By Lahai J Samboma
Like most “normal” people, I like a good laugh. And, as luck would have it, I had an exceptionally good one today, both during and after reading a think piece in a leading London “liberal left” daily. And then, I cried. And laughed some more, in the process almost choking on my food.
The article, “Beyond Mandela” was published in the Guardian and written by a “bro” by the name of Onyekachi Wambu. I do not believe the writer is a comedian, nor that his intention, as he put fingers to keyboard, was to be a source of mirth or stimulant to the left lacrimal gland of yours truly.
Shorn of all its accoutrements, and the red herrings about development and dignity for Africa and Africans, Mr Wambu’s thesis is simply this: post-Mandela, African and black liberation has been won and what is needed now on the continent are what he calls “leaders of development”.
Over to you Bro: “Two hundred years later, Mandela would forgive white South Africa. We are now in the post-liberation phase, and the quest for development is now the measure of the leadership needed from Africans.” Naturally, such cacophonous nonsense is always accompanied by the obligatory platitudes: “We require a partnership between leader and led, where there is genuine two-way communication and accountability as we move to deliver on the promises of liberation – peace, safety, economic prosperity and dignity.”
All of this sustained carpet bombing for the laudable cause of neo-colonialism and imperialism comes after our hero has waxed lyrical about the virtues and symbolism of the living god Mandela. We join him on one or two occasions as he passes through London’s Parliament Square, observing grateful black families cavorting around the recently-erected statue of St Nelson.
The fantasist in our new best friend is overwhelmed, gets carried away to somewhere not here and now. “…Nelson, drawing black people into this public space, his healing magic melting away years of exclusion and bitterness, redefining the meaning of the square for us.” And wait, please wait for this one: “In time, might we even begin to speak of Nelson’s Square?” From Parliament Square to Nelson’s Square! Dream on, Bro, dream on.
Before we get to what my good friend Karl would call a “ruthless criticism” of Mr Wambu’s positions, it is interesting to observe how he posits himself in the mould of Mandela. Some of the brother’s friends and colleagues have exhibited “great hostility to Mandela – believing he was lauded by the west because he sold out on the key issues of land and the economy – and nobody ended up in the Hague for crimes committed under apartheid.”
Obviously, these Mandela-detractors had caused the brother much anguish and agonising. And where do you think our hero found respite? In “Mandela Square”, of course. “In the end, finally looking up into those outstretched arms, I was glad the statue of Nelson was not that big, that it had human proportions. After all, it is in our hearts that men become mountains.”
With perhaps a furtive glance towards his exposed flank, Mr Wambu mentions in passing the names of two of Africa’s slain liberation leaders, Biko (pictured left) and Lumumba (right). Then again, it could be that these illustrious sons of Africa were only mentioned so they could be used as a backdrop against which to better see the breath of fresh air that was Nelson Mandela.
Let the man speak, I hear someone say. Okay, then: “His detractors seem to demand even more sacrifice – like their martyred heroes Steve Biko or Patrice Lumumba – rather than the gentle denouement of honourable retirement.” This is immediately followed by a very interesting construction: “The heavy burden of black leadership was suddenly immediate and sobering.”
And, the dear reader may ask, what exactly is the paradigm which these new fangled “leaders of development” are to adopt? He says not, but provides a pointer. He informs us that a man by the name of Mo Ibrahim – “one of the continent’s richest men” – has offered $5m to a leader who will come up with the best material with which to flesh out what we will call the Wambuist Paradigm for African Development. However, our friend is reticent about whether he will be a contender in the “Mo Beauty Pageant”.
Pathetic and risible stuff
I laughed and I cried and I choked on my food. Why? Because this is pathetic and risible stuff, especially from an educated African – and, moreover, one with an “Out of Darkest Africa” name like “Onyekachi Wambu”. I laughed so much that a tear streamed down my left cheek. And then I cried some more, this time inside, within my being, for this cop-out, this sell-out, at this naivety-bordering-on-criminality – call it what you will. The theses he posits are not only ludicrous and intellectually dishonest, they are dangerous and demeaning to black people worldwide from America to Zimbabwe.
Perhaps the brother has not realised or has refused (head-in-the-sand-like) to see the debilitating poverty and devastation that is being visited on the African continent in this so-called post-independence era by economic policies spearheaded by the West in their not-so-ingenious guise of the IMF and the World Bank. He may carp about the dearth of inspired African leadership, but his salvo is off-target. This is not to absolve the current crop of leaders on the continent of any blame for the plight of the region. They are as culpable as their neo-colonial overlords in the west, if not more so.
Mr Wambu, please wake up and smell the coffee. The leaders you so despise are nothing more than robots programmed by the west to oversee their economic policies in the neo-colonial economies of Africa. In olden times their roles were carried out by governors-general; they are in a socio-economic strait-jacket within which they have little if any room to manoeuvre as far as fashioning and implementing viable economic policies is concerned. The devastation you see in Africa can be directly attributed to those policies.
