Change we can believe in! It is the most compelling election theme to have captured the imagination of the entire world. As encapsulated by Barack Obama in his victory speech, “change has come to America”. Whilst we celebrate America’s and indeed the world’s most momentous occasion, we also mourn the floundering attempts to overcome the tradition of mediocrity, self-loathing and lack of leadership on the African continent.
When Harold Macmillan spoke of the refreshing “winds of change blowing through this continent” in February 1960, an entire era’s political movement was energised and given unstoppable impetus culminating in the independence of many African states. Today, that wind has become a stifling and humid blast of hot air.
In our numerous flawed elections and struggling democracies, the promise of change is often preached but has never been fully consummated the way it has been in this year’s US election. All over Africa that promise for change is really and truly under threat up to the present moment. The irony of it is that those who threaten the promise of change in Africa are the very ones who fought for liberation. It is a sad pattern and one not worth repeating. We have seen it all time and again, in Zimbabwe, Kenya, DRC, Eritrea, Angola, Gabon and many other African nations, where the elixir of democracy remains elusive and where both its quest and suppression have caused untold suffering, claiming the hundreds of lives every day.
A new generation that did not fight colonialism or apartheid continues to agonise as to why Africa continues to wallow in its sorry state. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has succeeded in galvanising world support around his vision and audacity of hope for a re-defined America because he loves and believes in his country. His campaign and speeches have evoked so much promise and idealism in the America he hopes to restore. Above all, he has displayed immense belief in himself as a leader, successfully replicating his values in his followers to a point where they have become the mantra and creed of an entire generation.
On the contrary, the mandarins of Africa’s ruling elites and political opposition, with very few exceptions, do not love and believe in Africa. They believe in their own shrewdness to gain power for its own sake; amassing influence so that they can enrich themselves and subjugate the very people they should be serving. They believe in the supposed prowess of their tribes over others. They stake their fortunes in liberation credentials, which have poisoned them with a misplaced sense of entitlement to rule “until kingdom come”.
This is precisely the reason why conflict rages on in the DRC, Darfur and many other spots too depressing to detail. It is part of the reason why the continent is still ravaged by disease and poverty. It is also explains why we continue to mortgage our resources in oil and minerals to foreign corporations. In short, it is the reason for the many things we still do not get right.
If we loved ourselves enough, we would not be building personality cults. If we loved our people enough and placed the prosperity of future generations above ours, we wouldn’t exhort our followers to kill in the name of kanga chasers and other unprincipled pretenders to the throne. Indeed, if we held true to our self respecting values and realised the greatness accorded to us by those that fought so gallantly for our freedoms, we wouldn’t continue squandering every opportunity to reform and do better.
Africa should cut ties with its bond to apathy and mediocrity. We should shake free the hangover of inferiority including all manner and forms of stereotyping that came with the rape and pillaging our ancestors endured when they were enslaved, colonised, disenfranchised, made destitute in the lands of their birth and relegated to the lowly status of second class citizens in their motherland.
It is time to look to the power of our resources – both human and natural; to be drawn to our thinkers – black and white African; to be attracted to the best among us who can lead us honourably to our proverbial place in the sun. Those renowned for “kill for Zuma” chants will not lead us there. Indeed they can only take us on a road to perdition. Those who cling on to power and arrogate themselves the right to rule with impunity have already devastated the hopes, dreams and lives of an entire nation in Zimbabwe. Those who seek self enrichment at the expense of their people have caused untold strife in lands where oil and diamonds abound, in Nigeria, Liberia, DRC, Sudan and Angola.
Our economies can not function on infrastructure built in the 1960s. Shacks still abound in Alexandra within spitting distance of Africa’s premiere economic hub in Johannesburg. The pungent smell of poor sanitation still fills the air of downtown Accra, in a country which was the first to gain independence. In Abidjan we drove through streets lined with rotting garbage on our way to a pristine beach. Our leaders’ investments in grandiose palaces and Swiss bank accounts say a lot about how little they love their own backyard. It is self hate when we don’t invest in infrastructure which can improve quality of life and eliminate our shocking infancy mortality rate. It can only be self loathing which endears our politicians and civil servants to the easy pickings of corruption and such other underhand deals whilst the majority of the people struggle to survive on less than one USD a day. It cannot be love for one’s country, when we seek to profit from the misery of others; when in the name of entrepreneurship we remain adamant to make dollars off the broken backs of Ethiopians, Zimbabweans, Congolese and others less fortunate than ourselves, without giving them a decent due for their contribution to our comfort. Indeed, it will be a sad indictment on all of us should there be an unprecedented surge in the number of African’s emigrating to Obama’s America.
In fact there is enough evidence around which suggests South Africa could easily turn out to be the biggest African disappointment of the decade! It need not be and indeed, it must not be. We too can climb the heights Barack Obama has climbed. We can end the wars that divide us all over Africa. We can stop the politics which frighten off investors. We can rid ourselves of the weaknesses used to exploit us. We can remove the barriers of tribe and language. We can shake off the painful cruelties of history. We can heal. We can be united – as one people, one continent, one nation. We can summit Martin Luther King’s and Nelson Mandela’s mountain top. Indeed, we can believe in a better destiny for all Africans regardless of tribe and colour. Yes we can!