard from the club. Doing so would have been a breach of omertà. And, then, when it came to passing UN Resolution 1973 to authorize military action to stop Gaddafi’s madness, the three African States on the Security Council could not muster the decency to do the right thing, and had to be cajoled to support the resolution.
And since NATO’s mission begun in Libya, AU’s leadership has been strong in its condemnation of the mission – even saying the affair is better left for it to handle. It is indeed a shame that leaders like Jacob Zuma of South Africa are the foremost speakers on behalf of the continent. How can any decent mind entrust the lives of the children and women in Libya to an organization which refuses to strongly condemn their butcher?
A friend recently asked; “So what becomes the solution?” given the conundrum as stated. The harsh answer is that present African leaders have to either pass away or quit their respective posts. And the latter is highly improbable as evidenced by Robert Mugabe’s cling to power in Zimbabwe.
It is this sort of selfishness that continues to show African leaders as grossly corrupt and inept. Little or no importance is placed on developing critical infrastructures and combating the myriad mortalities afflicting the land. A system so venal that nepotism and its many ugly cousins are the proud custodians of state. Vox populi becomes just that – the opinion of the people. True, as some might say, there are patches of improvement here and there, and I am heartened by those. But to whom much is given, much is expected. The richest land on earth cannot persist to be its poorest and its most unstable, as the Failed States Index acutely shows.
But there is hope.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the entire AU membership in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this month. She literally begged the organization to muster some responsibility toward that for which it was created. “The world needs the African Union to lead,” she said. “The African Union can help guide Libya through the transition you described in your organization’s own statements, a transition to a new government based on democracy, economic opportunity, and security.”
Today, an African leader cannot be indifferent. He or she cannot even think to only preoccupy him or herself with matters affecting only his own state. Whatever befalls one state directly or indirectly befalls another. Take for example Ghana, where President Atta Mills is by all estimates the best African leader today. Not only has he been able to maintain Ghana on a steady socio-economic course, he has provided the West with a vision of what a stable vibrant African state could be. But for all his glory at home, he seldom gives opinion about issues across his border. But this past April, the post-election crisis in neighboring Ivory Coast spilled over into his land as many refugees fleeing the violence crossed over into Ghana. He had a chance to take a strong leadership position in pressuring Laurent Gbagbo to leave power peacefully after his election defeat, but he instead chose a more sedentary position. Whatever his fears were, they were realized nonetheless by his lack of visible leadership in the matter.
For Africa to be credible, good leaders like Atta Mills must seek just not to be good, but great; for that’s what Africa needs from her leaders at this decisive point.
A 19th century Japanese philosopher was once credited with saying “Some citizens are so good that nothing a leader can do will make them better. Others are so incorrigible that nothing can be done to improve them. But the great bulk of the people go with the moral tide of the moment. The leader must help create that tide.”
Lack of tide creators is the primary reason for Africa’s poor health. Until leaders see selfish ambitions as a destructive immoral force that lays waste to the land, the shame shall remain. Africans, especially the youth, are tired and seek change as is being presently experienced in the Arab Spring; if only our leaders will cease to sell their souls to the devil and embrace a righteous change.
A Writer in the Wilderness.