By Gatuyu Justice
Africa has been taunted as a land of paradoxes: an amiable land glittering with shrubberies; a land reputed as a cradle of mankind; whose ancient civilization has fascinated the intellect of men, from mysterious Carthage to city state of Timbuktu, from ponders of Abyssinia to wonders of Giza. But then, like morning dew, the past glory vapourised leaving but a distant nostalgia. The continent is now billed as a repository of human tragedies, resulting from combination of human folly and natural adversities, tagged with 3Ds -Death, Disease, and Despondency—is her god on slumber?
What ails Africa? Answers to this puzzle always come fast and furious. Ouch! Its poverty; we have gods-forsaken families in city slums; children without education trotting towards crime and prostitution, perpetuating the vicious cycle. Crash! It must be bad governance; having leaders working towards downfall, instead of success, of their countries. Punch! Is it ignorance? Resulting to people ruining the environment and endangering their future? Being unable to plan their families and buckling down on their weight? Urgh! It must be corruption – stifling development and eroding the state from inside out. Oops! It must be disease; pandemics crippling the population. We briefly test the validity of these suppositions.
July 2007. Kenyan economy was growing at 7.1%. National wealth was bulging. Then come July 2008. The economy had shrunk to 1.7%. Blame it on a bungled election leading to a political strife and violence. Malawi. Food shortage was the country’s Achilles heel. The then President Mutharika revamped agriculture and the country turned into a food basket. But political wrangles with his deputy president Joyce Banda made this feat implode. South Sudan. She was full of hope and patriotism. Political animosity between president Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machier has made the country unable to kick off. Down the memory lane; East Africa Community was a world model in regional integration. But ideological (political) differences made the community explode.
These illustrations indicate that poverty, disease, ignorance et al. are mere derivatives of a bigger malady mauling Africa; bad politics. It’s the cause of all the woes. Chinua Achebe almost captured it right by quipping that trouble with Africa is simply a failure of leadership and unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility and challenges.
But Achebe must have known that bad leadership emanates from bad politics. It’s bad politics leading to tribal warfare; entrenching tribalism and hindering development of working institutions. Politicians strangle their people to poverty as deprived population can easily be manipulated to fall for a bribe to recycle bad leaders. Bad politics begets inept leaders, and then poverty, ignorance, poor health, and death follows consequently, like loyal accomplices, like indispensable accompaniments. Bad politics is the aching tooth causing the entire African body experience an excruciating pain.
Politics connotes the practice and theory of influencing people, achieving and exercising positions of governance through promoting one’s views, making laws and exercising force. A great leader must master the art of politics. It’s what Ceaser showed in building the Roman Empire. It’s what Machiavelli advises in his treatise, the Prince. Africa has suffered immensely at the hands of poor politics. Martin Meredith, State of Africa and George Ayitey, Africa betrayed, are some text offering glimpses on this realities. African leaders were like Abram, in Wilfred Owen poem – the parable of the old man- where Abram slays his son even after an Angel gave him a pride of ram to offer as sacrifice. African leaders were slaying their subjects, and excusing it as nature of politics.
What is the way forward? African leaders must be cognizant of the fact that until, and unless, politics streamlines, all efforts of uplifting my society from miasma of her woes would always get torpedoed at the altar of political theatrics; sealing other worthy ventures from sprouting. Bad politics are like dinosaurs in evolution theory, whose presence hindered upshot of human life. Kwame Nkrumah rightly remarked, seek they political kingdom, and the rest shall follow.
It takes one man to change the course of history. Thomas Carlyle, in his great man leadership theory, argues for any society to progress, there must be one individual to set the momentum. The leader must take bi-partisan approach to issues and exercising reticence for self-effacing policies.
Demystifying power can be instrumental in taming bad politics. If the mystique and opulence around power is truncated, politicians may get repackaged as leaders. Kenya has tried this route. Her new Constitution, 2010, created Post of County Governors. Glee hitherto associated with the presidency substantially dissipated. Some level of parity in devolution of resources and distribution of grievances has been actualized. The talk of one tribe eating from the cooking pot is no longer flaming, and traditional power brokers are being replaced by elected leaders. This model seems to be working.
We must cultivate a culture of the rule of law. Bad politics are watered by evil waters of impunity. In a society where politicians are demigods, even after perpetrating the vilest atrocities against humanity are never sanctioned, such tends to totter towards self-annihilation. If supremacy of the law is upheld, there would be harmonious existence, and rough edges of politics would be smoothed.
Lastly, we need to work towards institutionalization of the economy. Putting in mechanism for citizens to uplift their social economic status; not always waiting for state largess and political handouts. This could be achieved by ensuring efficient distribution of resources, in structured way, within an acceptable formula, not on whips of Power barons, and allowing the nourishment of freedom of thought and innovation. Above all, we should vouch for a change in people’s philosophy. Africa cannot progress when manacled by self-inflicted chains of Afro-pessimism. A change in philosophy would stimulate the thought pattern and altitude. This transforms behaviour and triggers action. As long as we sit on the philosophy, thought and action are crippled.
These changes would cure the anathema of bad politics, thus leading to a better leadership that would be able to address other challenges facing Africa including Poverty and its appendages. And that way, we would joyfully join hands in reciting our East African Community Anthem, God bless Africa.