A tale of two Africas

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

On the eve of South Africa’s tran­si­tion to democ­racy, Nige­rian jour­nal­ist Dele Olo­jede – then Africa cor­re­spon­dent for New York news­pa­per News­day – was faced with a tough de­ci­sion. Global icon Nelson Man­dela was about to be­come demo­cratic South Africa’s first pres­i­dent and the world was lap­ping up the story of this in­cred­i­ble South African “mir­a­cle” like a va­grant eat­ing choco­late ice cream at the home­less shel­ter’s Christ­mas lunch. In Rwanda, the slaugh­ter of Tut­sis by Hutu mili­tias was es­ca­lat­ing into a full-blown geno­cide.

Olo­jede’s edi­tors in New York asked him to “keep an eye” on events down the road in Rwanda while he was cov­er­ing the South African tran­si­tion. With Rwanda not ex­actly be­ing “down the road” as the Amer­i­can folk might have imag­ined, Olo­jede had to choose be­tween two hec­ti­cally crit­i­cal as­sign­ments: one a his­to­ry­mak­ing event and the other a ghastly tragedy.

Af­ter much men­tal an­guish, Olo­jede chose to stay in South Africa and pick up on Rwanda af­ter the new re­pub­lic had been born. In his own words, he de­cided to pri­ori­tise the story of what Africa should be – a con­ti­nent of progress – over the chaos and tragedy that had come to sym­bol­ise post­colo­nial Africa. To­day he par­tially re­grets the de­ci­sion be­cause by the time he ar­rived in Rwanda, the geno­cide was in full swing and he be­lieves his re­portage may have in a small way helped sway the lethar­gic de­ci­sion mak­ers at the UN’s New York head­quar­ters to re­act dif­fer­ently.

In the past fort­night, we have wit­nessed an­other tale of two Africas: one want­ing to go for­ward and an­other be­ing dragged back­wards. The Africa that is look­ing for­ward is ex­em­pli­fied by the con­ces­sion speech that Ghana’s out­go­ing pres­i­dent John Ma­hama gave af­ter los­ing to Nana Akufo-Addo.

In an ad­dress to the na­tion, he thanked Ghana­ians for giv­ing him a chance to do his bit to make “a con­tri­bu­tion to the political, so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of our coun­try”.

“We be­lieve that only one per­son can emerge as the win­ner. And while it is true that only one per­son can be elected pres­i­dent, in re­al­ity, and cer­tainly in a democ­racy such as ours, every elec­tion is an op­por­tu­nity for the peo­ple of this na­tion to ex­press their will, to have their say in who will lead them in the shap­ing of Ghana’s fu­ture.

“In this way, each vic­tory be­longs to the peo­ple. And the true win­ner is al­ways Ghana.”

He said he “would have cher­ished an op­por­tu­nity to do even more, but I re­spect the will of the Ghana­ian peo­ple”.

Just up the coast from Ghana, a dis­turb­ing pic­ture was play­ing out. In Gam­bia, a man who rep­re­sents the worst face of Africa is try­ing to sub­vert the will of the peo­ple. That coun­try’s pres­i­dent, Yahya Jam­meh, whose of­fi­cial ti­tle is His Ex­cel­lency Sheikh Pro­fes­sor Al­haji Doc­tor Yahya Ab­dul-Aziz Awal Je­mus Junkung Jam­meh Naasiru Deen Ba­bili Mansa, is re­ject­ing the out­come of the elec­tion and call­ing for a poll re­run.

Af­ter ini­tially ac­cept­ing the re­sult of “the most trans­par­ent elec­tion in the whole world” by say­ing as a true Mus­lim who “be­lieves in the almighty Al­lah, I will never ques­tion Al­lah’s de­ci­sion”, he flipped just days later.

“Af­ter a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I have de­cided to re­ject the out­come of the re­cent elec­tion,” he said last week­end.

“I la­ment se­ri­ous and un­ac­cept­able ab­nor­mal­i­ties that have re­port­edly tran­spired dur­ing the elec­toral process. I rec­om­mend fresh and trans­par­ent elec­tions that will be of­fi­ci­ated by a God-fear­ing and in­de­pen­dent elec­toral com­mis­sion,” he said, in­di­cat­ing that Al­lah had changed his mind.

Jam­meh has held power for 22 years since he led a coup as a 29-year-old sol­dier and le­git­imised his lead­er­ship through sham elec­tions. In that time he has turned into one of Africa’s cru­ellest lead­ers. His rule has been char­ac­terised by political sup­pres­sion, mur­der, jail­ings, mas­sacres, tor­ture and dis­ap­pear­ances. He has cracked down mer­ci­lessly on the me­dia, which is ar­guably one of the worst crimes any leader can com­mit. The ex­tremely ec­cen­tric Jam­meh has claimed to have found cures for var­i­ous dis­eases, in­clud­ing HIV/Aids, high blood pres­sure and asthma.

Jam­meh is now de­fy­ing the AU and other in­ter­na­tional bod­ies by re­fus­ing to give way to Adama Bar­row, who was de­clared the win­ner by that coun­try’s elec­toral com­mis­sion. What is wor­ry­ing is that, be­ing a sol­dier him­self, he may have the sup­port of sig­nif­i­cant parts of the mil­i­tary. This fac­tor may lead to vi­o­lent con­flict and more of the im­ages of blood­shed that Africa wishes to get away from.

The AU’s prompt ac­tion is wel­come, but un­less re­spect for the rule of law and democ­racy be­comes sec­ond na­ture to African power bro­kers, the or­gan­i­sa­tion will al­ways be fight­ing fires. A way of pro­mot­ing this re­spect is by en­trench­ing in­ter­na­tional norms that Africans them­selves have played a key role in for­mu­lat­ing. One of these is the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, which was de­signed to deal with mon­sters like Jam­meh. But African lead­ers, in­clud­ing the govern­ment of the con­ti­nent’s most ad­vanced democ­racy, are re­ject­ing the only ex­ist­ing mech­a­nism for en­forc­ing these norms. The re­sult will be a cul­ture of im­punity that will take our con­ti­nent back­wards.

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