Corruption in many high places
Yes, there is corruption in many high places, but the claim by many at home and abroad that personal enrichment by African leaders is responsible for underdevelopment in the region is plain hogwash. Just as the blood, sweat and the tears of our foremothers and forefathers in slavedom built the foundations of western society, so today’s exploitation of the continent’s human and mineral resources continue, through defective, western-imposed economic policies, to siphon-off vast wealth from Africa to the neo-colonial metropolises of the West.
Our hero’s spirited attempt to hack-off and separate economic development from the concept of liberation is a truly inspired one – and one that would be much-envied by any self-respecting ideologue or “Africanist” of the Western persuasion. The very fact that Africa remains the most underdeveloped region of the world despite our abundant wealth of resources must surely point to the fact that we are still a long, long way away from liberation.
The concept of liberation has both a political and an economic dimension – and they are intricately-bound, indivisible. You cannot have one without the other, they are part of the same dialectic. We have indeed achieved nominal political liberation, in the sense that these clowns who now sit at the top table are black. But because we do not have any significant control on the African economy, political liberation is stymied. In a word, political liberation and independence were dead at birth.
The noble task that those brave, dead souls – Mr Wambu’s “martyrs” – started has not been completed and, far from abandoning the struggle, this is the time to redouble efforts to make sure that later generations carry the torch that they lit – and not capitulate before the overwhelming forces of neo-colonialism and imperialism, as Nkrumah (left) would put it. For economic development to become a reality for us, we need “leaders of development” who will challenge the international status quo and demand – no, take – what rightfully belongs to Africa’s long-suffering masses. Uncle Toms and apologists for Western imperialism need not apply.
Red in tooth and claw
This is not about being “red in tooth and claw”; it is about coolly assessing the situation we find ourselves in and taking the action that has the best chance of ameliorating and improving it. We should have realised by now, after over a half-century of these western-imposed economic prescriptions, that nothing has changed – and that it is not likely to if the only words on the menu read “same again”.
Our quest for development should not be tempered, or hobbled, by the sensibilities of others if the truth sits uncomfortably with them. And this brings us neatly to Mr Wambu’s afore-mentioned interesting construction: “The heavy burden of black leadership was suddenly immediate and sobering.” This came after contrasting the “martyrs” Lumumba and Biko, on one hand, and Mandela. All three men were freedom fighters in every sense of the word, but Mandela just happened to be “lucky” to have been imprisoned instead of being murdered in cold blood.
A Biko or Lumumba, in Mandela’s post-prison position, would most probably have behaved in the same way and worked towards peaceful co-existence. And while Mandela must be praised for the peaceful path he took, I believe that the decision was not his alone to take. He was the embodiment of his people’s aspirations – and he did what the people wanted. My position on this is that the peaceful settlement in South Africa speaks volumes about the fact that black people have no ill-will towards whites; we only want to live and get along. I am grateful to Mandela and black South Africans for that.
I like Mandela, but am not a worshiper at the altar of St Nelson. Why? Because I believe he treated Winnie abominably. Dubbed Mother of the Nation, she was the woman who helped keep the flames of the liberation struggle burning while he was incarcerated. So she had affairs. Had it been the other way round, would Mandela have kept himself to himself for 27 years? So she was accused of murder. Do we know what role the apartheid-era BOSS secret service, the CIA or other agents provocateur had in the whole murky episode?
Whatever else one may say about the recent spate of stabbings and shootings in Britain by young black men, one thing that cannot be denied with a straight face is that endemic racism in this country and the social exclusion faced by the black community in all spheres of life are major factors. It is thus mystifying for Mr Wambu to say, from his comfortable perch, that Mandela’s statue in Parliament Square is somehow imbued with “healing magic melting away years of exclusion and bitterness…” Yes, I roared with laughter!
In the West African state of Liberia we have a leader who methinks is just what Mr Wambu’s doctors ordered. A technocrat, former employee of the Bretton Woods institutions, she is the first and only African woman president, a true “leader of development”. She is as hopeless as any other leader in the region. In fact, I believe, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is actually worse, for the simple reason that she will never say no to her bosses at the IMF and World Bank.
"Leave your skin at the door as you come in, boys"
It is very surprising that in an article purportedly about African development, the writer has nothing to say about structural economic imbalances and inequalities; ditto the IMF and World Bank.
Mr Wambu’s piece so irked me that I went on to the Guardian comment website to post my rejoinder, but could not find it. While other articles in the paper were also published on the site, our friend’s was nowhere to be found. A three-pipe problem, I thought to myself. It was then that I chanced upon a piece by another “brother”, Hugh Muir, titled “Future Confident” . It told of how, despite the odds and in stark contrast to some of their peers, increasing numbers of black kids in Britain were doing quite well at school and university.
And my beef? Well, dear reader, at the very least you would expect an article on this subject by a “serious” journalist, in the light of the current crisis amongst black youths, to delve deeper into the issue. What is responsible for the underachievement among increasing numbers of black kids? What role has social and educational exclusion played, if any? Etc. Contrast this not-very-scientific sample of two offerings from black writers with what their muslim and Asian counterparts contribute on issues that affect them, or ones they feel strongly about. Is this a case of “Leave your skin at the door as you come in, boys”?