Maze considerations of African leaders of tropical ethno-nationalism

What does it mean when you choose to go your own way?

Does it mean you are working for a corrupt cadre of protected ethnic or otherwise allies within a paranoid system of thuggery and mafiazation of government power and money, complete with localized low level but very targeted violence?

Or are you a threat of external established powers of influence, which have wrought their own brand of injustice, whereby the threat justifies the means? Is there any other way to fight the power than with your own, however inexperienced and misguided it may be?

There are clear parallels between such African presidents as Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Bete power, black power, what does it really mean?

They have history on their side. How can you not side with victims of colonialism and racial apartheid turned into freedom and democracy fighters? They were the ones who reversed a certain tide which was indefensible on many levels.

Do revolutionaries invariably fall into another extreme?

How was it really during the days of post-independence? Congo’s Patrice Lumumba is depicted in many western historical accounts as a whore-mongering dangerous communist.

What was he really? He was killed by the CIA and Belgians, according to most accounts.

Other post-independence leaders had ideas of pan-Africanism, social reawakening and uplifting, but after several years in power, it seems their schemes went awry, uplifting only their small circle. Many of them were deposed in western intelligence agency-backed coups, before their policies had any chance of change, they insisted, but it seemed any dew they spoke so purely of had already been blown away by the misevaluation of theory, not that the alternative of outside bidding that quickly followed was better. Many of these post-independence leaders are still revered, it seems, because of a sense of current unfulfillment, perhaps.

Should there be aggressive population control in Africa?

This discussion is invariably seen in terms of top-down references, as African societies still seem to move that way. Everyone who wants to be a someone is called president, be it of a country, of an agricultural cooperative, a youth wing, a political party, a gang, a street corner.

But all of these leaders, the ones at the very top, the revolutionaries and the visionaries, when they use some of the instruments of state and borders of colonialism, aren’t they fighting a battle with the former emperor’s clothes anyway?

Was not so much of their present condition due to so much external manipulation, oppression and exploitation?

There are those like Mbeki in South Africa, and Kufuor in Ghana, who try to strike a more middle path, reconciling strong African renaissance while trying to adapt to global markets.

Mbeki has been closer to Mugabe, than Kufuor to Gbagbo; he also sometimes denies links between HIV and AIDS, or wonders intensely, as he should, about why AIDS ravaged populations in southern Africa more than anywhere in the world.

Kufuor has pomp but little populist appeal. In Mbeki’s case, many times economic hardships trump symbolism, as the tide of refugees from Zimbabwe now threaten Mugabe’s regional standing.

In succession battles, the tricks are dirty, as everywhere, but there is a sense that alteration is becoming more common, through party conventions first and then elections, when these have the potential of being competitive, and that former leaders, rather than becoming killed or imprisoned or wanted for trial on crimes against humanity, are becoming elder statesmen, as is the case with former leaders of Senegal, Mali, and soon surely Sierra Leone. Some are even bowing out with term limits, and when these are not eradicated with new constitutions, they do play a very important role. Others in power and from ruling parties, even sometimes concede defeat.

African-American leaders have often had strange bedfellows or heroes in Africa. Think Jesse Jackson shaking hands more than once with Liberia’s Charles Taylor, or Andrew Young starting business deals in Obasanjo’s clientilistic Nigeria, under the cover of teaching governance. One of the sons of Martin Luther King, monitoring a dismal election in Togo, once told me it was better to be in, even with some of the bad, than out.

But are patronages delineated by common struggles and heritages of the past worthwhile?
Probably, because they represent a sincere attempt to break back across borders at first externally-imposed, even if on a leader to community leader basis.

That election in Togo saw Gnassingbe Eyadema, Africa’s longest serving president at the time, win again. He finally died, only to be replaced by his son, a pattern that has also taken place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By war, coup, illness or election, it really is the same thing, when a wife or son or brother takes over at the helm of a country from a relative, even if not in direct succession, even if the process seems peaceful, the underlying reality is the same.

Many of these controversial long standing leaders, from Gabon to Angola and Equatorial Guinea, are getting more and more help both from multinational oil companies and China in particular. Is the hypocrisy that surrounds Africa not a seeping suctioning of oil?

China is moving in at its own multi-sided tiger speed, wining and dining leaders with opaque contracts, mortgaging resources in exchange for building infrastructure and probably fat envelopes, all the while sending in junior entrepreneurs who sell cheap plastic sandals that break the week you bought them, and other wares, anti-freeze laden or not, it does not matter in Africa.

I wanted to ask all these convoluted questions in an audience with Mr. Gbagbo, with most of them written down, so as not to get off path, but was finally told I was rejected after one of his many media advisors and monitors told him I had a reputation of being a rebel, which can have different connotations in Ivory Coast, none of them extremely comfortable. I thought a theoretical, random grand ideas question and answer session with a current protagonist could have been interesting, but maybe such illuminations are not to be in thirdratology.

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