This week the African leaders are meeting in Cairo. The group meeting is a mixture of democrats, dictators, thieves and murderers. Be assured there will be no police officers to arrest any of them for their crimes.
But of course the “new” kid on the block will be Robert Mugabe – inaugurated with such indecent haste after an equally indecent “election”. Only in Africa.
As our tinpot dictators meet in Cairo it is a very confusing Africa at this moment. We have just come out of the era of the Big Man in politics and seem to be headed in the direction of ritualised democracy (regular elections, some free media, an incorruptible judge here and there) elsewhere. But we seem to be a continent that has arrived at the bus stop just as the democracy and development coach was pulling off. Do we do a dash for the bus and wave to the driver to stop for us? Will she see us? Will the passengers holler at the driver to step on the brakes and let us in? Africa always seems to veer from hope to despair but the periods of hope are never long. When Kwame Nkrumah blazed on the scene with his “Seek ye the political kingdom first”, I can imagine the excitement of his generation. The energy reverberated across the seas to the civil rights movement in the United States. Every birth represents a possibility. The possibility of something new and incredible. And so the birth our post-colonial nations painful as they were represented a terrible beauty. Beauty born out of the ugliness of anti-colonial wars. But soon the dream became a nightmare. Across
the continent the Nation Fathers started behaving like that wayward uncle that was prone to abuse nieces and nephews.
Like founding company directors, the Fathers thought they owned 100% of this entity called the country and all citizens were workers. But at times they treated that entity like a plantation. And they started also to behave badly. Like the Enron executives they dipped their fingers in the till and inflated figures on the GNH (Gross National Happiness) of their people. So Mobutu Sese Seko, of the then Zaire, could brazenly reject charges of running a kleptocracy with “I only have 43 million dollars and what is that for a president?” The young one of a snake is snake. So we get to learn how to share the national cake. If the president says he needs 2 million dollars for his trip to Geneva, the Finance Minister tells the Reserve Bank Governor the president needs 4 million and by the time the instruction gets to the senior clerk the figure is
a nice round 15 million. You eat, I eat.
Then a new wave sweeps across the Motherland – one-party states are pushed off the catwalk. The evil empire crumbles under the glare of glasnost and perestroika (sounds like wine and vodka). Democracy seems to be mushrooming across Africa – the founding fathers and their parties are swept away by a new tide. Hope rises. But same old faces reappear in the cabinets. In other places wars break out. Coriolanus, Shakespeare’s eponymous hero, would have been proud of the way we swat each other like flies. In the midst of the darkness behold the miracle of an old man stepping into the light after 27 years. He speaks peace, love and forgiveness. He could walk on water if he wanted to. We rush to Italy to borrow Florentine terms like “renaissance”. Aah to behold the rebirth of ourselves. To defy Nicodemus and actually be born again. The ecstasy. The conferences. The institutes. The crap on radio talkshows. Before you can say “Du Bois”, renaissance has become a tattered dress barely covering the essentials. A decade into the new millennium the Renaissance Man reluctantly saddles his horse, puffs at his pipe and takes a swig at his whisky flask and heads into the obscurity of history. What hope now lies in the rainbow nation? This is the recurring nightmare of Africa. “Not waving but drowning”, as poet Stevie Smith wrote in a very different context.
How the African Union deals with Zimbabwe will determine how fast we get to a truly free and democratic Zimbabwe. I remain hopeful that the bus will return and pick us up. At times all you can do is hope.
Note: The photos below do not have captions. You know the Zimbabwe story very well. These pictures capture the tragic charade that our country is going through.
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