Africa: Late in the Day…

Africa: Late in the Day…
Mahmud Jega
13 July 2009


Abuja — Addressing the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra during his much-heralded visit at the weekend, US President Barack Obama challenged the African people to shed tyranny, corruption and conflict in favor of peace. “Yes you can,” he said, invoking his famous campaign exhortation.

Perhaps we can, but listening to the speech on Saturday, I thought that this man Obama arrived on the African scene a little bit late in the day. To talk about tyranny, corruption and conflict in Africa these days sounds a little quaint and out of date. To be frank, Obama came to Africa well past the heydays of African tyranny, corruption, conflict, sit-tightism, abduction and killing of opponents, long imprisonment and cold-blooded murder of sitting rulers, or even revolving-door rulership.

When Obama arrived at the weekend, the only really sit-tight rulers remaining in Africa include Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, since 1969; Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos [since 1979], Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe [1980], Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak [1981], Cameroon’s Paul Biya [1982] and Tunisia’s Zine El-Abidine ibn Ali, since 1987.

Obama arrived just too late to meet Omar Bongo, who started ruling Gabon when Obama was 6 years old and was still ruling when Obama became US President. Obama didn’t meet Gambia’s Sir Dauda Jawara, Cote D’Ivoire’s Felix Houphoet Boigny, Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Sudan’s Gafar el-Numeiry, Kenya’s Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, or even the great English-speaker Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi. He hasn’t seen any African sit-tightism.

Nor has Obama seen any African corruption. He arrived here too late to see Jean-Bedel Bokassa’s French ponies, or Ignatius Kutu Acheampong’s fleet of cars for girlfriends, or Charles Taylor’s bank of diamonds, or Houphoet-Boigny’s magnificent Cathedral at Yamoussoukro, not to mention Mobutu Sese Seko’s Gbadolite palace or his seven houses on the French Riviera. Maybe the CIA complained to Obama that in the 1980s, Mobutu embezzled the money it sent through him to the Angolan rebels. Which was very patriotic of Mobutu, because he saved many Angolan lives with that act.

Obama came too late to witness the African revolving-door rulership, such as in Chad, from N’garta Tombalbaye to Felix Malloum to Goukouni Waddeye to Hissene Habre, all within 8 years. Or in Sierra Leone, from President Saidu Momoh to Colonel Yahya Kanu to Captain Valentine Strasser to Brigadier Julius Maada Bio to Ahmed Tejjan Kabbah to Major Johnny Paul Koroma, all within five years. Or even in Burkina Faso, from General Abubakar Sangoule Lamizana to Col Saye Zarbo to Gen Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo to Capt Thomas Sankara to Capt Blaise Compaore, all within seven years.

Obama hasn’t seen the biggest contemporary African tragedies, from the abduction and killing of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961 to the long jailing of OAU’s first Secretary General Boubacar Diallo Telli, who was starved to death in a Guinea prison in 1977 to the 1965 killing of Morocco’s Mehdi Ben Berka; the 1972 abduction of Ugandan Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka, who was found with a six-inch nail in the skull; as well as the 1977 murder of Ugandan Archbishop Janani Luwum. Though Idi Amin’s government said the Archbishop died in a car crash when he tried to overpower the army driver taking him to prison, his relatives found his body to be riddled with bullets when it was brought for funeral.

Look, this young American didn’t see the cold-blooded killing of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa or of General Aguiyi-Ironsi in 1966, the street shooting of General Murtala Mohamed in 1976, the Cairo parade ground shooting of Anwar Sadat in 1981, or the summary execution of Liberia’s William Tolbert, who was the incumbent OAU chairman, in 1980. Obama hasn’t seen any African bloodshed, such as on Accra’s beaches in 1979, when 3 former Heads of State were shot; or on Monrovia’s beaches in 1980, when the entire Cabinet was executed; or even the one in Addis Ababa in 1974, when 60 VIPs were shot, including Crown Prince Asfa Wosen and the Prime Minister.

Obama asked Africa to try to end conflicts. The worst cases of conflict in Africa these days are Somalia, Darfur, eastern DR Congo, northern Uganda and uneasy peace in northern Kenya, Western Sahara, Guinea Bissau, Rwanda and Burundi. All that’s child’s play, because Obama arrived too late to witness the Congo civil wars of the 1960s and the 1990s; the epic civil wars of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, southern Sudan, Eritrea, Biafra, or the bloody wars of independence in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau and Algeria. In all those conflicts, Obama’s big country did not help matters, to put it very mildly.

Obama also spoke of ending African tyranny. Which one? There isn’t a Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada anymore, nor is there any Emperor Jean-Bedel Ahmed Salim Bokassa. Africa doesn’t have a Mengistu Haile Mariam anymore, who serially shot his bosses General Aman Andom in 1975 and Lt Col Teferi Bente in 1976, then shot his deputy Major Atnafu Abate in 1977.

Obama spoke about the “cruelty of history.” Well, he wasn’t in the White House in the heydays of Apartheid, Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence [UDI] or even Portuguese colonialism. He should please open old files to see how his State Department resolutely opposed sanctions against Apartheid, the CIA’s hand in the death of Lumumba, Moise Tsombe and others, and it’s propping up of Mobutu, Siad Barre, Holden Roberto and Jonas Savimbi.

The American President said in Accra that if Africa banishes tyranny and corruption, the US will give a helping hand. Will it? The biggest aid that the US lavishes in Africa is military aid to Egypt. This is not meant to strengthen Egypt, incidentally, but to neutralise it against its only real enemy, Israel.

Mr. Obama attracted many nods and cheers from the Ghanaian MPs when he said he has African blood in him. Is that right? His Kenyan blood must have been completely whitewashed by Kansas prairie blood. Even though Obama has the charisma of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, he clearly lacks the traits of ace Kenyan politicians such as Daniel arap Moi, Charles Mugabe Njonjo or Dr. Karanja. Where is Obama’s true Kenyan political blood, when he hasn’t arranged the killing of John McCain and Newt Gingrich the way Kenyan opposition leaders Tom Mboya and J.M. Kariuki were killed in 1969 and 1975?

In Ghana at the weekend, Obama went to see the Gate of No Return, from which millions of African slaves were shipped to the Americas over a 500 year period. He didn’t however see the other ports through which all Ghana’s cocoa and gold and similar products of back-breaking labour all over Africa departed and are still departing to the same places, with little to show for it, except a Debt Trap.

This man Reverend [or is it Shaikh] Obama is much liked all over Africa. However, his offer of aid was a bit too little and his sermon in Accra about African tyranny, corruption, conflict and cruelty came a little late in the day.

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