Most news outlets around the world that I read are preoccupied with two events: Donald Trump’s inauguration and the Gambian political crisis. Both present a fascinating study into the ideas on leadership, democracy and the will of the people.
Trump is about to become the 45th president of the United States, elected through “democratic processes” and, despite many a protest, without any recounts being necessary. Though the voting structures of the US is different, where Hillary received more votes but lost due to the electoral college system, most Americans would still stand behind their electoral institutions and accept the results overall.
The Gambia, however, is a very different case. Having attained power through a coup in 1994, Yahya Jammeh has ruled the country for 22 years, even being quoted as having said he will rule for “a billion years” because he has been tasked with delivering the Gambian people by Allah. With the recent electoral defeat, it seems he will not reach his goal. Instead of working through his grievances and ensuring a smooth government transition, he has declared a state of emergency and also a court challenge of the election results, while parliament extended his presidency by three months. Many Gambians, estimated at 26 000, have already made their way into Senegal in order to avoid any violent conflict that may erupt; even tourists are heading for the hills!
Jammeh’s reign has been a ruthless one and in his attempt to “deliver” the Gambian people, he has oppressed them.
I can’t help but think of those leaders gave their lives for the liberation of their nations and empowerment of their people. These leaders lived for a vision that was beyond them, in service of their people and not themselves. In many of their speeches we hear echoes of the desire to see Africa unite and thrive, independent from the control and manipulation of Western nations, which ended up being the main cause for many of them being killed or ousted.
Kwame Nkrumah once said “Our (Ghana) independence is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa” – yet in 1966, he was overthrown through a military coup, with the suspected involvement of the CIA. With his removal, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were brought back into the country to “help” in the management of the economy”
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, leader of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in South Africa said: “We regard it as a sacred duty of every African state to strive ceaselessly and energetically for the creation of a United States of Africa from Cape to Cairo and Madagascar to Morocco”.
He was subsequently arrested and sent to Robben Island, completely isolated from other prisoners. His influence was so feared by the Apartheid government that they instituted what they called the “Sobukwe Clause”, which gave the then minister of Justice the sole discretion of renewing his prison term annually; instead of serving three years, Sobukwe spent six in prison. Upon his release, he was placed under house arrest until his death. No other political leader ever had such a clause.
Patrice Lumumba was one of the great leaders on the continent, with strong opinions regarding colonialism:
“The colonialists care nothing for Africa for her own sake. They are attracted by African riches and their actions are guided by the desire to preserve their interests in Africa against the wishes of the African people. For the colonialists all means are good if they help them to possess these riches”
Lumumba was arrested after a coup, again with assistance from the CIA and Belgium as well as the British, and on the 17th January 1961 was executed.
Samora Machel, the first president of Mozambique, was killed in a plane crash which was blamed on the South African Apartheid government. Agents of the government are said to have secretly installed a beacon which misdirected the plane and gave false readings, which ensured its crash. Machel once said the following on the west:
“But our friends in the west say that if we go about well dressed, if we shave, if we have decent housing, we shall lose our ‘African characteristics’. Do you know what ‘African characteristics’ are? A skin, a loincloth, a wrap-around cloth, a stick in hand behind a flock, to be skinny with every rib sticking out, sores on the feet and legs, with a cashew leaf to cover the suppurating wound – that is African. That’s what they see as African characteristics. So when the tourists come, they are looking for an African dressed like that, since that is the ‘genuine African’. Now when they find us dressed in a tunic and trousers – we are no longer the Africans. They don’t take photographs. They need Africa to have no industry, so that it will continue to provide raw materials. Not to have a steel industry. Since this would be a luxury for the African. They need Africa not to have dams, bridges, textile mills for clothing. A factory for shoes? No, the African doesn’t deserve it. No, that’s not for the Africans”
Thomas Sankara was president of Burkina Faso who enacted policies centered on antiimperialism. His policies were advanced in their nature for their time and he looked to empower his people more than he aimed to please western countries, as well as local leaders who thrived on corrupt activities. He was overthrown and killed in a coup, led by a former top associate named Blaise Compaoré who was in league with the French and Ivory Coast.
His thoughts on imperialism included the following:
“Imperialism is a system of exploitation that occurs not only in the brutal form of those who come with guns to conquer territory. Imperialism often occurs in more subtle forms, a loan, food aid, blackmail. We are fighting a system that allows a handful of men on earth to rule all of humanity.
Under its current form, that is imperialism-controlled, debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say, a true slave…”
The voices of these leaders are no longer with us and the lessons from their sacrifices have not been headed by some African leaders; the desire to hold on to power has proven too strong to overcome. Instead of service the many people of this continent, the political contest is simply about who can be in power the most. Even in so called ‘democratic’ African nations, the plan is not to do what best for the nation, but what is best for the political party.
We still have time. We must heed the voices of our past leaders and change the destiny of our continent. Men like Yahya Jammeh and Robert Mugabe are willing to plunge their countries in chaos for the sake of holding on to power, as if they are immortal. The concern we must have is what will happen when these individuals leave office because if the continent does not take a stand on such situations, the consequences for the next generation will be dire. We cannot have the legacy that this continent has and underplay our strength; when our time to leave this earth comes, we must have advanced the ideals of those who went before us.
As Sobukwe said – “We meet here today, to rededicate ourselves to the cause of Afrika, to establish contact beyond the grave, with the great African heroes and assure them that their struggle was not in vain”