[On Freedom And Dignity]

Fifty years after “independence” or “Uhuru,” in Kiswahili, most African countries are still dealing with a crises of regular transfer of political power by the ballot instead of the bullet.

This means that many African countries have squandered half a century that could have been used to marshal human capital and the continent’s natural wealth, to improve the welfare of citizens and to develop infrastructure.

Many people argue that some African countries are at a position more dangerous than during colonial rule. At one point during European dominance over Africa, it became possible to embarrass Europeans by exposing their hypocrisy. They preached “equality” and “egalitarianism” while engaging in racism and exploitation in Africa.

How does one embarrass some of the most corrupt African leaders who have no shame and have brutalized their citizens and stolen billions of dollars? Africans would be better off embarrassing and exposing the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which continue to subsidize state terrorism in Africa by supporting dictators there.

Peaceful and regular transition of political power and governance promotes stability, which is a pre-requisite for investment, whether the capital is generated domestically or from abroad. Yet so many African countries remain so unstable that even the presidents ship the money they steal to European accounts and not to other African countries. They know that the other presidents’ hold on power is as tenuous as their own.

Instability and the struggle for power diminishes the institution of the presidency and promotes contempt since citizens know that undeserving people can become rulers; so long as they have bigger guns. This has led to massive suffering and impoverishment. At the extremes of upheaval have been countries such as: Uganda; Rwanda; Burundi; Somalia; Ethiopia; Central African Republic; Liberia; Sierra Leone; Equatorial Guinea; Guinea Conakry; what was until recently Zaire; and many more.

Valuable time and countless lives are wasted in the political struggle for power. That’s why most African countries lack in almost all of the important indicators that measure how countries have developed, in terms of delivering a better quality of life –health, longevity, nutrition, education, employment opportunities, some leisure time– for its citizens.

In the 1960s India, now a respected emerging power, had an income level that was on par with some African countries. Then, American parents used to admonish their children not to waste food and to think of starving people in India. Unlike most African countries, India, even with its recurrent bouts of ethnic and religious upheaval, has enjoyed relative stability through regular orderly transfer of political power and government administration. They have occurred through the ballot, rather than bullets.

Today, India commands global attention and African countries are more typically associated with starvation. The Indian prime minister was hosted by President Barack Obama, at the first State Dinner at the White House after he became president. President Obama also recently visited India and publicly stated that he would support its bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Where is Africa?
Vast Africa, endowed with enviable natural and mineral wealth, remains the world’s laughing stock. Primarily it’s because some mere hundreds of individuals have insisted that they be “president” and preside over incompetent –at best– and brutal –at worst– regimes. Millions of Africans toil to improve their lot, on the continent, knowing that they have been failed by abysmal political leadership. Millions others work overseas, helping to develop other countries rather than submitting to repressive conditions or murderous tyrannies.

Africans in Nigeria, in Kenya, in Malawi, in Burundi, in Congo and elsewhere know that they could do better, and eventually see their countries emerge like India, Brazil and China, were it not for the crimes and incompetence of their political leadership. When they danced in the streets after Obama’s victory, they were not only rejoicing his remarkable victory –they believed he and the U.S. would not ignore their plight.

Will Africa waste another 50 years in the wilderness while countries like China, India and Brazil continue to emerge as global players, while buying up primary commodities, industries and land in African countries to fuel their own growth? Will Africa, the home of all mankind and civilization, remain the world’s laughing stock?
Or will Africans, on the continent, and those well placed overseas, in countries such as the United States and United Kingdom, work together, with all their might, to rid the continent of dictators, kleptocrats, and presidents-for life?
This is what Africa’s children deserve.
There was much hope on the continent when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. Here was, not only the first African American president of the world’s remaining superpower; but what’s more, a man who traced his direct immediate parental heritage to Kenya on his father’s side. Surely, he shared the rage and shame of ordinary Africans, over how a handful of individuals –Idi Amin Dada, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Macias Nguema Obiang, Ibrahim Babangida, Mobuttu Sese Seko, Meles Zenawi, Mengistu Haille Mariam, Blaise Campaore, Samuel K. Doe, and scores more– had destroyed or arrested prospects for development.

Surely President Obama would do something about it. Since the United States is able to influence so much on the African continent, Obama would certainly make it clear that dictators and life presidents would not be supported by the United States.

These were wishful thinking. The hard work must be done by Africans.

The initial signs were good. After his brilliant Accra, Ghana, speech, literally calling on African countries to tear asunder the chains of tyranny that held back development, some dictators trembled. Ordinary Africans rejoiced. Finally, these misrulers who had brought ruin and shame to Africa were on their way out.

But to their dismay, it’s back to politics as usual.

The United States has so far sold the African people down the river in return for political expediency. Any African dictator who calls Washington and volunteers their services, in the form of soldiers or bases, for the “war on terror” gets a pass. Museveni in Uganda; Paul Kagame in Rwanda; and even Omar Hassan al-Bashir in the Sudan, have bought themselves political longevity by declaring themselves as “enemies of Al Qaeda.”

How ironic then that the dictators owe their political survival to Osama bin Laden.

Yet at one point Britain and France never believed they would one day have to give up their colonies; albeit they now exercise control through different levers, such as the World Bank and IMF.

The time is ripe for a new generation of Africans, who are skilled in modern communication skills, and the Internet, to agitate for total independence, not from European colonizers, but from African dictators. Africans in the United States and the U.K. must agitate against any assistance by outside powers for African dictators, by confronting legislators in these countries.
They must work hand in hand with their compatriots in Africa, who will share information with them, and with Diaspora Africans and other Africa supporters. When citizens get the opportunity to vote –elections are upcoming in Uganda, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kenya, and a few other countries– the will of the people must be heard and individuals who steal elections must be held accountable for any subsequent violent upheavals. The same technology now applied for social networking can be used to deal a final blow to African tyrants.
It is completely unconscionable and intolerable that the destiny of more than a billion Africans should be mortgaged because some individuals insist on being “president” or because the United States wants to spread the “war on terror” to Africa, which many Africans believe is a ploy to station American troops to counter China’s aggressive economic penetration in Africa.
No outsiders will liberate Africa for Africans from African dictators–only Africans can accomplish this task. As a people, it’s the very least they can do in this lifetime.
“Speaking Truth To Empower.”
Editor’s Note: “Not Yet Uhuru,” was the title of a book by the late Kenyan nationalist and Pan-African, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga

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