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.

chadian rebels finally routed

Chad, like most of central Africa, is a sad story. After days of fighting, reports indicate that the government of Idriss Deby – possibly with some help from the French – has managed to to repel rebels from the capital and gain “total control.” The question is, for how long? This was the second time in a few years that the rebels had marched into the capital and threatened to topple Deby. This was also a confirmation that the government of Chad remains weak and unable to provide security, let alone development programmes, for its own people.

The story of Chad is a story that is repeated many times on the continent of Africa. You always have very weak governments that are unable to provide the most basic of public goods to their people but that are propped up by the West- the French being the number one culprits here. The French were friends with Bokassa and Mobutu, among other francophone-African dictators who brought much suffering to their own people while maintaining strong ties to Paris and having frequent state visits to the Elysee. The opposition to these weak governments is also just as weak. The many rebels movements fighting silly wars of greed devoid of any ideological significance are too weak to win. Instead they put their countrymen through wars of attrition that keep them forever stagnant in pre-modern subsistence existence. The same applies for Political opposition parties. Think of Zimbabwe. Everyone wants Mugabe out, except Tsvangirai and Mutambara – the two men who have refused to join forces within the MDC in order to unseat Bob.

More than two decades after Achebe wrote about it in Nigeria, the trouble with Africa still remains simply and squarely a problem of leadership. There is nothing inherently wrong with Africa or the African people. The only strange thing about Africa is its ability to keep churning out more Mobutus, Bokassas and Amins and very few Mandelas.

Going back to Chad…… may be it is a good thing that Deby is still president. However, deep down I think that that Africans should think hard about their many weak and unviable states. The DRC, Somalia and many states in the Sahel some to mind. If these countries cannot get their act together they should be left to the mercy of “evolution of states” so that in the end we can have states that are viable and able to provide for their people and not kleptocracies that only benefit their leaders’ kinsmen and a few multinational corporations.