It must be an exciting read judging from the comments and remarks made at its launch. I think the book, Common People’s Uganda, that Prof Yash Tandon launched recently will be vociferously sought after.
One of the most intriguing assertions Tandon made and was widely quoted by the local media is that African leaders like President Yoweri Museveni “do not have control over politics and the economy, but are simply a product of a global system.”
This is a summary of the story of Africa right from the dawn of independence. To start with, generally African leaders are not inherently bad people per se. They make good fathers to their children, have stories of kindness, sympathy and empathy to their fellow men. They saved an orphan, a widow, a terminally ill patient or a desperate person out of poverty along the way.
But on the side of national leadership, many have a similar story. From the warlord, coup leader, the election thief, the revolutionary, to the democratically elected president, most of them start with promise and come to power as a fresh breath of air. They have grand ideas to lift people out of illiteracy, poor health, poverty and subjugation. They find people who are so hungry that even bitter things taste sweet.
Theirs sounds like a believable quest to bring the citizenry to the cusp and beyond, of freedom, liberty and egalitarianism. The intentions are well documented in ‘point programmes,’ ‘action plans,’ ‘declarations’ and manifestos.
Very often, a few years down the road, people are clamouring for their departure. They have now graduated into corrupt murderous dictators, who hang onto power by stealing elections and leaning heavily on the gun and a small clique usually of the same ethnic group plus a few desperate hangers-on in order to remain standing. Most of their so-called positive achievements are more in word than in deed.
The next smart move is to become compliant with the demands and needs of the hitherto vilified “Western imperial interests.” They happily ‘lie naked’ in bed with oppressors, neo colonialists, the bourgeoisie comprador and their agents. The economy is now in the hands of pampered foreign investors, a contradiction to the promise at the inception of creating “an independent, integrated and self-sustaining economy.”
The payers of the piper often the World Bank, IMF (what former Tanzanian president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere called the International Ministry of Finance) and the development partners, ie those who provide loans for an interest, to run the economy, call the tune. It is what they want that is made to appear as the new ‘national interest.’
If it is privatisation that is the fad, then it is adopted as an economic panacea. If it is devaluation of the national currency, structural and sectoral adjustment, etc, it comes to pass. The adverse consequences to the locals do not matter at this moment.
The president becomes the country manager handling matters of the ‘board of directors’ in the Western capitals, who call the shots. If the African president, aka country manager, performs as is expected of them by the board of directors, then they are assured of holding onto power for as long as they want irrespective of what the locals to whom power is supposed to belong think or desire.
The expectation includes economic growth at the expense of the quality of life of the locals. So if the sustained economic growth of say 6 per cent is maintained in the midst of poor health, education and other living standards for the locals, then the country manager is guaranteed a peaceful tenure of office whatever that costs in terms of human rights and progress for the locals.
Elections become a mere exercise where the country manager is assured of being announced the victor whether he has support or not as long as the board of directors mentioned above still find him relevant to their cause.
Minerals, oil, agricultural produce and human resources are all easily accessible and open for exploitation by foreign investors linked to the donors. They repatriate all their profits as they wish in this enabling environment provided by the government.
For non-compliance, the sanctions, embargoes, coups, support for Arab Spring like it happened in Libya, plus, of course, the threat of the International Criminal Court (ICC) hangs over their heads like the proverbial sword of Damocles.
That is how the African leader keeps in the good books of the providers of international finance; the actual rulers of these poor African countries. That is how they remain relevant to them.
That constituency become the most important voter for the African leader. It is their interest first and foremost then other things follow.
This is the system that patterns most of our powerful leaders on the African continent. The better they are subservient slaves to it, the more they are assured of holding power for as long as they wish.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. [email protected]