Africa is being betrayed by its leaders — now it's up to us to hold them to account
Africa is let down by its politicians. They've been an obstacle to its people's progress. Whichever way one looks, whichever problem one may think of, whichever boulder or ditch that's ever been a bar to its advancement, the politicians have in the main been responsible for it. They are the authors of our misfortune.
If the devil had gone out looking for someone to mess up the continent's chances to succeed, he couldn't have done any better than choosing African politicians. They've been a complete and utter letdown. The good ones, those genuinely dedicated to the betterment of their people, have proved to be an exception.
And those of a left-wing bent, the so-called revolutionaries, who passionately advocate the cause of the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalised, have turned out to be the worst — Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Angola's José Eduardo dos Santos come to mind. They plunder their countries' resources for their personal benefit, they oppress the very people they've "liberated", and they demand absolute fealty from their captives.But they begin promisingly, as freedom fighters almost laying down their lives for their people. They're captured, detained, tortured — enduring a panoply of pain and deprivation. Some of their comrades would die in battle or in jail. Their families sacrificed too, robbed of their loved ones or the sustenance that they provided. They endure years in prison. Because of such sacrifices, they capture our hearts.
And when freedom finally arrives, we hand over the mantle to them, our selfless liberators. We have so much trust in them — why shouldn't we? — we hand everything to them, with little or no checks and balances. We give them all the power. We trust them too much to care what will happen. They'll take care of it, of everything. We hope. Then we sit back and relax. The job is done.
And with our future at their mercy, they go about destroying it. This has been the story of Africa. Country after country, the story, the tragedy, repeats itself. We never learn. Too much power in the hands of megalomaniacs, and unaccountable ones at that, is a recipe for disaster. And African leaders are always ready with a scapegoat.
We are shamed and embarrassed because these horrors and wars are done in our name and — initially at least — with our consent. But we're reluctant to condemn them because doing so would betray the revolution or give succour to the enemy. We pretend not to see.We bite our tongues when Africans are tortured and killed, and when dreams of generations of African children are derailed or crushed. This is our true betrayal. By our silence we become complicit in the destruction of African lives and dreams. The continent has the biggest number of refugees and displaced people in the world. African migrants, lured by the prospect of a better life in Europe, perish in the Mediterranean as they try to flee the nightmare that African leaders have concocted for them.
South Africa was supposed to be different. Not because we're smarter or more clever — our exceptionalism was always a myth - but because we had seen the story, we had watched the drama unfold as we struggled to slay our own dragon of apartheid. And we welcomed African leaders' support for our struggle even as they oppressed their own people. We therefore thought we'd learnt from Africa's mistakes. But, alas, it seems we had not.
Instead of the beacon that shone brighter and illuminated the African firmament, we've added to the gloom and darkness. Nelson Mandela thought he could, by word and deed, sway the rest of the continent to his way of thinking. We crafted a constitution with a huge dose of human rights ethos, but also to suit Mandela. That, unfortunately, has been our undoing. It's given too much power to the president. Unchecked power gets abused.
While Mandela sought a better and humane way for Africa, Thabo Mbeki, his successor, in his desire to be the spokesman for the continent and its diaspora, decided not to rock the boat. He turned a blind eye to its misconduct. And he would brook no criticism of its wrongdoings. One, however, suspects that he knew better.Jacob Zuma had no time to either think or defend anybody else. He descended into some of the worst corrupt practices of his fellow African leaders. And he dragged the country from the young and promising democracy that it was to one of probably the most corrupt countries on Earth. Quite an achievement.
Like all thieving miscreants, he's always ready with a denial. State capture, he said this week, was a figment of some people's imaginations. And there are sane people who believe him.
So what is to happen if Africa is to claim its rightful place in the world, if its people are to cease to be recipients of international charity, always ready with a begging bowl?
How do we erase resentment built over years of hurt and humiliation? How do we stop the exodus and the displacement and the desire to cherish and feed on others' achievements? It's a tall order.
There are obviously some rays of hope. Democracy is beginning to take root and the continent has some of the best-performing economies, albeit from a low base. But think of the strides that could have been made had African politicians been a help rather than a hindrance to progress.
But it should begin with us: we should be brutally frank and intolerant of the misdeeds of our leaders.