Sunday October 27 2013

Africans sometimes deserve the despots who rob and kill them

By Alan Tacca

At the end of 1979, the BBC asked several distinguished people to make their projections for the 1980s. The Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka, was one of them.

Staring into his crystal ball, Soyinka said he was “wildly optimistic” about Africa.
At that point, the continent seemed to be turning in a positive direction. Through terrible experience, many of our nations were being reborn.

The great monsters of the day, like Idi Amin and Bokassa, had either been recently overthrown or were being roughed up. In the euphoria, many Africans thought the remaining dictators would fall like dominoes.

In the north, Egypt was not exactly a model democracy, but it was a moderate State much of the “civilised” world could live with. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was perceived more as an Arab terrorist eccentric than an African dictator.

In the south, the pressure mounting on Rhodesia’s Ian Smith was so great that it looked only a matter of time before his (UDI) regime collapsed. The white supremacists in South Africa would then be more exposed, even if black majority rule there still looked a little distant. But after South Africa got liberated, even the civil upheavals in Angola and Mozambique would probably be re-defined.

So, although for Ugandans the post-Amin euphoria was very brief, followed by seven years of chaos, raw brutality, a sham democracy and armed rebellion – sorry, more than 30 years of a sham democracy and armed rebellion – Africa generally seemed to be moving “forward”.

You have noticed there that I have hinted at two different narratives. Some people speak of the period 1979-86 (Lule, Binaisa, Muwanga, Obote-II and Okello) as the years of chaos, war and brutality, with 1986-to-date as the years when Museveni brought and maintained peace.

The other narrative fully recognises the war that raged in northern Uganda for more than 20 years, as well as the movement of Joseph Kony’s LRA terror to several other countries, as part of the Museveni era; in which case you cannot accurately refer to his rule as a period of peace.

I have digressed. But these two Ugandan narratives in a way reflect the duality Africa has actually experienced, a continent advancing and simultaneously going backwards.

The years since Soyinka’s wild optimism have seen virtually all the pre-eighties despots die or deposed, and the rise of a set of young progressive leaders who once so excited the West that they were branded a “new breed”.

This set has now evolved into the politically mean and brutal fraternity that has most enthusiastically embraced Kenya’s recently elected President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, castigating the International Criminal Court that has indicted them as a latter day tool of Western imperialism.

You have heard their argument; that Africa’s dignity and the sovereignty of its nations are on the line, the enemy being the racist white lot. It were as if the ghosts of the doctrinaire prophets of the 1960s and ‘70s had come back to haunt the continent, spraying the old hypocrisy.

But African voters, out of sheer stupidity, are playing with fire. The new fraternity is potentially as dangerous as that of 15 to 30 years ago, and many of these men can rightly claim to have been elected. They steal votes, but they also get millions of genuine votes from citizens who just refuse to look at the record of the men and women they are voting for, who cannot see beyond one or two free meals, or the tribal or religious identity they share with a candidate.

The new fraternity has ensured continuity; they are a link with the past that gave us Amin, Gaddafi, Abacha, Mobutu, and so on.

Will these men guarantee your dignity, you wretched natives?
No, they will mortgage it. They will play the Chinese against the West to secure the means they need to oppress you. They may even cynically begin to wish for more terrorism on their territories.

Helping to fight enemies of the West, their impunity would be ignored by their senior “allies” for a bit longer, making Soyinka’s optimism of 34 years ago sound truly pre-mature.

Mr Tacca is a novelist and socio-political commentator.