Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

4 August 2012

Africa: From Your Excellencies the Presidents, Heroes to Zeroes

opinion

WHEN Daniel Arap Moi was President of the Republic of Kenya, it was thought to be bordering on sacrilegious to him in any other way other than 'Mtukufu Rais', Your Excellency the President. From Mobutu Sese Seko to the Central African King Bokassa, sub-saharan Africa has had its fair share of presidents who equated themselves to God.

These presidents brooked no opposition and their word was law. There was Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda in Malawi, also known as Ngwazi. Out of the independence presidents, only Mwalimu Julius Nyerere seemed to recognize the presence of a higher being in God and refused to be equated with him, preferring to be referred to as Mheshimiwa Rais (Hon President).

This lot of presidents had something in common, however, that even the revered Mwalimu shared, the naming of all manner of schools, colleges, roads, universities, stadia and even military barracks in their names. It is this love for the self, that explains how we ended up with presidents whose portraits dominated public and private business, public transport and dominated the paper and coin currency .

As sub-Saharan Africa celebrates 50 years of independence, the time has come to debate why we must have portraits of our presidents on currency and why schools, stadia and roads must be named after them. The reality is these naming were merely in the interest of the kleptocracy that surrounded many of these heads of state. They pushed for the naming of the many Kenyatta roads and Kenyatta public beaches in Kenya in addition to schools, a university and stadia.

In making Jomo the only hero in the first 25 years of Kenya and after him, Moi the only hero of the 1980-2000 phase, these buccaneers of government ended up linking these later day villains to all the ills that society went through during those years. Today in Kenya for instance, one drives from Jomo Kenyatta University, through Kenyatta University to Kenyatta Avenue all the way to Moi Avenue before settling to watch a match at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani and flying out from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Prof. Thomas Odhiambo who started the International Centre for Insect Physiology & Entomology (ICIPE) has contributed immensely to scholarly in Kenya and by extension in the region and the world that what the first two Presidents could have contributed. The point I am making is the time has come to demystify political leaders and their contribution to our societies. It is time to write the history of these countries based on research that would give credit where it is due but more precisely, honour heroes in other sectors of society.

These heroes include Shaaban Robert whose contribution to literary writing should be honoured plus many others in the fields of education, arts and culture, music, science, media and business to mention but a few. The rule of the thumbs should also be made to guide the naming after individuals. No matter how much we honour such leaders, we should be clear that we shall only name a school, stadium or a road, 10 years after the said individual leaves office.

This will ensure that kleptomaniacs surrounding a head of state do not push such agenda for their benefit. Similarly it should state that when an airport is named after a leader no other public facility shall bear the same name. All naming shall bear the imprint of national interest when these matters are brought before Parliaments. There should be room for reversal for people like Idi Amin who led his country into blood bath and forced his name on schools and roads.

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