Africans simply can’t eat rhetoric

By Tony Namate

MAY 25 to me is that day of the year when we have to contend with the “visions” of visionless African leaders as they wallow in their hollow-sounding Pan-Africanist rhetoric about

solidarity, unity, sovereignty, ubuntu, uhuru — ad infinitum, ad nauseum.


Any excuse to make you think they care for you, you ungrateful African.

Bad news: few African leaders practise what they preach. They get more corrupt, more entrenched and more undemocratic with each passing year.

Some notable exceptions, though, include Joacquim Chissano, Nelson Mandela and Ketumile Masire. The jury is still out on Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutarika, Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa, Festus Mogae of Botswana and Ghanaian John Kuffour.


African corruption is unique because there are no checks and balances in place, only cheques and bank balances. Corruption, the currency of the corridors of power, is the black hole of African governments. Nepotism, patronage and cronyism — forms of corruption that would make Don Corleone blush in embarrassment — are openly encouraged, even in countries where corruption ministries have been created!


In 1980 the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Edwin Blumenthal resigned from Zaire’s central bank after he complained of “sordid and pernicious corruption (so serious that) there is no chance, I repeat no chance, that Zaire’s numerous creditors will ever recover their loans”.


South Africa’s corruption scaled dizzy heights when Mandela left office. It has become so endemic that a 4×4 or Merc off-roader is now referred to as a yengeni, while the African National Congress inner circle is sometimes called the Xhosa Nostra. I wonder what they will call a zuma or a shaik?


Most African leaders amass wealth not as a privilege, but a birthright. Theirs is “egonomics”, the economics of enriching oneself. In an article entitled Dictators and Debt, Joseph Hanlon wrote: “One-fifth of all developing country debt consists of loans given to prop up compliant dictators . . . Even when they committed gross human rights violations, were notoriously corrupt and blatantly transferred money to Swiss banks, the flow of loans continued.” And state coffers are used to repay these loans.


It’s business as usual in Africa.


Hanlon thinks that “by forcing repayment of these loans, we say that it is acceptable to lend to corrupt and oppressive dictators”.


Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV and Aids in the world, yet its rotund and randy monarch keeps adding young girls every year to his harem as if his life depended on it. And the lustful ingonyama isn’t stopping any time soon. Already, two of his “wives” have deserted him. This is not my idea of female empowerment.


Democracy is anathema to most African leaders: they brought you democracy, yet they won’t allow you to vote for a leader of your choice!

Unfortunately, some African church leaders are also a disappointment. They amass obscene wealth by milking their gullible followers, then turn around to say the people’s rewards await them in heaven! Men of the cloth have become thieves, adulterers, liars, political opportunists and sexual perverts.


African leadership has become synonymous with an appalling propensity for lavish lifestyles and unparalleled lust for power, characterised by mile-long motorcades, armies of goons and never-ending summits. The word kleptocracy was coined for Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, kuku ngbendu wa za banga (the cock that leaves no hen unruffled), one of the world’s richest men whose “personal” fortune was once estimated at more than US$10 billion, with palaces in Europe and Zaire. He once awarded himself an Oscar for development and his portrait hung in every nook and cranny and was printed on textiles.


African leaders only remember their people in speeches delivered at world fora. Most of them have what local historian Tafataona Mahoso calls “the neurosis of Narcissus . . . a certain psychological and political character . . . a ‘gamesman’ with very few permanent convictions, principles or commitments”.


The African dictator prefers to get treated in foreign hospitals than build some in his own country.


Says Mahoso: “The political narcissist is therefore not concerned about taking on and completing real tasks or projects which benefit the people.”

He never does any wrong, but “likes to insist on rules and the rule of law to help himself win the game of life, but the rules must never apply to himself in such a way as to make possible his defeat or to keep him from maintaining his illusions of ‘visibility’ and ‘momentum’”.


“Rules and the rule of law are good only when applied against others…”

Africa is a continent riddled with genocide, slavery, wars, coups and tribalism, and even though it has vast mineral wealth and human resources, our leaders make sure that no ordinary person prospers. Media freedom is curtailed, as they fear empowered citizens, preferring to “keep them in the dark and feed them on manure”. And they look after their own kind.


Ethiopian fugitive, Mengistu Haile Mariam, is currently on an indefinite state-sponsored, uninterrupted tour of Zimbabwe; Milton Obote has seen successive governments come and go in Zambia; war criminal Charles Taylor is on 24-hour “protection” in Nigeria; and diminutive Jean Bertrand Aristide is president without a country in South Africa.


Meanwhile, privileged Ian Smith badmouths a leader who never had the same privileges under his UDI regime. Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein must be “cursing” themselves for not having been leaders in Africa.

The African dictator sees himself as the nearest thing to God: anointed, not appointed. He has a false sense of omnipotence and indispensability. As if to buttress this folly, church leaders and other sycophants go into raptures over his greatness, grovelling before him, feverishly praying for his long life — giving them titles like “son of god”, “teacher”, “ngwazi”, “supreme guide” and “father”.


The culture of criticising the leadership never really took root in Africa, since the culture of subservience is well-entrenched. Criticising African leaders is disrespectful. They thrive on fear, not respect. Leaders routinely use troops, police, militias and soldiers to terrorise citizens who criticise or challenge them.


That cannibal, Emperor Bokassa, had schoolchildren killed for refusing to put on his uniforms. I understand he ate some of them afterwards. The psychopath, Idi Amin Dada, literally took matters into his own hands, while apartheid thug John Vorster had schoolchildren shot dead in June 1976 for refusing to learn Afrikaans.


Jerry Rawlings once beat up one of his ministers, and Kenneth Kaunda once told a journalist: “You’re stupid! Sit down” just for asking a question. Kamuzu Banda simply locked up his critics and threw away the key.


A Nigerian president once called one of his ministers an idiot, while a southern African leader (can’t recall his name) said he had degrees in violence, and has already proved it on more than one occasion. Kenya’s first lady recently invaded the newsroom of The Nation newspaper, confiscating journalists’ equipment and slapping a photographer.


Although Robert Mugabe uplifted Zimbabwe’s educational standards soon after assuming power, the honeymoon didn’t last. We are now reeling in cesspools of unprecedented political and economic chaos.


Now, we’re looking for salvation in China. Things are that bad, huh?

We heap praises on a foreign country for being “the factory of the world”, proud to be trading with it (buying cheap goods and warplanes using scarce American dollars), and feeling proud to host the hordes of Nigerian and Asian “brothers” who take advantage of our deteriorating political situation to sell us imitation goods. Let’s admit it, we are proud of being the dumping ground of China and laughingstock of the world!


Proud to be Zimbabwean? Sigmund Freud must be turning in his grave.


Instead of “Looking East” shouldn’t we “Look Inside” our own country by inviting multinationals to build factories and invest in our overqualified, underutilised labour and intellectual resources? Sadly, all those 1980s educational gains are fast being wiped out by Aids.


*Tony Namate is the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard cartoonist.