Tag: African leaders

Ubuntu is dead and greed killed it

(Pic: AFP)
(Pic: AFP)

Botho is dead.

There, I said it. And quite frankly, it is about time somebody did. It’s about time we walked to the funeral of our most beloved product and allowed ourselves a few moments to come to terms with the reality that it is gone.

Botho or Ubuntu or African socialism or whatever name is now fashionable has always been a cornerstone of African societies or, to be more accurate, Bantu societies.

But now it is 2015. And in Botswana, Botho is a word so strong and loaded, that it has become the greatest political tool in the arsenal of the ambitious leader. A national address is incomplete without the speaker finding a way to praise us for upholding this core tenet of our civilisation and simultaneously admonish us for letting it slip away. It is the multi-purpose screwdriver in the toolbox of the mass manipulator.

Leaders in power shame us for having “lost” it, while leaders with ambitions to gain even more power praise us for upholding it. And this is not only a Botswana phenomenon, for South African leaders are also known to admonish wayward followers for losing their “Africanness”.

All over Africa, our culture, painted in the fantastic light of glamourised pasts, is waved in the faces of the ordinary Africans as some reminder that a different behaviour than that natural to all humans is expected from us.

Politically active youths demanding opportunity are said to be behaving without Botho, without respect for elders. Women asking for equal rights are said to be acting in their own interests and dismissing the needs of the community. Economically ambitious people are said to be thinking selfishly when they should be using their wealth to make the lives of their people better.

Well, I’m here to say that all of that is [expletive].

It is time we faced facts. We cannot foster societies that enable the greed of our leaders to be the driving force of our economies, and at the same time be expected to behave without that very same selfishness that is supposed to be at odds with our supposedly perfect pre-colonial societies.

At some point we have to choose between fulfilling the destiny Steve Biko believed was Africa’s responsibility (to bring a human face to civilisation) and following the rest of the world in letting capitalist aspirations shape our societies. And I’m afraid we have made that choice.

If the recent bouts of xenophobic attacks in certain parts of the continent are any indication, we, as African people, have chosen greed over Botho. We have chosen greed over idealism, over what Biko claimed was our special place in history. And we’ve done it without even knowing it.

At what point will we realise that our present acceptance of leaders who will do whatever it takes to gain as much personal wealth as possible at the expense of their people, is the very cause of the erosion of our belief systems? When will we realise these very same leaders are in no position to manipulate us with shame?

It is when we realise that greed is what is stripping our societies of their core beliefs, that we will see that the only way to move forward is to reject it.

We, Africans, have to ask ourselves everyday if this is what our ancestors fought for. Is this the freedom they died for? The freedom to steal? The freedom to kill? The freedom to die poor and without dignity? Is the right for politicians to steal without consequence, what Lumumba, Sankara, et al., died for? Is the right for the poor to murder each other over the crumbs of our GDPs what Nkrumah, Nyerere, et al. dreamed of?

Are the lives of the first Africans who died at the hands of colonialists to be honoured by our own individual obsessions with material wealth? Are their lives to be carried forward by ancestors who care more about emulating their warped view of western life than upholding the principles of societies that were alive for centuries before western interference?

Did we go through all of this for this? We have to ask ourselves these types of questions everyday if we are to arrive at the correct conclusion: Africa has to fight greed harder than we have ever fought anything else. We have to fight it like we fought off cruel colonialists, we have to fight it like we fought for freedom, we have to fight it harder than we have ever fought anything, because greed is Africa’s greatest problem.

And it begins today, by refusing to accept corruption. By demanding harsher anti-corruption laws, by seriously thinking about what role mindless consumerism has played in the decaying of our cultural principles, by a number of ways we have yet to discuss.

We have to fight because Botho is dead, and only our actions can bring it back.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-year-old mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites

The ridiculousness of “If the West can do it, why can’t we?”

King Mswati III of Swaziland and his wife arrive at the White House for a group dinner during the US Africa Leaders Summit August 5 2014 in Washington, DC. (Pic: AFP)
King Mswati III of Swaziland and his wife arrive at the White House for a group dinner during the US Africa Leaders Summit August 5 2014 in Washington, DC. (Pic: AFP)

I am absolutely exhausted by the argument that we cannot complain about inefficient and corrupt African leaders because “even Western leaders do it.” The follow-up to this point is usually an indignant “How come when white people do it, it’s OK?”

