The Nation (Nigeria)

Cry the beloved country

‘It is so easy to count a score-plus instances of pure basket cases that the curse of leadership has foisted on the continent; the terrible blight that they constitute in humanity’s quest to advance the frontiers of freedom and human developmen­t; fact is,

- Sanya Oni 0805110184­1

IKNOW a tribe out there who continue to interpret the events of the past week in South Africa strictly in the context of the usual stereotype­s about Africa and Africans, and how democracy is supposed to be alien in a continent where feudalism, the Big Man syndrome and other variants of the Kabi e i syndrome are supposed to be the natural order.

With some 200-plus dead and countless scores wounded, not to talk of the mindless destructio­n that could cost some tidy billions to fix as the smoke clears, there is a lot to be said of the senseless rage as being tragically extravagan­t; considerin­g that the same people will in the end, have to live with the pains of the destructio­n they have wrought.

Reminds me of Alan Paton’s Cr he Belo ed Co n r . Good thing, that the institutio­ns in the Rainbow Country held when it mattered most; the country’s apex court the constituti­onal court, faced with the most unpreceden­ted defiance or better still, assault by a former number one citizen of the republic, Jacob Zuma, did what it had to do. Then of course, the South African police, swift and resolute didn’t even have to roll out the battle gears before the Big Man was marched into the correction­al facility at Estcourt, Kwazulu Natal. In the end, constituti­onalism and the rule of law, prevailed.

I know a throng still out there who couldn’t find that connection between the January 6 Capitol insurrecti­on in the United States a la Donald J, Trump, and its milder variant that bred the nearly week-long conflagrat­ion in Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal. It is sufficient to crow, not just about what is supposed to be failure of democracy in these parts but also of the strain of lethal virus that makes democracy such a bad business on the continent. An instance of the African leadership flu being more lethal than the more hemorrhagi­c Western variant!

By the way, I just finished reading a piece by Helen Zille, the renowned anti-apartheid activist and former leader of the country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. The piece is titled The Jacob Z ma I came o kno a nfailingl arm and h mane. Call it a beautiful or rather a generous attempt to humanize the embattled former president in the way only those with perhaps intimate knowledge of the man could have done. Coming from an individual with a solid pedigree in activism particular­ly in those days of anti-apartheid struggle, it was perhaps very much unlike her to have lapsed into inferences that could only have flowed from a familiar ethnocentr­ic mindset simply because a certain Zuma could not live up to the expected bar in leadership!

Here’s how she summed up the Zuma episode: “At the heart of it, this tragedy is rooted in the enormous complexity of our collective decision to impose a modern constituti­onal democracy on what is largely a traditiona­l, African feudal society….

“President Zuma is a traditiona­list, totally unfamiliar with the concepts of constituti­onalism, thrust into the role of President whose primary duty is to serve and defend the Constituti­on. A total misalignme­nt…”

Take note of how she elegantly framed the Zuma paradox as something more emblematic of societal anomie as against an individual’s moral failure in the well guided jibe at the ANC as indeed the majority Black Africans:

“The idea that people are born with inalienabl­e rights that no-one can take away from them, and that elected leaders are there to protect and defend these rights, is indeed a “Western thing”. In traditiona­l societies, the notion that the Chief grants you favours if you seek his favour, is far more prevalent - and it is easy to see how this easily morphs into “corruption”. The leader looks after his own, making the idea of “nepotism” a very “Western thing” as well…


She probably forgot that two gentlemen, Thabo Mbeki as indeed Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, before Zuma, also took residence in Mahlamba Ndlopf the equivalent of Nigeria’s Aso Villa! So much for the generalisa­tion; were the twain also caught up in the ‘Zuma paradox”?

Agreed, it is so easy to count a score-plus instances of pure basket cases that the curse of leadership has foisted on the continent; the terrible blight that they constitute in humanity’s quest to advance the frontiers of freedom and human developmen­t; fact is, until Trump happened on the world, many could have sworn that political delinquenc­y was, exclusivel­y, an African malaise.

Of course, the world now knows better than permit such baseless generalisa­tions. For while Jacob Zuma may have been a corrupt, loathsome politician. Indeed, he and the Guptas may have sired and nurtured the phenomenon of ‘state capture’ in the Rainbow Country systemic political corruption in which private interests significan­tly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage. He is probably no less a sinner than Trump, who, thanks to America’s complex legal system has been able to keep all enquiries on his business dealings at bay and later capped it all by granting his comradein-infamy, Roger Stone aka “dirty trickster” pardon after the latter was convicted of the federal crimes “of making false statements, witness tampering, and obstructio­n”.

Talk of the ultimate n-leader unleashed on the world by the Grand Old Party and its alt-right allies; can anyone truly say of Zuma’s ‘crime’ or delinquenc­y as infernally more venal than the attempt by Trump to torpedo an election which he lost by undemocrat­ic means? Truly, if the Americans as indeed the West are any indebted to their institutio­ns for their resilience, so it must be for the South Africans in the face of intimidati­on by a wayward one-time president.

Which takes me to the final point. The world, as it is, may have been too obsessed with traditiona­l notions of leadership

the concept of one big man leader as against paying close attention to building strong and resilient institutio­ns. What the lessons of the United States and South Africa teaches is that such efforts are best reserved for institutio­n-building.

To come back home to Nigeria. Today, the raging argument is on the not just the suitabilit­y of the current constituti­on but also its legitimacy. However, it seems to me, that no constituti­on, no matter how perfect, can work in an environmen­t where civil society institutio­ns are virtually prostrate. Imagine only in the environmen­t of prostrate institutio­ns would a parliament- supposedly representi­ng the people, would dare to be seen as working at cross purposes with the aspiration­s of the people on something as sensitive as the integrity of the electoral process as Messrs. Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiami­la appears to be doing at the National Assembly!

Barka de Sallah o o dear reader

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