One Small Step for Zambia, One Giant Leap for Africa
By Theodore T. Hodge
|Guy Scott greets defence and security chiefs in Lusaka shortly after taking over as acting president. Photograph: Chibala Zulu/AFP/Getty Images|
|The Late Zambian President Michael Sata|
The news out of Zambia these last twenty-four to forty-eight hours has been nothing but fascinating. Zambian President Michael Sata has died in a London hospital and his successor as interim president (at least for ninety days) is Guy Scott. Guy Scott was born in Zambia to Scottish parents. Guy Scott, although a white man is now President of Zambia, the first since the fall of the apartheid regime of South Africa. I call the development fascinating because it is about time Africans awoke and faced the reality that their worst enemy is not some boogey man of the historical past in a far-away land, but their present blood-and-flesh leaders of today. Name any African country and a black man or woman stands at the helm of leadership, and that has been the case for the better part of the last fifty years. But why does the continent continue in such strife and backwardness and lack of development? Is the white man to blame? That is the easy conclusion to reach. Deriving that conclusion absolves us of the guilt it is necessary to confront; by doing so, we escape the responsibility of the consequences of our own actions or inaction. It is, to put it profoundly, a cop out. I do not take that line of reasoning as I shall expound in this space.
You might be pausing and re-examining what I've written so far and asking yourself some critical questions. Is the appointment (or even election) of a white man to the helm of national politics in an African country such an exciting (and perhaps rewarding) development? Is it necessarily a "giant leap" for Africa? Yes, and I shall defend that statement in due course. First allow me to state for the record that I think the worst crime committed against a group of people by another group of people was the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The trans-Atlantic slave trade allowed Europeans (and their cousins in America) to perpetuate the most heinous (perhaps abominable is a better word) crime against Africans. It led to the most degrading treatment any group could suffer at the hands of another group; so hideous, its effects are eternally reverberating. But that's not all, the second worst crime of man-against-man is colonialism. That's when the imperial European powers got together and partitioned the African continent. They forcefully took ownership of the continent and its vast natural resources and established themselves masters over the people; the people of Africa became subjects of the imperial powers of Europe.
So why then is the ascendancy to power in a majority black country such a positive development? Simple. Besides Liberia and Ethiopia, which have been independent and sovereign for vastly over a hundred years, the majority of the countries on the continent have been self-ruled for fifty years or more, except for a few that gained their freedom in the seventies. Now let's do some critical self-analyses. We all must agree that fifty years is a lot of time to turn a society around in the positive direction... there is empirical evidence that it can be done in a much shorter time period. Yet, despite of that, most African countries remain worse off in many measurable categories than they were at the time of so-called independence. What accounts for the backwardness and lack of development? What accounts for the lack of transparency and the massive corruption that permeate these societies? Worse of all, what accounts for perpetual state of war and aggression among the countries of the continent? Many of the wars, it must be stressed, are of the internal variety. There is not enough space here to name the number of civil wars fought on the continent since the advent of independence. It seems like the post-colonial era is replete with wars among the previously occupied. Don't tell me it's the Europeans that make the guns and the Africans simply use them; that is not a justifiable excuse.
Most Africans will agree that the generic 'white man' (those particularly of European imperial powers and the American lineage) are the black man's worst enemy. This conclusion is easy to derive. All one has to do is check the history of America as related to slavery, and European imperialism on the African continent. There is no doubt that in the modern era, these two events speak volumes about the relationship between the two groups of people: Blacks and whites. But does it tell all we need to know about ourselves? What if we asked ourselves additional self-critical questions, such as: Why do we Africans keep fighting among ourselves everywhere on the continent? Why have millions died at the hand of their fellow Africans? Why have African leaders routinely chosen to enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow countrymen? Why is corruption so rampant and transparency so absent? Why do African leaders choose to empty their national coffers and invest or stack the money abroad in European banks, usually dying and leaving the monies unclaimed by Africans? In short, why do African leaders choose to routinely work in collaboration with the "enemies" against their so-called "brothers and sisters"?
If we must be honest with ourselves, we are forced to come to the conclusion that there are other factors behind these complex phenomena. We fool ourselves into accepting the most simplistic answers that appeal to our superficial comfort level without bothering to probe deeper because we are afraid that deeper probes may lead us to some uncomfortable realizations about ourselves. If that is the case, we do ourselves a disservice. We owe it to ourselves to dig and probe deeper, even at the risk of discomfort.
Most of you have probably read or heard of the famous book titled, "The Road Less Traveled", by M. Scott Peck, who was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author. He begins his book with a truism, "Life is difficult". According to him, life was never meant to be easy; he advises that life encompasses a series of problems which we have an obligation to confront and solve, if we are to achieve self-fulfillment; the other choice is to ignore them. Unfortunately, most of us choose the latter option, ignoring life's problems while affixing the most simplistic and most erroneous solutions to them.
