LEAVING LEGACIES – THE AFRICAN CHALLENGE By Tony Ademiluyi

The eternal words of William Shakespeare ring true that the world is a mere stage where mortals are players who have an entry and exit route. The battle of life always has something at the back of the minds of every mortal that it is a race between time and eternity. The life of every man is akin to a book with pages on it.

A great crisis of Africa rests in the leadership – that’s obviously over flogging the dead horse. The leaders do not seem to have eternity – when they will leave office as their guiding focal point. They are so immersed in time that they think only in the present which makes them end up in calamitous disaster.

African leaders fall in two categories – nationalists who later emerged as the helmsmen of their states when independence came or those who either thrust themselves up or were propped up by the system.

The brain behind the Pan-African Concept which later gave birth to the Organization of African Unity now known as the African Union was Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. He conceived the idea as far back as in 1945 when he was part of the organizers of the African Conference in Manchester, England. His radically inclined Convention Peoples Party which he founded in 1949 after breaking away from the conservative United Gold Coast Convention led by Joseph Danquah wrestled power from the British on March 6, 1957 when they became the first nation in West Africa to attain independence from the British colonial overlords. A few words in his inaugural address was apt ‘Political liberty is nothing without economic freedom’. Did he really translate into a great leader? Tragically, he became a dictator. He banned strikes by trade unions and clamped his foes into detention through the preventive detention act. He used the CPP controlled parliament to give him a life presidency. His economic policies were disastrous. An attempt to industrialize the fragile economy ended up in failure as the world prices for cocoa – the economic base of the nation dropped. Posterity ranks him highly as a nationalist and mass mobiliser but doesn’t rank him as a very great leader as economic uhuru was far from the Ghanaians under his reign.

Zimbabwean President Robert Gabriel Mugabe is another walking tragedy. He was incarcerated for ten years in the country then known as Rhodesia. As a nationalist, he was outstanding and was a perfect ally for Joshua Nkomo, the fire brand political agitator. Since 1980, he has been in power and shows no sign of stepping down soon at over 90 years of age. The nation was once as the food basket of the continent has been thrown into economic hardship as a result of his forceful seizure of the farms belonging to the settlers and re-distributing to ZANU-PF party allies who had no inkling as to the rudiments of agriculture. The stagflation is so bad that a joke goes thus ‘it is better to steal a loaf of bread and leave a wheelbarrow full of Zimbabwean money.’ His administration has recorded serious human rights abuses especially on the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change. Massive rigging of elections has ensured that the dictator has been permanently kept in power and is tinkering of the idea of handing over power to his wife. One needs not be a soothsayer to say how history would judge him.

Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings first came to power in a coup which was a fiasco. He was arrested and kept behind bars. Reprieve came for him when on June 4, younger officers took over the reins of power, released him from detention and handed over power to him. He executed three heads of state – Generals Akwasi Afrifa, Ignatius Kutu Achaempong and Frederick Akuffo alongside some other politicians who soiled their hands in the public till. He handed over power to Dr. Hilla Liman after spending just four months in office. This was incredible at the time when African military rulers were fast transforming themselves into sit-tight autocrats. He later struck in 1981 and ruled the country once known as the Gold Coast with an iron fist. Repression was the order of the day as people disappeared without trace; enemies were detained, executed or forced into exile. He later transformed himself into a civilian leader in 1992 after bowing to international pressure to democratize. His National Democratic Congress won the election and re-election in 1996. His economic policies spelled doom for the nation as he devalued the Cedi after listening too much to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This made many Ghanaians leave the country in droves. His popularity waned as he failed to get his Vice-President, the late Professor John Evans Atta-Mills to succeed him in 2000. He was later roundly rejected when he attempted to impose his wife, Nana Konadu Rawlings as the flag bearer of the National Democratic Congress shortly before the death of Atta-Mills. Rawlings is alleged to be worth about $50 million at the moment. How did he come about such a fortune as his humble background didn’t leave such an inheritance for him? He is not known to have been a businessman in his younger days. Was he then justified to have executed the three allegedly corrupt Heads of State while he freely roams about the country? What is sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander.

The dictatorships of Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, Yayah Jammeh of The Gambia, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Jean Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic, Mbasogo of Equitorial Guinea amongst many others have brought untold agony and misery to the masses of their countries.

Is it all doom for Africa apart from Mandela? Happily, it is a resounding nay as the continent can still boast of Quett Masire of Botswana who brought the landlocked nation out of the doldrums. He is a local clone of Lee Kuan Yew. He took independent decisions shunning the Bretton Woods Institutions and made an economic success of his policies. His successor, Festus Mogae followed his footsteps. He was later to win the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Leadership.

We need more leaders who can think beyond their current status and build blocks for the institution of worthy legacies long after they have left office.