This originally appeared on misteragyeman.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.