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.