our leaders embarrass us

Before Kenya erupted in flames, I always thought that the ugly realities of most other Africans from Sierra Leone to Darfur to Uganda and all the others were distant. They all seemed to be things that happen to other people in other countries. Many a time I argued fervently with my friends how different Kenya was and how much we were past the pettiness of tribal-related civil war. I made sure to make my friends pay attention to the run-up to the Kenyan elections in December. The opinion polls had predicted a close race and therefore I was expecting a competitive outcome to prove to the world that Kenya was a liberal democracy.

But the Kenyan political class had other things in mind. I saw irregularities take place in front of the international media. Signs of foul play appeared from BOTH SIDES. I blogged away furiously while waiting for news of who won. In the end everything fell apart. The final tally was suspect. Kibaki was sketchily sworn in and the world could do nothing but conclude that something had gone wrong. And then all hell broke loose. Kenyans started killing fellow Kenyans. I watched CNN in my dorm room with dismay and embarrassment. I saw scenes that I thought only belonged in Mogadishu or Djamena or Freetown play out in the streets of Nairobi. Kenyans had suddenly become tribalist murderers.

All of a sudden my friends started asking me what tribe I belonged to, after which they automatically assumed what position I held with regard to what was going on. Most of the time they were wrong. I felt insulted that I had been reduced to a tribe, with all the group-think that comes with it.

The continuing collapse of Kenya is a very real and painful lesson to me about what goes on in places like Darfur and Somalia and all the other hot spots. People die. People lose hope. People become apathetic.

The political class has failed Africa. The political class has failed Kenya. The political class has failed me, personally. Why haven’t we produced more Mandelas and less Mobutus? Why do we keep churning out leaders who do not have any sense of what true leadership is about? Leaders who are willing to do whatever they can to improve the situation of Africans? When will they know that politics should never be an end in itself? That political competition is a means to an end and that politics should be used to serve the interest of the African people and not to enrich a few people?

As Achebe put it in the early 1980s, [replacing Nigeria with Africa] The trouble with Africa is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the African character. There is nothing wrong with the African land or climate or water or air or anything else. The African problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.

5 thoughts on “our leaders embarrass us

  1. nobody is immune. and as long as western imperialists are controlling African leaders and dictators, it’s not going to stop. i find it hard to believe that it’s simply inter-tribal conflict. there is more to it. and now that i hear that Kagame and Kenya are discussing ANYTHING, i know there is more.


  2. The reality is Kenya needs to change. It’s traditions, tribalism will not let it progress in in in a ‘western way’. It rejects western values
    and will never create real wealth. Unless of,course they find huge oil reserves or minerals yet to be discovered.They are subsistent farmers.The politicians have their heads in the trough feeding on the handouts from rich countries. You can see similarities in Zimbabwe where organised farmers are rejected mainly because they are white. They are happy to blame the British but they are to blame for their inability to change. Bring on the knives and the petrol bombs tomorrow in Kenya, attack the women and children. Pick on the weak because dead African women and children have no voice.I have friends in Western Kenya desperately afraid of what will happen in the next few days. Who cares? Please bring on the United States of America, God’s own country.Ms Rice seems to be
    the only person talking sense. We in the UK are too afraid because of our colonial past.


  3. Ken,

    Yes. Our leaders are an embarrassment. I’m starting to think they always have been: after all, didn’t the Kings of Dahomey happily sell other Africans as slaves?


  4. Great article, on the question of leaders are they not from the same pool as the citizenry? One finger points at the leader whilst four fingers point back at us… Houston we have a problem


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