African leaders can do better

HARARE - The following five key events describe Nigeria in the past three weeks.

About 230 girls are abducted from a school in the northern parts of the country. A few days later President Goodluck Jonathan is shown on television dancing at a party having a good time.

This week, the world, by way of the World Economic Forum Wef, converges on Africa’s number one economy in the capital Abuja for their annual economic pilgrimage. Boko Haram releases a video claiming responsibility for the horrendous act and is threatening to sell the girls as sex slaves.

The world is stunned. President Jonathan issues a statement on the kidnapped girls for the first time in three weeks.

What a mixture of misfortunes, fortunes, happiness and sadness as William Shakespeare would say of one smiling and one droopy eye.

News channels, CNN in particular have taken a keen interest in both the WEF gathering and the kidnapped girls and have dispatched Star News caster Aisha Sesay to cover more of the latter than the former.

The narrative taking shape in light of the unfolding events in Nigeria is that, it is an exhibition of misplaced priorities and a demonstration of gross ineptitude both at their worst by the Nigerian government in general and by  president Jonathan in particular.

Grief-stricken families wait anxiously for answers as it appears that the federal government has no clue on how to go about getting the girls released by their captors.

Again, it has taken the president three weeks to make a statement on the unfortunate incident. People need information and yet the authorities are not forthcoming.

Naturally, parallels are now being drawn between president Jonathan’s leadership and that of his peers, the likes of Tony Abbott of Australia, David Cameron of Britain, Angela Merkel of German, Barack Obama of the United States and Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

Would any one of them have taken a massive three weeks to make a statement had that unfortunate incident happened in their respective countries?

The answer is that, it is very likely they would have issued a statement a lot sooner than three weeks and most probably within hours and government information machinery would have gone into overdrive giving details day in day out of efforts to recover the girls.

An information centre with hotlines would have been set up and direct links with the affected families would have long been established.

In Nigeria, president Jonathan’s case was not helped by first lady Patience Jonathan appearing on television all hysterical “up sound face to cam” in ostentatious apparels and jewellery.

Her demeanour was overbearing and atrocious for the occasion especially three weeks later.

The precincts of a State House and an opulent lounge were bad choices for Patience Jonathan’s media show piece. It was terribly out of sync with the general mood of Nigerians especially women.

If Aisha came all the way from New York to interview girls in the affected regions, quite honestly, someone at State House should have been kind enough to advise Patience Jonathan to join the grief-stricken mothers who remain gathered at some place and issue a decent motherly heartfelt statement which resonates with the mood of the moment.

Closer to home, President Robert Mugabe has not visited Chingwizi Camp where more than

18 000 people are living in a makeshift camp following a flooding disaster more than three months ago.

Two weeks ago though, the president attended some Papal ceremony at the Vatican.

It is entirely one’s prerogative who he visits and who he does not visit depending on who he deifies and who he deigns.

Nonetheless, I still maintain that visiting the Vatican 7 000km away ahead of Chingwizi some 300km to the south of State House is a case of misplaced priorities for a Head of State and it surely leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

He is our father and in times of hardship we expect him to come and see us and say a few reassuring words, empty as they may be.

The entire Cabinet, national assembly and corporate world can visit Chingwizi but the degree of comfort and satisfaction that the flood victims were derive from a visit by the Head of State would outweigh all.

Having been in power for 34 long years, president Mugabe understands this only too well.

Back to Nigeria, the country has just overtaken South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy at $510 billion GDP representing 21 percent Africa’s same.

However, and sadly so, the African script remains unchanged.

There is not much to celebrate about the growth of the Nigerian economy when 62 percent of the population is living below the poverty datum line and worse still a quarter of them need food aid.

Wealth, mostly from the country’s oil, is far from being evenly distributed.

Just a few elite, mostly those with viable links to the centres of reigning political power and authority, ever get to enjoy the country’s wealth derived from its natural resources.

Nigeria has the highest number per capita of individuals who own private jets, mostly Gulfstream or Falcons, Rolls Royce or Pratt Whitney-powered long range models.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that, just across the street, there is a university bona fide MBA graduate sleeping on the pavement with no idea where his next meal will come from and there are millions of them in a similar situation.

While such disparities will always exist in normal societies even in mature economies and democracies like German, it is the absence of legislation and policies that look out for the interests of the afflicted, underprivileged and powerless that is worrying.

In Africa, the general trend is that the politically connected, who are usually the rich, are left to enjoy unfettered access wealth while the poor are often abandoned.

It should be government’s priority to guard against exploitation of the poor and downtrodden and enact deliberate policies that provide for social safety nets which ensure that in a country as wealthy as Nigeria, no one goes without access to life’s basics like clean drinking water, at least a meal a day and a place to sleep in at night.

These are fundamental human rights ordinarily enshrined in any meaningful 21st century constitution.

Meanwhile, minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks eloquently on CNN convincing us that the WEF will help deal with, inter alia, how Nigeria should handle economic disparities and issues of social security. What a damper from an international economist and world renowned finance manager.

An average high school boy or girl will tell you that economic benefits to Nigeria following hosting of WEF are zilch — nill. The reason Professor Schwab chose Nigeria is clear. The country has capacity to pay. If WEF is about bringing investment and economic stability to Africa, then Nigeria and South Africa (where it is always held in Cape Town) whose economies are on the rise even by developed world standards, are the wrong venues.

Why not have it in Zimbabwe whose GDP is a paltry $4 billion and is struggling to feed itself and why not Ethiopia.

I guarantee that when Zimbabwe starts to know what to do with its overstated natural resources like diamonds, and when the country’s number one enemy corruption has been dealt with and the economy starts ticking, then WEF will come.

When we are able to sell our diamonds without the help of middlemen who disappear with the proceeds, then WEF will consider coming.

Some things are truly laughable.

In this day and age a whole country is conned of proceeds from its natural resources.

Demnable be thy description.

Given the above from Nigeria and Zimbabwe, I put it across that Africa deserves and demands better leadership.

I rest it for now.

    Comments (1)

    Well written James. If only there was someone to listen. What a pity.

    Kufakwejeyi - 11 May 2014

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