Africa can now say boo to leaders

HARARE - After what we all thought was his unforgettable visit to an newly-independent country called, not the Gold Coast but Ghana, Joshua Nkomo, the first president of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress, spoke of the experience with gushing eloquence.

“When I was in Ghana…” he would begin, with such passion you wondered if he was not speaking of heaven or paradise. Then he would launch into a honeyed tale of an almost magical African achievement.

For Nkomo, as for most Africans, Ghana’s independence in 1957 under Kwame Nkrumah, had imbued them with the unforgettable spirit of conquering, against unimaginable odds, a thousand devils.

I was 20 years old, a journalist who savoured, with youthful splendour, the pride of an African witnessing the dawn of an era.

Six years later, The Osagyefo, as Nkrumah was called with breathless adoration, would be instrumental in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa.

I would be among young journalists wondering at the irony of this birth in a country ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie. Nine years after Ghana’s independence, we would be shocked at Nkrumah’s fall. His soldiers would overthrow him while he was out of the country on State business.

I never met Nkrumah. But in 1978, I met Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in Cairo at an African editors’ conference, jointly sponsored by the US government. By his side was his then deputy, Hosni Mubarak.

I had returned to Zimbabwe from Zambia in 1980 when Sadat was assassinated by soldiers during a military parade. Mubarak, who had succeeded Sadat, was overthrown years later. He is still alive, — not at liberty. I doubt he will ever be freed.

I shook hands with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi at a conference he held in Tripoli in 2007. Its agenda was, grandiloquently, entitled the formation of a United States of Africa, of which Gaddafi would be first president.

Four years later, he would be killed by his own people. Our meeting in Tripoli, which included many African journalists, had rejected the idea of a United States of Africa — with or without Gaddafi as president.

I have met other African heads of state who have not suffered the same fate as the others above. Malawi’s Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s government deported me from his country in 1974. 

But we met again when he had been beaten by Bakhili Muluzi for the presidency in the 1990s. He looked very old and frail then, and later died of natural causes.

It seems to me that many African presidents have turned their leadership into something grotesquely personal. This is not just in having their country identified with their person, but also being run, for many years, by a group of people uniquely similar in temperament and style to the leaders.

I have heard people speak of President Robert Mugabe in similar language.

I have wondered, dispassionately, why, from Nkrumah to the last president to be overthrown by his people, such leaders have not launched, immediately after independence, extensive and heavily-funded campaigns to alleviate poverty among their people, assuredly the raison detre of their struggle for freedom.

Fortunately, since Nkrumah’s overthrow, many lessons have been learnt by the people. One of them is that the leader of a country doesn’t necessarily own it lock, stock and barrel.

The people own it and must continue to own it in every respect. Once the leader tries to “personalise” possession of the country, it could be “curtains” for him — or her.

The people can now say “Boo!” to him and mean it.


Comments (1)

Can somebody give this old man a plot or small piece of land!

godfrey gudo - 2 June 2014

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