… For The People

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on February 23, 2016.

Shoutout to John Magufuli, pres­i­dent of Tanzania and father of the ‘WhatWouldMagufuliDo?’ meme. In his first week in office, he stripped expense bud­gets and can­celled his inau­gural ball. Later he can­celled the Independence Day cel­e­bra­tions, saying that the money could be put to better use.

What’s his deal? I don’t know. It’s easy to dis­miss this as a PR move with little real impact. Will he actu­ally see his nation through to the path of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment? Nobody can tell. I hope so with all my heart. I hope this is one vision­ary who won’t start per­se­cut­ing crit­ics, muf­fling the media and exer­cis­ing bias in gov­ern­ment. I think Africa deserves at least one. It’s been a while.

I haven’t talked pol­i­tics in a long time; I felt like I had to start con­tribut­ing before I start crit­i­ciz­ing again. Anyway, I find that it is prac­ti­cally impos­si­ble to get a good grasp on the whole story. Also over the years, I have nur­tured a pro­found igno­rance con­cern­ing local and con­ti­nen­tal affairs; pol­i­tics is always comic, until it touches your life — then it becomes heart­break­ing. I pre­ferred to laugh at the West while remain­ing in denial about our imme­di­ate condition.

So I rolled along in my bliss­ful obliv­ion until I started learn­ing about the his­tory of Africa. Painfully, I got to grips with the real origin of the slave trade, and probed the real­ity of com­plic­ity in the colo­nial era. Then I came grate­fully to the inde­pen­dence strug­gle, ready to have my faith in human­ity restored.
What the hairy, sup­pu­rated pustule.

Why don’t we tell the truth about our heroes? It’s an insult to their legacy when we cover things up. When you iden­tify and admit a fault, it is empow­er­ing. It means: ‘if I fix this thing, I will be closer to per­fec­tion.’ It takes the respon­si­bil­ity out of Fate’s hands, and places it in our own. Revisionism puts leg­ends on a pedestal, and then every­body gets com­fort­able shift­ing the blame around when the dis­ap­point­ment comes.

We have had some incred­i­ble lead­ers in this world, and Africa has had more than its share. Every coun­try here has been through the cru­cible many times, and has always risen to the chal­lenge. The dark­ness of the colo­nial era called for mes­sianic fig­ures who had to entirely dis­card hopes of per­sonal gain to see the people through to free­dom. And they stepped up, and won through.

Then what? What hap­pens to these right­eous men and women from their days of fiery deter­mi­na­tion and self-sac­ri­fice? Why do our knights have such tar­nished armour? Marital infi­delity is the least of the stum­bling-blocks, and very few escape it. It’s such an insult to say “Well, pow­er­ful men have cer­tain weak­nesses.” They brave bul­lets and resist cor­rup­tion, and then they destroy their fam­i­lies with a tawdry, incon­se­quen­tial tryst. That is — if they do resist corruption.

Is it that they feel enti­tled? Is the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mind sus­cep­ti­ble to such think­ing? Because when they don’t demand riches, too often they demand ven­er­a­tion. After stop­ping Hitler in his plans for mil­i­tary dom­i­na­tion, what do the Allied Powers do? Establish a sub­ver­sive system for world dom­i­na­tion. The UN, this won­der­ful ide­al­ist vision, has devolved to a comic opera, just because the Allies thought too highly of them­selves. Now Africa’s lead­ers keep pat­ting each other on the back, making alliances and vows of tol­er­ance to one anoth­er’s fail­ures. So it’s ‘us against the world’ — but we still take their money and their trade?

Another likely cul­prit is ide­al­ism. The world is a com­plex world. There is always an ideal solu­tion, but it is only suited for an ideal sit­u­a­tion. In this hot steamy mess of a civ­i­liza­tion, there is absolutely no excuse for adults who call them­selves lead­ers to be spout­ing eco­nomic and social the­o­ries. That hurt Africa very badly in the for­ma­tive years, because it set us up to serve as pawns in the Cold War. I’ve always sus­pected that par­ents and teach­ers cause great harm to chil­dren by cling­ing to learn­ing philoso­phies. Leaders wreak even more havoc when they try to impose the beau­ti­ful paper dream on the living real­ity. Mao nearly destroyed China with it, as did Nyerere in Tanzania. Both men who prob­a­bly meant well, but they trusted their philoso­phies too much.

Then there is crony­ism. The UN never divorced itself from its origin in war, and the wartime friends still feel obliged to pre­tend that they like each other. So they all sit together in a cosy room and shoot down every­thing they don’t like, and the others just smile and carry on. They don’t even settle their dif­fer­ences ratio­nally. They make allies fight and bleed in their per­sonal quar­rels. They are silly, and we should­n’t emu­late them. But when Africans go on about the ICC, I get con­fused. The Iraqi people deserve jus­tice and clo­sure. How does that inval­i­date the right of the Kenyan and Ivorian people to the same thing? I wince when I see the AU going about, threat­en­ing to estab­lish a court to try Bush and Blair. Why don’t we start with our own mes­sups? Is it self­ish of us to try to resolve our own con­flicts first? Anyway, so the ICC — the International Criminal Court — is flawed; can’t we fix it? It pains me to see how hard we work, on the other hand, to ingra­ti­ate our­selves with equally sus­pect donor orga­ni­za­tions: the IMF, the World Bank, even insignif­i­cant FIFA. Nobody talks about sub­vert­ing that system.

Anyway. The world is slow­ing down, and the fric­tion is begin­ning to tell. We’ve entered another cycle of stag­na­tion, so soon after the last one. The droughts are gang­ing up on us. We know pol­i­tics won’t save us; good people will. Isn’t it time we begin defin­ing what a hero is, for real? I respect vision­ar­ies, really I do. But when you say ‘He was ahead of his time’, is it a com­pli­ment? Leadership should take the vision and bring it into the present, should­n’t it? As a designer, if I fail to make my vision tan­gi­ble and useful, I know I’ve failed. If twenty years from now, Magufuli is still cling­ing to power in Tanzania, don’t say ‘We need more strong African voices like him’. Don’t wait until his coun­try falls into dis­ar­ray, then eulo­gise him as a ‘nec­es­sary evil’.

Please. Let us believe that we deserve better.

People say my gen­er­a­tion is blind and naïve. It’s true; we’re babes in arms. We dis­card con­spir­acy the­o­ries because we have been taught to ridicule them and trust the media; then when the media con­fesses that the con­spir­acy is true, we are painfully eager to show our rage. But my gen­er­a­tion’s ide­al­ism is simply a response. We are removed from the inde­pen­dence strug­gle, and from the insta­bil­ity that fol­lowed. Most of us have phones and elec­tric­ity, and these priv­i­leges serve as a cur­tain between us and those who don’t have them. But grant us this: when the cur­tain shifts, we are appalled at the rev­e­la­tions, and our shock fuels protest, which cre­ates an atmos­phere for change. That is impor­tant. So when you call us naïve about the Arab Spring, remem­ber that the dead were not all pup­pets, but mostly vic­tims. Instead of saying ‘told you so’ when al-Sisi messes up, why don’t we leave the ide­olo­gies behind and look for real results? Idealogies are such very silly things. Abstract thought always is. Bring it to the people in a way that does­n’t make them bleed.