And by ‘it’ here, the speaker is referring to plunging a population into a well of suffering simply because one can.

A few days ago I happened upon an article on The Root in which the gripes social media users have with Swaziland’s royal family were brought to light. The article was short and simple: a report on a report really.

“Swaziland’s royal family has found itself ensnared in the firm grip of social media users who are determined to expose the lavish lifestyle of “Africa’s last absolute monarch,” while most of the country’s people barely subsist on $1 a day per person, Agence France-Presse reports.”

But the responses to it are what angered me. Of the hundreds of comments that this post attracted, many of them repeated the same idea: if the [insert white royal family] can do it, why can’t we?

I was so overcome with rage, I found myself doing the one thing I promised myself I never would: I left an angry Facebook comment. But that was not the end of it. My rage at the commenters, many of them African American echoing a sentiment often uttered by Africans too when our own leaders are to be held accountable for one act or another, did not go away.

So here I am, finally explaining why “Well, the King of Britain does it” has to be the dumbest counter-argument I have ever heard.

“If they can do it, why can’t we?”

When this question is posed, it is often by a person, I assume, beginning to familiarise themselves with the heady nature of self-pride. The underlying idea here, is that to criticise one’s own leaders is to exempt the West from blame for their own misdoings. It is a noble idea, and of course, very understandable, even to me, a mere child. But it is sorely incorrect.

To say, “If the British family can live far above its subject why can’t the King of Swaziland?” is to say two things:

1. Exploiting one’s own people is something of a competition and God forbid the African be excluded from suckling the sweet fruits of corruption.

2. Comparing the people of Britain to a nation where sixty-percent live under $1 a day like Swaziland, is perfectly logical.

Indeed at some point in the past they suffered under the tyrannical rule of their monarchical lords, but for the most part, in 2014, the people of Britain are not as affected when the Queen takes a private jet to some island as the people of Swaziland are. This is a simple fact.

Plunging your nation into economic turmoil is not some sort of marker of empowerment. And the very idea conjures up images of corrupt African leaders winking at the portraits of former colonial powers, as they continue the age-old tradition of exploiting African people.

It is simply unacceptable. When will we get to the stage where we view our states through our own lenses? When will we remove ourselves from the “at least…” mentality? “At least it’s better than being exploited by whites.” “At least even the Europeans go through this in their own countries.”

Accountability is not a joke. And government is not a playground where we as citizens must continue to watch our leaders play while we tell ourselves that it’s alright because other people do it too. What is this – primary school?

Governance is not something our leaders do as a favour to us. It is an opportunity that we award them.

To say that what the King of Swaziland is doing is acceptable, is to say the suffering of those people (our people) is acceptable.This mentality is bigger than Swaziland, it is bigger than us. To say that corruption is a problem “everyone has” is to say that it and the ludicrous levels it reaches on our continent every day, is acceptable. To ask, “If the West can do it why can’t we?” is to say we are not people worthy of sound, accountable governance.

Why do we not ask “If the West can do it, why can’t we?” of education reform, of health policies, of infrastructure development, of government transparency, of social welfare policies, of economic engagement, of business forums, of infrastructure maintenance, of youth employment, of medical innovation, of technological integration, of political growth, of citizen empowerment, of sports development, of intra-continental trade, of trade policies, of foreign policies, of art evolution, of literary celebration….


This to me, is a symptom of us having bought into the lie our leaders are living. Drunk on new power and political “equality”, some of our leaders want to forget that political reality only means so much in the face of economic fact. They go to the UN and sit in big chairs next to the President of Italy and think just because the fellow can get away with running the economy like a gangster, so can they.

They shake hands with Obama and think to themselves, “Hey, if he can get funded by morally ambiguous corporations, why can’t I?” as if this is a nightclub. Well, news flash: this is not a nightclub. Economic reality is the only reality that matters. If the GDP of your nation cannot fill even one American state, you have absolutely no business trying to live like the US president.

This is just how life is. So we as citizens, cannot, no, MUST NOT allow our leaders to continue living this lie. The first step to that is to respond, the next time someone says “The President of the US does it”, with: “We’re not in the States here, comrade.”

