5 June 2017

Africa: If I Was an African President, I Wouldn't Quit Power Either

Photo: AfricaPlus/African Leadership
Some African leaders with 20 years in power, from top left to bottom right: Omar al-Bashir, Sudan; Idress Deby Itno, Chad; Yoweri Museveni, Uganda; King Mswati III, Swaziland; Denis Sassou Nguesso, Republic of the Congo; Paul Biya, Cameroon; Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe; Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Angola; Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasongo, Equatorial Guinea.
opinion

I am writing this article between breaks at an international conference on 'Relearning to be human for global times' organised by Makerere University's department of philosophy in partnership with the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy. It is an interesting coincidence how the conference theme speaks to my musings.

Last week, while driving on Entebbe road, I heard the usual nauseating police sirens sounding from behind me. There was a ditch on the roadside; so, I couldn't get off the road immediately. I had to drive a little farther to avoid falling into the ditch. In a fit of unimaginable madness, a small, racing police car swerved in my direction.

I had to head straight for the ditch, for I realised I was only a cockroach on the road. Isn't this another way of understanding the food chain? Besides, don't the Waswahili tell us that panya akila, arudisha mavi (if a rat eats your food, it returns droppings)?

While in the ditch, a pick-up truck carrying gun-wielding soldiers passed, with the soldiers pointing in caution at everyone whose car seemed to be in motion. One pushed his head towards me shouting, 'nitakuchapa wewe' (I will beat you!). Oh, really? But thank you afande for not caning me. Who am I not to be beaten on top of being pushed into a ditch?

Next time flog me, please, with that stick you were holding. I am supposed to be using a footpath, not mingling with my important leaders and risking their lives.

I am supposed to know that because they are too good to their people; they can easily be assassinated in slow traffic. Yet here I was with my cheap car fidgeting to park properly, contrary to the Traffic and Road Safety Act.

I sat there in the ditch's safety, observing and counting the cars in the mighty convoy before which our own safety on the road doesn't really count. Fortunately, the mind cannot be stopped from travelling.

So, I started imagining what I would do if I was president under such circumstances. Clearly, I would only quit in a casket. Only a fool would calmly hand over that seat in Africa. Don't ask me if Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Julius Nyerere, Mwai Kibaki, etc, were fools. Maybe they just ran out of ideas.

Indeed, Frederick Chiluba was right to question if Kenneth Kaunda was truly Zambian. Why would he voluntarily leave power after only 27 years? When still alive and healthy? What a weak man! No wonder he was known for weeping in public, hence always moving with a handkerchief in his hands. Robert Mugabe is the man, and all others should aspire to that. I have no problem even if he rules until he loses memory of his own existence and starts dozing while bathing.

Look at me in the ditch while someone's toilet also enjoys a right of way. Such is the humiliating dehumanisation of the led that one may get to a point of envying another's waste.

But who wouldn't wish to travel with their loo, all catered for by another? Who wouldn't wish to sit alone in a backseat between a fleet of cars drunk on taxpayer fuel, watching the mortals fall off the road in powerless trembling? I would cross my legs and ask my driver to play Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful world'.

And if it were not for fear of their sinister motives, I would stretch out my head and console them, saying: "I am not your servant", and then respectfully belch.

You seriously would expect me to let go of a life where everything I ever wish for is covered? Medication, shelter, luxury, transport, bills, jobs for my whole clan and in-laws, donations to purchase support and buy off beggars...

You political change agents, tell me: who of you would see no one among the thirty-seven million people with capability to take the country forward, and then hand over? What would a person who loves their country do? I wouldn't allow it to die because of my selfish desire to leave power.

In all honesty, all of you Ugandans, before you shout, should look at yourselves. Who of you has any experience in leading a country? Do you see anyone amongst yourselves with a clue on presidency?

Even in your small organisations/institutions, when you are advertising for jobs, you put some minimum experience as a requirement. Often the minimum is three years, except for the smallest of positions. Now here you have someone with thirty years of experience at a job, and all others have none. What should a wise and patriotic person do?

If I were president, my advice would be simple. Let those who are interested in becoming president go and first gain experience in some smaller countries like Togo, Rwanda and Burundi and then they can come back and meaningfully compete here. But as long as they don't have that experience, I would also be compelled by benevolence to rule them until death do us part.

In any case, even if I was willing to hand over the baton of presidency, and I hear these people threatening to throw me into jail once I am out, which fool would deliver himself to Luzira in the name of promoting peaceful transition? Being up a tree surrounded by fires that would eventually burn down the tree itself does not suggest that one jumps down. African culture prohibits suicide.

At least as president, I would be guaranteed of immunity, no matter my crimes. So, whoever would expect me to get out needs mental examination. Who rides a lion and they disembark? I swear I would die in State House and still be buried at my victims' expense.

The author works with the Centre for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.

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