Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wicked Angels: The Bleak Paradox of African Leaders

If you intend to take lessons in how power compels people to contradict themselves, you have African presidents as an ideal sample. But, that’s not all; you will also discover that the trend has survived through decades simply because there are those who worship these wicked African angels, and they are many, for that matter. Some, with fringe benefits.

You will virtually reach the point of flattering our colonial masters. After all, they ruled us against our will, but still gave us our daily bread, vigilantly though. And our own fellow Africans, drawn from the scraps of history, choose who to feed and who to starve. At least, our colonial masters, somehow clad in human depravity, mildly loved – or hated – all of us impartially.

Those with whom we share our ancestry have no regard for our welfare. They engage themselves in the very corrupting precepts of power which they have always condemned. They wash their cars with imported mineral water while those they claim to lead – not mislead? – wake up at midnight to check if the taps are running, if at all they have any.

These are the bleak paradoxes in our leaders which we must now interrogate if there should be any hope for posterity. At the helm of African states are pretenders and crooks. They are the national bourgeoisies who simply replace the colonisers while adopting the same egocentric policies which we hate. They have nothing good to offer, it hurts.

Fate gave us Joyce Banda in a period of great crisis. She inherited an austere economy; found on her desk innumerable demands from her people; and believed she was a president on trial. We gave her the benefit of the doubt and didn’t hope she would be some mysterious goddess who would turn things around in the twinkling of some divine eye. She was human – and didn’t have to be that hasty climber who could easily fall from our grace.

But, the seat she occupied demand resolute minds and independent judgments, of course, with some consultation from people who honestly know our history. Not foreign envoys whose agenda is always to see us beg. Her reforms seemed attractive initially, but then she went overboard and made significant decisions without really thinking of how to unmake them.

That’s how difficult the seat she occupies can be. It is an adorable and easy seat when you are watching it from a distance but when you occupy it, you are easily consumed by pride and conceit. You even can have the audacity to tell off those who are humbly asking you to have some time to analyse the numerous policy papers on your desk.

Now, Malawians are up in arms forcing the president to address a number of economic hardships that we are facing as a people and to establish – or re-establish – proper economic policies in which we should have confidence. But, JB doesn’t seem to care. She is caught up in the corrupting influence of power just like most of her African counterparts. She is even religiously towing Washington’s and London’s line. It isn’t odd; even the amazing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to whom in many aspects our president can’t hold a candle, is a willing puppet of the west.

Our president’s office is overspending by hundreds of millions, but she still doesn’t see a need to be more cautious. After all, why shouldn’t she care when she is leading a people that can lose confidence in a leader and still allow her to lead them, even into a dark dungeon of tribulations?

Well, she is not alone even on the aspect of extravagance. Many other African leaders are travelling in expensive cars with long convoys. And just like everywhere else, the cars that form our president’s convoy don’t have water-run engines. They use the fuel whose prices have risen terrifically in the past few months. We have talked and talked and the president has given us one general response: she has to listen to her conscience and cohorts more than to public opinion.

We hoped to see in her a listening mother who wouldn’t dismiss our pleas offhand. We were sadly mistaken. She must act in accordance with the numerous unwritten doctrines that guide African presidents. Thus, it is horrible folly to seek an angel in the midst of warped African leaders. Out of tens of African presidents, it is unwise to imagine that ours alone – with a few others – can plausibly reduce her convoy, make expected delegations and have no-one to compensate for unfair dismissal.

African presidents have many enemies, both real and imagined, and our president is no exception. They dissolve cabinets willy-nilly and immediately fire whoever isn’t towing the presidential line. They dismiss directors of statutory corporations and retrieve millions from their countries’ ailing coffers to compensate those they fire.

We can’t expect JB to act differently unless we draw the hands of time back to April last year when a few moments after feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit, she wrote off any prospect of vengeance. But within the same breath, she began to contradict herself. But then, we can’t fault her for contradicting herself. She is an African president and you can’t expect to find an angel among African presidents.

For Africa to prosper, we need unAfrican presidents. We need to have at the helm of power people who will be satisfied with the classified conditions of their ‘jobs’ and never overspend recklessly. We need people who can make friends out of their adversaries and practice what they preach. We don’t really need saints; we simply need men and women who cast their eyes beyond the expiry date of their office terms. People who will let contracts be distributed evenly and resist the temptation to unjustly employ all their kin are what we need.

Yet, we must be aware that such a breed is hard to find in our society. We can’t easily trace perfect men and women who must lead by following their people. They are like gold dust. In this case, our final ray of hope will be in making attractive presidents out of these wicked angels. We will give them a chance to change their awful ways. If they pay no heed to our modest efforts, we will force them out of the hot seat. Yes, we will. Either before or at the official ballot.


Max Norton said...

A very well-written and balanced article, Ponje. If we accept that some African presidents are power-crazed puppets of the West, what concrete steps can African electorates take to change matters?

Ponje said...

I think it's the whole idea of regulating the power that our leaders wield. If African leaders are to be 'liberated' from the corrupting influence of power, the structures that govern their positions must be revised. For instance, in Malawi, the president has too much power such that he can fire and hire top officials without a second thought.

There should be concrete independent structures - funded by government of course, but instituted through public trust - that should monitor a president's actions. What he promises and whether he fulfills them; his welfare position regarding his people; positive reforms he intends to put in place; the amount of wealth he is accumulating and the means through which he is accumulating it.

Essentially, what is needed is to lessen the powers of our presidents. Our structures are oppressive. Even if Barak Obama was president of Malawi, he would not resist corruption, because the structures would give him a lot of leeway to be corrupt...

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