THERE are probably many pan-Africanist crazies who will go ballistic at the suggestion that the leaders of many African countries learnt their craft from the colonialists — otherwise why would they apply the same formula to solving all problems relating to dissent?
After independence, many expected that dialogue would be preferred to bloodshed. There are only a few examples of calm, cool and collected debate replacing guns and machetes as the means of dialogue. In most cases, there was bloodshed.
I can just hear the ultra-extremist pan-Africanists screaming: “How dare you, you arse-licking, boot-licking stooge of the West, you lily-livered apologist and spineless lapdog of the imperialists!”
In North Africa and the Middle East, there have been upheavals in which hundreds have been killed. All the countries embroiled in this blood-letting were once colonies of the Western powers.
In some cases, they shed much blood to win their independence from the British, the French and the Italians. Let’s take the last, who colonised Libya.
The Italians were brutal and Muammar Gadaffi seems to have learnt from them just how to deal with dissidents: don’t talk to them. Just shoot them.
Gadaffi has made no pretence of being a democrat since he overthrew the monarchy in 1969. There were no elections of any kind. He was an emperor — like Julius Caesar.
Egypt was no different: Hosni Mubarak ruled for long without any recognisable opposition — he had learnt his lessons well from the British.
In Tunisia, Ben Ali had imbibed from the dictator’s cup of the French masters — for 30 years, he just ruled and ruled.
In all instances, when opposition solidified into a mass revolt, the dictators told the soldiers to shoot the demonstrators — as the colonialists had done to any who dared to oppose their rule.
In all the instances, the intervention of the former colonial masters bore a macabre irony the French and the British — by far the greatest colonisers in Africa — became the peacemakers, after a fashion.
They had their motives, some of them hardly altruistic or honourable. But they came to the rescue of the unarmed men, women and children.
In their time as the colonisers, they harboured little regard for these same innocents. But here they were — onward Christian soldiers. . .
We Africans ought to re-examine our struggle for independence and what we hoped to achieve. The Ivory Coast, under Felix Houpheut-Boigny, was prosperous and peaceful.
Nobody today can say with certainty that the first president was a shining example of a democrat. But he made it work, with his benevolent dictatorship.
After him, there was chaos. He left no legacy of democracy.
Neither did Kwame Nkrumah nor Ahmed Sekou Toure: their legacies bore little resemblance to the democracy for which their people died.
Julius Nyerere…well, he saw the error of his ways rather belatedly. Perhaps, in the end, he saved his country from a fate worse than the DRC’s and Somalia’s.
An extremist view is that what democracy the Africans learnt during colonialism was not pure, for it was coloured by their tutors’ reluctance to make it pure and simple: the colonialists would not tell it like it is, that the real democratic way had no half-measures, no half ways — you took the whole shebang or nothing at all.
Was it deliberate — this convoluted way of teaching — that if the other people would not do it your way, you had every right to shoot them into submission?
They were not told that the trick was to talk and talk and talk some more — until you agreed on something. It was not to stop talking and start shooting.
Since there is no longer any merit in asking for the whole process to start anew, it is up to the new generation of African leaders to chart a news course.
Independence must be achieved for the benefit of all the people — not just for the leaders or their ethnic groups or those nearest to their ethnic group.
The leader must not be one who commands support only from his ethnic folk, whether they are the majority or not. He must be one who commands support and respect among all the people.
Would it help if the leader spent time with Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela before taking office?