MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 11 – (Africa, Unite)

At independence, South Sudan’s problems were and are daunting – but no more daunting and unique than the situation in the majority of African nations at their independence also, five decades earlier. Thus, everything happening in South Sudan today – South Sudan and the African Union (AU) should have seen this coming. That an organisation which has spent decades operating as a rebel group is going to have difficulty transforming itself overnight into a legitimate, democratic, parliamentary government is self-explanatory and has antecedents in Africa and the world. That a poverty-and-famine-stricken, largely peasant, oil-rich, infrastructurally poor, multi-ethnic nation, newly sovereign, without the familiar ancient common foe to unite against, is going to need the selfless Service of a revolutionary Leadership that makes the people understand that division, egocentricity and disintegration are the new common foes which they have to unitedly defeat now, is a lesson history has taught us. Not the familiar endless paper-rounds of ceasefire agreements will bring salvation to this new State now, and salvage and build upon whatever is left of the momentum of independence, but the self-sacrificial and deeply clear will of a Leadership that sounds the bell of reconciliation and genuine participatory upbuilding across the length and breadth of the land, in every South-Sudanese soul. Now more than ever, South Sudan needs leaders who think and act like Nelson Mandela.

No-one can tell if in the near or distant future, new African states will or will not break out of the existing, arbitrarily created, states of tension left behind by colonialism and in turn become “independent”, or whether a deeper calm will gradually set in within these countries of myriad states as they meld into functional united nation-states – but in the unpredictable nature of human history, who can tell? Yet one thing is for sure: no matter what happens, each state of tension will either bend to the gentle force of “Mandela-like” minds within its polity that push towards painful and tedious reconciliation, unity and harmony, or it will disintegrate sooner or later into internal chaos, like the majority of “independent” African nation-states all did, and like South Sudan is also now going through. There are those that will tell you that chaos is the necessary precursor to order; but six decades of African independence would also suggest that chaos, unchecked and unpacified, simply continues to beget even greater chaos.

The African continent is a kaleidoscope, a jigsaw puzzle, of hundreds of tribes and ethnic groups. If the continent does not intend to end up ridiculously splintered into innumerable mostly micro-mini single-tribe pseudo-nations, at odds with one another, weak, open to rape, exploitation and so-called “intervention”, then our countries and nations are bound perforce to remain multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ideological. There is nothing we can do about it – this is the state in which we crossed path with the modern world. Of all continents, Africa above all is damned to unite or perish. Africans have no choice but to learn how to live in unity if they do not want to self-destruct and be eventually gradually re-colonised, steps towards which are already being actively, if surreptitiously, undertaken – economically, militarily, politically. Re-colonised by all those loving donor nations, East and West, who like to break bread into crumbs and miraculously shower us with fish, but never really teach us how to fish. Because, I guess, why should someone else teach you how to fish? –

But, watch fisherfolk when they go out to sea: to be successful, they do it in unison, in unity.

Christian or Moslem or Animist or whatever other faiths we differently follow, whatever our different tribes, our different tongues or our different races, our orientations, our ideologies, or our classes… the song is simple:

Africa, unite.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing it on)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 10 – (Jasmin Revolution and repeated mistakes)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 10 – (Jasmine Revolution and repeated mistakes)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Some say that Mandela, by doing the right and revolutionary thing in South Africa, has placed upon that country’s shoulders the heaviest burden ever borne by an African nation, certainly the most historically unusual. The burden of responsibility. To preserve, protect and build upon… PEACE. Today’s South Africa has no antecedents in Africa, no African sister States to learn from. Instead, the others will study and learn from the curves, triumphs or failures and vicissitudes of South Africa’s socio-political path, post-Mandela. Whatever challenges modern South Africans still have to master in the generations going forward – just like every country has challenges to master – they started out under the guidance of a visionary leadership that not only set the political framework, but also socially and morally set the tone for a continued sustainable upbuilding. In their new beginning was the pronounced will to forge a more just and perfect union, a reconciled nation-soul, one in which the blessings of liberty are secured. The value of such a beginning cannot be over-emphasized. Every and any diversion that may ever occur in the future has a corrective reference point, like a compass needle, to which it can return. Mandela gave to South Africa, and to Africa as a whole, a special gift. He took a chance on peace, reconciliation and absolute democracy. Of modern Africa’s foundational leaders, Nelson Mandela – whose country obtained freedom last – was the one who took the leap of faith. The last became the first.

True, it is not an easy example to follow, Mandela’s. Infact it has few precedents in known human history, not just in Africa. On such a large national scale, to checkmate a slide into civil strife and bring about the mutual pacification and unification of bitterly warring nation-subgroups, guiding them into a voluntary fusion of patriots, the large majority of whom want to make the nation project work – and he achieved this feat purely by the force of pragmatic forgiveness and well-defined reconciliation, aided by the iron power of persuasion, diplomacy and tact, full of farsightedness and a sense of history. TO crown it all, he secured it by serving one term in office and then stepping down. In the twenty-seven years he spent in prison, he had watched with frustration as one African nation-state after another squandered the momentum of independence and liberation, and failed to start the rotating engine of democracy, or build the institutions that lay the foundation for patriotic, enthusiastic, inter-united upbuilding. Instead they degenerated into national fratricide, due to the inability of even the most well-meaning and most intelligent leaders of politics, leaders of military and leaders of thought and of faith, to forsake vengeance for reconciliation; unilateralism for universal inclusion; suppression and oppression for liberty of rights and free will; arbitrariness for the rule of law; rigid ideology for a flexible approach to a real and changing world; personal power for nation-wide empowerment; personal wealth for national enrichment; past grouses for present peace and future progress; selfish desires for national interests; and demagoguery for democracy. Economic projects without political emancipation is the same as building on shaky ground. You need politics to protect the economy. As true as it is that economic troubles can destabilise a country, so is it also true and all the more important to have stable politics in place to safeguard country and economy. Whether the economy is flourishing or is fragile and floundering, you need stable sustainable politics to protect it. Stable sustainable politics, however, goes deeper then even a constitution. It is a moral contract that a society has with itself. Yes, ‘tis true indeed: peace is harder than war. And Mandela learned from history. Not only did he politically reconcile black and white in South Africa; but, even more impressively within the African context, he pacified native Black groups, convincing adversarial African tribes that there was more gain in cooperation than in conflict, and the path to peace does not always have to pass through the flaming gates of war. Why don’t others learn from that?

Today, in modern North Africa, five years after popular revolutions via which their peoples maneuvered their countries into position for a new beginning, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have been unable to manage the momentum that began with the so-called Jasmine revolution. In Egypt, the newly democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood President, with the backing of his supporters, immediately set about repeating all the historical errors of the past, ostracising and repressing different parties, groups and ideologies, disempowering the judiciary and trying to strong-arm a new constitution into place, thus triggering furious and vicious waves of resistance. The nation, in the middle of a sensitive, tentative search for unity, was immediately and bitterly divided again, and then army General el-Sisi pushed aside Mursi, setting a new sequence of events into motion, the end-result of which no-one can yet say, and North Africa too is still troubled. All of this on the same continent that had recently produced a Nelson Mandela, a beacon of light, and a shinning example to all on how to turn years of persecution into the moral authority to reconcile a nation within, and with, its many selves.

Be it religion, be it ethnicity, be it race, be it class, be it ideology, be it orientation, or one thing or the other… there has always been something to divide Africans. And there have been pitifully few strong spirits with the courage, voice, moral and political authority to empower a reconciliation of the peoples.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 11/11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 11 – (Africa, Unite)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing it on)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing It On)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

History is the teacher of the wise. The irony of the squandered momentum of African independence is that many of our first generation independence leaders, like Nyerere, like Nasser, like Nkrumah, like Selasie, Senghor, Houphouët-Boigny, Kenyatta and the list gets longer, were unquestionably deep-thinking, patriotic, well-meaning, ideologically clear, passionately driven and courageous personalities and leaders, conscious of their calling and fired by a sense of mission. Their gravest mistake, however, was the one that Nelson Mandela was determined not to make. They disobeyed a law best expressed by a very simple African proverb: A tree does not make a forest. No matter how deep, great, and whatever other superlative you are, you alone cannot move your country forward. Everybody must be involved. Their deepest error was not economic, ideological or military – it was political. Politically they became, at best, one-sided; at worst, unilateral. But you cannot build upon a divided house. Especially when it is your calling to be the first in a new time. You must chaperone the building of the foundation for the future and lasting peace and unity of your country’s peoples. The most important first step for a newly dependent African country is unification, not divide-and-rule; reconciliation, not vindictiveness; healing of wounds, not continuation of ancient feuds. Like a practised reverse parker, the first duty of anyone who gets into power is – almost contradictorily – to prepare to relinquish that power. Only then will such a one wield that power wisely in all its poignancy and brevity. For power is always brief in the end.

In such a tribal kaleidoscope as Africa is, the primary light filter is unity. Politics derives its strength from unity and solidarity. But the leadership style of practically each of the first and second generation nationalist leaders and regimes in power almost invariably was a one-man or one-group show, authoritarian or dictatorial, forcefully exclusive of all opposition and adversary. Most of them stayed on in power endlessly until either they died there, were killed, overthrown or forced by events to hastily stage-manage a belated exit. The few who were able to avoid serious civil unrest, did it largely by their own mercurial powers of diplomacy, or sometimes by economic policies that uneasily delayed the effects of political disenfranchisement. Economic progress without political integration is a game of Russian roulette. Every downward swing simply reminded the people that they are not united – and each time, they placed the blame on their long-winded leaders. Ultimately even the most devoted, apparently successful leaders also had to make way in order for the democracy experiment to take their place. Democracy’s joke on those who wish to bring progress is that it requires of them, above all, simply to get out of the way. And thereafter to join in and participate in the building and maintaining of a system that ensures that others too, in their own turn will get out of the way also. Politics is not kind to permanent guests.

Re-enter Nelson Mandela, in South Africa – ten years after Zimbabwe, thirty years after the euphoric year of African so-called independence – a sadder and a wiser man. And a more determined one too. If ever, in the wilderness of history, the right person was at the right place at the right time, it was Nelson Mandela. History’s quiet thoughtful student. He knew what needed to be done, and he had the heart, the intellect, the character and the experience to not just do it, but also to inspire his people to go down that road with him. The road of inclusion. The path of reconciliation. The anchoring of democracy. A bold attempt at Peace, unity and democracy. The historical chance that Mugabe, despite the benefit of hindsight, had been unwilling or unable to grasp, Nelson Mandela hungrily and wisely did. Africa needs peace, not war. Upbuilding and liberty, not oppression and suppression. Unification, not fracturisation. Reconciliation, not vengeance. Because if we go down the path of vengeance, there will be no exit from its downward spiral – for everybody has also wronged somebody else irreparably somewhere down the line. But while Africans squabble with one another, the rest of the world is rushing ahead, not waiting for them to get their act together. And now they are encroaching back on Africa, economically, politically, militarily.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 10/11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 10 – (Jasmine Revolution and repeated mistakes)

Preceding chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy, and a host of others)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Next to South Africa and Rhodesia, the Portuguese colonies remained for many years a rallying magnet for panafrican liberation passions and efforts. In the seventies, as a result of sustained armed resistance, coupled with a sharp socio-political mood swing in Portugal, they eventually got their independence. But even they did not fare much better in the management of the riddles of independence. In oil-rich Angola, for instance, three groups had engaged in the colonial war against Portugal. As independence approached, they each laid claim to the leadership of the country and proved unable to recognise the gravity of the situation. They failed to bring up the serious will to negotiate a difficult but necessary compromise on power sharing, of anchoring the principles of democracy as well as building the institutions that support it. Instead they turned their guns on each other and, with the same fervour with which they had fought a patriotic colonial war, plunged the country into a selfish and unpatriotic civil war. Shamelessly, each side called upon both sides of the Iron Curtain for arms and help, to help them kill their fellow Angolans. The U.S. sent arms and European mercenaries, the U.S.S.R sent arms and heavy artillery, China sent arms and logistics support, Cuba sent training instructors and special forces, apartheid South Africa – launching from its South West Africa base – sent whole columns of fighting troops, Zaire and Zambia sent advice and moral support. And the Angolans made war on each other. Angola, who had just obtained liberation from Portugal, made herself into a proxy battle theatre for the Cold War, with a mix of apartheid strategic interests. Angola thereafter became the reaping fields of decades of internal unrest, bereft of the will towards the essence of democracy – i.e. compromise and power-sharing.

These are just a few examples. The list goes on, of historical examples of what happens when independence or liberation are not followed by the constitutional upbuilding of a political system, rooted in conciliation, unification and equitable sharing of power, the democratic spirit, to which the leadership – terminal and law-abiding – submits itself; leadership by example. Guinea, Libya, Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi – … fill in the blanks – all also went a similar way. Or be it even capitalist Kenyatta in Kenya who ruled for fifteen years until he died in Office; or socialist Nyerere in Tanzania who ruled for twenty-four years before handing over to a hand-picked successor; or Senghor in Senegal who bowed out only after twenty years and five terms in office; or Kaunda in Zambia who relinquished power after twenty-seven long years as President – all strong personalities during whose tenures, like with Houphouët-Boigny, their countries avoided the violent descent into some of the extreme forms of chaos that manifested in some other countries – their reigns nevertheless all exhibit one common feature, homogeneous with the rest of the continent. The long, autocratic nature of these foundational presidential tenures or regimes in Africa undermined the nurturing of a democratic political tradition of broad parliamentary participation, separation of powers, the repeated cycles of free elections, change of governments and regimes, rotation and sharing of responsibilities.

For more than two decades after independence, the military held Algeria in the iron grip of a one-party dictatorship that controlled political, cultural, social, religious and intellectual life, but offered no solution to the pertinent Algerian riddles. The french-algerian question, the Algerian-Berber question, the military-democracy question, the religion-state question. All these conflicts tormented the soul of the nation. Every side is convinced of its own superiority, even to this day. The concept of a solution that contains – voluntarily – a bit of everything, remains, for many, a challenge in contradiction.

“You have inherited a jewel. Keep it that way.” These were the words of advice that Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere is reported to have given to Robert Mugabe as he became the first democratically elected leader of the new free state of Zimbabwe. And yet… even Zimbabwe, which, dropping the oppression-name Rhodesia, became free and independent a full twenty years after the African year of independence, did not learn anything from the events of those two previous decades. As though Africa had no recent history from which she could learn, Zimbabwe promptly repeated the mistakes of other African nations before her. Robert Mugabe had been in power for ten long years by the time Mandela was released from prison in 1990; for fourteen years by the time Mandela became president of South Africa; for nineteen years by the time Mandela stepped down; and is still the leader of Zimbabwe even today, after Mandela’s death. In this year of 2016 Robert Mugabe celebrated his ninety-second birthday, and yet, despite internal and external pressures on him to let go of power, in the face of decades-long manifold accusations of bigotry, nepotism, oppression and bias, he continues to insist on the perpetuation of himself in office. In quiet moments what must he think when he reflects upon how his friend and mate – Mandela – handled his own country’s transition? Mugabe himself was also once a freedom fighter who endured eleven years of imprisonment at the hands of his people’s oppressors before independence. Yet, when he became president of a liberated Zimbabwe, he also ended up squandering the momentum of independence, doing everything other than create a broad-based conciliatory democratic upbuilding that could have harnessed all the strengths and potential of this great country’s diverse peoples. Today he presides over an impoverished, divided, isolated, tense Nation.

UPDATE: In Nov 2017, One year after this article was written, the Zimbabwean Army unceremoniously ousted old man Mugabe from Office as he continued trying to clutch onto power. He was deposed, and died two years later in the well-equipped hospitals of a foreign land.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 9 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing It On)

Preceding chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 – (Ugandan Up-n-down)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Often, all independence did was reveal that the only force that united the self-acclaimed nationalists was their drive to get rid of the oppressors or colonial usurpers. Once that was done, ancient grouses along ethnic, tribal, class, racial and religious lines – and sometimes even more modern ideological ones, like the capitalism-socialism conflict, or the democracy-unilateralism question – bobbed up to the surface and threatened to tear each country apart from within. But largely the cracks were caused by ethnicity, ideology and class, powered by fear and greed, lubricated by corruption, blinded by feelings of messianic grandeur, fortified by an absurd sense of entitlement, in the spirit of vengeance. The foolish belief – of each person, each clan and each group – of being better than the others, and the primitive insistence that one side must rule over the others or there shall be no peace and no progress. One-party states and governments emerged or strove to emerge, ruthlessly crushing opposition endeavours – and since most parties were built around ethnic, class or religious blocs in the first place, this only served to further exacerbate tribal tensions, ethnic hatreds, religious rivalries, group suspicions and ancient racial animosities. Class and wealth exhibited ethnic features. Before long, coups began to occur and dictatorships became the order of the day. And, before Africa knew it, the sixties and seventies had given way to the eighties and the nineties and, all over the continent, Africans were still trying to figure out to whom they owe their political allegiance: to tribe, religion or country? And they still remained and remain unable to move forward unitedly.

Uganda undertook initial tentative steps to reconcile and accommodate the different northern and southern tribes of the nation, amidst flourishing exports and per capita growth, in the spirit of confidence and optimism in the wake of independence. A few years into post-independence, everything broke down when President Obote suspended the National Assembly and introduced a new constitution in which he accorded himself wide and sweeping powers. Here again the cynical African quandary showed its face. Ostensibly in a bid to prevent the tribalisation and factionalisation of national politics, the president centralised power under his command and insisted on a one-party state, thereby unleashing the very destructive and centrifugal forces of inter-sectional chaos and confrontation he had claimed he wanted to prevent. Uganda’s fate was sealed when, in order to secure himself against all internal opposition, Obote relied more and more on the army, under the command of Idi-Amin, the megalomanic self-proclaimed “Conqueror of the British Empire and true heir to the throne of Scotland”, who eventually overthrew his boss. Idi-Amin’s regime ravaged, raped and wrecked Uganda. After Idi-Amin fled in 1979, Obote regained power and Uganda descended into civil war. Here too the mismanagement of the explosive momentum of independence, and the refusal to foster and nourish democracy, brought decades of death, impoverishment and socio-political disjoint to Uganda.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 8 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Nigeria’s case, considering her human and natural resource potential, is especially pathetic. One of the most mineral rich countries in the whole world and probably the most educated nation-space in Africa, high hopes were pinned on her future. Before he died in 1946, Herbert Macaulay had already for more than two decades championed, stoked the fires and laid the political foundations of Nigerian nationalism. But Nigeria’s greatest strength was also her most paralysing weakness: Diversity in number. A mind-blowing total of over three hundred tribes speaking as many or more languages, additionally split between Christians, Muslims and Animists, with a long pre-colonial history of competition, are indigenous to the most populous black country on earth. As victory in the push for 1960 independence from British rule approached, politics blatantly and shamelessly degenerated into ethno-regional-religious do-or-die contests. Macaulay’s successor, Zik of Africa, eventually abandoned the national canvas and, following the examples of the other regional leaders, retreated into ethno-regional partisanship. From all sides of the federation the message was clear and unambiguous: Pan-nationalism and one-nigerianness were henceforth dead and buried. Political leaders, including the Prime Minister, were seen each by the other regions as simply representing the interests of their regions, tribes or religions. From then on, the Nigeria project became purely a treacherous, mistrustful, coalition poker, a serpentine dance on shifting sands, a volatile cake to be unevenly divided or stolen whole, a mad dash for power. Corruption and selfishness flourished. Nigeria’s stupendous mineral wealth turned into a curse. In the contest for political, economic, resource and military advantage, there was no loud, strong, unifying, pacifying, blending voice. Instead there was a deafening dearth of Will to see themselves as one great people, to detribalise and de-religionise the nation-space, to inculcate national values, to forfeit any right-to-rule mentality, to foster trust amongst one another. There was no leadership effort to awaken in the peoples a sense of being one people, a purpose to being one people, a will to become one people in an equity-based democratic independent African nation. Like an unstable atom, Nigeria wobbled and broke down. Rigged elections, violence, coups, pogroms, civil war, military dictatorships, failed democracies, tribalism, religious violence, calls for cessation from all sides, annulled elections, distrust, disunity, accusations and counter-accusations, all underlined by corruption and financed by Nigeria’s oil reserves – this would consequently be Nigeria’s fate for the next forty years after independence. Wounds and positions from the past still plague the national dialogue, unreconciled, even to this day. Great problems need great minds. Great opportunities require great courage. On independence morning, Nigeria’s leaders proved themselves unable to dream big and visionary, to grasp the spear of destiny inadvertently handed to this unique black nation and to overcome the temptations of regionalism. Nobody was willing to be the one to forfeit regionalism in the interest of nation-building. No-one was brave enough to bell the cat. Nigeria was not plagued by one lifelong dictator; she was and is plagued by one lifelong streak of power-lust and plunder.

Congo, another stupendously mineral-wealthy country, did not even make it past the first few months of independence before intense internal disunities thrust it into the path of civil war, coups and dictatorship. Lumumba, quite simply, never had a chance. Belgian interests and American intelligence were bent on his demise. In the face of outside opposition, the only chance of survival anybody ever has is the unity, support and backing of his people. But, of all the independence era African leaders, probably none was a greater victim of the internal disunity of his country’s tribes and peoples than was Patrice Lumumba. But he was not victim alone. His fiery, fearless and forthright nature – his greatest asset as a freedom fighter and anti-imperialist champion of independence – became his tragic, if heroic, Achilles’ heel once the Congo attained independence and was left to itself, with him as its executive head. Not reconciliation and de-escalation were his modus operandi – such were not in his revolutionary nature. His message was resistance, retaliation, elimination and conquest. His fazit: Congo was full of local and foreign enemies, and they all had to be eliminated or booted out. Fullstop. When the U.N. – whose peace-keeping troops had, at his behest, come into his country with lightning speed – seemed unwilling to help him squash his enemies in the manner he desired, he loudly turned to communist Russia for help, inadvertently touching a raw nerve in global Cold War politics. He was punching way above his weight. Thus, his fate – and that of the Congo – was sealed right from the start. His fellow Congolese, aided by Belgian troops, captured him, held him without trial, tortured and executed him, and hacked his body to pieces; but that too brought no peace. The rest is history. The Congo, alias Zaire, has since then been the plaything of coups, interventions and dictatorships, the most infamous – but not last – of which was under Mobutu Sese Seko. After once suffering and surviving the dark horrors of Belgian oppression and exploitation, the mineral-rich Congo today still remains a tricky multi-ethnic hotbed of internecine guerrilla activity, civil war and internal disunity.

Independence, again and again, is followed by national disorientation and national soul-searching, by disagreements, civil strife and civil war. Even after the fight for political liberation has been won, the acteurs march on in the same spirit of war – hunting saboteurs, persecuting opponents, sidelining adversaries, undermining competition, underdeveloping out-of-favour regions, and taking revenge on defeated former oppressors. In Africa, rather than triggering a united, popular, constructive march towards self-dependent development, political independence exposed and fed a glaring unwillingness or incapacity to unite, to make use of the various strengths of the various components of the nation, to apply the pragmatic common sense and make the tough sacrifices and compromises required to achieve a functional political unity. What became visible was a frightening failure to grasp the concept of the one, big, strong, united Whole, shared by everybody and not just dominated one-sidedly by a few. An integrated Whole to which, and for which, each individual is responsible and free. Instead, under the conditions as they were, all that could flourish were OPPRESSION and CORRUPTION, DISTRUST, CONFLICT and, eventually, DISINTEGRATION. Independence, in the cruel irony of the ways of fate, brought with it more challenges than colonialism ever faced us with, and we were not prepared for them at all. Just as today also, despite the benefit of historical hindsight, South Sudan too was not prepared for the internally disruptive forces that are always set free by independence.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije

… continued in 7 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 – (Ugandan Up-n-down)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 -(Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

There is a brief moment of opportunity, in the hour of freedom and liberation, when the momentum that is presented by the formation or regeneration of a nation-state gives to its chief policy-makers, its opinion-shapers and its mass-leaders the rare chance to hammer a brave new impulse deep into the orientation-seeking psyche of the nation and shift it unto a path of mutually supportive and constructive upbuilding. It is a moment in time, a window of opportunity. If missed, a sequence of events is set into motion which makes it progressively difficult to recapture the momentum and the opportunity. If grasped, however, the same occurs, in the opposite, positive, direction. Nelson Mandela and South Africa recognised it and took a chance on it. The leaders of South Sudan, so far, seem blind and immune to it. South Sudan has simply joined the long list of African nations in which independence was followed by disorientation, dis-unification, breakdown and destabilization. Examples, as I said, abound.

In Ghana, Africa’s black star, Kwame Nkrumah weathered hefty colonial resistance and, even from within the walls of his unjust imprisonment, forced and triggered Ghanaian independence, and then came to power in a blinding blaze of glory that inspired nationalistic fervour all over the continent, further fuelling the thirst for independence in Black Africa. Nkrumah’s impact on the socio-political psyche of Black Africans then and now cannot be over-emphasized. No other African independence leader so charismatically inspired, articulated and harnessed revolutionary zeal, Black intellectual nationalistic self-confidence, and absolute disdain towards all forms of dependence and imperialism like Nkrumah did. He championed the search for innovative solutions to Africa’s economic problems and went ahead trying to implement his. He recognised the danger of tribalism and put forward policies to reduce its detrimental effects. He was the very spirit of pan-africanism, a driving force behind the forming of the OAU. But, while calling for pan-african unity on the continental stage, in his own country he banned opposition political parties, nationalised as much of industry as he could, put price controls in place, centralised power and placed his faith, like his friend Nasser did, in his own indigenous socialism hybrid. The toast of praise-singers and sycophants, he trusted no-one and placed the entire country under his personal control. He sunk huge sums into forward-looking industrialization schemes, but most got mismanaged by a dizzying number of state corporations that sprung up like mushrooms. Convinced that these and other unilaterally decreed measures would lead Ghana to the promised land, he never wavered in his fervour. The speedy decline of the Ghanaian economy which followed in the ensuing years was staggering and painful to all lovers of Africa and Ghana. Six years after independence, Ghana’s reserves stood at a shocking £500,000. Patronage and corruption flourished, discontent, division and internal resistance grew, the unwanted was ostracized, opposition elements imprisoned and silenced. There was no blueprint for an alternative solution or for a reshuffling of executive responsibilities. In Ghana, all roads led through Nkrumah. Less than ten years after his triumphant entry, in a country that had become riddled and debilitated by corruption and poverty, Nkrumah was unceremoniously overthrown in a coup d’etat, which was followed by another coup d’etat… then eventually by another… and Ghana was spiralling down a pit of retrogression unimaginable as at the time of her trail-blazing independence in 1957. It took decades before Ghana understood the painful lesson of the bitter pill of militarism and one-sided pseudo-democracy, and gradually began to build anew a new truer democracy, a wasteland of wasted decades scarring its history.

In Cote d’Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, feeling himself to be ideologically superior to Kwame Nkrumah, made a bet with Nkrumah as to which of their two nations would be better developed within the decade that was to follow. And, at first he might have seemed to have won the bet. He avoided communism like the pest and predicted, already way back in the sixties, the Chinese invasion of Africa. He was one of the few independence era leaders who went the way of economic liberalism. Spurning nationalistic zeal, he stayed in close contact with the French, his country’s former colonial masters, and gave French capitalistic endeavours a freehand in the Ivory Coast. Apart from that, he did nothing different from all the rest. The self-acclaimed Crocodile kept a steely grip on government, permitted only a one-party state, devoid of democracy. He made no attempt to anchor democratic principles of equity, opinion-sourcing, power-sharing and broad engagement. No empowered participation, rotation of responsibility, the sharing of leadership responsibilities, socio-political unification of differing tribes and religions, the internal blending of a nation into one people. For twenty years no elections were held in Cote d’Ivoire, as Houphouët-Boigny cleverly left the country under the hypnosis of French economic control while perfecting the art of neutralising his opponents and critics by giving them tantalizing little morsels of pseudo-power in a system utterly dominated by him and him alone. For over two decades it seemed to work. When the collapse came, it was swift, brutal and sobering. Global prices of Ivorian exports like cocoa and coffee plunged. Oil prices shot up. French businesses repatriated their money to France. The Ivory Coast was bankrupt. Inspite of all his efforts, Cote d’Ivoire’s economic self-reliance never materialised; and now that the bubble had bust, the missed opportunities in true political and democratic maturation became apparent. As Houphouët-Boigny’s health declined, “heirs” to the throne began to jostle for position. By his death, in office, in 1993, as the third longest serving leader in the whole world as at that time, the long ignored internal chaos and disharmony was all he left behind. What had once seemed like a model became exposed as a mirage. It was simply a case of delayed reaction. Cote d’Ivoire too eventually went the way of Nigeria, Ghana and so many others – coups, corruption, unrest, civil war, militant dictatorship, ethnic enmities, religious rancour, and division. Neither Cote d’Ivoire nor Ghana was better than the other. They were in the same boat.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije

… continued in Part 6 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES : 3 – (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

In Tunisia, in the so-called French Maghreb region of North Africa, Habib Bourguiba endured imprisonment and persecution, bravely kept up the struggle for liberation, and eventually led the country to independence in 1956, pushing the French out of the political helm of affairs in Tunisia. He applied himself to the economic betterment of his country, experimented with socialist models and, when they did not yield the desired results, switched to more liberal economic strategies. Internationally he was very concerned about securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In the mean time, however, politically he set about instituting himself as the sole authority and system in Tunisia. He pushed through a constitution that gave him near dictatorial powers, and was eventually elected “president for life”. He maintained an authoritarian regime until, after more than three decades as president, a doctor declared him medically unfit to rule any longer. Ben Ali, his minister, succeeded him and he too applied himself to Tunisia’s economy, more than tripling its GDP within a twenty-year period. Politically, however, he too went down the road well trampled. He spent the next twenty-four years refining and perfecting his control over state and government, stage-managing elections, persecuting opposition, blocking free speech and incessantly perpetuating himself in power. But the long arm of the people’s fury, come to fruition in the Jasmine revolution, eventually caught up with him and his cohorts, at long last, in 2011.

Apart from in Egypt, the Tunisian revolution also triggered a similar revolution in neighbouring Libya, which historically has also not fared better, plunging that country too into riots, bloodshed and conflict, leading to the overthrow and death of their own once-liberator turned lifetime-dictator, Gadddafi. Today, more than five decades after modern independence, the present generations of these countries have to struggle desperately and painfully in a volatile, polarised, changing world, to attain what their Independence-generation failed to do: to motivate all sections of their populace into finding, anchoring and practicing a sustainable self-rotating form of representational constitutional democracy, one in which tolerance and reciprocal respect of differing wishes, inclusion, reconciliation and rule of law, within the context of a global modern world, hold sway.

In Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selasie enjoyed the reputation of being the head of the only nation in Africa that was never successfully colonised. In the 1930s he courageously resisted Mussolini and the Italian invasion and then continued to rule Ethiopia, as Emperor, for many more decades to follow – until in a 1974 coup he was overthrown and dethroned, and then imprisoned in his own Grand Palace by his own people, where he died a few months later, a lonely old man. In his many long decades as leader of the Ethiopian Empire, he had fired the imaginations of Africans and Blacks all over the world, and hosted and reigned as founding chairman of the Organisation of African Unity. He inspired religions and movements, stood as a bastion of global racial equality and dignity, abolished slavery, and pumped much time, effort and the scarce financial means available to Ethiopia into a forward-thinking infrastructural modernisation and industrialization effort. Only one thing he did not do: show any interest in a political game-changer that would replace the monarchy with a true representational democracy in which all the different peoples, classes and sections of the nation would have, and unitedly administer, a joint stake. Civil wars with Eritrean, Oromo and Somali liberationists destabilised the state; a state in which Selasie ruled over and decided everything – administrative, adjudicative, financial, military and ministerial – an autocratic monarch. After the Wollo droughts and the famine came in the late sixties and early seventies, the disconnect between the leaders and the peoples tore the old establishment down. The army mutinied, popular revolts tore through the streets, and strikes and demonstrations paralysed the land. Emperor Haile Selasie was eventually deposed – after almost six decades as Ethiopia’s leader – and a new dictatorship under Major Mengistu took his place. Post-Selasie Ethiopia was then plunged into years of coups, dictatorship, Red Terror, uprisings, dispute, war and violence – all compounded by drought and famine. The Emperor had never built or championed a political system that could harness the patriotic, broad, representative efforts of the whole country’s peoples towards peacefully and constitutionally finding and executing a joint self-sustaining, rotational solution to their problems. He left a divided, politically adrift nation behind. Ethiopia was thus cruelly and ironically sent back to square one, despite its great history and iconic leader.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije

… continued in Part 4 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 – (Sudan and South Sudan)

Preceding Chapters:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: Part 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: PART 2 (Egypt’s modern pharaohs)

CLASS DIVIDE (II)

It’s called the hardworking middle-class
Let’s call it the narrow mountain-pass
For it keeps nervously thinning out

The underworld is getting crowdy
And impatient and restless and rowdy
Getting ready for a bout

The top one percent noiselessly feeds
Off the profits, the interests, the proceeds
No sound, no word, no whisper, no shout.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

UNDERSTANDING VALUES

How foreign is a foreigner
In a land of foreign values
If the values of the foreign
Are native to him?

How rightful are a native’s rights
In a land of prayer and righteousness
If he claims for himself the right
To deny an unbeliever his human rights?

Democracy is a car – if you insist
That they exchange their horse for your car
How can you stop them from roughly driving the car
Like they rode their horse, out into the wild?

Religion is a house – if you insist that they
Abandon nature and make your house their home
How can you stop them from inviting their old nature
Into your eternal rigid walls?

Who knows the answer?
Religion doesn’t know the answer
Politics doesn’t know the answer
Only really human beings know the answer.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.