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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Africans, you are your own worst enemies


Sentletse Diakanyo

By Sentletse Diakanyo

Since the end of slavery and the period during the fight by Africans for independence from colonial rule, Africans had been imbued by a renewed sense of consciousness of their being and blackness. The struggle for liberation from the shackles of colonialism was primarily premised on the innate struggle for psychological emancipation from mental slavery, acknowledging among us that there’s no humanity before that which starts with ourselves. We saw ourselves immunised against evil doctrines that suited the conveniences of our former colonial masters; confident that we were in full control of our destiny. It appears we may have possessed to some extent an inflated opinion about ourselves as accounts of history remain less flattering than we had hoped to write and portray.

The Economist in 2000 ran an editorial on Africa titled “The Hopeless Continent”. It took a cynical and mostly patronising view of the continent. Like every African, who sees the boundless potential of the continent, I was deeply perturbed by what I viewed as the deliberate stereotyping of Africans and an ingrained Afro-pessimism by those progenitors of vicious violence and prejudice — those who ravaged Africa and justified their atrocities by depicting Africans as sub-human.

But for much too long Africans have displaced their own responsibility and accountability for the miserable circumstances the continent finds itself in onto others. To this day African leaders at our endorsement are active participants in the systematic thuggery that continues to pillage the richness of our natural resources, compromising the aims for social betterment and economic freedom of our people. The scourge of corruption across the continent is stalling progress towards prosperity. After all endeavours for the renewal of Africa, the continent still remains a scar on the conscience of the world.

Not many scores of years ago Africa was portrayed as a continent of wild beasts and savage people. New York Herald reporter Henry Morton Stanley regaled his readers with unflattering accounts of Africans during his escapades across the continent. They were documented in his books Through the Dark Continent (1879) and In Darkest Africa (1890). Winston Churchill also in his account of the campaign in the Sudan and the Battle of Omdurman, in The River War (1899) said of Africans as displaying the virtues of barbarism; that “the smallness of their intelligence excused the degradation of their habits; [that] their ignorance secured their innocence”.

The opinion held by the West on Africans is not far removed from that which was espoused by this revered son of the British. We may wish to ascribe the permanence of such views to the entrenched and false notion of racial superiority but the truth remains that as Africans we continue to undo the greater good achieved by illustrious African leaders who left for us their footprints in the sand of time for us to follow. The struggles and self-sacrifice of Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela and many others have gone in vain. As Africans we remain resolute in our determination to reverse with remorseless regularity the gains achieved through years of hard toil and blood lost.

African governments subscribe themselves to noble principles of good and clean governance but their commitment can be found wanting. South Africa in particular has led the charge in spreading the gospel of anti-corruption across the continent and has remained the evangelist of such gospel with the African Union and SADC. Yet, in deed, our beloved country cannot be passed as exemplary, especially not with the current leadership to be ushered into power by the multitudes of desperate and poor South Africans. The ANC government has since 1994 committed itself to combating and preventing corruption in the public service. Certainly appropriate frameworks had been adopted but compliance remains unsatisfactory. The ruling party fails consistently to match its commendable gospel with its own deeds. Our perception of levels of corruption and seriousness in combating and preventing corruption are informed by the quality of those elevated to lead the charge of good and clean governance.

How then does the government win the confidence of the general public that its “three pronged approach” — prevention, public education and investigation/prosecution — remains an effective practice in the area of anti-corruption when the candidate for the presidency is alleged to have committed serious counts of corruption? When the ruling party disbands effective organs such as the Directorate of Special Operations, which was established to combat and prevent corruption? When the ruling party openly appoints convicted crooks and self-confessed crooks to prominent leadership positions? How do we as Africans, as South Africans, say we are committed to improving the image of the country and the continent when we support crooks and reward them with re-election? If we are to proceed on such path of self-destruction, we may never take our rightful place among the community of nations as a respected and equal partner.

Speaking at the National War College in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2003, Thabo Mbeki said: “Those that only see hopelessness on our continent do so because of the sort of things that we referred to earlier: a succession of military coups, wars and violent confrontations, the massacres of people and genocide such as the one that took place in Rwanda, the denial of human rights and the abuse of political power for corrupt purposes … As Africans we need to share a common recognition that all of us stand to lose if we fail to transform our continent into a more caring, humane and renewed entity.”

We are our own worst enemies. The scourge of crime in the country has escalated to intolerable proportions because communities harbour and sympathise with criminals, because the poor have allowed themselves to be seduced by the lure of social grants by corrupt and crooked politicians.
How do we restore the respectable virtues of noble propriety, grace and morality? It requires no more than that common and ordinary degree of sensibility and self-command as well as vigilance against men of improper constitution and tainted integrity that wish to be commanders of our destiny.

The smoothness of the road to respectable virtues and prosperity depends on our willingness and commitment to be the architects of change that we seek for ourselves. Africans, you’re on your own!