In the last half of the 20th century, much of Africa was embroiled in running battles for the overthrow of the oligarchic minority governments. Liberation struggle heroes were the poster boys of the era with such names as Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Kwame Nkrumah and Sam Nujoma coming to mind. These among many other leaders were the figureheads of the struggle and they led liberation movements to victory. Sadly, governments are not liberation war movements and policies are not guerrilla warfare. A materially different skill-set was needed to build democratic governments but some leaders have remained a deluded lot lost in the distant mirage of liberation wars. Instead of adopting democratic principles, governments have become fiefdoms ruled by army commanders under some twisted military chain of command that crushes dissension. It is not freedom that was achieved but just a replacement of an old oligarchic order with the new. The very men who saved Africa, have enslaved it.
Vusi Sibisi in an article for the Times of Swaziland said, “For many millions of Africans across the continent liberation from colonialism has meant very little because they remain under bondage of a new kind from their own leaderships. The promise of a new dawn in which everyone would be equal before the law and to pursue a life of happiness and fulfilment has remained just that, a promise that has never been fulfilled. The shortcomings of the OAU was its inadequacy in correcting or vilifying errant post-colonial African leaders who became worse dictators than their departed colonial predecessors.”The promise of a new dawn in which everyone would be equal before the law and to pursue a life of happiness and fulfilment has remained just that, a promise that has never been fulfilled.
The major problem Africa has faced is that leaders of the struggle did not take the victory to belong to every citizen, instead, it became their own intellectual property and they were therefore entitled to royalties in the form of power that followed. A report on the Brenthurst Discussion aptly put it this way, “It is very hard indeed for them to recognise that anyone else could have an equivalent right to rule, while for the movement as a whole, its record confers – in the minds of former fighters – a virtually permanent claim on state power: those who did not participate in the struggle including those who were too young to have had any chance of doing so, are expected to take second place to veterans”
This misguided view did not take account of the fact that bush wars are worlds apart from State office work. A country cannot be run by bullets and threats.
Mamphela Ramphele, a South African academic and politician once argued along the lines of the liberation veterans being products of a system they sought to dismantle. They were educated by this system, they could see the benefits for the elites of the time and naturally they might have harboured nascent urges to be the elites themselves. Ramphele’s actual words were, “The very fact of African countries today defining themselves as Francophone, Lusophone and Anglophone demonstrates how deeply Africa has imbibed values, systems, languages and symbols replete with white wigs – of their former masters.”
No one could have said it better. Some African countries identify with European colonialist values and their methods of rule is therefore not materially different. The reluctance by many governments to repeal repressive laws enacted by colonial masters is testament of the lust for days gone by. Colonial Zimbabwe’s problematic travesty of justice in the name of Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA) was “repealed” and replaced with its Siamese twin, the Public Order and Security Act in 2002 (POSA). Swaziland is also haunted by ghosts of its past as the Public Order Act of 1963 is still in force. Rhetoric of how Europeans should go is not enough to dispel this very dark undercurrent of inherited injustice. The colonial submarine has not been annihilated, it just has different people on the controls.
Looting and corruption are the rule of the day in countries where war veterans hold whole states ransom. Instead of focusing on building industry, the leaders are busy proclaiming they will run for Presidency till they die and stretching the malleable constitutions to allow them to remain in power. Once African heroes, the liberation veterans are now enemies of progress. Uganda for example may have deposed of colonial fetters but the post-colonial dispensation looks uncannily similar to the oppressive colonial past. Uganda and its comrade, Zimbabwe have not seen a transfer of power from the liberation war leaders.
Governments should shift focus from this war mentality to actually running state affairs. The wars ended years ago, people are eternally grateful but Africa has learnt that good fighters do not necessarily make good leaders. Government affairs are not a battlefield.