We have to demand more for ourselves, because as long as it’s fashionable to disguise acceptance of corruption as “our right”, nobody will demand it for us.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-yeard old math-major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @siyandawrites

An African president’s Christmas wish list

You see, Africans are an odd bunch. Barack Obama is winning elections using Facebook and next thing every African politician wants to win elections by a landslide using Facebook. My friend and brother Kim Jung-un is putting a rebellious Uncle in his place and next thing AU Summits are full of nervous jokes about the endangered Uncle species. The Egyptians are gathering in Tahrir Square to pull Mubarak down and next thing elements in Nigeria are obsessed with turning every open patch of ground into a revolutionary square. South Sudan manages to earn its independence, next thing every hamlet in Tanzania is raucously debating colour choices for an independence flag.

Copycats – that’s the problem with Africa. We haven’t got minds of our own. We are always copying everything we see, good or bad. Treasonable uprisings, immoral music videos, Western sexual practices – nothing is above being copied by the youth of this continent.

In my country you now have a group who think themselves an African Tea Party. They think that by repeatedly falsely labeling me a Communist they can turn me into one.

Every time I speak of my commitment towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for my country, these disgruntled elements start to snicker. And then cartoons show up on the internet, thinly disguised caricatures of me proclaiming that what I actually meant by MDGs was  Murders, Drugs and Guns.

I let it go, because I am not a tyrant; I am a democratically elected President.

But it really does get to me. Because that is how people start getting ideas to throw a man out of power – it starts with anonymous comments on the blogs and snide cartoons on Facebook. Ask Brother Zuma to tell you how his troubles started, with the shower-head cartoons. Now see how much hate the man has to deal with because of minor renovations to his crumbling homestead.

If I go ahead and invoke state powers and order prosecution on the grounds of libel, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International jump on the case, desperate to justify their generous funding. They call me names. But I let it go, because I am not a tyrant; I am a democratically elected President – and by a landslide too.

My Nigerian brother, the democratically elected Goodluck Jonathan, once cried out that he is the most abused President in the world. Do you know what it must have taken for him to say that out loud? Do you know how painful it is to watch disgruntled elements distort your every word, make fun of you at every turn?

Look at Brother Uhuru in Kenya, also democratically elected, like me, who has to suffer the indignities of being treated like a common war criminal.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (L) and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. (Pic: AFP)
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (L) and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. (Pic: AFP)

If we continue this way, very soon no one is going to want to be an African Head of State. We will have no leadership, no government. And you know what that means. Chaos. Disaster. We will slip back into the dark ages.

I don’t want that to happen. Neither do you.

Therefore my wish is for Africa’s new generation of freedom fighters and activists to realise that the times have changed, and that the weapons that were perfected in the fight against yesterday’s tyrants cannot and must not be deployed against today’s generation of democratic statesmen. I know Brothers Goodluck and Uhuru, we are not Brothers Abacha or Mobutu, and we do not deserve to be treated like those men.

No we don’t. We are men who have an eye on the verdict of history. It has just dawned on me: now that there’s a Madiba-shaped hole in the heart of Africa, I would really like nothing more than to be the man of destiny to fill that space.

I have a lot more in common with Madiba than you’re willing to acknowledge. You look at me and think I’ve been President for X years – failing to understand one simple truth; that I’ve actually been a Prisoner all that time.

What you call the Presidential Palace, I call a Maximum Security Prison – without the hard labour of course, and with a few conjugal visits thrown in (when Her Excellency is not trying to avoid me).

I spend my days and nights holed up in this place, trapped by the endless “security reports” that say the streets are full of mobs of tweeters, snipers and revolutionaries; all rooting for my downfall, thirsting for my blood.

To evade them, I am forced to be a Prisoner.

I need to get out of this prison. Because Africa deserves another Nelson Mandela.

My long walk to freedom has now started. Someday soon, dear friends and comrades, brothers and sisters, I shall be free from these chains of duty and service to a most ungrateful country.

It is my fervent – and final – wish, that, at that time when I am cast out of this stuffy and joyless Prison into the exceedingly fresh air of freedom, my friend and Brother Mo Ibrahim will not have given up on his laudable idea of handsomely rewarding those rare African statesmen who do what needs to be done when the ovation is at its loudest.

Tolu Ogunlesi is a Nigerian journalist and newspaper columnist. He has written for the Financial Times, CNN, the London Independent, Al Jazeera and The Africa Report, amongst others. Between 2009 and 2011 he was features editor at NEXT, a Lagos-based daily newspaper. Follow him on Twitter.