If we must follow Peck's suggestions (or positive prescription for life), we must first begin with discipline, broken down into four aspects:
1. Delaying Gratification
2. Acceptance of Responsibility
3. Dedication to Truth
The author describes the concept of delayed gratification as sacrificing present comfort for future glory. This is true for individuals as well as for countries. What kinds of policies and projects a government undertakes speaks volumes about where that government decides to lead its people. Good leadership skills require contemplation and deep analyses of a problem and its viable solutions instead of plunging in head first without considering the costs, or perhaps even ignoring the problem all together because tackling it may have some immediate difficulty we do intend to postpone or ignore.
Acceptance of responsibility is another key concept. It seems to me that most of us, Africans leaders as well as citizens in general, are most likely to ignore our responsibility and pin it onto others. For example, it is common to hear, 'we are backward, because the imperialist drained most of our resources, leaving us poor'. But those who hold onto that half-truth fail to ask themselves about the wisdom with which we use the balance of the resources; in most cases, we are still relatively rich but our deepest problems stem from mismanagement. We find it easier to blame somebody else, a perceived enemy, then to accept the responsibility for erecting effective policies.
Dedication to truth... I find this concept to be the most important and perhaps the most difficult to practice. It requires honesty in both word and deed and that can be quite challenging, especially for those who prefer to flip or divert blame. This goes to the heart of the matter: If you are interesting in finding ways to divert blame, you are certainly not interested in getting to the heart of the matter because doing so may reveal some facts that may make you uncomfortable.
The last aspect of the discipline section deals with balancing... this deals with the requirement of handling conflicts adeptly. It is obvious that not recognizing and balancing priorities could lead to conflict and once the conflict is mismanaged, the dangers could escalate astronomically.
I have used Peck's ideas to demonstrate what I think is at the heart of how we Africans continually victimize ourselves by accepting simplistic explanations of our social problems with a deeper or more critical approach to getting and dealing with actual problems. Let's get back to the issue at hand: Mr. Guy Scott's ascendancy to the Zambian presidency. I don't think that having a white man as president of an African country is a major problem at all. Here are the facts: Zambia has been independent for the last fifty years. The economy has remained stagnant, and at times regressive. Corruption, just like elsewhere in Africa, has remained a dangerous enemy and domestic politics have been tribal and divisive in many cases. For example, the law now that a Zambian citizen cannot be eligible to run for the presidency unless it can be proven that his parents were born in Zambia was put in place to deny Kenneth Kaunda the opportunity to seek the presidency after he had already served as the country's president. His father was born in Malawi before the independence of either country. Was that a good law? No. It didn't make sense to question the citizenship of the man who had been the first president of the nation and held the honor of "Father of the Nation". But the logic didn't matter.
Following Zambia's example, the Ivory Coast passed a similar law to deny the candidacy of Alassane Ouattara, denying him the opportunity to contest the presidency. It was ruled that he was not an Ivorian because his father was born in present-day Burkino Faso. Interestingly, Mr. Ouattara had once served as the country's Prime Minister. Cooler heads and the constitution prevailed at a later date when indeed Ouattara was allowed to run and he won the presidential elections, but it took the army of the country, with the help of French troops to dislodge President Laurent Gbagbo from the presidential palace. He refused to give up the presidency even after the elections commission declared his rival the winner.
The lackadaisical and oft times regressive and corrupt system of African governments are a matter of public record. Name an African government and a list of dismal performance records can easily be recited. The problems range from one extreme to another and from one country to another. The failure or inability to do a full assessment of the problem and figure out ways to solve them lead to the acceptance of the most simplistic explanation: Blaming the problem on others despite our clear culpability. Why do we do this? Because it is easy. We forget Dr. Peck's obvious warnings: Life is difficult.
This has led me to my obvious conclusion: Mr. Guy Scott's ascendancy to the Zambia presidency is not a problem. As a matter of fact, I consider it an opportunity in disguise. If Mr. Scott's tenure turns out to be a smooth and productive one, which I anticipate it will be, Zambians would have taken off an imaginary monkey off their backs. The country has had a succession of black presidents, five in all, is there a chance that the tenure of Mr. Scott's care-taker government will have any deleterious effect on the national politics or the economy of Zambia? No, I think in fact, the opposite will be true. It will prove that Zambia is moving in the positive direction of recognizing all its citizens and giving them equal rights and political recognition. All Africans should embrace this opportunity because it will shift our focus in the right direction and help us focus on positive solutions to our problems.
One last thing need be reiterated here. This is not an attempt to downplay the effects of such hideous social systems as the slave trade or colonialism. The point here is to be realistic; we need to challenge each to identify our real problems and tackling them head on, instead of the cut-and-paste method of blaming everything on a few buzzwords and an imaginary enemy.
UPDATE: As this article goes to press, we have a most recent development in African leadership, or the failure of leadership. In Burkina Faso, President Blaise Compaore has been chased out of office after overstaying his constitutional welcome, courtesy of people-mob power. He came to power twenty-seven years ago after leading an in-house military coup against his military comrade, Thomas Sankara. He was now trying to manipulate the legislature or the Supreme Court into extending his term of office. Twenty-seven years wasn't enough, in his conceited mind. He once supported and partly financed the campaign of Charles Taylor's incursion into Liberia in an attempt to wage war against Liberia's Samuel K. Doe. We know the fate that befell those two; He was lucky to have escaped alive.
Author: Theodore Hodge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org