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.
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.