Bryan Mukandi
Bryan Mukandi

Just Not Serious

Reality television seems to have really caught on. If you look hard enough, you will find a show where someone’s doing something you’re into and is being followed around by a production crew. I’m surprised no-one has come up with a show that gets a dysfunctional family to represent the African continent. The show could be called something like “Just Not Serious”.

Anyone who knows anything about me will tell you that I love my country. Love for my country has developed into a love for my continent. There is no way you can do well for yourself if your neighbourhood has gone to the dogs. Broadly speaking, we share similar roots and cultural backgrounds, and most importantly, most African countries face similar challenges. With that in mind the sensible thing, as far as I can see, is for the continent to work together and face those challenges head on.

This leads me to one of my inspirations for the “Just Not Serious” show. The World Economic Forum has just concluded its yearly meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This non-profit organisation (NGO) gathers the world’s top business leaders, some political heavyweights and a selection of notable intellectuals and other prominent figures. They spend a few days discussing the world’s problems and thinking about the best ways to tackle them. Personally, I don’t like the idea of global affairs being decided, or at the very least, significantly influenced by global elite at a Swiss resort over a weekend. But the world is what it is; a few people have a disproportionate say over the way the affairs of the rest are run.

A bigger problem lies in how African leaders respond to this type of gathering and their response to state of the continent in general. For example, there is an interesting BBC clip of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga being interviewed at the Davos meeting. Raila Odinga starts off really well saying that “Africa is not an invalid”. He then goes on to speak as though Africa were in fact an invalid. It sounds as though Odinga feels that the only way Africa can move forward is if the rest of the world is benevolent and treats the continent with kid gloves.

It is one thing for Western groups like Oxfam to lobby their governments for better trade practices. This is something that falls within their sphere of influence. Had African governments exhausted all the options within their own influence I could understand the need for Odinga to emulate Oxfam. But as things stand, the habit of our leaders heading off to any international gathering that’s on, hat in hand, is quite frankly embarrassing. I know that there is a significant external component to our problems but the fact that the focus is largely on these rather than on local hindrances to progress and development is problematic.

The Odinga interview reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a Zimbabwean political activist. He told me that he couldn’t stomach the idea of his party in a coalition government. As far as he was concerned, the best thing to do would be to sit it out and wait for things to fall apart completely in Zimbabwe and then come in and pick up the pieces. He then chastised me for being so far away from home. The reason? He was convinced that it was just a matter of time before things turned around and when they did, he warned me that it was only those who were on the ground who would be able to take advantage of the situation for financial gain. I don’t doubt my friend’s patriotism but his priorities are not very clear. I don’t know what comes first for him, political reform or material gain.

When there is talk of a leadership crisis in Africa, it is often framed in an unhelpful way. Usually what is meant is that the leaders are corrupt or incapable. Excessive corruption is only a symptom of an underlying problem. The real leadership crisis is that there are very few figures who inspire us with their vision of the future and plans for how to get there.

As the world goes into what might be the worst recession since the 1930s, solid African leadership is going to be desperately needed. Most international NGOs get significant portions of their funding from their national governments. As their domestic economic situations worsen, many of these governments will decrease the sums of money they give to NGOs. Private donations will also fall as individuals lose their jobs or just become more fearful about the future. As for protectionism, this will almost inevitably rise as governments all over the world do whatever they can to cushion their own. Attending all the conferences in the world won’t change the fact that the primary concern of every government is its own citizens. But who knows? A hostile global economic environment might be the catalyst that speeds up the arrival a new breed of African leader.

Maybe the continent shouldn’t be depicted as a dysfunctional family on realty television after all. A feature-length drama might be a better idea. It could be the story of a family that is torn by strife, horrible luck and all sorts of calamities. Something especially horrible would befall them and all would appear lost but in the nick of time someone stands up and pulls the family together. Things would work out and everyone would live happily ever after.

Disney could produce the film and it would be a hit. All that’s needed is the star. Do any of our current leaders look like they could play the hero?