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African Leaders Importing 'Bushism'
By Tajudeen Abdul
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It is a new year but excuse me if I do not begin with the customary seasonal platitude. Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi, playing the role of a Bush clone in Africa presented us with a Christmas present of bombs in Mogadishu. Like Israel in Lebanon, he claimed to be supporting the 'legitimate' government by offloading bombs on the Airport! For a country that cannot feed its own people, Ethiopia seems to be overfeeding its defence (or is it offensive?) establishment.
In the Middle East, while Muslims were preparing for Eid, American cretins, otherwise called Iraqi government, presented Saddam's head to their Patron-Saint in Washington on Eid Day. Ironically, the Eid El
Kabir was institutionalized as Ram slaughter in place of human slaughter but Bagdad and Washington reverted back to the barbaric practice. How many of us can say ‘Happy New Year’ in these circumstances?
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia is one of the most intellectually engaging leaders on the African continent today. He is one of the small groups of younger and supposedly dynamic leaders that burst on to the political scene in the 1990s for whom President Yoweri Museveni (who had come to power earlier) became a titular head. They were generally referred to as 'New generation of African Leaders'. I was, along with many colleagues in and out of the Pan African Movement, a great proponent for these leaders.
They represented a fresh approach to leadership and seemed to be clear ideologically and politically. They spoke with confidence and inspired many Africans and friends of Africa that indeed 'African Solution to
African problems' was indeed a reality.
But did we celebrate too early? Were our hopes and enthusiasm misplaced? By the mid 1990s many of these leaders began to show personal, political
I am not one of these perpetual pessimists who always seem to see unending bad news that imprison the present and moor us permanently to our inglorious and the more unsavoury parts of our history. A lot of
positive changes did take place and are still taking place in many countries. And we did learn to dream again but more importantly renewed our hopes.
We can explain what has happened to such leaders as Museveni, Meles, Kabila and Kagame, and what they may have become, without forcing the parallels that they are not different from past dictators. Such blanket
criticism negates many of the positive things that have happened and continue to happen, albeit, unevenly across the continent.Like other enthusiasts, I am still asking why and what happened to some leaders
whom I got to know fairly well.
I would like to share 10 reasons why the 'New Leaders' seem to have extinguished or are extinguishing the hopes they had inspired. It may not wholly apply to all of them, but the pattern is generic.
One, they come as liberators but the longer they stay in power, the more they become oppressors, intolerant of dissension or even discussions within their own political and military formations, among original leaders and in the wider society. Check in all these countries where the original leadership has remained intact even five to ten years after assumption of office.
Two, the vanguard of the masses slowly becomes the vanguard of the ruling party / clique and soon degenerates into a vanguard of the leader. Take the example of Eritrea's Issias Afwerki, who has managed to
turn a country we all thought was going to be a shining example of a 'future that works' into a large garrison. They wrote a beautiful constitution that was 'people-driven' but became 'Leader jammed' and
Three, they usually come in with big dreams and enormous commitment to the masses but the paraphernalia of power, glitz, pomp and pageantry and all the trappings begin to take over. The ascetic ones amongst them
begin to enjoy the good life and could not have enough of it. Add to that the institutionalized culture of sycophancy; jungle fatigues soon give way to the best of Savoy row suits, Gucci shoes and Rolex watches.
The comrade has now 'arrived' and will not be in a hurry to vacate state house which he once detested. Some of them made a point of not occupying huge palaces vacated by their predecessors but soon moved into them or built even more imposing ones 'on national security ground.'
Four, a ruling group that had been held together for many years (from rebel groupings till they capture power) by shared ideology and perspectives becomes more and more built around the personality of the leader, his family, in-laws, freelance opportunists and other cronies recruited for 'loyalty' rather than commitment to the country or people.
Five, the interest of the party, the government and the people becomes indistinguishable from the whims and caprices of the Leader. To oppose him is to oppose the people. Six, the progressive changes they have
brought about in the country become 'gifts' from a benevolent leader to his hapless citizens. Again, here we should not throw away the baby with the birth water. Generally, these leaders did turn around the economy
and political arrangements in their countries. Things did improve even if in most of the cases, they were growth without development anchored on neo liberal policies beloved and imposed by the IMF/World Bank.
Seven, the one failing that many people, especially their former comrades find unpardonable in these leaders, are their ideological
Eight, these former revolutionaries who espoused Pan Africanism before resigned themselves to ’better managing' the neocolonial state and soon became engrossed in competition rather than cooperation with their
former comrades. Instead of more Pan Africanism, they engaged in less as they reduced relationship with other states to one of bilateral economic and political arrangements. The consequence of this is a tragedy like
the DRC where we built a Pan Africanist alliance to get rid of Mobutu but could not sustain it after victory because every state wanted to have a pliant regime in Kinshasa instead of a Pan Africanist regime in the interests of the people of DRC and those of the region. Liberators become looters and occupiers.
I have saved the last two reasons deliberately to the end because they help explain the folly of Meles in Somalia. This is the twin evil of these leaders becoming both victims of their militaristic means of getting and retaining power and wallowing in external validation by the same Western powers that not too long ago were praising our dictators as 'moderate'.
Most of these leaders do not know how to negotiate with their AK47s corked. They are used to conquering. When they profess democratic reforms, they are tactical rather than strategic. They expect their people to be forever grateful and to accept incremental changes as decried by the leader. The only institution they trust is the armed forces. That's why Ethiopia could fight Eritrea and Uganda and Rwanda
My last reason and probably more decisive is the flattery and endorsement by the West. It makes these leaders to feel that they are doing their people a favor. But more than that, it gives them illusions of becoming global players and they instinctively ally themselves behind geo-political and economic strategic interests of the West.
Meles' Ethiopia is the current worst practice of this. I don’t think that Meles is just doing what Washington wants. What he has done is to not only use Bush's doctrine to affirm his alliance, but also justify his narrow national and sub regional security concerns. By invading and occupying Somalia, Ethiopia even has the legitimacy of the IGAD and AU backed process that led to the formation of the FTG. But as intelligent
as he is, why can he not learn from his Washington friends whether in Afghanistan or Iraq that it is easier to occupy a country than govern it in peace?
Are they not talking to Rwanda and Uganda about their experience in the DRC? Why does Meles think that Somalia will forever remain weak militarily? If a country with almost 100 % Muslims wants to be governed
Islamically, how undemocratic is this? Does Meles not realize that the TFG will remain what we call in Hausa /gwanatin jeka na nyika/ ( puppet regime)? Sooner than later, its allies will turn against it the way
Kabila senior turned on his Kigali and Kampala allies.
It was Prime Minister Meles who famously insinuated that African leaders may be having psychiatric problems because 'they repeat the same things but expect different outcomes'. Since he was a medical student before
leaving for the Bush, it is perhaps about time he turned his diagnosis to himself.
Raheem of Justice Africa Nigeria
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