A long time ago, I wrote in this very space, a saying I picked from an old Malian: "L'homme on le tue; on l'humilie pas," which can translate into "A man, you can kill, you don't humiliate him."
I don't remember whence it came among the West African languages -- Bambara, Malinke or Susu -- but I regard it as an article of faith along the lines of "better dead on your feet than alive on your knees" that so many men and women of courage have upheld when faced with seemingly insurmountable adversity, including near certain death.
That is why I found the optics of Alpha Conde (who is Malinke) humiliating in the extreme when he was shown on world televisions looking so distraught, unkempt, unshod, bedraggled and clearly clueless, surrounded by his protectors turned his jailers. In the line of thought of the Malian adage, shouldn't the soldiers better have put a bullet through his head?
Tellingly, the soldiers are heard asking their former "commander in chief" if he has been mistreated in any way, to which he answers in the negative, which, for the soldier boys who have kidnapped their former chief, is a mark of leniency.
Conde is something of a contradictory figure. Having worked for four decades for democracy and good governance in his country (he himself having suffered under other dictatorships), he became increasingly dictatorial himself, refused any dialogue with those who disagreed with him and imprisoned, tortured and killed tens of Guineans. You wouldn't think he was the same don who taught democracy and human rights at La Sorbonne in Paris.
But for me, he is a typical African politician, one who cries himself hoarse in defence of democracy when out of power but who changes tack immediately he takes over power, and imprisons those he used to spend time in prison with.
There is very little that is real in African politicians and their politics. The aim for them is to take over power by wresting the levers of government from the person or persons wielding them, but once in power, do exactly what they were opposed to.
A very true story: I once asked a minister who was opposing a demand by civil society that she had pushed when she had been in civil society, and her answer was so disarmingly honest I had nothing to say: "Then I was in civil society, but now I am in government". Simple.
That is to say, they believe in nothing, and they will say whatever they have to say that justifies their positions today, whatever they claimed to espouse yesterday.
That is what the African Union (AU) has to deal with at a strategic level.
It is all very well for it and the West African economic bloc, Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), to threaten Guinea with sanctions. It is a scarecrow that scares no crow today. Also, it is a nonsense
When Conde was imprisoning, torturing and killing his people the AU kept silence, all the time feting him and treating him as some hallowed sage. That takes away from the AU any moral authority to give any lessons as to how the Guineans should deal with their expired despots.
The people of this country have long suffered under dictatorship unbeknownst to other Africans. I incline to believe that like in so many unfortunate African countries, dictatorial rule is in our DNA such that it is proving hard to get rid of.
In 1958, when Ahmed Seku Ture, the fire-eating leader of the nationalist movement, said those famous words, --better die standing than live kneeling--the whole continent shook with enthusiasm.
Soon it became too clear that Ture was just another power-drunk demagogue, more interested in hearing the beautiful praise songs of Sory Kandia and les Ballets Africains than in the economic wellbeing of his people, who were starving in one of the most fertile and best watered lands of the continent.
Still, Seku Ture'e people did not know how to get rid of this ogre who had imprisoned and tortured, driven into exile or killed, many of his former colleagues until he died in Morocco and his army saw the opportunity to overthrow him. Dead!
Such is the terror that African rulers have visited on their people that the oppressed masses have had to depend on the Grim Reaper to take their rulers away before the people could overthrow the government.
In that instance, death is not necessarily and instrument of democratic governance -- those who take over could be even worse -- but at least it gives a chance for change.
Conde has not been killed, and let's hope his former retained killers will not have him drink from that chalice.
They should rather let him live, to allow him the space to rue his errors and maybe beg forgiveness of the people of Guinea who have long suffered from the acts of the likes of him, all the way from Seku Ture in 1958.
As for the AU and Ecowas, let well alone. Having failed the people of Guinea when Conde rode roughshod over them, these organs should hang their heads in shame rather than try to play absent-minded arbiters.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv.