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: 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: 4 – (Sudan and South Sudan)

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

Those who have a knowledge of post-independent Africa will, sadly, not be surprised by the turn of events in South Sudan today. Macabre, but true. Indeed, they would have expected it and, like Mandela and his team, and they would have prepared for it, to try and avert it. South Sudan’s road to independence has been long and winding. She began her life in the modern African world as a region of an arab-dominated Sudan which was herself the joint colonial property of Egypt and Britain. Even before their first modern independence – that of Sudan from Egypt and Britain – Sudan was divided into an arab-speaking islamic north on the one hand, and on the other hand a south full of a myriad black tribes speaking different tongues, mainly Christianised, partly adherent still to ancient African religions, and basically lacking a sense of united nationhood amongst themselves. What united them was their wariness of the north in the face of a long history of slavery and jihadic wars; whereas the north itself was focused on achieving independence from its external colonisers. And independence indeed eventually came, but it did not bring peace with it. Acrimony between military and politics, disputes between Marxists and non-Marxists, moslem-christian religious animosities, and the distrust between north and south, ensured that years of coups, civil wars, genocide and violent disunity would follow. Decades after independence, seemingly unable or unwilling to find a lasting workable peace between north and south, in 2011 they parted ways acrimoniously. Soon after, in the newly independent and sovereign South Sudan, the very same quarrels, accusations and maneuverings that had plagued newly independent African countries five decades earlier, reared their stubborn heads here too and South Sudan degenerated into a hydra-headed civil war. Finally, the tribes of the South, lacking any other external adversary, seemed all too willing to turn their guns on each other and destroy what it now seems that they never had nor ever really tried to cultivate during the decades of tribulation: internal Oneness, inter-tribal political unity. And, unfortunately for them, it seems that they, too, have no Madibas amongst them.

Take any African region, north, west, east and south, and study its collective post-independent or post-liberation history. Examples abound, enough of them. The wound cries out like a disjointed pack of scattered wild voices screaming from a burning house: the lack of reconciliation; the lack of representative, inclusive democracy, of socio-political unity. Some will call it the lack of national common sense. In Africa, for some reason, political office is not voluntarily terminal, whether or not the constitutions stipulate such, and power is not shared. Leaders seem to love only the concept of their country, the fact of having a country, but do not also love all the peoples of the country, their welfare, their liberties and their peacefully united future – not if it requires that the rulers and their support groups themselves equalise themselves with the rest of the country and subject themselves to a rule of law that stands above everyone. Instead, everybody wants to grab the crown, and sit on the throne, and then ostracize, under-develop and punish his enemies. No matter what effects this has on the country in the long and short run.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

… continued in Part 5 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 -(Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)

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 : 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)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 – (Egypt’s modern pharaohs)

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

History is the teacher of the wise, and Mandela himself proved to be a good student – for he had many dramatic examples to learn from. Long before South Africa’s struggles for liberation from apartheid yielded fruit, other African nations had shot out of the starting block, propelled forward by the momentum of independence and freedom, to grapple each with the daunting task of forging a modern nation-being. It reads like a soap opera, one unresolved episode after another, with dependable repetition. A few examples suffice:

In newly independent Egypt, the leader of the revolution Colonel Nasser, despite his political victories against Britain, his Suez heroism and his Sinai vicissitudes, despite his enduring popularity at home and abroad, his inspiring effect on colonised nations worldwide, his influence on the afro-arab stage and the cultural boom that his tenure occasioned, was reluctant – when it came to internal affairs – to allow or foster the blossoming of a political system in which his personal power was anything less than absolute. He crushed all opposition parties, be they communists, capitalists, muslim brothers or any other grouping critical of him. He imprisoned thousands of opponents, including some who had been his comrades in the revolution. He centralised the planning of the economy, nationalised industry and everything he could nationalise, controlled both state and government, and placed a tight grip on all types of unions and institutions, from academic, to religious, the media, to the youth. He became, in effect, the modern-day pharaoh. By the time he died, in office, in 1970, after fourteen years as president, he had written his name eternally into the history books of not only Africa, and had attempted to industrialise and modernise Egypt; but also, portentously, he had practised largely only political repression during his reign. He did not use the momentum of liberation to propel all sides of the country into the forging of a political culture of unity and inclusion. Very simply, he had omitted to lay the foundation for a balanced political system of representative, rotational, shared democracy – an omission, the after-effects of which still plague a restless, internally unreconciled Egypt to this day. Nasser was succeeded by another military veteran, Sadat, after whose assassination many years later another soldier, Mubarak, took over. In 2011 the people arose in a popular revolution against him. The Revolution culminated in the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi who, after more violent protests, was ousted in a coup-d’etat by his own head of Armed Forces Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who in turn a year later transformed from Military leader to civilian president in an election boycotted by most other political parties. Despite being one of the most ancient civilizations of mankind, and an independent modern nation, Egypt is today still struggling to find internal reconciliation, peace and socio-political harmony.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

(Continued in Part 3 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES : 3 – (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)

Preceding Chapter/
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: Part 1 (Preamble)

MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 – (Preamble)

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

It sounds like a myth now. They say South Africa was on the brink of civil war after the release of Mandela and the collapse of apartheid. Civil war? Really? The Zulus and the Xhosas were heading for tribal war? And, simultaneously, the blacks against the whites in racial massacre? Well, it is true that it all sounds a bit far-fetched to some people now… because it did not happen. Because Mandela opted for reconciliation and spearheaded an intense drive to find a common basis for all to live, share power and face the future together. But, as far-fetched as all this may seem today, it was actually the most likely turn that events would have taken, based on the history of African so-called independence. This is a history that Mandela, and those who thought like him, knew all too well and, like wise people do, gravely feared. It is a history replete with the educative one-two punch of the strong heady wine of independence, liberation and freedom, eventually followed by the bad-tempered and moody hangover of disorientation, destabilisation and crisis.

Independence, all too often, is followed by civil strife and civil war. On all continents, in different eras, there abound records of great and small nations who have been unable to avoid this cliff in the arch of their history. When a nation-space has been oppressed or suppressed for a long time, it exhibits the properties of a socio-political pressure cooker. Once the lid of suppression is lifted, tumultuous explosions sooner or later follow as the various agendas and sensibilities of its component parts push to the fore, each demanding fulfilment. It requires strong-willed, knowing, conscious leadership to harness the liberated energies and channel them into constructive upbuilding. The opposite would mean a repetition of the same wild implosion into self-destruction witnessed after independence in many African countries, and as is happening right now in South Sudan. It is a pity that more than two decades after the fall of apartheid, Mandela’s example has not been understood and internalised by many other African peoples, personalities and groups still trying to find the most conducive forms of post-independent co-existence.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

Continued in Part 2 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 – (Egypt’s modern pharaohs)