columnBy Timawus Mathias
What got me thinking of the worsening sad commentary of African Leadership was the sight of Charles Taylor, former Liberian warlord being sentenced last week at The Hague for his misadventure with power.
He had directly or indirectly caused the gruesome inhumanity witnessed in Sierra Leone during the 1991 - 2002 civil war! The judge quipped while delivering the sentence that "while Charles Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there!"
Throughout the damning judgement delivered as deliberately as if it was God's Judgement day, Charles Taylor's face did not betray his emotions. I could only imagine his reflective thoughts - how on earth that all this happened under his watch, which was assumed with the noblest of intentions!
Soon on the heels of the Taylor sentencing to 50 years, which for a man his age amounts to life incarceration, a court in Cairo sentenced Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak, to life imprisonment for complicity in the killing of demonstrators during last year's uprising. Over 850 protesters were killed by security forces and hence the current upheaval in Egypt where the people had desired a death sentence.
Earlier in February, we had witnessed in Senegal how the President over 80 year old Abdullahi Wade nearly plunged the country into a civil war in order to contest an unconstitutional third term and was strongly ousted by a politically enlightened people, surrendering to his clear thrashing at the polls by his one-time protégé Macky Sall.
Not to forget quickly the bizarre case of President Laurent Gbagbo, 65, in Ivory Coast, who refused to step down and hand over to the clear winner of the Presidential election, Alassane Ouattara, preferring instead a civil war in which many vulnerable Ivoirians died. Of course the whole world witnessed the flushing out of Laurent Gbagbo from a bunker and his capture out at sleeves like a disgraced common thief, when the Republican Forces laid siege on the Presidential Palace and raided it to capture the former Head of State.
In one year we have seen the disastrous ousting of leaders, Tunisia, where Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak resigned forcibly and is now in a local jail for a life sentence, and demonstrations on the streets of Cairo by Egyptians who want a tooth for a tooth. We also had Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed on live cell phone video! In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to transfer power to Mansur al-Hadi amidst violence with high fatality of citizens, as well as Algeria, and more recently, Mali, where President Amadou Toumani Toure resigned to coupists, leaving a trail of deplorable uncertainty for the African country.
I may have by now gotten you thinking and wondering what on earth has happened to African leadership. Why has democracy suffered such affliction on the continent? And in particular, our country Nigeria, why are we so highly blessed and yet so poorly endowed in visionary leadership?
African leaders have generally taken off on a high note, whether as a replacement of the colonialists or as coupists who have toppled regimes on the continent. The first noticeable defect is a lack of capacity to appreciate and articulate the condition of state, and much less, draw up a road map for meeting aspirations.
At the risk of blatant generalisation, African leaders seek office as patriots but soon upon assuming the mantle of leadership, cocoon themselves in ethnic cabals, abhorring technocrats, and not minding competence. And even when they succeed in recruiting technocrats to serve in their regimes, they all including the most idealistic of them balk under the weight and pressure of corruption and in their smear, join the powers to lord it over the people, in compromise of all the ideals for which they were known.
Of course, they sooner than later fail to deliver and as a scholar captured it, "African leadership could not retain let alone increase, the little that it inherited. In fact corrupt leadership destroys all - the inherited infrastructure - (roads, bridges, schools, universities, hospitals, telephone and communication services, and even the civil service machinery) are now in shambles". This is our tragedy. At the price of good leadership, we retrogress in the name of growth, and become just numb to the suffering of the common poor, even to the extent of instigating communal feuds that divert attention from the failure and shortcomings of leadership.
Africa's leadership, almost across the board, has proved incapable of responding to the laid down constitutional provisions that are sworn to in order to assume public office, choosing instead to subvert the process in order to forcibly retain power. Internal democracy and due process is thrown to the wind in a vicious effort to obliterate contention and opposition. The party machinery is undermined by a refusal to allow role definition other than support of status quo, and the vital institutions of the Legislature, the Judiciary, the Security and the Media are all subverted using corrupt appliances to submit to the hegemony of democratic terror. It is so evident on the continent that transition from one regime to another through a democratic process has become impossible, whereas a won second term in a stipulated tenure is almost always without credibility. Thus a second tenure is painful and unbearable to a stifled and suffocating opposition.
Worse still, they establish hegemony against all the norms and to cap it, attempt to also establish a dynasty. Imagine that Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt for over 40 years just as did Muammar Gaddafi and were both resistant to obvious and clearly necessary change until it became violent and deadly. What caused the brigandage in Liberia leading up to Charles Taylor being jailed for the despicable footprint he left in Sierra Leone without ever setting foot in that country?
The shame of democracy on the continent is the fact that emerging African leaders are well versed in Western learning, and have glaring spectacles of exemplary leaders on the globe to emulate, yet they leave behind such shameful record of leadership without vision or mission. To think that for years running now, no African head of state has qualified for the continent's highest leadership prize - the Mo Ibrahim African Prize for Leadership.
Now we are at a loss of what to do especially in Nigeria, where the operation of federalism has given some governors the wherewithal to run their states like personal goldmines. Accountability and due process are thrown to the dogs. Painful is when we see a flash in the pan, where a few of the Governors do get it right, and within the Federalism, deliver sound dividends and establish successful democratic entities. Indeed, some have got it right whereas for others, the story is simply that of pillage and inconsistency with internal contention completely beaten to pulp.
Makes you wonder who to blame. In the past, monarchies were vilified and condemned for misrule and inhumanity and the royalty was derailed and stripped of power to free the common folk popularly referred to in the North of Nigeria as talakawa. Today, it is the descendants of commoners the talakawa that are Governors, Legislators, Judges, Military and Security chiefs et al, yet, the common man, the talaka, has found no succour and is living a life of bearing the brunt of inept and uncaring leadership. Who is to blame, is what I now wonder.
ET TU, FAROUK LAWAN!
I was willing to stand with Hon. Farouk Lawan up to the end. But time has been chiselling at the seemingly astute legislator. Now both of us bite the dust and sink in it. When it clears, I might be able to say if democracy's death knell has not been driven in too deep by whoever masterminded the $600,000 bribe gambit. Now I say part of the Lord's Prayer more fervently - "Lead us not unto temptation, and deliver us from evil".